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Why Is My Refrigerator Not Cooling?

By: Mr. Appliance | Published 09/06/2022

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If your refrigerator stopped cooling to an ideal temperature of 35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit, you might end up with spoiled food and major frustration. So, what’s wrong with your fridge? It could be something as simple as a worn-out seal or as complicated as a faulty compressor, clogged condenser coils, and more.  

Your local appliance experts at Mr. Appliance have created this guide to help you troubleshoot a fridge that’s not cold enough, understand potential repairs, and decide when you should ask a professional to handle it. 

How to Troubleshoot a Refrigerator That’s Not Cooling 

  • Check Easy Stuff First: Plug, Doors, and More 

  • If you’re lucky, there could be an easy fix.  

Find out more by following these steps first:  

  1. Make sure the refrigerator is plugged in! Wouldn’t you be relieved if this was the only problem? 

  1. Check the thermostat, which is likely located in the back or the top of the fridge or freezer compartment. Choose the temperature setting that corresponds to 35 to 38 degrees. (Check your owners’ manual for further guidance.)  

  1. Double-check the doors and gaskets. Signs of faulty fridge doors include visible wear-and-tear on the gaskets and a fridge light that doesn’t turn off and on when you open and close the door. 

  1. Make sure the fridge isn’t overpacked. If food is blocking the vents, cold air will not circulate properly through your fridge.  
     

If you run through this easy-win checklist and don’t find any problems, there’s a more complicated reason that your refrigerator is not cold. Continue to the next troubleshooting steps. Remember that these steps aren’t recommended for DIY projects; rather, they’re what a refrigerator repair expert would do for you.  

Inspect the Refrigerator Compressor and Start Relay 

The compressor is the part of the fridge that compresses and pushes refrigerant vapor into the coils outside of the fridge. When working properly, the resulting pressure forms hot gas that later cools and absorbs heat from the freezer and fridge. A broken compressor is a common reason for a fridge being warm. 

  • Telltale sign: If your fridge is not getting cold, but the fan is still running (i.e., you can hear it), your compressor or the compressor start relay could be bad. 

  • Where the part is: The compressor is located behind your fridge and at the bottom. It’s a black, tank-like part. The compressor start relay is the part that feeds the cords into the compressor. You’ll need to pull your fridge away from the wall to access both parts. Make sure you unplug your refrigerator before you touch anything. 

  • The fix: Replacing the compressor start relay is much easier and cheaper than replacing the compressor. Simply buying a new relay and testing it with your current compressor would shed light on whether you need a new compressor. To replace the compressor itself, contact a professional like your local Mr. Appliance. An expert will safely disconnect the compressor from the suction line and discharge line. Then they’ll remove the electrical package and cut the high and low lines before loosening the bolts that hold the compressor in place, then remove the ground wire. Your new compressor will need to be connected to your suction line, discharge line, and process line. The lines require welds to secure them in place. Finally, the rubber grommets need to be transferred from your old compressor to the new one, and the crossover line needs to be switched over before the new system is evacuated and enabled. 
     

Check the Condenser Coils 

Condenser coils carry the hot gas produced by the compressor up to the evaporator coils. As the refrigerant travels through the coils at high pressure, it cools and turns back into a liquid. Clogged condenser coils produce a poor circulation of gas, restricting your fridge’s ability to keep cool. 

  • Telltale sign: A visual inspection reveals that the condenser coils are covered with dust and debris.  

  • Where the part is: Condenser coils are located across the bottom of the fridge or on the back. They lead from the compressor to the main fridge compartments. 

  • The fix: If your coils are clogged, cleaning is needed. Disconnect the refrigerator from the power before removing the toe grill according to the owner’s manual. Then use a coil brush and vacuum to clean the condenser coils.  
     

Care for the Condenser Fan 

The condenser fan cools the compressor and condenser coils as they work. The fan should run when the compressor is running. If the condenser fan does not function properly, the compressor can overheat, causing a warm fridge.  

