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Why Isn’t My Refrigerator Staying Cold?

When you're a homeowner, it's always good to have a handyman of some sort at your disposal. What are you going to do if that go-to person isn't there for you for whatever reason? No worries... it didn't take a ton of time to find help online (plus, I'm sharing this great resource with you here now). I don't know exactly how much money I saved by finding the article below, but I'm sure it was a good amount. If you can make use of this information, or the other great stuff on their site, and save a bunch of money too.... I'll be happy.


Why Isn’t My Refrigerator Staying Cold?

Today we are going to try to determine why your refrigerator and/or freezer may be too warm or not cool enough. Remember, parts are specific to your model of refrigerator and the ones shown today may not be the right parts for you. To get the right part for your refrigerator, be sure to search PartSelect.com using your model number.

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Refrigerators are usually built with two main compartments, the frozen food section, commonly referred to as the freezer, and the fresh food section, commonly referred to as the fridge. You may notice a temperature change in one before you notice it in the other but since they are cooled by the same system what affects one will affect the other. (video originally found on YouTube by user PartSelect)

Frost free refrigerators operate by circulating air through the cooling unit, called an evaporator, to both the freezer and the fresh food sections of the refrigerator. The evaporator and the evaporator fan are located in the freezer section of the refrigerator.

The evaporator will cool and remove moisture from this air. The moisture that collects on the fins of the evaporator will freeze and turn into frost. The defrost system in the refrigerator will periodically melt the frost and drain the water to the exterior where it can evaporate.

Before we start looking at the different parts that can result in a warm refrigerator, we need to try to determine whether the problem is with the internal air flow or with the cooling unit. Any restriction to the air flow will create a problem.

Check to make sure that the evaporator fan is functioning. When the compressor is running, so should the evaporator fan.

Turn the temperature control to a colder setting to start the compressor. You should feel cold air blowing into the freezer section. Locate the air inlet to the fresh food section and you should feel cold air blowing into this section. Make sure that nothing is blocking the outlets from the evaporator fan.

If little or no airflow is present, then check the operation of the evaporator fan and the electrical connections. If little or no airflow is present but you can hear the fan running, then look at the possibility of a severe frost or ice buildup as the problem.

The placement of new food items or any door openings will introduce moisture into the refrigerator. Frequent door openings, high humidity and leaking door gaskets will add abnormal amounts of moisture into the refrigerator and sometimes create frost buildup on the evaporator faster than the refrigerator defrost system can remove it.

Ensure that the gaskets are sealing properly and that nothing on the interior shelves could be causing the doors to not close tightly.

Check the evaporator drain tube to ensure that it is properly attached and that the P-trap portion is intact. A malfunctioning defrost system will also cause a severe frost buildup and will restrict the amount of air that can flow through the evaporator and will cause temperatures to rise. This would be more noticeable in the fresh food section because a temperature rise of a few degrees may cause food to spoil.

The defrost system components consist of the defrost heater, defrost timer and termination thermostats.

refrigerator defrost heater

The defrost heater is used to heat the evaporator to melt the frost or ice buildup. The defrost timer is used to activate the heater circuit. Mechanical timers will activate this circuit for approximately 20 minutes about every 8 to 10 hours of accumulated compressor run time. Adaptive defrost controls will monitor the length of the defrost cycle and adjust the frequency of the defrost cycles accordingly.

The termination thermostat will stop the defrost cycle when the evaporator area reaches a specific temperature during the defrost cycle. Mechanical defrost timers can be operated manually to check the operation of the defrost cycle and most electronic adaptive defrost controls will have a method to manually test as well.

Defrost heaters and termination thermostats can be tested for continuity with a multi-meter. Also check for a blocked drain. This can prevent the defrost water from draining to the exterior and cause an ice buildup which could restrict the airflow.

Sealed system problems are more difficult for the average home owner to resolve. The sealed system consists of the compressor, the evaporator, the condenser and the associated refrigerant tubing.

Newer model refrigerators will have a fan forced condenser. If any of these components is not functioning properly, then the refrigerator will not work efficiently and may not be able to maintain the proper temperatures.

If the compressor will not start, but the fans will, then you may have a faulty overload relay, start capacitor or electrical connection. These components can be checked with a multi-meter.

A faulty compressor should be serviced by a trained refrigeration technician. If neither the compressor or the fans will start, and the refrigerator is not in a defrost mode, then you should look at the temperature control or control board and associated wiring as a possible problem. You can check for applied voltage to these circuits with a multi-meter.

If the compressor runs, but either of the fans do not, these can be checked with a multi-meter for both applied voltage and for continuity.

Make sure that the condenser is free of any dirt accumulation, particularly pet hair, and that the condenser fan can circulate air freely. Make sure the refrigerator is installed according to the manufacturer’s specifications regarding clearances.

If the compressor and fans are both functioning, and you do not suspect an airflow or defrost problem, then you may have a restriction or leak in the sealed system that prevents the evaporator from getting cold. This type of problem should be serviced by a trained refrigeration technician.

Now that you have a better idea of your refrigerator problem and can identify what the solution could be and what, if any, parts you need to repair or replace, go to Partselect.com. There you can order your parts and find more information about your specific repair. Or if you need a professional service technician, call us and we’ll schedule a time to come to you as soon as possible.

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