How to look after a fridge or freezer


Plus simple steps for troubleshooting and maintenance.

Keep your fridge or freezer running well


It's fair to expect your fridge to last a long time (check the reliability score in our fridge test to see which brands last the longest, according to our members). 

But breakdowns are bound to happen at some point and it's good to be prepared. No one wants to waste money on spoiled food due to power loss or a poorly performing fridge.

You can help extend the life of your fridge by doing some simple maintenance. And if you can figure out how to fix simple problems yourself, you can save on call-out fees. 

Tip: Don't forget your user manual – it'll have some good tips for maintenance and can even break down some troubleshooting issues for you.

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How to clean and maintain your fridge

Every use

  • Ensure your fridge's contents are loaded in a way that lets air circulate.
  • Ensure the door is properly closed. This is especially true for the freezer door – otherwise your food thaw out, your energy use will go through the roof, and it will cause frost to form, even in a frost-free freezer.

Weekly

  • Clean external surfaces with either soapy water, an all-purpose cleaner or a soft damp cloth.
  • Glass finish or stainless steel fridges can also be wiped down with methylated spirits or window cleaner. (But check the manual first, as some surfaces that look like stainless steel aren’t actually made from stainless steel).
  • Wipe down door seals and contact points with a soft damp cloth to remove grime and ensure a good seal.

Monthly

  • Pull out shelves and crisper and give them a clean with warm soapy water. This is also a good time to audit your fridge contents and bin anything that's gone bad.

Every change of season

  • Roll your fridge out of its enclosure and clean behind and under it.
  • Check internal temperatures with a thermometer and adjust the controls to compensate for changes in ambient temperature. (This is especially important if your fridge doesn't adjust well to changes in the outside temperature, like the change from winter to summer.)

Annually

  • For old or retro style fridges, clean and dust the external condensers at the back of the fridge.
  • If water is leaking from under your fridge, check and clear the drainage or evaporation pans.
  • For manual defrost fridges and chest freezers, defrost and clean the freezer compartment once more than 1cm of ice has formed.
  • For frost-free freezers, icing up is a sign that either the door's not closing properly or the door seal needs replacing
  • Audit the contents of your freezer and dispose of anything unidentifiable or that pre-dates civilisation.
  • Check and replace your water filter if necessary.
  • Check door seals for wear and replace if necessary.

Troubleshooting

Noise

Fridges make noise, like many other electrical products. This can include:

  • fan sounds (moving cold air around different areas of the fridge)
  • pops (defrosting ice)
  • gurgling (liquid refrigerant circling the fridge)
  • hissing (difference in pressure between warm and cold air)
  • compressor noise.

If you're concerned that your fridge is making a lot of noise:

  • Make sure you have enough air space around the fridge. Your fridge might be noisy because it doesn't have enough room to move hot air away to the surrounds, and needs to work harder to cool the fridge. The right amount of space can usually be found in the manual but if not, leaving at least 5–10cm around the sides, top and rear is generally enough. Install the fridge away from direct sunlight and any heat-generating appliances such as heaters, ovens, cooktops or dishwashers.
  • Check the controls to see if they're set to very cold. The colder they are, the more likely the compressor is to run. This is also likely to happen if a large amount of food has just been placed in the fridge, as the fridge tries to cool the food down, or if you've put something hot (like uncooled leftovers) into the fridge or freezer. The fridge compressor is also likely to run more often in warmer seasons.
  • Check what's on top or balanced against the fridge – something could be vibrating against the fridge when the compressor starts up. This can also happen on the inside if something is awkwardly stored inside the fridge and vibrates against something else in response to the compressor vibration.

Balance

If your fridge is unbalanced, the doors won't close properly, which costs you money as the compressor tries to replace cold air that leaks out the door. It can also cause increased noise. 

Fridges usually have feet that can be adjusted once you've got them installed. Balance issues can also occur if the floor is weak or uneven.

Performance

If your compressor is working hard but your food isn't getting cold, check that none of your food items are covering internal outlets. 

Cold air is always being pushed into the fridge through outlets in the fridge and freezer area. If you block these with an overloaded fridge you'll make the fridge work harder. 

Leave space around the outlets so cool air can circulate. Check that nothing is in the way and that the door is closing properly. 

Opening the door too often or leaving it open for too long will also make it difficult for the fridge to cool food.

Frosting up

Most fridges are frost-free. If yours has frost build-up, check the doors are fully closed and that the seals are air-tight. 

Seals that are dirty, faulty or deteriorating with age will allow humid air to leak in. Faulty seals mean the compressor can't deal with the amount of moisture in the fridge, which then freezes to the sides of the freezer door. 

If it's really serious, you may have issues opening the fridge.

Cleaning

Most manufacturers will tell you to turn off your fridge before cleaning, so it's best to clean when your food supply is low. 

Use a mild unscented detergent and lukewarm water with a soft cloth on the interior and the outside of the fridge. 

Make sure all parts, including the seals, are thoroughly dried after washing and avoid wetting any controls or electronic areas. 

Thoroughly wiping up any spills as they occur will help in the long run. Try not to use any abrasives.

Smells

This can be related to what you've put in the fridge. Check what's in there, as something may have spilled and started to spoil, or may not be covered properly. 

Some containers and wrappers can cause smells or react with food to create smells.

Water leaks

If water is leaking outside the fridge, check the back of the fridge to see if the defrost water tray is in the right position and that the drainage tube that leads to it is actually pointing at the drip tray. This water should evaporate naturally over time.

If water is leaking inside the fridge it could mean there's a blocked drain or outlet. There are drainage channels in some fridge cabinets, so check to see if there is a blockage of food or dirt and clear it. If drainage channels aren't blocked, the leak could be from condensation so check the door is closing properly, isn't left opened for too long and that the seals are working well. This can also happen when there are periods of high humidity in the environment.

If water is leaking in the vegetable/fruit compartments it could be because of the low humidity in the fridge that vegetables and fruit will lose water which can cause condensation on the compartments they are stored in. If your fridge has a humidity setting, try using this to see if it makes a difference. You could also use storage bags to store the vegetables and fruit in the compartments.

Food is freezing in the fridge

Adjust the temperature setting and wait 24 hours for the fridge to register the changes you've made. Cold-sensitive foods (easily frozen) placed in front of vents used for the cold air circulation are likely to be affected, so make sure you keep vents free of products.

Moving

If you move your fridge, you don't want to hurt yourself or cause damage to your fridge in the process. Cooling down will take two or three hours. After that, close and tape drawers and doors and make sure the power lead is tucked into the back or taped to the fridge.

If the fridge was laid down on its side during the moving process, once it's upright again you should leave it to rest for a while before turning the power back on. Check your manual for resting periods, but it ranges from 10 minutes to a few hours.

Ice and water-dispenser issues

For fridges containing ice and/or water compartments, check for any water leaks at all water connection points. Follow manufacturer instructions for replacing any filters. 

If the ice maker doesn't make ice, it could be that it's turned off or that the fridge isn't level. Also, check the filter for blockages and that the tap supply to the fridge is turned on.

Our fridge reviews compare freezer on the top, freezer on the bottom, French door and side-by-side fridges to help you find the best buy for your budget.

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