11 Reasons Your Refrigerator Is Not Cooling

Service Professional helping a homeowner fix a refrigerator not cooling

A refrigerator not cooling can potentially spoil your food and result in costly energy bills. If left unchecked, it can even cause permanent damage to your appliance. According to the FDA, a refrigerator’s ideal temperature should be set to 40°F or lower, while the temperature of a freezer should be at 0°F.

From simple adjustments like thermostat settings and cleaning to more complex troubleshooting involving electrical components and system inspections, the team of experts at Mr. Appliance can help you diagnose a refrigerator that’s not cooling, walk you through the repair steps, and explain when you should step back and let a professional handle it.

Why Is My Refrigerator Not Cooling?

There are several reasons why your refrigerator may not be cooling properly. If your refrigerator is not maintaining its set temperature, consider these common issues:

  • The breaker tripped. Sometimes, the solution to your appliance woes is as simple as resetting a breaker. If the electrical circuit that supplies power to your refrigerator has a tripped breaker, the appliance will have no power and cease cooling. To fix it, locate your home’s circuit breaker panel (which is usually located in your garage), find the circuit that corresponds to your fridge, and switch it to the “on” position.
  • The thermostat has been turned down. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth checking. Locate your thermostat and check that it is set to the appropriate temperature. See your owner’s manual for instructions on how to set your thermostat.
  • The door isn’t closing properly. Double-check the doors and gaskets. Does the light in the fridge turn on and off when you close the door? If not, the door might not be functioning properly. Gaskets — the flexible elastic strip around the edges of the doors designed to seal the doors closed — can tear and leak warm or humid air into your fridge. If your gasket has torn, you should replace it and see if your fridge stays cooler.
  • Cool air can’t circulate. If boxes of food are blocking the vents, they may be obstructing cold air from circulating through your fridge. Organize your fridge or clear out some of the food that could be blocking airflow and preventing your refrigerator from cooling.
  • The condenser coils are dirty. The condenser coils, located on the back of or underneath the refrigerator, can become covered in dust and dirt over time, reducing the refrigerator's cooling efficiency. Cleaning the coils regularly will improve performance.
  • There’s a refrigerant leak. A refrigerant leak can lead to a loss of cooling capacity. If you suspect a refrigerant leak, you should contact a qualified service professional to repair it, as handling refrigerants can be dangerous and requires specialized equipment.

List of common refrigerator issues.

How To Fix a Refrigerator Not Cooling

When your refrigerator isn't cooling properly, it can be a source of frustration and potential food spoilage. Fortunately, many common refrigerator issues can be resolved with simple troubleshooting and maintenance.

Follow these steps to diagnose and fix a refrigerator that's not cooling, ensuring your appliance runs efficiently and keeps your food fresh.

1. Make Sure It’s Plugged In

While it may seem obvious, one of the most overlooked troubleshooting steps when diagnosing a malfunctioning refrigerator is ensuring it’s properly plugged in, especially if you’re coming back from a vacation or extended leave.

The Fix: Start by checking the electrical outlet and ensuring the refrigerator is securely plugged in. If the power cord appears damaged, replace it with a new one to ensure a secure and functional connection. Additionally, confirm that the circuit breaker associated with the refrigerator is not tripped, as a tripped breaker can interrupt power flow.

2. Check Your Refrigerator Location

The location of your refrigerator plays a significant role in its cooling efficiency. If your refrigerator is in direct sunlight or positioned close to a stove, oven, or heating vents, it has to work harder to maintain a cold temperature.

The Fix: Reconsider its placement and make any necessary adjustments to improve the appliance's cooling efficiency. Additionally, ensure the refrigerator is level by using a leveling tool. An unlevel fridge can impact its performance, so use the adjustable legs to stabilize it if needed.

3. Repair a Refrigerant Leak

Refrigerant is responsible for absorbing and releasing heat, a fundamental process in how your fridge works. Refrigerant leaks are often caused by small cracks or corrosion in the evaporator coils, condenser coils, or copper tubing used to carry the refrigerant throughout the system. When there's a refrigerant leak, the appliance's ability to maintain its cold temperature is compromised, leading to inadequate cooling.

Signs of a refrigerant leak include:

  • A noticeable decrease in cooling performance
  • Unusual hissing or bubbling sounds coming from the refrigerator
  • Frost or ice buildup on the evaporator coils
  • The compressor runs continuously without achieving the desired temperature

The Fix: Refrigerants are hazardous chemicals that require careful handling — we highly advise you not to attempt to repair a refrigerant leak yourself. Contact a service professional who is trained to work with these substances safely and has the necessary equipment for handling them.

4. Replace a Bad Refrigerator Compressor

The compressor is the part of the fridge that compresses and pushes refrigerant vapor into the coils inside and outside of the fridge. This process forms hot gas that later cools and absorbs heat from the freezer and fridge.

