Solved! What to Do When Your Refrigerator is Not Cooling
There's no need to toss—or eat—all of the chilled food before it goes bad. Instead, try these quick fixes to getting your refrigerator up and running again.
Q: A can of soda that I just pulled out of my fridge is barely cool. I’ve also recently noticed that my lunchmeat isn’t as cold as it used to be. Why is my refrigerator not cooling properly? Do I have to call a repairman, or is there something I can do?
A: While some refrigerator cooling problems require professional assistance, don’t call the repairman just yet. You might be able to fix the situation yourself. It’s certainly worth a shot, since the average professional service call can run $150 or more.
Start by noting other clues, such as strange noises like scraping, which might indicate a problem with the condenser fan. Check to see if the freezer is freezing, so you will know whether both the fridge and freezer are not cooling. Depending on the cause of your refrigerator not cooling, the following procedures might help.
Make sure your fridge is getting power.
This might sound too simple to be the answer, but a power cord that has worked loose in its outlet or a flipped breaker will shut the entire fridge down.
Open the door. If the light comes on, the refrigerator still has power and you can move on to the next cause and solution. If the light doesn’t come on, make sure the power cord is plugged in firmly and check again.
Still no light? Check your main electrical panel for a flipped breaker and switch it back on if necessary.
Take a look at your owner’s manual.
Even with some of the top brands, like KitchenAid refrigerators not cooling, the problem might have a simple solution. Before picking up your toolbox, take out the owner’s manual that came with your appliance. Most refrigerator manuals include troubleshooting steps or tips and error codes specific to their brand.
Although all refrigerators have common functions, each brand and model can have a feature that’s simple to correct. For example, when a Samsung refrigerator is not cooling, it might have been accidentally set to Demo Mode. When a Whirlpool refrigerator is not cooling, check the condenser coils, since they can get covered in dirt and dust. When a Frigidaire refrigerator is not cooling, the culprit also can be dirty condenser coils, or a common solution of adjusting the temperature setting in this and other models.
Again, the owner’s manual often gives clues to brand-specific fixes, so keep it handy as you assess the cause of your fridge not cooling.
Check the refrigerator thermostat.
New refrigerators usually come preset at a mid-range temperature of between 35 and 37 degrees Fahrenheit because that’s the optimal temperature range for a fridge at which you can keep perishable foods safe. Thermostat dials inside the fridge can get bumped by cartons of milk or other items, though, which can change the set temperature.
Even exterior digital thermostats can be inadvertently changed by little fingers or if someone leans against the control panel, unknowingly raising the temperature. Many digital panels come with the ability to lock the settings for just that reason. Reset the temperature to the safe zone if necessary.
If you don’t trust the temperature reading that you’re getting, or if yours is an older fridge without an internal thermostat, consider purchasing a separate, low-cost refrigerator thermostat like Vouloir’s digital waterproof thermostat, to test the temperature.
Test the seals on your fridge doors.
Even if the rest of your refrigerator is working fine, if the magnetic seals on the doors—also called door gaskets—are defective, cool air from inside the fridge could be escaping. Refrigerator door gaskets can get brittle over time, which reduces their ability to form a tight seal.
Test the seal by putting a dollar bill halfway in the door, and then close the door. If you feel resistance when you pull it out, the seal is still working, but if the bill slips out easily, you’ll need to replace the door gaskets.
Replacing the gaskets is an easy enough project for eager DIYers. Door gaskets range in price from around $45 to $85 or more, depending on the refrigerator’s brand and model. Check your owner’s manual to determine the correct replacement gaskets. Also, find detailed DIY replacement instructions in your owner’s manual or in the replacement gasket package.
Determine whether the refrigerator is level.
A relatively new fridge on which the door seals are still supple can still leak air and fail the dollar bill test above when it’s out of level. If a refrigerator is lower on one side than the other, its heavy doors don’t always seal tightly.
Set a carpenter’s level on top of the fridge and, if the bubble is not in the center of the glass tube, adjust the front legs of the fridge until it is. Most refrigerator legs can be adjusted with either a hex wrench or adjustable pliers. Consult your owner’s manual for detailed instructions on how to level your appliance.
Clean the condenser coils.
