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Common Fridge & Freezer Problems

If your fridge or freezer develops a fault then it needs repairing quickly otherwise the contents will spoil and the costs will rise.  Check out common problems and how to fix them below.

 

My Fridge Is Not Working

A fridge not working at all can be extremely frustrating, especially if it takes you a while to notice. You can lose a lot of food to a fridge that’s gone on the blink.

Is there power?

As basic as it might sound, start with the simplest possibility first; is there power running to the fridge? That’s not just plug sockets and switches, but also check the circuit breaker box and fuses. Also make sure that any extension cords are in good working order.  If the light in the fridge isn’t working, it may simply need replacing.

It’s possible that the drain pans and tubes could be blocked, so check them.

Finally, although a handful of ice cubes in a drink are a boon during those hot summer months, ice makers can be problematic and cause all kinds of problems. Check the ice maker’s tube to ensure there aren’t any blockages.

If your fridge is working, but not cooling as much as it should be, check out our guide to what to do when your fridge is not cooling.

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Why Isn't My Fridge Cold Enough

What Temperature Should My Fridge Be

The preferred temperature is somewhere between around 2 and 3 degrees C (or roughly 35 – 38 Fahrenheit). Anything much higher and foods will spoil and become a health hazard. Anything much lower and freezing becomes a problem.

To check your fridge’s temperature settings, look for your thermostat. It will either resemble an analogue dial, or a digital display.

If your fridge’s temperature is too high, refer to our article for more information on what to do if your fridge is not cooling or my fridge is not cold enough.

If your fridge’s temperature is too low, it is likely that your thermostat is broken or covered. Check to make sure that it is not obstructed or covered, and replace it if necessary.

Going to the fridge only to discover the temperature has dropped from cool-and-suitably-fridge-like to lukewarm is enough to make the heart sink.

The first thing to cross your panicked mind is that the entire contents of your fridge have gone off and are destined for the bin. The second thought that should occur is that it’s going to cost you a fortune in engineer fees.

Here, however, are a few checks you can make yourself.

Door Seals

Always double check your door seals are in good order. If there is any damage to the door seal or there are signs of perishing then cold air from the fridge will be able to escape.

Ice Build-up

Ice build-up on the inside of the fridge can inhibit heat transfer, reducing efficiency. Reduced efficiency leads to increased bills and a warmer fridge.

Defrost your fridge regularly to avoid these consequences.

Dirty Condenser Coil

One possibility for the fridge not being cold enough is because the condenser coils are dirty. Effectively like a radiator, the condenser must stay clean to disperse heat that’s removed from the inside of the fridge. The dirtier the coils become, the harder they have to work to cool the fridge. If they’re too dirty they won’t be able to bring the inside of the fridge to the correct temperature at all.

Evaporator Fan Motor

The evaporator fan is basically a set of coils all refrigerators have – depending on the make and model it may have one or more. The purpose of the evaporator is to circulate cold air through the fridge – if it’s not working it won’t generate sufficient cold air for the fridge compartment. If there’s only one evaporator it will be in the freezer side, yet the freezer may still get cold.

Condenser Fan Motor

A possible symptom of the fridge not being cold enough is that there’s something caught in the condenser fan motor blade. Either that or the fan motor may be defective. Located underneath or at the back of the fridge, the purpose of the condenser fan motor is to draw air over the condenser coils to cool them.

Start Relay

A small device attached to the side of the compressor, the start relay provides power to get the compressor started. A defective start relay will mean that the compressor cannot function and the fridge won’t get cold. If it’s defective, the start relay should be replaced.

Temperature Control Thermostat

The thermostat provides the multi-purpose function of allowing sufficient cold air to pass through the evaporator fan, compressor and condenser fan. If the cooling system fans are running but the fridge is not cooling, it’s recommended you check the thermostat.

Start Capacitor

The problem of a fridge not cooling to the sufficient temperature could mean the compressor has difficulty starting. Acting as a battery for the compressor to boost it during start-up, if the start capacitor is burned out the compressor won’t be able to start as frequently as it should. A defective one should be replaced.

