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Why is my refrigerator not cooling?

Updated on July 16, 2011

The fan is not working!

Please review safety procedures.


Proper cooling in a refrigerator depends on air circulation. To get the air circulation required for cooling, the air flow must not be blocked, the fan has to be working properly, and the control settings have to be adjusted properly.

Generally, the fan is located in the freezer compartment and circulates air from the fresh food compartment to the freezer and back to the fresh food. A problem with the fan generally results in a too warm fresh food compartment and long running times for the refrigerator. If you have an ice maker, the ice may seem watery.

On most frost free refrigerators, when the refrigerator is running, the fan is on in the freezer. You can hear the fan if you open the freezer door. On some models the fan shuts off when the door is opened. Listen for that fan. If the fan is running fine, then the problem is not the fan. If the fan is not working the fan may need to be replaced. This is the evaporator fan.

The evaporator fan can be accessed by removing the back panel and brackets holding the fan in place. The replacement may or may not include the necessary hardware and fan. Great care should be taken to prevent damage to the fan. The fan motor is relatively heavy and should be supported while disconnecting.

If wires need to be spliced, the splice should be accomplished with a wire nut. The connection should be tight and sealed with silicon (like the kind used on fish tanks to provide a watertight seal).

Defrost Timer is Malfunctioning

The defrost cycle may not be activating properly.  This will result in a blocked air flow since the frost will build up to ice and block the air pathway from the freezer to the fresh food compartment.

Locate the defrost timer, advance it to the defrost cycle and wait.  This part of the cycle will turn the refrigerator off for about 20 minutes.  During this time the heater should come on and melt the frost on the evaporator coils.  You should be able to hear the heater as it makes some creaking and squeaking noises associated with expansion.  Listen closely, you should hear water dripping on the heater element with a sizzling sound.  

After waiting for about 20 to 45 minutes, the refrigerator should turn back on.   If it does not turn back on, wait another 15 to 20 minutes.   If the refrigerator still does not turn back on, replace the defrost timer.

Defrost Timer

Timer Located inside the refrigerator
Timer Located inside the refrigerator
Timer Location
Timer Location

Defrost Heater and Thermostat

This is an advanced repair and should only be attempted by risk taking mechanically inclined daredevils.  Please follow all safety procedures.

The defrost heater comes on when the defrost cycle begins.   If the heater is not working the frost builds up to ice and blocks the air flow.  The heater depends on the defrost timer to turn it on, and the defrost thermostat to turn it off. 

Unplug the refrigerator.  Remove the back freezer panel, if it is blocked with ice, defrost the area following the safety procedures.  The defrost heater will appear as a heater element that looks like the one in your oven, or it will look like two glass tubes inserted into the evaporator coils.  It is less likely to be a problem with the heater if it is the oven style heater.   It is very common for the glass heaters to fail after about 5 or so years.  The bad glass heaters will look broken, blackened, or cracked.   These need to be replaced.  The best practice will be to replace both heaters at the same time, and the wiring harness.  The wiring harness will be connected to the defrost thermostat.  See how to use the multimeter.

If the heaters appear to be in good shape, then the defrost thermostat may be the problem and this is quite common.  Disconnect the heater wires and test for continuity.  If the heater passes the continuity test, then move on to the thermostat.

The thermostat is normally located at the top of the coil compartment just above the heaters. The confusing part of this is that there is no easy way to test the thermostat.  This is why:  the thermostat has continuity only when the temperature is below a certain level usually about 20 degrees or so.   That means to test for continuity, the thermostat has to be brought down to below freezing temperatures.  

Two strategies:

1.  Replace the thermostat, it is inexpensive and easy to replace.

2.  Test the thermostat, you need to connect VOM leads to the thermostat leads and bring the thermostat down to required low temperature.  At the low temperature continuity should be achieved.

WARNING:

Use great caution in using other strategies that take the thermostat out of the circuit, severe damage or injury could result.  Damage from fire could result.  Never run your refrigerator without a defrost thermostat, your refrigerator will be damaged and your safety will be compromised. 


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    • BJBenson profile image

      BJBenson 7 years ago from USA

      Great hub.

    • Tkumah profile image

      Tkumah 6 years ago

      You make fixing a fridge so easy, I am not afraid anymore.

      Mt fridge has a loose freezer door and no one believes me. It actually makes ice where the air leaks. So I keep a meat termometer in my fridge to tell me when the fan finally 'broke' and when the fuse is gone. The technicians are too intimidated by me. Men.

      So, I found this hub very useful, well written and money saving!!!!!!.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • SteveoMc profile image
      Author

      SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      Tkumah I hope you have the confidence to fix or figure out all of your appliances. Thanks for reading and you kind words.

    • alensmith profile image

      alensmith 6 years ago

      nic and wonderful article www.haircutsphotos.com or for more visit www.mehndi-patterns.com

    • SteveoMc profile image
      Author

      SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      alensmith I wonder about your comment....but I take it anyway. Nice and wonderful is good.

    • profile image

      n p singh 6 years ago

      very good information

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 6 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Well written and informative. The only problem I've ever had (knock on wood) was a blocked ice maker line, but you never know. Now if I could only make my propane RV fridge work better than it does...

    • SteveoMc profile image
      Author

      SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      Hey wilderness you have had good luck, it must be that knocking on wood! Better bookmark my hubs just in case. LOL

    • Maryanne Maguire profile image

      Maryanne Maguire 6 years ago from Santa Monica, CA

      Opposite issue here: my frig freezes :( Turned it down, but wow, still too cold!

    • SteveoMc profile image
      Author

      SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      Maryanne, the most common cause of the problem you describe is a bad cold control. There are a couple of other possibilities, like do you have the air part of the controls turned to low or high. Also, if you have a top and bottom, the top part in the freezer may have an ice dam, causing ice to build up below.

      Start with a thermometer and get a refrigerator temperature and a freezer temperature, if the freezer is way below zero and the refrigerator is below 34 or so, then you do have a problem, and it is most likely a bad cold control.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Hey SteveoMC! I managed to put a link to this one in my newest one "the value of pro hvac installers"

    • SteveoMc profile image
      Author

      SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      @Wesman Todd Shaw I checked it and did not see the link you were talking about. Maybe I missed it or did not understand.

    • profile image

      vanitasingh111 6 years ago

      Thanks for all the tips.I personally believe that the best option is to set the zones.It worked for me.

    • profile image

      abdul rahman 5 years ago

      can i disconnect my thermostat???

    • profile image

      kadi 2 years ago

      Hi great article very informative. Had a running to long refrigerator problem I testedvthe thermostat notvusingva multimeter but putting it in ice water and it did not stop. I bought a new one and refrigerator started running turning off like every min then on and so. Then I took it down. Put it in warm water it started running two hours initially then every 20 min. I left it down and it worked. Put it back in its compartment then iit start turning on and off every min again. Timer advancesvto defrost. Fan runs . Ivam confused and frustrated

    • profile image

      kadi 2 years ago

      Hi great article very informative. Had a running to long refrigerator problem I testedvthe thermostat notvusingva multimeter but putting it in ice water and it did not stop. I bought a new one and refrigerator started running turning off like every min then on and so. Then I took it down. Put it in warm water it started running two hours initially then every 20 min. I left it down and it worked. Put it back in its compartment then iit start turning on and off every min again. Timer advancesvto defrost. Fan runs . Ivam confused and frustrated

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