Why Is My Refrigerator Not Cooling?

A Guide to Causes, Fixes, and When to Say Goodbye

If you are questioning the functionality of your fridge or freezer, a great place to start is knowing the answer to the question: “How cold should a refrigerator be?” According to the FDA, a refrigerator’s temperature should be set to 40°F or lower, while the temperature of a freezer should be at 0°F.

If your fridge isn’t up-to-snuff and isn’t cooling or preserving your food, our team at Mr. Appliance can help you diagnose your potential problem, walk you through the repair steps, and explain when you should step back and let a professional handle it.

Checking the Easy Stuff First

Sometimes there is nothing broken about your fridge, despite the fact that it isn’t cool. These “easy fixes” are steps you can take to save yourself from an embarrassing conversation with a repair technician and from any unnecessary services fees.

  1. The fridge isn’t plugged in.It might sound silly but an alarming amount of people are quick to jump to conclusions without stopping to check if power is even running to their fridge. Don’t be one of those people.

  2. The thermostat has been turned down. Again, this might seem like a no-brainer but trust us. Locate your thermostat and check that it is set to the appropriate temperature. The thermostat for side-by-side freezer/refrigerators is usually located in the back, while over-under units are more likely to have their thermostat under the fridge.

  3. 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.

  4. The cold air can’t circulate. If boxes of food are blocking the vents, cold air can be obstructed from circulating through your fridge. Organize your fridge or clear out some of the food that could be blocking airflow.

If you run through this checklist and your refrigerator or freezer temperature still isn’t where it should be, you could be facing a more complicated issue. There are signs that indicate your warming fridge is more of an issue than an overcrowded freezer - and our team tells you what to look for!

Fridge Problems and How to Repair Them

A warm refrigerator isn’t always an obvious fix. There are a number of different things that could be causing the issue. Malfunctioning parts can be tricky, especially when you have to discern which part is causing the problem. Our Mr. Appliance technicians listed common fridge and freezer issues, where they occur, and how you can fix them.

Refrigerator Compressor

The compressor is the part of the fridge that compresses and pushes refrigerant vapor into the coils outside of the fridge. The pushing and pressure creates heat, forming hot gas that later cools and absorbs heat from the freezer and fridge.

If your freezer fan is still running, but your fridge is not getting cold, your compressor or the compressor start relay could be bad.

  • Where It’s Located: The compressor is located behind your fridge and at the bottom. It is a black, tank-like part. The compressor start relay is the part that feeds the cords into the compressor. You will need to pull your fridge away from the wall to access both parts. Make sure you unplug your refrigerator from its power source before you start.
  • The Fix: Replacing the compressor start relay is much easier and cheaper than replacing the compressor. Simply buying a new relay and testing it with your current compressor would shed light on whether you will need a new compressor or your current issue has been fixed.
    To replace the compressor itself you’ll need to safely disconnect it from the suction line and compressor discharge line. You will also need to remove the electrical package and cut the high and low lines before loosening the bolts that hold the compressor in place. You can move the part closer to access and remove the ground wire. Your new compressor will need to be connected to your suction line, discharge line, and process line. The lines will require welds to secure them in place. Make sure to transfer the rubber grommets from your old compressor to the new and switch over the crossover line before evacuating the new system and dumping the new charge.

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 a high pressure, it cools and turns back into a liquid. Clogged condenser coils can produce poor circulation of air, restricting your fridge’s ability to keep cool.

  • Where It’s Located: Condenser coils are located across the bottom of the fridge or on the back. They lead from the compressor and towards the freezer.

  • The Fix: If your coils are clogged, they could need a cleaning. Disconnect the refrigerator from the power before removing 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.

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 is important to note that refrigerators with condenser coils on the back will not have a fan.

  • The Fix: First, ensure the condenser fan is spinning freely and not being obstructed by any objects. It is possible that dust or other objects are prohibiting the blades from spinning the way they should.
    If there is nothing prohibiting the blades from spinning, you might need to replace the condenser fan motor. You can purchase a new fan motor from a local appliance parts distributor or from the fridge manufacturer. To replace the motor, simply unfasten the mounting screws holding the fan in place and carefully remove that assembly from the motor compartment. Take off the mounting bracket that holds the old motor to the blades, replacing it with your new motor.

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, cooling it, 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 wall. You will need to empty your freezer of contents and shelving before you can access it.

  • The Fix: If the fan does not seem to be working, you might need to replace the fan motor. After removing the evaporator panel in the back of the freezer, locate the fan and remove the mounting clip, fan blade, and wire harness. Install the new motor into the wire harness and put the motor into the housing. Insert the fan blades completely and reapply the mounting clip. Reattach the evaporator panel and put back the shelving.

Air Damper

The air damper controls how much cold air is shared from the freezer to the fridge. If the air damper can’t close or can’t open, it can impact the temperature of the fridge while the freezer stays the right temperature. 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: It 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.

  • The Fix: Remove the air damper removing any screws holding the conduit cover or damper cover into place, pulling the covers off as well. The thermostat sensor will be around the damper, which you can easily take off. In the freezer, remove the ice bucket if you have one. There will be a motor, which can be unscrewed and unplugged to move the compartment out of the way. Unscrew the rear duct panel release the tabs holding the air damper in place. Remove the old one and install the new air damper, replacing all the compartments you removed in the process.

When All Else Fails

If you are struggling to diagnose the problem or don’t have experience replacing and repairing mechanical parts, there is no shame in calling a professional to handle it. Kitchen appliances can be complicated and we definitely 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.

At Mr. Appliance, our team of repair experts understands how to quickly and effectively repair your unit. When in doubt, call on our extensive repair services to help you out.

Saying Goodbye to Your Unit

There are some instances where your fridge might be beyond the point of return (or at least, it will cost you less money to just buy a new unit instead of always repairing your current one). So how can you tell when your refrigerator is on its last leg, instead of just needing a tune up?

Most consumer reports advise that the age of your unit and the cost of your repair service are the best indications for when you should replace your refrigerator.

Though lifespans depend on the type of unit, units typically need a first repair within:

  • 7 years for bottom-freezers with additional repairs in the future

  • 5 years for side-by-side fridge/freezers with additional repairs in the future

  • 3 years for top-freezers with additional repairs between 3-6 years, and replacement after 7 years

The general rule of thumb should be unless your fridge has sentimental value, whenever the repair exceeds the cost of buying a new unit, choose the new unit!