It's every homeowner's nightmare – opening up the refrigerator to find warm food, spoiled milk, and dripping water. Often we don't even realize our fridge is about to suffer a fatal breakdown until it's too late. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent this from happening.
There are several things that you can do to help your refrigerator last longer so that it keeps its cool. Even better, some of these tips will help you recognize an issue before your fridge breaks down.
Tip #1: Check the placement
Most of us don't think twice about where we put the refrigerator. There's usually a handy nook already carved out in the kitchen for it. Unfortunately, this may not always be the best location. Heat makes the motor and compressor work harder, shortening the life of the fridge. Instead, look for a location that meets the following criteria:
- Not near the oven.
- Away from direct sunlight.
- No heat vents nearby
If you don't have a lot of choices, you can minimize these issues by placing a piece of insulated board between the oven and fridge, shutting the blinds on the window, and closing the heat vent closest to the fridge.
It is also vital not to place a second fridge in a hot area. Although it's not uncommon to have a fridge in the garage or on the back porch, this location is not ideal as the refrigerator can overheat. Instead, try to keep it in a climate controlled area, like the basement.
Tip #2: Vacuum the coils
The cooling coils are on the back of the fridge. These are a vital part of the cooling process but they can't work efficiently if they are covered in dust or dirt. This then makes the compressor and motor work harder, shortening the life of the appliance.
The fix is simple. Pull the fridge out every couple of months and vacuum the coils with the upholstery brush on your vacuum cleaner. If you have pets or live in a very dusty environment, vacuum the back monthly. This is also a good time to vacuum the dust out of the vent grate located beneath the doors on the front of your refrigerator.
Tip #3: Keep the top clear
It's common practice to use the top of the fridge as an out of the way storage spot, but that doesn't make it a good idea. The top of the fridge is often warm to the touch because this is where the heat of the running motor and fan is dissipated from. By covering the top, the heat can't properly dissipate and the motor overworks to keep the fridge cool.
Your best option is to keep the top cleared off. Also, dust it down every couple of weeks, since a layer of dust can also prevent the heat from properly dissipating.
Tip #4: Scrub out the door gaskets
Most people don't give the rubber gaskets and seals around the refrigerator door a second thought. Unfortunately, this can lead to an overworked motor. Dirt, food, and grime gets stuck in these seals over time, no matter how neat and clean you think you are. This results in gaskets that don't seal properly, resulting in air leakage and a fridge that has to work overtime to maintain its cool temperatures.
Take a few minutes to wipe out the gaskets at least once a month. A damp cloth works well, just make sure to follow it up with a dry cloth so no moisture remains in the folds of the gasket. If a gasket becomes torn or warped, have it replaced as soon as possible.
Tip #5: Fill the fridge properly
There is a balance that you need to strike. An over-filled fridge can't work efficiently because the cool air can't circulate, but an empty fridge has to work too hard to cool all the empty space that can't maintain a consistent temperature. The following can help you fill the refrigerator properly:
- Don't block internal fans by placings items directly in front of them. You want the air to have room to circulate.
- Leave 1 or 2 inches between items in the fridge or freezer, and don't stack everything up to the top of the compartment. This allows air to circulate around the items..
- Use jugs of water to fill in empty spaces. When placing the jugs in the freezer, leave a few inches at the top of the jug empty so the water has room to expand as it freezes.
Tip #6: Defrost when needed
Most modern refrigerators are frost-free, which means they rarely require defrosting if they are used properly. The problem is that sometimes frost builds up because items aren't stored correctly. This frost then causes the motor to work harder which shortens the life of your fridge.
To avoid frost, let foods cool to room temperature before placing them in the fridge or freezer, and never store uncovered food. These two tips alone will prevent most condensation issues that lead to frost.
Tip #7: Perform an annual inspection
Finally, make sure you catch problems when they are still repairable and before they result in a final breakdown. The following should be on your annual inspection list:
- Listen for any out of the ordinary sounds, such as rattling, squealing, or grinding. These all indicate motor, compressor, or fan problems that can often be fixed with a simple professional appliance tune-up.
- Place a thermometer inside both the refrigerator and freezer compartment. Monitor it over a couple of days to make sure the temperatures remain consistent and that they match the settings on the unit itself. If you notice a problem, call for repair.
- Shut a thin sheet of paper in the door near the top edge. If the paper stays where you placed it without sliding downwards, you are good. If it slides, you will need to replace the gasket or have the door hinges checked to see why the door isn't sealing properly.
Being proactive is the best way to keep your refrigerator running for a long time. Not only will this save you money, it will also save you the hassle of a premature replacement.