Refrigerator Repair: Not Cooling Part 1

Refrigerator Repair: Not Cooling.  Part 1

Refrigerator repair is not that difficult until you get into the sealed system (compressor, evaporator, condenser, and tubing components) or the more sophisticated electronics of today’s models.

Honestly, I think that engineers are required to take a minimum of three semesters of “Let’s See How Difficult We Can Make This Machine” before they can graduate.  All I want a refrigerator to do is get cold enough to chill and preserve what I put in it, and to freeze and keep frozen what I put into the freezer compartment.  Well, keeping me supplied with ice is also important. (Ice maker repair will be covered in another episode.)

Most reasons for a refrigerator’s not cooling can be traced to as simple a repair as keeping the condenser coil clear of lint and dog hair (cat hair for those cat lovers).

Again, we will not go into an all inclusive list of remedies and reasons of refrigerator repair, but those that we feel the hubby (or the wifey) can safely pull off.

As we mentioned above, one of the first things to check, if you sense your fridge not cold enough (cooling, but not cooling enough)… check the condenser coils.

1. Check the condenser coil.

This coil is usually located on the bottom of your refrigerator.  On some smaller models (and some foreign models) the condenser is located on the back of the unit.  It will look like a tube that goes back and forth forming a coil of sorts, and is usually painted black..

It can be accessed by removing the “kick plate” from the front of the machine, or by simply pulling the machine out enough to get to the back coils (although the back coil condensers don’t usually get clogged as easily as the bottom mounted ones).  The condenser can also be accessed by removing the compressor compartment cover on back.

Now, it is a good idea to go to your local Lowe’s or Home Depot (or any hardware or appliance parts distributor) and purchase a funny looking brush on a stick called a condenser coil brush.  This brush is especially made for cleaning condenser coils.  I recommend every hubby have one in his tool kit.  They run about 5 dollars or less.

Carefully take the brush and push it in and out of the coils to pull the lint and hair build-up off the coil.  At this time you can also return the toys, pencils, rubber bands, etc. to the kids and throw away all the used straws and toothpicks you remove.  The use of a good vacuum cleaner with a crevice tool can help in keeping the coil clean.

(A good sign that your condenser coil needs to be cleaned is when you look just under the fridge door and you see what looks like an animal sleeping in the kick plate, then it’s time to clean it.)

Now replace the kick plate.  Don’t expect an immediate return of proper temp.  Give the unit a little while to “settle” and then check your temperature (the fridge temp not yours).

2.  The condenser fan.

I list this one next because you are already down there checking the coil.  If you have removed the back compressor compartment cover or the kick plate and the coil looks to be fairly clean (Use the brush anyway.  You’re down there.  Might as well clean it.)… check out the condenser fan.

The purpose of the condenser fan is to force air through the compressor compartment and across the coil and help in the dissipating of the heat extracted from the stuff inside your fridge .  If this fan is not turning properly then its purpose is defeated.

Sometimes the fan can get blocked by a build-up of lint or trash that has worked its way into the system.  Also, the lint can cake onto the blades and cause the fan to run slower than designed.  In that case some fans overheat and a heat sensitive thermal protects the motor by cutting it off.  But you would be surprised as to the toughness of those little buggers.  I’ve seen fans stopped on commercial units for weeks and then start working right after the blockage has been removed.

Check the blades themselves.  They can work  loose on the motor shaft and not keep up to speed.  Many times this can be obvious, because of the “squealing” noise they make as they slip on the shaft. (This same noise will come from the “evaporator” motor when it is going bad.  That will be covered in a few.)

By the way, don’t cringe when you pull the compartment cover off the back and find your condenser fan not turning because a furry critter took an unfortunate turn for the worse shortcut.  It happens, especially if the unit in question is kept in the garage or carport.

If you clean and/or unblock the condenser fan and it still does not turn, slowly turns, or turns and stops – turns and stops as if it wants to turn –  a little secret is to spray WD-40 directly into the motor.  Sometimes by manually spinning and spraying you can clean the armature and lubricate the sealed bearings to get the little guy spinning again.  Watch it for a few minutes to make sure it continues to spin.  I do this with the power on, but as my doctor says, “I is a perfessional.”  You might want to unplug the unit…wait, you were supposed to have the thing unplugged before you tackled this feat.

If the fan does not continue to spin, remove it and take it along with the model and serial number to your local appliance parts distributor.  Many times you can find a generic that is just as good at half the price. Unfortunately, there are some “manufactories” that are rather proud of their parts, and some are proprietary (meaning, “tuff stuff” owner…it’s our parts or none at all – Gotcha!).

3.  Surrounding area.

This will be short, but all refrigerators and freezers need their space.  If you have your unit crammed into a tight space – or the air flow is blocked with dirty towels and such that the kids (and the hubby) threw on the floor, then don’t expect the unit to cool properly.  Check the top of the unit also.  Sometimes we hide stuff from the kids up there and when it gets pushed back against the wall – it can block the air flow.  Simple fix: find somewhere else to hide it.  That’s why God created attics.

4. Clean the inside of the freezer.

Simply stated, “Those little vents inside the freezer are there for a purpose.”  If the popcicle  wrappings, Saran wrap, boxes, or anything else blocks those vents, then the cold air from the freezer is not going to make its way to the refrigerator (fresh food compartment).

Here’s how most refrigerator compartments cool.  Air passes across the evaporator coil (the cooling coil) in the freezer compartment and makes its way into the fresh food compartment.  If you block that air flow, then your fridge will not hold temp.  Unblock the vents, and clean the unit once in a while, say, every 5 thousand miles or so.

5.  Gaskets or seals.

One of the most forgotten and neglected parts of the refrigerator/freezer.

The gaskets or seals are there for a purpose also.  They prevent warm air from leaking in and cold air from leaking out.  They are magnetized to help hold the doors closed.  If the gaskets are torn, they allow warm air in and cold air out.

You can keep them clean and protected with a good “used” toothbrush (or new if you’re squeamish about a used toothbrush) and a mild cleaning solution.  It’s not a bad idea to use something like Clorox spray cleaner to help kill germs.  Make sure when you clean the gaskets that you spread apart the creases and clean the grit and spilled stuff from within them.

Some techs will use a good vinyl cleaner/protectant  on the gaskets.  That’s up to you.  But keep them clean.

The tightness of the gasket is important also.  Take a dollar bill.  Place it between the cabinet and the gasket.  Try to pull the dollar out.  If it has a little drag, then you are OK.  If it slips out easily or just falls to the floor, your door is either out of adjustment or the gasket needs replacing.

Again, take your model and serial number to your local appliance parts distributor and purchase a replacement.  By the way, these things can be a bugger to replace, so be aware of how the old one came off.

Well, I gotta go fix myself a sandwich.  Hope my fridge is working.  I’ll return with further checks and repairs in another posting.

But, remember this, just because your fridge is not cooling properly (or not at all) does not mean that you necessarily need “Freon” (refrigerant).  Refrigerant does not burn up.  If you need refrigerant, you have a leak.  As long as your system remains sealed, the same amount of refrigerant will stay in the system.  If the refrigerant gets “bad” then some component in the sealed system (mainly the compressor or drier) will need to be replaced.

Again, don’t let Uncle Guido pump some juice into the system just because he has a can of it on a shelf in his barn.  Sealed system service is highly technical and should be accomplished by someone who is trained and is a “perfessional” – and has a family to feed.