Thermistor

As the name might imply, a thermistor is sensor that monitors the air temperature and is connected to the control board. A defective thermistor will make the fridge over-cool or not cool at all.

Temperature Control Board

The temperature control board supplies voltage to the compressor and fan motors. Best advice with temperature control boards is to check all other potential faults first, as they’re often misdiagnosed.

Compressor

A compressor is a motor which compresses the refrigerant and circulates it through the condenser coils and evaporator. It’s best to get any seemingly defective compressors checked and replaced by a professional.

Main Control Board

This is the least common of all the potential problems if your fridge isn’t cooling sufficiently. Check the cooling fans, cooling controls and defrost system first, as faults with these components are more likely.

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My Fridge Is Not Cooling

The fridge has a simple enough task, you might think, that it could be trusted to carry it out without too much intervention. Of course, like any appliance a fridge will need maintenance and care of its constituent parts.

There are a few things you can check if your fridge isn’t cooling to the correct temperature.

Faulty Thermostat

It might be that the fridge compartment is still cool and the fan is working, in which case check the temperature regulator. The temperature regulator may be digital or analogue. If it is digital, it will have a digital display, while an analogue temperature regulator may be either in dial or lozenge (thermometer) shape.

Fan not working

If it’s a case of the fan not working, try defrosting your fridge – this will free up the blades if they’ve been made immobile by a build-up of ice.  If this doesn’t work, it’s a possibility the fan’s motor has failed.

Other faults

The coils might be clogged, or the cooling unit could be broken, malfunctioning, or run out of coolant.

It’s also possible that a problem with the self-defrosting system could be caused by frost on the evaporator coils, which will inhibit cooling.

Alternatively, it could be that the start capacitor or start relay is failing to activate, or the main control board might be defective.

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My Freezer Door Was Left Open - What To Do?

It's always a pain when your freezer door is left open. Here's what you should do, even if you suspect that it was a mischievous child or clumsy spouse who was behind all your food spoiling.

Freezer Door seal

Check the door seal. If the door seal is dirty, clean it. A dirty door seal could mean that the door isn't closing problem. If the door seal has any rips or holes, you need to replace it as it's not going to keep out the heat even if it does keep the door closed.

Sprung Doors

If you keep finding your freezer door left open, regardless of cause, consider buying a sprung door closer for your freezer to make sure that it shuts on its own.

Defrosted Food

Once food has thawed in the refrigerator, it is safe to refreeze it without cooking. There might be some loss of quality in the food, due to moisture lost in the thawing process, but as long as the food's been at fridge temperatures and not room temperatures you should be fine.

If you thaw out raw food, then cook it, it should be safe to keep any of the cooked food. Previously cooked foods which have thawed out can also be refrozen.

If you do freeze any leftovers, be sure to do so within three to four days from the point when they were thawed. Don't refreeze food that has had no refrigeration if it's been out for longer than two hours, or one hour if the temperature rises above 33 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit).

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My Freezer is Not Cold Enough

There's nothing more frustrating than an outwardly perfectly good freezer which hums along (adding heaps and heaps to your energy bill in the process) but doesn't quite keep your food cold. Somehow, it doesn't quite feel like it's worth calling in a mechanic to fix it when it is kind of working. So if you're looking to identify the problem yourself, then read on!

Frost build-up can be a cause of relatively high or unreliable temperatures. If you've got more than 3mm of ice built up in your freezer, check our section My Freezer Is Frosting Up.

Frequent Usage

Obviously, using a freezer to cool hot items or opening the freezer frequently will affect the temperature inside. If you think this might describe how you use your freezer, it's probably not a significant problem.

Door Closure

Even perfectly functioning freezers will not maintain frozen food if the door is left open by the slightest amount, such as when an item sticks out enough to press on the door. Make sure that your freezer door is closing correctly before you do anything drastic!

