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How to Clean the Coils on a Refrigerator and Increase Fridge Efficiency

Updated on July 13, 2011

Regular Maintainence Will Improve the Efficiency of Your Refrigerator

A refrigerator is a complicated system that has to operate 7 days a week, 24/7 in order to keep your food at safe levels and to provide you with cold drinks and ice. This little appreciated workhorse is powered by a relatively small compressor that has to run at high heat and in adverse conditions.

There are a couple of simple steps you can take to make sure that your refrigerator is running at its rated efficiency and providing you with years of service.

Simple things that you can do to keep your refrigerator in good shape include checking and cleaning the seals, checking for air leaks, checking for water leaks, checking for blocked air flow and cleaning the coils.

Tools Needed for Regular Refrigerator Maintenance

Simple tools are needed to maintain a refrigerator.

  1. The most overlooked item in keeping a refrigerator in great running condition and well balanced for temperature is a Refrigerator Thermometer. The thermometer is very important because it tells you every time you open the refrigerator how well the refrigerator is maintaining the desired temperature you have selected.
  2. Simple household tools and supplies include a large sponge, bucket, mild soap, glass cleaner, vinegar, car wax. If you have a sticky seal, you may need to get some silicon spray.
  3. Coil cleaning brush is an absolute necessity. The coils normally located under the refrigerator need to be cleaned regularly and this can be achieved only with a brush designed for that purpose.
  4. A flashlight is important because there are so many places on a refrigerator that you cannot see without extra light.
  5. A vacuum cleaner with a crevice tool and brush is indispensable. These things are very dirty and vacuuming while you are brushing works the best.

The Grill Pops Off
The Grill Pops Off
Completely Clogged Coils
Completely Clogged Coils
Cleaned Coils
Cleaned Coils
Cleaned Coils
Cleaned Coils
Drip Tray
Drip Tray
Notice the Grill on the Bottom of the Fridge
Notice the Grill on the Bottom of the Fridge
The dirty grill indicates that the coils need cleaning.
The dirty grill indicates that the coils need cleaning.

Clean the Interior

Clean the interior of the refrigerator with a warm soapy water or mild cleaner. Take the vegetable crisper and meat trays out of the refrigerator and wash them in warm soapy water rinse and dry them.

When you clean the interior of the refrigerator you want to look at several things.

  1. The refrigerator operates on the principle of air circulation. Air is circulated from the freezer to the cold food compartment until the cold food compartment reaches the desired temperature. At this point the refrigerator shuts off. Check to see that the air vents and passages are not blocked or covered by anything. Good air flow in the refrigerator is important to the proper operation.
  2. There are sometimes baffles or spacers on the backs of shelves, make sure the spacers and baffles are in the correct position and functional. Sometimes they get knocked askew by a can of soda or something and they need to be re-positioned.
  3. Look for damage to any of the parts, shelves, holders, trays. These little things are a nuisance if they are not functioning properly. For example, the egg keeper has a lid that covers the eggs. You can make it work, but every time you want to get an egg out of the refrigerator, you have to re-adjust it and push the hinges back. This re-adjustment takes about 20 seconds each time you use it. That is 20 seconds taking the eggs out and 20 putting them back in. Let's say that you use eggs 3 times a week. That is 3 times 40 which equals 120 seconds. So in order to use the egg tray, you have to leave your refrigerator wide open for 2 full minutes each week. That is a lot of time. It makes your refrigerator work more, you have more run time, so it cost more, it shortens the life of your refrigerator.
  4. Check the seals all around the door, if you see any signs of mold, wash the door seal with warm soapy water, rinse well and then wash with a vinegar solution in warm water about 50/50 mix and do not rinse. This will help control any mold problems. If the seal is damaged, it should be repaired or replaced, this is one of the biggest energy users as it allows air to leak into the refrigerator or freezer.

Clean the Condensor Coils on the Bottom of the Fridge

Most refrigerators have coils that are used to exchange heat. Those normally are located on the bottom of the refrigerator under the food compartment and you can access them by removing the foot grill on the bottom front.

If you have not cleaned the coils on the bottom of your refrigerator in a long time, then be ready for a nasty surprise, they will be dirty. If you have long haired pets the situation may even be worse.

Open the grill by removing it, it is usually just held in place with a couple of clips and should just snap out. Use some caution here, the clips located here are sometimes funky and flimsy.

When you remove the grill you are going to be surprised no doubt at the accumulation of dust, hair, and other stuff that floats through the air.

The debris gets caked on and results in an insulating layer of gunk. The first step is to vacuum the front out. You will be able to get a lot out that way. Carefully run the vacuum over the front of the coils and pickup what you can. NOTE: the coils are strong, but if you damage them your will kill your refrigerator. Do not force anything in there and do not use a scraper or other hard object to remove the build-up.

Next move would be to use your coil brush. Turn the refrigerator off, and unplug the refrigerator during this part, there is a fan in the back of the coils and it is possible to hit it with the brush. Turning off the refrigerator will protect the fan. Keep the vacuum cleaner running while your brush the coils, there will be quite a bit of dust and debris and it is best to clean it up right away.

Run the brush over, between and under the coils. Do not force it and use a smooth back and forth motion. You do not want to cause a problem, you want to solve a problem. Use a flashlight to inspect the coils to see where they need to be brushed. Take your time and be patient, sometimes this can be a little difficult, you will notice a few places where you cannot insert the brush or vacuum, ignore those places. It is not worth risking damage to clean those impossible places. When you shine your light in there, you will see that you have cleared most of it out.

Next to the coil, usually located on the left is an evaporation tray. This is where the water drips from the automatic defrost. If does not need any attention during normal use, but it might be a good idea to remove it and clean it if you can. Quite often there is a little wire that holds it in. Remove the retainer and wash the tray. Replace the tray and notice the little hose coming down in the back, make sure that it is inside the tray when you replace it.

Replace the grill, you are done rescuing your refrigerator.


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    • profile image

      ken 5 years ago

      I cleaned the coils they were just packed with lint. The fans are all working.The freezer and fridge got cold again for 1 day then it quit again. I thinkthe compressor is not staying on it clicke on for a few seconds and then shuts down and cycles like this.

    • whitton profile image

      whitton 7 years ago

      Nice Hub. These are great tips on how to clean the refrigerator coils.

    • profile image

      commercial-refrigeration 7 years ago

      Funnily enough, when I was working as a refrigeration engineer about 90% of the call outs would amount to me cleaning a coil or dealing with a leak. This is a good article and people could save themselves a lot of expense by learning the basics.

    • SteveoMc profile image

      SteveoMc 7 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      Thanks Sarah....appreciate the read and support.

    • SarahSilver profile image

      SarahSilver 7 years ago

      thanks for the info! I've got a friend who has a fridge that routinely doesn't stay cold and I'm referring him to your hub

    • SteveoMc profile image

      SteveoMc 7 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      Thanks need to clean the beast a couple times a year.

      ExpandYourMind You are welcome....don't wait for the next time.

    • ExpandYourMind profile image

      ExpandYourMind 7 years ago from Midwest USA

      Thanks for the detailed instructions. I discovered the yucky underside of my refrig when I went out on me.

    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 7 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

      ooh it looks like you took pictures of the underneath of our fridge. Thank you for pointing out the importance of maintaining the fridge, and how easy it is to clean. Thank you!

    • SteveoMc profile image

      SteveoMc 7 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      Thanks for stopping by ethel, you are right.....and it is pretty easy to clean.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      You are right about the fridge being an underrated work horse. In a worst case scenario it could also cause a fire.