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Common fridge faults and how to fix them

  • 5 min read

Written by Domestic & General

Though refrigerators generally operate very dependably, they can break down, and, when they do, the food inside can spoil in a hurry. Though troubleshooting refrigerator problems often calls for a refrigerator repair person, you can handle some simple refrigerator troubleshooting and repairs yourself. As a result, you can save money, time, and the hassle of waiting for help.

How do fridges work?

Understanding how something works can make it easier to spot when it’s not working properly. As with everything; the quicker you can identify something’s wrong, the easier it is to fix.

Fridges and freezers used to use a gas called Chloro-Flouro-Carbon or CFC, but the newer models tend to avoid these due to them being harmful to the atmosphere. Instead, they probably use another type of gas called HFC-134a, which becomes a liquid at -26.6C. This gas is better for the atmosphere but can still be harmful to us if breathed in. The gas then follows this process:

  • A motor inside the appliance compresses this gas to heat it
  • Then it turns into a liquid when it cools.
  • Once cooled, the gas flows as a liquid through a valve, which forces it back into a gas.
  • The gas then goes through the coils in your fridge and freezer to keep the whole thing cool.

There is no power to my appliance

The first step to check is if you have power switched on the appliance. Then there is a few other things you can check:

  1. Check the plug and lead for any damage
  2. Take a fuse (of the same rating, most likely 13A) from something else that is working (such as a kettle or toaster) Put the fuse in the appliances plug and try again.

  3. Try another electrical appliance in the socket and see if it works. If it does not then it may be the electrical socket in your home at fault.
  4. If your appliance is connected via an extension cable try another or try plugging it directly into the mains.

My fridge is not as cold as it should be

A few things you can do to if your fridge is not as cold as it should be:

  1. Check the doors are closed properly
  2. Check the door seals are clean, free from debris and not damanged
  3. Check that the temperature adjustment knob or thermostat is set to the correct temperature. Please refer to your user manual for the correct temperature setting.

  4. The appliance may have been overfilled. Prior to putting large amounts of food into your freezer, switch on your applianceʼs ‘fast freeze’ function (if your appliance has this) for 24 hours before. Check the user manual for specific details on any fast freeze features on your appliance.

  5. The doors may be being opened too frequently

Food in my freezer has defrosted

  1. Check the temperature of the area around the appliance - If the temperature of the room the appliance is located is below 10°C the fridge may not operate and the freezer will start to defrost.
  2. Check the power is still on - If the appliance has been disconnected from the power or the power supply has been disconnected, then the food in the freezer will defrost.
  3. Check the door seals - Check there is no debris or anything else stopping the door from closing properly.

Other things to look out for is to make sure the appliance is positioned properly and levelled using the adjustable feet. Try to make sure that you only open the door for putting items in or taking them out and that the door doesnʼt stay open too long unnecessarily. With an upright freezer (or fridge freezer) each time the door is opened, some of the cooled air falls out and warmer air comes in (so the freezer has to work harder).

My appliance is warm or hot on the outside

This is normal — raised temperatures are necessary to avoid condensation forming on and in certain parts of the appliance.

Some modern appliances have part of the cooling mechanism wrapped around the sides of the appliance under the skin of the body to allow heat to dissipate better.

The interior light does not come on 

If the interior light of your fridge does not come on, firstly check the appliance is plugged into the mains and switched on. Then try these few steps:

  1. Test the internal light pressure switch or button to see if there is anything restricting its movement or making it stick. You should be able to push the button in and out easily with your finger making the interior light come on and go off. Check the user manual for your appliance to see where this switch is located.

  2. The light bulb may need replacing, refer to the user manual for your particular appliance on how to do this. Make sure that you use the correct type of replacement bulb.

There is ice build up in my freezer

Ice can build up when the door is left open for longer than necessary, causing humidity levels to change as the cooled air falls out allowing warmer air in. This can then result in frost and ice build up.

A few things you can check:

  • The doors may not be closing fully. Pull the appliance out from the wall and have someone lean it back far enough for you to reach the two front pedestal feet (take care, the appliance may be heavy). Screw both feet out a few turns. This will ensure the doors close on their own and that collected water is properly draining from the freezer and refrigerator.
  • Check that the door seals are clean and not damaged.

There are smells coming from my fridge

Over time bacteria can build up in the door seals, a good clean of the surfaces and in the folds of the seal with an anti-bacterial cleaner will remove this bacteria.

Cleaning the inside surfaces of the appliance with an anti-bacterial spray regularly will reduce the likelihood of smells appearing. A small dish of bicarbonate of soda powder in the back of the appliance will help to absorb any strong smells unwrapped food may create. 

To clean the door seals:

  1. Wipe down the rubber door seals on the fridge using kitchen cleaner or hot soapy water ensuring that all surfaces are clean and free from debris. An old toothbrush can be used to get into the difficult areas
  2. If the door seals are dirty and prevent the door from closing correctly, this could cause the fridge to work harder to control the temperature, leading to excessive ice or water build-up and could reduce the lifespan of the machine and also prevent food being correctly cooled.
  3. Wipe down the rubber door seals on the freezer using kitchen cleaner or hot soapy water ensuring that all surfaces are clean and free from debris. An old toothbrush can be used to get into the difficult areas

Unusual sounds from inside my refrigerator

You may here a cracking sounds from within the appliance — this is usually caused by a build up of frost on internal fridge components.

  • Loud vibrating or motor sounds, this type of noise is usually caused by the pump or compressor motor, this is often normal or can sometimes be made worse by the appliance vibrating against a wall or surrounding cupboards. If the appliance is not correctly levelled, this may also cause an increase in noise.
  • Some noises are created by the gas or coolant circulating inside pipes (even when the appliance is not running), this is normal.

Be aware of an ammonia smell. This could be a sign that there is a fault with the appliance and the gases within are leaking. If this is the case, you need to get it fixed as quickly as possible and you may even need to evacuate the house. It may seem like an extreme measure, but leaking ammonia is not something you can risk being around for any length of time.

How can I help to prevent it breaking down?You can help prevent faults with your fridge or freezer by just keeping it clean. Defrost your freezer at least twice a year to keep it from getting clogged with ice. Clear out mouldy food on a regular basis, wipe down the surfaces inside and make sure its drain is unclogged - do this once a week if possible.

If you notice any other noises or anything else unusual and your appliance’s performance is suffering as a result, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Call a licensed engineer to investigate the problem.