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Refrigerator Repair Guide

Learn what refrigerator repairs you can do yourself and when it's time to call a professional.

Refrigerators work hard day and night to keep food cold. So if yours stops functioning properly, don't give up on the old model right away. Try these tips for repairing it, first.

Obviously, the most common sign your refrigerator or freezer isn't functioning properly is food that isn't as cold as it should be. According to Pete Argos, an appliance repairman and author of the e-book Appliance Repair Made Easy & Cheap, the first step is to find out if the problem is the result of a compressor, defrost, or air circulation issue.

"If both the refrigerator and the freezer are getting warmer, then it is most likely a thermostat or compressor issue," Argos says. "If just the refrigerator is getting warmer, it is most likely an automatic defrost or air circulation issue." A defrost failure will also cause ice to build up on the freezer walls or floor.

If you determine the problem to be a defrost issue, Argos recommends unplugging the refrigerator and leaving the doors open for 24 hours. (For food safety, be sure to remove the contents and find an alternate storage place that will keep foods at refrigerator temperature.) Then reset both temperature controls to middle settings and plug the refrigerator back in. "The refrigerator should resume normal temps within a day," he says. "If the defrost problem reoccurs within two weeks, you will need to call your service tech."

Argos offers these tips for keeping your refrigerator functioning properly:

  • Clean the condenser coils, located under or behind the refrigerator, on a regular basis with a brush and wet/dry vacuum.
  • Check the condenser cooling fan, located behind the fridge near the bottom, for any obstructions.
  • Clean door seals with warm, soapy water and inspect for large cracks or tears. Replace if necessary.
  • Keep food and packages away from air vents. "An over-packed refrigerator or freezer could restrict proper air flow," Argos says.

Keep in mind, do-it-yourself fixes vary depending on your handiness level. If you are uncomfortable working with electricity, limit yourself to mechanical issues such as a clogged drain or stuck motor fan. Refrigeration problems, such as low gas, a clogged capillary tube, or a bad compressor, are typically only for professionals because they require special knowledge and tools.

If you've tried the suggestions provided here and your refrigerator is still not cooling properly, give your local service technician a call.

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