Things Your Parents Didn’t Tell You About Taking Care of Your Home: Cleaning your Refrigerator’s Condenser Coils
A refrigerator is one of those appliances that most Americans would consider as an essential piece of equipment in their house. An estimated 98% of U.S. homes have a refrigerator, and 23% even have two or more! Most of us rely on these wonderful appliances to keep our food fresh and our drinks cold, and doing without a working fridge can be a real hardship.
Refrigerators are one of the things that don’t break often, but when they do it’s often an expensive hassle to get them fixed or replaced. Fridges that are poorly maintained can also use up a good chunk of your home’s electricity bill. A few simple maintenance steps can improve your fridge’s efficiency, so it uses less power, and prevents many breakdowns and other problems.
Condenser coils are an integral part of the system that keeps the inside of your fridge and freezer at the correct level of coldness. Most designs need air to move over them to keep them from getting overheated. Unfortunately, dust then builds up on the coils, reducing their efficiency and sometimes causing parts to overheat. Dirty coils mean that your fridge ends up working harder to keep your food cool, resulting in more electricity used. Dirty coils are also more likely to break down, and, if they get too dirty, your fridge might lose its ability to regulate temperatures correctly.
Image courtesy of Appliance Repair
The majority of refrigerators have condenser coils on the bottom or the back. A few designs have internal coils or coils on the top. Some fridges also have a condenser fan, though not all do. Generally, fans are found in fridges with condenser coils on the bottom. The fan helps circulate air around the coils, keeping them nice and cool.
Cleaning the condenser coils and fan should be done at least once a year, though some experts suggest cleaning out your fridge’s coils every six months instead. If you live in an area with a lot of dust or sand, or have pets that shed, consider performing this step more often, since pet hair can definitely gum up the coils and fan.
To clean your fridge’s condenser coils, follow these steps:
Step 1: Turn it off
It’s important to cut off your fridge’s power supply before doing any maintenance for safety’s sake. Cleaning the coils takes very little time, and your food won’t spoil before you reconnect everything. Either turn the power off at the breaker or unplug your fridge. If you have an ice maker, you should also shut off the water supply to the fridge.
Step 2: Get access to the coils
Figure out where on the fridge the condenser coils are. If the coils are on the bottom of the fridge, they’re probably protected by a grate. Coils on the back of the fridge might be open to the air or have a grate covering them, too. Most grates can be simply pulled off, but some are attached with screws that will need to be removed first.
Step 3: Brush
You should preferably put on a dust mask before cleaning the actual coils, to keep anything from getting into your lungs.
Next, you need to scrub off the gate cover and then carefully remove dust from the coils. Ideally, you should use a brush designed specifically for refrigerator coils (generally just called a refrigerator-coil brush; they’re typically only a few dollars and are sold at most hardware stores). If you don’t have one, a stiff brush might work if you’re careful.
If you can reach it and your fridge has one, try to also brush off the fan. Make sure you brush gently, since damaging the coils will result in an expensive repair.
Step 4: Clean up
Go ahead and replace the grate over the coils if you removed it earlier. Then, using a hose attachment for your vacuum cleaner, gently vacuum up the dust you dislodged, including any on the floor. Since you’ve probably pulled the fridge out to unplug it or access the coils, take this opportunity to clean behind the fridge, vacuuming the floor, cleaning the baseboards, and scrubbing the wall.
Step 5: Put everything back in place
Plug your fridge back in (or turn the power back on at the breaker), then slide it back into place. Reconnect the water for your ice maker if you’d disconnected it earlier. Check back in an hour to make sure the unit is cooling as it should be and that the ice maker is working. Then sit back and enjoy a nice cool drink, courtesy of your well-maintained fridge!
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