What to Do When Your Refrigerator Is Not Cold Enough

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We rely on our refrigerators to remain cold. They are essential to maintaining your home’s food supply so we don’t have to go back to the market every other day for fresh vegetables, meat, milk, and eggs. Our desire to keep these items in the fridge for several days to a week or more is exactly why the fridge needs to stay cold enough to preserve perishable foods.

If your fridge is too warm, it’s not just your foods that will perish. Spoiled food can be a serious health risk to you and your entire family. A warm fridge can cause wasted food, thrown out too soon, and overall reduces the health and sustainability of your home. Fortunately, it’s possible to fix a warm refrigerator without calling for repairs. By going through a few practical troubleshooting steps, you can usually find the cause of the fridge warming and resolve it. Here are the steps in sequence. 

Inspect the Power Situation

If your fridge isn’t cold enough, always start by making sure it’s on. It seems obvious, but without power, there’s no way your fridge will be preserving any food.  So do a basic check of function and your own sanity. Does the light come on when you open the door? Do you hear a whirring or fan-noise? Is there heat coming from the back or floor vent? If the answer to all of these questions is “No,” then the fridge isn’t on. It’s either unplugged, the breaker flipped, or an essential power system problem.

If the answer to only some of those questions is “yes,” you may have an electrical component problem and will need to investigate further. But let’s keep focusing on the warm-fridge problem, assuming your fridge is on, mostly functional, and at least attempting to cool. 

Turn Up the Dial

Since the fridge is on, the next step is to check the temperature setting dial. It’s pretty common for this dial to be bumped or mis-set at some point. This is a common cause for both frozen and spoiled milk.  Look to see if the dial is turned to the coldest setting. If it is, move on to the next troubleshooting option. If it’s not all-the-way cold yet, start by putting a metal thermometer into the fridge, if there isn’t one already.

Whatever the dial says, your fridge should be about 38-41 degrees F. Take note of the temperature and then turn the dial colder. Check back in two to five hours and see if your fridge has reached the optimal temperature window. If it doesn’t, at the coldest temperature, move onward. If it takes the coldest temperature to get to 40 degrees F, consider trying the other methods as well. 

Check the Door Seal

Your fridge may be cooling effectively, but losing cold to an unsealed door. Fridge door gaskets (the rubber strip that seals the fridge) can get dirty, they can get old, and they can dry out. Your door may also not seal because it’s propped open by an object inside.

First, check whether the door is closing completely. Tug on the fridge door gently. If you don’t hear/feel an unsticking, your door likely isn’t sealing in the first place. Then touch your light. If it’s hot (and nearby items are warm) when the door has been closed, then the door switch never activated, and the door hasn’t been closing.

Next, check the seal. If it’s dirty, wipe it down with warm water and soap and/or vinegar. If it’s damaged or warped, it may need to be replaced. Otherwise, apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly (like vaseline) to soften the gasket and create a better seal. This will help your door stay closed and contain the cold. 

Give the Vents Breathing Space

The cold in your fridge compartment comes from the condenser coils via the freezer. First, the freezer is cooled, then some cold air is blown through a vent between the freezer and fridge compartments. If that vent is blocked, on either side, then your fridge won’t get cold enough, and your freezer might be freezing overtime. So find those vents in your model of fridge and what’s stored on both sides.

Clear away boxes and other bulky items that can effectively block that vent. Don’t store large boxes near the vent, or upright bags that might seal the vent. Move any such items away from the vents. Instead, store things like produce or stacked tupperware that leaves plenty of room for airflow. 

Defrost the Freezer

Some freezers build layers of frost over all walls and items. This is usually a sign of malfunction, of either the defrost cycle or the vent fan. However, if the vent is blocked by items (or a broken fan), then frost might also build up over the vent, blocking cold airflow. While clearing your vent of items, also consider removing ice-based obstructions. Inspect your freezer for frost buildup and either knock-away blocking ice or go through a defrosting procedure.

By removing everything in your freezer, it’s easy to quickly remove all ice with warm water caught by absorbent towels. 

Clean the Condenser Coils

The final task that home fridge-owners can handle on their own is gently cleaning the condenser coils. The way the fridge works is by activating coolant fluid inside condenser coils. This is where the cold comes from. Room-temperature air is then blown over those coils, making cold air that is then cycled through the freezer and fridge.

But that cold air often includes dust, and condenser coils condensate, meaning water collects on the cold coil surface. Dust sticks to the water and eventually builds a blanket over the coils. That dust blanket prevents the condenser-cold from cooling the cold cycling air. By cleaning away the dust, you can significantly improve the cooling efficiency of your fridge.

Every fridge accesses condenser coils differently. The access may be behind your fridge, accessed from the lower panel, or through the back of the freezer compartment itself. When you find the coils, clean them with a brush or wipe them very gently with a towel to clear away the layers of dust. If your fridge has an air filter, change it to slow the buildup of the next layer of dust.

—If you have taken all these steps and your refrigerator is still running under-powered, it’s time to call for repairs. A technician can perform multimeter tests on the electronic components and hunt down your problem. It might be a broken fan, a blown interior fuse, or even a loose wire. For more information about refrigerator repair or to schedule a consultation, contact us today!

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