Obstructing evaporator fan

Another common reason that the freezer is running but not freezing is improperly packing the contents. Situated behind a vent inside your freezer, typically in the rear, the evaporator fan circulates cool air. Pull the contents away from this fan vent and leave room around items so air can reach every point in the freezer.

After you've done all of that, put a thermometer inside the freezer and check it after an hour or two. If it's still too warm, there's something seriously wrong with the freezer.

Door Seal

Always double check your door seals are in good order. If there is any damage to the door seal or there are signs of perishing then warm air from outside the freezer will get in.

Pull the freezer out so that you can look around the back, look for debris such as dust or ice which might be preventing the condenser coils from working efficiently.

Failing Evaporator Fan

Chirping and squeaking is a sign that your evaporator fans are failing. An evaporator fan failure usually requires that you replace the fan in question, although you may be able to correct misalignment issues yourself. A broken or failing evaporator control is yet another cause of higher freezer temperatures.

Thermostat

A faulty defrost control timer or thermostat can easily cause an overly-warm freezer. See if your evaporator coils are all caked-up in frost to where you can't really see the coils, if that's the case you'll need to switch your defrost timer(located in the back near the compressor) into defrost and give it a few minutes to see if the defrost heater comes on underneath the evaporator coils.

If the defrost heater doesn't come on then you'll need a volt/ohm meter to test continuity (on OHMS setting) on the defrost thermostat (while frosty) with the freezer unplugged.

Condenser Fan

The condenser fan motor could be blocked, or it could be damaged. If it's blocked, simply remove the blockage, but any damage tends to be pretty fatal to condenser fan motors and it'll probably need to be replaced.

Start Relay

The start relay provides power to get the compressor started. A defective start relay will mean that the compressor cannot function and the freezer won’t get cold. If the start relay is defective, it should be replaced.

Thermistor

A thermistor is a sensor which monitors temperature and is connected to the control board. A defective thermistor will make the freezer far too cool, or not cold at all, depending on the specific flaw.

Compressor

A compressor is a motor which compresses the refrigerant and circulates it through the condenser coils and evaporator. It’s best to get any seemingly defective compressors checked and replaced by a professional.

The problem of a freezer not cooling to the sufficient temperature could mean the compressor has difficulty starting. If the start capacitor is burned out then the compressor won’t be able to start as frequently as it should. A defective compressor or start capacitor should be replaced.

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My Freezer Stopped Working

A freezer not working is a massive inconvenience, health hazard, and can cause a truly awful smell as if that wasn't bad enough.

Electronic Controls

If your freezer has entirely stopped working following a power outage, it might be the case that the electronic controls have been damaged. If you can hear a clicking sound, it means the compressor is trying to start but cannot, and you will need to hire a technician to make proper checks.

Otherwise:

Obvious steps include making sure the freezer is on, check that the power cord is plugged in and hasn't been damaged, check that the outlet is live and check that a fuse hasn't tripped.

Ice blockage

There might be too much ice in the freezer causing issues, clear as much ice as possible, and make sure that it is not packed too tightly with food. This probably won't be the only thing stopping your freezer from working, but it might be a contributing factor.

Fan and Motor

Check the freezer fan and motor. Damage and faulty connections can cause a failure to start.

If a capacitor has failed in the rear control board, all kinds of things can go wrong. Check to make sure that this common fault is not the problem.

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My Freezer is Not Freezing

If your freezer is not working at all, check our section My Freezer Stopped Working.

If your freezer is working, but is not cold enough to properly freeze, check our section My Freezer Is Not Cold Enough.

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My Freezer is Frosting Up

An overly-frosty freezer is a longer-term problem for most people, causing issues such as unreliable temperatures and damaged food items. Luckily, it shouldn't be too difficult to fix.

Failed Seal

The most common reason for a freezer to frost up is a failed seal, which will need replacing. A failed seal will have holes and rips in it, possibly quite small.

Frost Build Up

If your freezer is too full, it may also result in a build-up of frost. In this case, simply remove some of the food inside your freezer to stop the frost build-up.

