Refrigerator Repair and Care

Locate refrigerators away from heat sources like your range, a radiator, or a sunny window.

Never run frost-free refrigerators with freezer compartments in unheated areas with air temperature below 60 degrees F unless they are specially designed for such conditions. When the air temperature goes below 60 F, the compressor runs less, keeping temperatures in the refrigerator compartment cold enough for fresh food but not cold enough in the freezer compartment to keep food quality there. At air temperatures below 40 F, the compressor stops running, so the freezer compartment rises to air temperature and food thaws and spoils. Also below 32 F, water melted during the automatic defrost cycle may freeze again and block air passages.

For seasonal homes with heat left on at very low temperatures, or long winter vacations with heat turned down in home, remove all food, unplug the refrigerator, clean thoroughly, dry, and leave door ajar so air can circulate. Be sure no child can get into empty refrigerator in your absence and become trapped! If you can't use up food, give it away or throw it away; food that spoils in a refrigerator can create odors that may require discarding the refrigerator!

For short vacations, leave the refrigerator on but use up or discard perishable food, and if you have an ice maker, turn off the mechanism and water line following your manual directions.

If you have a chilled water dispenser, and room temperatures may go below freezing (as in moving, winter trip) shut off water and drain the water tank following the directions in your appliance manual.

Do not cram the refrigerator so full that cold air can't circulate freely to chill food. Cover or wrap all foods stored, especially in frost-free models, to prevent drying out, and transfer of odors.

In models that need defrosting, do not use electric defrosters or other hot objects where they can touch plastic liners or parts; they could melt. Always unplug the refrigerator before defrosting. Never use sharp objects which could damage the evaporator coils.

Clean the refrigerator compartment regularly, even though it does not require defrosting. Turn it off and unplug. Remove all food and removable interior parts. Wash with a solution of 1-2 tablespoons baking soda in 1 quart warm water. Rinse and wipe dry. Wash removable glass shelves and plastic parts in warm detergent solution, rinse and wipe dry. Do not put either glass or plastic in hot water; they may crack, especially if cold. Clean the door gasket with detergent solution; rinse and dry.

Occasionally clean the freezer compartment following manual instructions.

Wash the exterior of the cabinet with detergent solution; rinse and dry. A creamy appliance wax may be used occasionally to protect the painted exterior and make spots easier to wipe off.

Wipe up spills in the refrigerator promptly to avoid staining and odors.

Several of the plastics used for interior parts of the refrigerator are easily stained by berries, fruits, and other colored foods and absorb and retain odors. So tightly wrap or cover stored foods and remove "old" foods before they spoil.

These plastics may soften at high temperatures, so never put boiling or hot water in them. They may be damaged by various household chemicals, so never use cleaning waxes, spray-on cleaners, or concentrated chlorine bleach on them. Follow your manual directions for cleaning the different plastic drawers, shelves, etc. If you do not have a manual, be safe by using a mild detergent (a hand dish washing liquid) and lukewarm water solution, or a baking soda and water solution for cleaning. NEVER use abrasives like scouring powder or scouring pads, as these plastics are easily scratched.

Occasionally vacuum (or brush) dust from condenser, usually under the front bottom grille (see manual for location and directions). Also at the same time, wash the plastic pan which collects water from automatic defrosting and replace it in the same location.

Unpleasant odors develop either from improper storage of food or from spoilage. See our Refrigerator Odor FAQ.

This article has been contributed in part by Michigan State University Extension.

If looking to purchase a refrigerator, check out our Refrigerators Buyer's Guide.