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Maintaining your refrigerator

Home Maintenance: Taking Care of Your Refrigerator

By Laura BourlandRise Writer
Dec 19, 2020

Living a healthy, sustainable lifestyle begins with a more sustainable home. In our day-to-day lives, many of us try to make decisions for our environment's greater good. These decisions often include recycling, buying products with less packaging, and being mindful about our energy and water consumption. Proper care and maintenance of the things we use can extend their life and further decrease our environmental impact. 

A functioning refrigerator is often taken for granted. When it doesn't work, it's an expensive fix, or even worse, a costly replacement—and a lot of wasted materials going to a landfill. But did you know there are things you could be doing to improve their function and help them last longer?

Getting to know your refrigerator through regular maintenance will help you proactively make repairs far before it breaks down, saving time and money in the long run. Through regular care, you can identify and fix energy leaks, avoid surprise repairs, and extend your refrigerator's life as much as 20 years! 

Bi-monthly Refrigerator Maintenance

Keeping your refrigerator running in tip-top shape doesn't require much. Scheduling in just 30 minutes of refrigerator maintenance once every other month will keep your food fresher and safer.

Man Cleaning Fridge

How To Maintain Your Refrigerator

You're probably already cleaning your refrigerator regularly to keep it odor-free, but here's a quick rundown to keep you focused:

  1. Clean it out. Take everything out of the refrigerator, tossing or composting old and expired items. Be sure to check the expiration dates on those condiment bottles!
  2. Wipe it down. Using a sponge or cloth and warm, soapy water, wipe down all surfaces, including shelves' undersides, produce drawers, and drawer tracks. Be sure to use a soap with no chemical additives!
  3. Scrub the gunk. If you find any caked on, sticky messes, be sure to give them a good scrub to remove the grime.
  4. Organize. Methodically put your items back in the clean refrigerator. Take care to arrange things with the first in, first out philosophy to ensure you use food that will reach their expiration date soonest, first. This step will make it easier to visualize what you have come dinnertime and whenever someone grabs a snack.
  5. Squelch odors. Add a new box of baking soda or other deodorizers every 2-3 months to absorb food odors and keep your refrigerator smelling fresh.
  6. Reset the temperature. Temperature dials can easily get knocked when cleaning or taking things in and out. Check to make sure your freezer is set to 0 degrees Fahrenheit and your refrigerator is set to somewhere between 37 and 40 degrees.
  7. Keep it full. Even if you prefer eating out or requiring a grocery run, keeping your refrigerator full to maintain the cold internal temperature (thermal mass) is essential. If you're running on empty, a few jugs of water will do the trick.
fridge organization
Photo Credit: Academy of Culinary Nutrition

Why Should You Clean and Check the Refrigerator's Drip Pans and Door Gaskets?

Your refrigerator has a drip pan located at the bottom of the unit to collect condensation and ice melt. Cleaning it every 2-3 months will prevent bacteria from build- up. Similarly, the gaskets, or the seals around the door edges, need to be cleaned and checked every 2-3 months. This regular maintenance will ensure a tight seal that will control the internal temperature and avoid any energy leakage. Pair these two tasks for quick and easy refrigerator maintenance. 

How to Clean the Drip Pan

  1. Using your manual, locate the drip pan at the bottom of the refrigerator and follow the safe removal instructions.
  2. Clean it out with warm soapy water.
  3. Check for any cracks in the pan. If you notice any, replace the pan to avoid leakage.
  4. Inspect the drainage hole for built-up debris and pet hair. Remove and clean thoroughly.

How to Clean Door Gaskets:

  1. Open the refrigerator door.
  2. Using a vacuum, clean out any crumbs, debris, and pet hair.
  3. Using a toothbrush and warm soapy water mixed with a splash of vinegar, clean the grooves in the seal around the door.
  4. Rub petroleum jelly on the seal to extend its life
  5. Check for cracks and warping. If you find any, replace the gasket for a tight seal. Do the "dollar bill test! Place a dollar bill in the door and close it. Slowly, try to pull the bill out without opening the door. If it slips out without resistance, then it's time to replace your gaskets.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 for the freezer door gasket.

Biannual Refrigerator Maintenance

Investing about 30 extra minutes twice per year in a little additional refrigerator maintenance will keep your family healthier and your refrigerator running more effectively for longer.

Why Should You Clean the Refrigerator's Coils? How Often?