Almost all modern refrigerators are frost-free. Older refrigerators may need regular defrosting even when nothing's wrong. You shouldn't let frost get more than 3mm thick.

Thermostat

A modern, frost-free refrigerator frosting up could indicate a problem with the thermostat or defrost mechanism. If the problem is with the thermostat, you should try adjusting it to see if a different setting works better. If the problem is with the defrost mechanism, you will need to replace it.

Clearing the Freezer Safely

Once you've fixed the root cause of the problem, you still need to clear out the fridge and remove the frost.

Never use sharp implements when you're clearing ice from a freezer, as it will invalidate the warranty and may cause serious damage. Instead, defrost slowly and carefully with a container to catch the water in. Use warm water if you need to speed the process up.

Powdered ice is what we're usually discussing when we talk about frosting up. If you find solid ice in your freezer, it's likely that your freezer has a leak somewhere. In this case, check our section My Freezer Is Leaking Water.

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My Freezer is Leaking Water

A leaking freezer may result in water all over the floor, or it may result in solid ice inside the freezer. In either case, you need to fix the problem before you can use the freezer as usual, and to do that you need to identify where the problem lies.

Always unplug the freezer when doing a manual defrost or when removing the front panel to gain access to the drip pan or the drain hose.

Manual Defrost

Unscrew the front or rear panel on your freezer with a screwdriver to gain access to the freezer drain hose and the drip pan. The freezer will only drain during the defrost cycle, whether this is an automatic function or a manual function. If it drains at any other time, there is a problem with the unit that must be addressed by a trained professional.

Drip Pan

Empty the drip pan. The freezer drain hose will drain the defrost water into a drip pan at the bottom of the freezer. When this pan becomes full, it will leak water onto the floor. This is a regular maintenance task whenever the freezer defrosts.

Empty the drip pan during the defrost cycle.

Drain Hose

Check the drain hose if there is leaking water and the drip pan is empty. The hose may have become separated from a hose coupler, or it may have been pinched or cut somehow. If the hose has separated from a hose coupler, it can be reconnected by squeezing the hose clamp and pushing the hose back onto the coupler.

Hose Clamp

Make sure the hose clamp is positioned over the point where the hose meets the coupler. If the hose has been cut or sliced open, insert a hose coupler into the hose and clamp it together on both sides. Small plastic couplers are available at hardware stores. Take one end of the hose with you so that you obtain the right size coupler and the correctly sized clamps.

Drain Plug

Remove the drain plug and allow the freezer to drain if your freezer has a drain plug. If the plug is not removed, the water will back up into the freezer and drain out of the bottom. Once the drain plug is removed, place a pan beneath it to catch the water, or if you are near a drain, position the freezer over it and let the water drain out. This is most often done on chest freezers that are manually defrosted, but older manually defrosted upright freezers may also have drain plugs.

Purge the drain line using a basting syringe and a 50/50 bleach and water solution. This method can only be done if the entrance to the drain tube is accessible. If you need to remove service panels to gain access, a professional service technician must be called.

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My Freezer Smells

To remove odours, the commonly accepted method is to wash thoroughly, then use charcoal to absorb the remaining smell. Charcoal with any additives is poisonous, so do not use this kind.

Thermostat

To prevent freezer burn, which can cause bad smells, don't store food in the freezer for too long. A faulty thermostat can exacerbate freezer burn, as fluctuating temperatures make freezer burn worse. If you think that a faulty thermostat is causing the temperature of your freezer to fluctuate, consider replacing it.

Freezer not cold enough

If your freezer is not cold enough, food might be getting spoiled. You should be able to feel if your freezer isn't as cold as it should be, in which case you should check out our section My Freezer Is Not Cold Enough.

Drip Pan

Keep the drip pan clean. If you've let your drip pan get to the state where it's not salvageable, you might want to replace it, otherwise consider emptying and washing it every three months.

Ice makers can cause smells, because they have a lot of small places for bacteria to grow undisturbed. Check your ice maker and clean it thoroughly, if you have one.

By Lee Gilbert

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