Solved! How Long Refrigerators Last

That vital kitchen appliance may hang in there longer than you think, but it won’t be around forever. Learn how to extend its life—and when it’s time for a new one.

How Long Does a Refrigerator Last? Solved!

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: My nine-year-old fridge is on the fritz, but it seems premature to replace it. How long do refrigerators last?

A: Given that a new fridge can set you back between $350 and $1,200, according to cost estimating site ImproveNet, it’s understandable that you would want to keep it going as long as possible. Fortunately, by troubleshooting fixable problems and regularly maintaining your fridge, you should be able to extend its lifetime.

You can get 10 to 15 years out of a typical unit.

The average fridge with a freezer on the top or bottom should reliably run for 13 years. Beyond that, your fridge will lose cooling efficiency and cause your utility bills to spike, and its individual components will deteriorate, increasing the risk of malfunctions from pesky noises to excessive frost build-up in the freezer.

Your fridge may last up to 20 years if you:

…clean the coils.

Condenser coils, metal tubes found on the fridge exterior at the base or behind your fridge, help liquefy vaporized refrigerant from the unit’s compressor in order to release hot air from inside the fridge out into the kitchen. Dust and dirt trapped in these coils prevent the efficient escape of heat, which can cause your fridge to constantly cycle on and off and eventually stop running completely. Cleaning the coils once or twice a year can make refrigerators last longer. First, unplug the fridge, and then access the condenser coils behind the snap-on toe kick plate at the base—or pull the unit away from the wall if the coils are behind it. Vacuum dust on the coils with a dust brush attachment, then work a condenser coil brush (e.g., Vanitek Condenser Coil Brush, available at Amazon) along and between the coils to eliminate dirt.

…lubricate the door gaskets.

The rubber insulation around the edges of the refrigerator door interiors seals in cold air and shuts out hot air. Over time, these gaskets can become misshapen, form cracks, tear, or loosen from the door. If this happens, cold air can leak out of the fridge and hot air can enter, increasing interior moisture. This can also cause ice dams to form in the fridge and freezer. These obstructions reduce storage space and hinder heat exchange between the unit and surrounding air, making it less efficient. Lubricating the door gaskets by applying a thin film of petroleum jelly to the outer edges will maintain their elasticity and protect the integrity of the seal.

How Long Does a Refrigerator Last? Solved!

Photo: istockphoto.com

…clear the vents.

The vents located on the sidewalls of your fridge and on the roof of your freezer aid in air circulation in the unit. When obstructed by food, vents work inefficiently, causing moisture or frost build-up and uneven cooling. Move any foodstuffs placed directly in front of the vents and ensure that any twist ties from frozen food bags or crumbs from exposed foods like cakes do not encroach on vent openings.

…perform timely troubleshooting.

Resolve minor fridge malfunctions as they arise to keep them from progressing into more severe problems. Below, easy fixes for common
fridge troubles:

  • If you observe a puddle of water on the floor beneath the fridge, the water supply line to the ice maker or water dispenser may be compromised. To fix, unplug the fridge and close the water supply shut-off valve in the basement or under a sink near the fridge. Replace the plastic supply line connected to the valve if it is cracked or visibly leaking water.
  • If your fridge makes grinding or scraping sounds, the fan that cools the condenser coils may be to blame. Unplug the fridge and access the fan in the same compartment as the condenser coil at the base. Replace worn or broken fan blades.
  • If your ice maker fails to produce ice, the fill tube behind the ice maker may be clogged. Defrost the fill tube by blowing hot air from a hair dryer to restore it to working order.
  • If you spot a spill in your fridge that’s not from a beverage or food, the drain tube might be stopped up and conveying excess moisture into the unit instead of the drain pan at the base. Locate the drain plug on the back wall of the main fridge compartment, moving any foods blocking it to another shelf or out of the fridge temporarily. Then fill a turkey baster or a meat injector (a syringe used to infuse the meat with flavoring) with a 50-50 solution of bleach and warm water and flush out the plug (it may require several applications). Dispose of the dirty liquid that settled in the drain pan at the base of the fridge when you’re finished.

Know when it’s time for a replacement.

The lifespan of a fridge varies by the model, so don’t rely on its age alone to determine if you’re ready for a new one. Instead, rely on the working condition of your fridge as a gauge. Below are some signs that your fridge is impractical or impossible to fix and may warrant a replacement:

  • The rear exterior surface of your fridge is generating an excessive amount of heat.
  • Food spoils prematurely even when you correctly set the temperature adjustment control to a food-safe setting of 40 degrees F or less.
  • You frequently see condensation on the inside of the fridge, but the door gaskets are in good condition.
  • The fridge buzzes loudly even after unplugging and plugging it back in.
  • Your fridge is completely silent when plugged in (a gentle hum is expected), but there’s no evidence on the electrical panel to suggest that the circuit breaker for the fridge flipped.
  • You frequently notice that the frozen foods you retrieve from the freezer are regularly covered by a thick layer of frost.
  • Your utility bills are mysteriously shooting up despite making no changes in your appliance usage. If this is the case, an energy-usage monitor plugged in between the fridge and the fridge outlet will indicate that the fridge is drawing more wattage than it has in the past.

RELATED: 7 Smart Tips for Saving Big Money on Major Appliances

Employ proper fridge disposal techniques.

Fridges shouldn’t be laid out with the rest of your garbage on trash day as they contain recyclable components as well as chemicals that can harm the environment. To correctly dispose of a fridge:

How Long Does a Refrigerator Last? Solved!

Photo: istockphoto.com

  • Ask the dealer for your new fridge whether they can remove the old one upon delivery and installation; many routinely perform this service.
  • If the appliance dealer won’t remove the old unit, contact your city government to find out if refrigerators are accepted through its program. If your city recycling doesn’t accept refrigerators, ask a local recycling agency (find a listing at the EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal program webpage).
  • If recycling isn’t an option, inquire with your city’s residential trash department about whether they accept bulky waste such as refrigerators. Depending on where you live, you may have to pay a fee (usually under $50) for this service.
  • Schedule a date with your city or other local recycling agency for refrigerator pick-up. Follow any recommendations for preparing your fridge for collection. You may need to detach the doors by removing the bolts from the top of the unit. Transport the fridge outdoors on a dolly and position it far away from gas meters, fences, and other nearby structures.
  • Alternatively, if your city has DIY disposal sites for recyclable collection, tie the refrigerator to a truck bed with rope, drive it to the disposal site, and unload it as instructed by the attendants.