Diagram illustrating how a fridge keeps cold

Where It’s Located: In many refrigerator models, the compressor is situated at the rear, either near the floor or slightly elevated from the floor, depending on the specific design. It is often located in the lower rear section because this placement helps with heat dissipation, allowing the appliance to expel the heat generated during the refrigeration process more efficiently.

The Fix: If your freezer fan is still running, but your fridge is not getting cold, your compressor or the compressor start relay could be bad. If you suspect compressor issues, do not attempt to repair or replace it. contact your local Mr. Appliance to ensure a safe and reliable repair.

5. Clean Clogged Condenser Coils

Condenser coils carry the hot gas produced by the compressor up to the evaporator coils. As the refrigerant travels through the coils at high pressure, it cools and turns back into a liquid. Dirty condenser coils can result in poor air circulation, restricting your fridge’s ability to keep cool.

You should clean your condenser coils every six to 12 months to prevent clogs and keep your refrigerator running efficiently.

Where They're Located: Condenser coils are located across the bottom of the fridge or on the back. They lead from the compressor toward the freezer.

The Fix:

  • Disconnect the refrigerator from the power before cleaning.
  • If the coils are under the refrigerator, remove the toe grill (consult your owner’s manual to see if your toe grill can be pulled straight off without any additional steps).
  • Using a coil brush, push the tool into the condenser coils and knock off the dust that has collected there. You can then vacuum up the dust and reinstall the toe grill.
  • If the coils are behind the refrigerator, then you can gently vacuum them off.

Potential embedded video

6. Change the Broken Condenser Fan

The condenser fan cools the compressor and condenser coils as they work — the fan should run when the compressor is running. If the condenser fan does not function properly, the refrigerator’s temperature can rise, and the compressor can overheat.

Where It’s Located: The condenser fan is located in the bottom cabinet by the compressor and the condenser coils. It’s important to note that refrigerators with condenser coils on the back will not have a fan.

The Fix: Ensure the condenser fan is being obstructed by any debris or other objects that may be prohibiting the blades from spinning the way they should.

If nothing is keeping the blades from spinning, you might need to replace the condenser fan motor. To ensure safe and proper installation, contact your local Mr. Appliance to help you with this process.

7. Restore the Nonfunctioning Evaporator Fan

The evaporator fan is the part of the fridge that blows the cool air you feel when you open the door. It pulls air across the evaporator coil and then pushes the air through the freezer and refrigerator. If the evaporator fan does not work or kick on when the compressor does, your unit will not be able to produce cool air.

Where It’s Located: The evaporator fan is located behind your freezer's back wall. If you do not hear the fan running or feel the cool breeze in your refrigerator and freezer, it’s time to contact a service professional.

The Fix: There are several reasons why your evaporator fan may have stopped working, such as a faulty motor or control board issues. In most cases, you’ll need a professional’s expertise to get your refrigerator back up and running.

8. Clear Blocked Air Damper

The air damper controls how much cold air is shared from the freezer to the fridge. When the air damper can’t open, cold air cannot travel from the freezer to the fridge compartment, making it warmer.

Where It’s Located: The air damper is located between the fresh food compartment and the freezer in your refrigerator. On a side-by-side freezer/fridge, the air damper should be located in the upper left corner of the fridge. For other types of refrigerators, consult your owner's manual for the location.

The Fix: Make sure nothing is in front of the opening and blocking airflow. If the opening is clear, but you do not feel air moving through it, contact your local Mr. Appliance professional for prompt service.

9. Properly Store Food

Efficient food storage not only ensures that your refrigerator functions properly but also helps maintain food safety and prevents waste. Avoid restricting airflow with bulky food items by keeping vents unobstructed. These vents distribute cold air to various parts of the refrigerator to maintain a consistent temperature.

Where They’re Located: Your refrigerator’s vents and evaporator fan may be located in the back of the freezer, on the rear wall of the refrigerator, or on the ceiling of the fridge, depending on your model. Consult your owner’s manual for the exact location.

The Fix: Organize your food items to allow for efficient airflow within the refrigerator. This means keeping items from blocking the air vents or obstructing the path of the evaporator fan.

10. Replace Old Gaskets

Replacing an old, damaged gasket — also known as a door seal — can be a key solution in fixing a refrigerator that’s not cooling properly. When gaskets become worn, cracked, or no longer seal tightly, the refrigerator has to work harder to maintain a cold temperature, leading to cooling issues.

Where They’re Located: Gaskets are located on the perimeters of the refrigerator and freezer doors. They are typically made of soft rubber or plastic and run along the entire edge of the door.

The Fix:

  • Unplug the refrigerator from the electrical outlet or turn off the circuit breaker that supplies power to it.
  • Remove the old gasket by carefully peeling and lifting it away from the edges of the door.
  • Clean the door surface where the old gaskets were attached with a mild detergent to remove any residue.
  • Install the new gaskets by attaching them to the top center of the doors, pressing firmly as you work your way down around the perimeter of the door. In some cases, applying a little heat with a blow dryer can help the gasket conform to the door’s shape to create a better seal.
  • Close the refrigerator and freezer doors and leave them closed for a few hours to allow the gaskets to set properly in their new position.