Your refrigerator has two sets of coils: condenser coils located on the unit's exterior and evaporator coils situated in the interior. The condenser coils work to expel heat from the refrigerator, while the evaporator coils absorb heat from the inside. Keeping both sets clean will prevent your refrigerator from overworking and consuming more energy than needed. Clean coils also keep the fridge running more quietly and will help you avoid premature compressor failure.

refrigerator repair
Photo Credit: Direct Energy

You should clean your refrigerator coils 1-2 times each year, or every three months if you live with pets since pet hair tends to collect quickly.

How Do You Clean Refrigerator Coils?

  1. Unplug the refrigerator and pull it away from the wall.
  2. Consult your user manual to locate the coils (a grate may hide them).
  3. Use a vacuum attachment or a coil brush to clean thoroughly.
  4. Be sure to clean any grates or vents.
  5. Clean the floor underneath the refrigerator.
  6. Slide the refrigerator back into place, leaving an inch between the unit and the wall for proper ventilation.
Water from Refrigerator

Replace Water Filters

Suppose you have a refrigerator with a built-in icemaker or water dispenser. In that case, you must regularly replace that filter to avoid build-up and keep your water and ice clean. Consult your user manual for recommendations on how often to replace the filter and instructions for ordering replacements. 

Check for a Level Surface

It may seem unnecessary, but ensuring your refrigerator is resting on a level surface every six months is very important. Your flooring may sink or tilt with your home if your foundation is weak or the earth beneath your home shifts. The flooring may also warp or see damage from the weight of the refrigerator, moisture, or leaks. Surprisingly, an uneven surface can dramatically impact your door gasket's tight seal and the refrigerator's overall function.

How to check and adjust your refrigerator:

  • Lay a construction level on the top of your refrigerator to ensure it is 100% level.
  • If not level, adjust the refrigerator's feet using a hand wrench until it reads level.
Fridge Repair

How Can You Repair Common Refrigerator Problems?

By regularly cleaning and checking your refrigerator, you're more likely to notice problems before they become a real issue. Below are just a few common problems and easy fixes to get it running efficiently again.

The Refrigerator is Warm

It happens. Sometimes your refrigerator doesn't feel as cold as it should. Before going any further, check the temperature gauge to ensure it's set to the proper temperature and the refrigerator is moderately full. If both check out and the fridge is still warm, check the following parts.

Evaporator Fan

If any part in your refrigerator's defrost system is broken or in need of repair, your evaporator fan will be working overtime. You might notice the fan running loud. To repair it, unplug the refrigerator and try to turn the fan blade manually. If it doesn't move easily, it may be time to replace the fan.

Air Damper Control

A warm refrigerator could result from an air damper control that is either blocked or has stopped working. Locate the damper using your instruction manual and observe it in action. If it's not opening and closing to allow cold air in, it may be time for a replacement part.

Door Gasket

Leaky door seals are a surefire way to warm a refrigerator. Regularly check your door gaskets using the dollar bill test mentioned above and replace them if they fail the test or appear cracked or warped.

The Refrigerator is Leaking Water

Water leaks are pretty obvious but may be detected before they become an issue when cleaning the coils. Promptly finding these leaks is imperative to prevent damage to your floor and a much bigger repair bill. Below are a few quick repairs you might try if you find a water leak.

Defrost Drain

Your freezer regularly defrosts itself to drain built-up ice. Still, that drain can easily get clogged with food, debris, or even freeze up, causing drained water to leak out rather than draining correctly. To fix this:

  1. Unplug the refrigerator and locate the defrost drain.
  2. Clean any blockage and check the tube to see if it's frozen.
  3. If it is, defrost it by running warm water over it and then clear any remaining clogs.

Drain Pan

The drain pan (mentioned above) collects water but will leak if cracked. You'll notice this when cleaning the drain pan or if your refrigerator is leaking from the bottom or behind the unit. If broken, replace the drain pan immediately.

Water Inlet Valve

The water inlet valve—the connector that transfers water into the refrigerator— may cause a water leak if it's cracked or loose. Locate the valve and ensure it's secure. If there is damage, replace it immediately.

GE Cafe Series Fridge Home Depot
GE Cafe Series ENERGY STAR Fridge. Photo Credit: Home Depot

Bottom Line

Your refrigerator needs to work all the time, and it was probably one of the more expensive appliances in your home. Making it run more smoothly and last longer will save you money on energy bills, repair costs, and a more considerable replacement expense—all critical parts of a more sustainable home.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2020-12-19T19:02:52+0000
Laura Bourland

Article by:

Laura Bourland

Laura grew up in the California suburbs, far removed from environmentalism, but nature always has a way. She uprooted her life in 2015, moving to the countryside of Washington to live a more sustainable and simple life on 12 acres. She and her fiancee are learning on the job as they attempt everything from gardening and natural pest control to eco-friendly building and home improvement.