Your fridge comes with condenser coils that are filled with refrigerant. Over time, the coils—which are not in a sealed unit—can become caked with dust, hair, or pet fur, which reduces their ability to keep the air in the fridge cold. Fortunately, cleaning refrigerator coils is a relatively simple process, requiring only a $10 coil condenser brush and a vacuum to suck up the loosened dust. If you find a lot of dust buildup on the coils, plan to clean them once or twice a year to keep your fridge cooling properly.
Check to make sure nothing is blocking the air vents.
Cold air circulates back and forth through vents that run between the refrigerator’s freezer compartment and the refrigerator compartment. If an item blocks the airflow, it can result in inconsistent temperatures in the refrigerated compartment. Depending on the brand and model of your fridge, the vents could be located along the inside back wall or along a side wall. Check your owner’s manual if you have trouble locating them.
- Items crammed tightly against a vent can block airflow. A good rule of thumb is to keep plenty of food products in your fridge, which will help it maintain a cool temperature, but don’t pack it so tightly that air cannot circulate easily from shelf to shelf. Cramming too much food too tightly is a common cause of a GE refrigerator not cooling, for example.
- Frost buildup in the freezer also can block a vent, reducing or preventing cold air from reaching the refrigerator compartment. If the freezer compartment is heavily frosted, unplug the fridge and open the freezer door to allow the frost to melt. Once it melts, plug the fridge back in and it should cool better. It can take an entire day for a heavily frosted freezer to defrost, so plan to store your perishable food items in a neighbor’s fridge, if possible.
Check for problems after a recent power outage.
You’ll know the cause of a refrigerator not cooling when your home loses power, but sometimes your refrigerator resets from an outage and is not up to speed on cooling. Naturally, it takes some time for the food and drinks inside to chill again, but refrigerators with control panels or a manual switch the user sets might need your help after they lose power. On their troubleshooting page about KitchenAid refrigerators not cooling, the company explains how power outage and cooling function buttons might reset on their models.
If all else fails, call a repairman.
At this point, the cause of the problem might be a defective mechanical component. While replacing some components on a refrigerator is not too difficult, pinpointing the exact cause of the problem can be tricky and requires the use of electrical testing equipment.
The compressor, the compressor fan, or the defrost thermostat might need replacing, which should be undertaken by a licensed professional. If your fridge is still under warranty, note that attempting to replace components yourself may void its warranty. Likewise, the service and parts can be so costly that you are better off replacing a refrigerator that is not cooling.
It’s important to keep a cold refrigerator for food flavor, and especially for food safety. With a little troubleshooting, you can check to determine why a fridge is not cooling and might solve the problem with a simple fix like thinning out items to avoid blocking airflow, checking the power to the appliance, or checking temperature settings and cooling functions. You also might be able to clean condenser coils or replace door gaskets on your own. In most cases, you’ll want to leave mechanical parts replacements to an appliance service pro.
FAQs About Why the Refrigerator is Not Cooling
When a refrigerator is not cooling, there are a few steps you can take to troubleshoot before calling a repair service or rushing out to buy a new fridge. The tips above can help, but you might still have one of these common questions:
Q. Why isn’t the refrigerator cold, but the freezer is?
If the freezer works but the fridge is not cold, the problem likely is not power, but could signal one of a few problems. A damper control that lets cold air into the fridge might be broken, even though the freezer works. The same goes for the evaporator fan motor or the evaporator coils, which can build up frost. A thermistor monitors the fridge temperature and might be defective. Or it might be a simpler problem, like too many stuffed items in the fridge or worn-out door gaskets from high use just on the refrigerator side of the unit.
Q. Should I turn my refrigerator thermostat down if my fridge is packed with food?
Typically, your refrigerator works best when it is full, but not overstuffed. Be aware of overcrowding that can reduce airflow inside. And avoid placing leftovers in the fridge until they cool down on the counter a bit. However, during peak fridge use times, like holidays or company in the house, go ahead and lower the temperature about 1 degree to account for increased volume and door openings.
Q. How do I reset my refrigerator compressor?
Many modern refrigerators are highly technical and various timers or thermostats can malfunction. Resetting the compressor might eliminate frequent running or poor cooling issues. Pull the unit away from the wall and unplug it. Check the owner’s manual for any “off” or “zero” settings in your fridge and freezer and set them to off or zero. Plug the unit back in and adjust the temperature controls of both to your desired setting. Give the fridge about 24 hours to cool to your set temperature.