If you're unsure about the replacement process or encounter difficulties, consider calling a professional service professional to ensure a proper gasket replacement.

11. Rewire Faulty Circuitry

Assessing the state of the circuitry powering your refrigerator is a crucial troubleshooting step in diagnosing a malfunctioning fridge. The circuitry within the appliance controls various components, including the compressor, fans, and defrost system, all of which are essential for maintaining proper temperature. Faulty wiring or electrical connections can disrupt these functions, leading to cooling issues.

Where It’s Located: Faulty wiring can be located in several areas of the refrigerator, including the control board, compressor, and defrost system. Identifying the source of the problem will likely require professional electrical experience.

The Fix: If you suspect faulty wiring within your unit, do not attempt to fix the issue. Fixing faulty circuitry in a refrigerator can be complex and potentially hazardous — it's a job best left to professionals. Calling a service professional ensures that the repair is done safely and effectively, ultimately restoring your refrigerator's cooling performance.

FAQ About a Refrigerator Not Cooling

If you've noticed that your refrigerator is not maintaining a cold temperature, check out these answers from our appliance experts to some of the most common troubleshooting questions.

Why Is My Refrigerator Not Cooling, But My Freezer Is?

The refrigerator and freezer compartments in most modern units share the same cooling system, with the freezer acting as the source of cold air for the refrigerator. So, if your freezer is still cold, but the refrigerator isn't, it suggests that the issue is likely in the airflow or components that control the air transfer between the two compartments.

The most common reasons for this problem include:

  • Ice or frost buildup
  • A malfunctioning evaporator fan
  • A faulty defrost system
  • A stuck damper controller

If you're unsure or unable to diagnose the problem, it's recommended to consult a service professional to accurately identify and resolve the issue, ensuring both your refrigerator and freezer maintain their cooling capabilities.

What Would Cause a Refrigerator To Stop Getting Cold?

Several issues could cause a refrigerator to stop getting cold, like:

  • Problems with the thermostat setting
  • Dirty condenser coils
  • Blocked air vents
  • Damaged door seal
  • Malfunctioning evaporator fan
  • Refrigerant leak

Addressing these issues as soon as possible, either through basic maintenance or professional repairs, is crucial to restoring your refrigerator's cooling capabilities and preventing food spoilage.

How Do You Fix a Refrigerator That Is Not Cooling?

Fixing a refrigerator that's not cooling properly involves a series of steps to diagnose and address the underlying issues:

  1. Check your refrigerator location: Ensure your refrigerator is placed in an appropriate location, away from direct sunlight and heat sources, and, with adequate ventilation. Make sure it's level using a level tool, as an unlevel refrigerator can impact its performance.
  2. Check the thermostat settings: Verify that the temperature settings inside the refrigerator and freezer compartments are correctly adjusted. Set them to the recommended levels for optimal cooling.
  3. Check the breakers and electrical connections: Ensure the refrigerator is properly plugged in, and inspect electrical connections for any issues.
  4. Clean the condenser coils: Dust and debris can accumulate on the condenser coils, reducing cooling efficiency. Regularly clean these coils, which are located on the back of or underneath the fridge.
  5. Clear blocked air vents: Inspect the air vents inside the fridge and freezer compartments to ensure they are not obstructed by food or containers. Proper air circulation is vital for even cooling.
  6. Check the door seals: Inspect the rubber gaskets (door seals) around the refrigerator and freezer doors for damage. If the seals are compromised, warm air can enter the unit, making it work harder to maintain a cold temperature. Replace the seals if necessary.
  7. Inspect for refrigerant leaks: A refrigerant leak can lead to a loss of cooling capacity. If you suspect a leak, contact a service professional.

If you’ve gone through all the steps and your refrigerator still isn’t cooling, it may be due to a more serious mechanical or electrical problem. Contact your local Mr. Appliance for a thorough refrigerator inspection and swift service.

Should I Unplug a Refrigerator That’s Not Cooling?

If your refrigerator is not cooling properly, leave it plugged in until a Service Professional can diagnose the problem. Even if your refrigerator is not cooling properly, leaving the appliance unplugged may result in a major leak that can damage your floor, especially if the issue is ice buildup or a problem with defrosting.

Stay Cool with Professional Service

If you are struggling to diagnose the problem or don’t have experience replacing and repairing mechanical parts, calling a professional to handle it is your best option. Kitchen appliances can be complicated, and we don’t recommend you take your refrigerator apart if you don’t know what you are doing. Not only could you damage your expensive appliance further, but it can be incredibly dangerous.

The team of service professionals at your local Mr. Appliance are equipped and well-versed in how to quickly and effectively repair your refrigerator. When in doubt, call on our reliable repair services to help you with a refrigerator not cooling or any other appliance issues you're facing.