  • Telltale sign: When you pull the fridge away from the wall to watch the fan, the blades don’t seem to turn when the compressor runs. Or, when the fridge is unplugged, and you try to spin the fan by hand, the blades are stuck. Another sign of a worn-out condenser fan is a squeaking sound when the fridge runs.  

  • Where the part is: The condenser fan is located in the bottom cabinet by the compressor and the condenser coils. Refrigerators with condenser coils on the back will not have a fan. 

  • The fix: First, ensure the condenser fan is spinning freely and not being obstructed by any objects or dust buildup. If there’s nothing blocking the fan, you might need to have the condenser fan motor replaced, which is a job best left to an experienced appliance repair technician. The technician will source a new fan motor, unfasten the existing fan mounting screws, remove the assembly from the motor compartment, remove the motor mounting bracket, and install your new motor. 
     

Evaluate the Evaporator Fan 

The evaporator fan is the part of the fridge that blows the cool air you feel when you open the door. It pulls air across the evaporator coil, cooling it, and then pushes the air through the freezer and refrigerator. If the evaporator fan does not work or kick on when the compressor does, your unit will not be able to produce cool air in the fridge compartment—or both the freezer and fridge compartments.  

  • Telltale sign: If your freezer works, but the refrigerator doesn't (in a combination fridge-freezer unit), the evaporator fan could be to blame. However, this symptom can also happen if there’s a problem with the air damper (see next section). Other signs of a faulty evaporator fan include visual evidence that the fan is blocked or simply not turning, even when you can hear the rest of the fridge running.  

  • Where the part is: The evaporator fan is behind a removable panel in your freezer wall. The freezer needs to be emptied of all food and shelving before you can access this fan. 

  • The fix: If the fan does not seem to be working, you might need to have an expert replace the fan motor. The expert will unplug the unit and remove the fan mounting clip, fan blade, and wire harness before installing the new motor into the harness and housing. Then they’ll insert the fan blades and reassemble the remaining components. 
     

Analyze the Air Damper 

The air damper controls how much cold air is shared between the freezer and the fridge compartments. If the air damper can’t close or open, it can impact the temperature of the fridge while the freezer stays at the right temperature.  

  • Telltale sign: A “freezer cold—fridge warm” situation is a sign of a faulty air damper. However, remember that a faulty evaporator fan may produce similar signs.  

  • Where the part is: It’s between the fresh food compartment and the freezer in your refrigerator-freezer unit. For example, in a side-by-side unit, the air damper should be located in the upper left corner of the fridge. 

  • The fix: An appliance technician will follow these steps: Unplug the fridge. Remove the screws holding the conduit cover or damper cover into place. Take off the thermostat sensor, too, which will be around the damper. In the freezer, remove the ice bucket and its motor. Unscrew the rear duct panel and release the tabs holding the air damper in place. Remove the old one and install the new air damper before reassembling all components. 
     

Questions You May Have as You Troubleshoot  

How long does it take a fridge to get cold after it’s been fixed? It only takes about two hours for an average-sized refrigerator to cool food to a safe temperature. However, it can take six to eight hours to get to the optimal temperature.  

Only the bottom of my refrigerator is not getting cold—why is that? Warm areas in a fridge can be caused by clogged condenser coils or food items blocking vents in the fridge or freezer compartment.  

How do you fix a warm fridge and cold freezer? In most cases, this problem is caused by a broken air damper or evaporator fan. In either situation, the best fix is to contact an appliance professional to replace the part.  

How can I extend the life of my refrigerator? With scheduled service, your refrigerator can normally last 10 to 18 years when properly maintained. Top-freezer units may last fewer years than side-by-side or bottom-freezer models.  

Do You Need a Hand? 

If you’re still yelling, “My refrigerator is not cold!” after you run through this guide, it’s time to call a professional to handle it. Appliance repair can be complicated, and taking your refrigerator apart can be dangerous and costly if you don’t know what you’re doing.  

Your local Mr. Appliance experts understand how to quickly and effectively repair your major appliances. Whether you’re facing a refrigerator that’s not cooling—or any other appliance problem—request an estimate online or give us a call at (888) 998-2011 today.  

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