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Common fridge problems and how to solve them

Keep your fridge frosty with these simple steps for troubleshooting and maintenance.



Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

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

But breakdowns do happen, so 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.

CHOICE 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.

 Fridge troubleshooting tips

Fridge 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, or expansion and contraction of inside walls due to changes in temperature)
  • gurgling (liquid refrigerant circling the fridge)
  • hissing (difference in pressure between warm and cold air), and
  • compressor noise.

Fridge noise is normal, but if you're concerned that your fridge is making excessive, or new and exciting noise:

  • Make sure you have enough air space around the fridge. Your fridge may be noisy because it doesn't have enough room to move hot air away to the surrounds, and needs to work harder to keep its cool. The right amount of space can usually be found in the manual, but, if not, leaving at least 5cm at the sides, and 10cm at the top 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 (and if it's too cold, you risk freezing your fresh food, and using way more energy than you need to). This is also likely to happen if a large amount of food has just been put in the fridge, as the fridge tries to cool the food down, or if you've put something hot (such as 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.

Keeping your fridge level

If your fridge isn't level and balanced the doors may not close properly. This costs you money because the compressor works harder and uses more power to replace cold air that leaks out of the door. It can also make the fridge noisier.

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.

Fridge temperature problems

If your compressor is working hard but your food isn't at the ideal fridge temperature, check that none of your food items are covering internal outlets. Also check and adjust the temperature – 3 degrees in the fresh food compartment and -18 in the freezer is ideal – and use a thermometer, treat the fridges' temperature settings as 'aspirational'.

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.

If your freezer is frosting up

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

Seals that are dirty, faulty or deteriorating with age will let in humid air. 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 trouble opening the fridge.

Why is my fridge compressor cycling on and off so often?

This really adds to your noise in the kitchen. The compressor unit is the engine that powers the fridge's cooling mechanism. The compressor should reach a set temperature according to your desired setting (on the thermostat) and then turn off for a while – before  restarting to cool down your food again when it gets to a certain temperature to stop the food spoiling.

There are a few reasons the compressor could be continuously cycling on and off. It could be that the fridge has heaps of dust built up around the condenser coils, which are usually at the rear of the fridge, and/or the temperature has been set too low for the compressor to cope.

You'll also find that the compressor will kick in if a large amount of food has been added, if the temperature outside and around the fridge is very high, or if the seals around the fridge or freezer doors aren't working properly.

Dust on the condenser coils

The first solution is to turn off the fridge, drag it out and make sure there's minimal dust on the condenser coils. If the coils are exposed, you can wait for them to cool down, then wipe off the dust (or vacuum it off if you prefer). If you've got a more modern fridge that covers the condenser coils, you'll need to remove the grill first, then wipe or vacuum the coils. Don't forget to put the grill back on once you've finished. If you're not confident removing the grill, or your manual doesn't advise it, just vacuum the outside of the grill.

Setting the temperature too low

If you set your fridge temperature below -18C for the freezer, or lower than 3C for the fridge, your compressor is going to have to work overtime. Putting your fridge or freezer temperatures extra low won't speed up the cooling time – your fridge will just struggle to get it down that low. This chews up more energy and ends up costing you more money in the long run (as well as potentially making your fridge noisier). Your perfect temperatures are around -18C for the freezer and 3C for the fridge. Follow the fridge manual to adjust the temperature.

If neither of these solutions help with reducing the motor operating for long periods, you'll need to get your fridge serviced.

Why is my crisper warmer than it should be?

This issue is linked to why your fridge may be warmer than you've set the temperature. Your fridge is cooled by fans from the freezer directing cool air around the fridge's interior. If these openings from the freezer are blocked, restricting the flow of cooler air, goods at the outlet can get frozen, while food throughout the rest of the fridge can warm up. In other words, the interior temperature can become very inconsistent.

If your crisper is too warm, you'll need to check whether food is blocking the air flow to the crisper. Many fridges have movable vents to make sure some crispers can have more humid areas (the inlet is blocked by design – or you can open it up to achieve the right temprature and conditions for different types of vegetables). Check your manual to see how you should adjust any settings on your crisper.

Why is there a layer of ice on the bottom of the freezer?

There are several possible reasons: it could be a result of continual opening of the freezer door – this means more moisture comes in from the humid ambient surrounds and freezes in the freezer when you close it. Reducing the amount of time the freezer door is left open is one solution.

Another reason is related to the first. Although you may not open your freezer very often, it could be that the fridge itself is letting humid air in through a loose seal. Older fridges naturally get a build-up of grime on door edges, or a build-up of mould in fridge or freezer seals in very humid climates, making it easier for humid air to get into the freezer and turn into ice.

Older fridges naturally get a build-up of grime on door edges, or a build-up of mould in fridge or freezer seals in very humid climates

Rough use of the fridge can also result in damaged seals. Check around them for dirt and grime, and follow your manual for cleaning it – generally a weak solution of soap and warm water will do the trick. Read our expert tips on how to clean your fridge

Finally, most freezers have a drain to draw water that melts from the automatic defrost out the rear of the fridge – if this is blocked by ice, grime or food, you can get a build-up of water, which then freezes and refreezes. Check to see whether this drain is blocked and, if so,  clear it. You may need to turn off the fridge completely if the ice build-up is significant.

 Why does my fridge smell bad?

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.

 My fridge is leaking water

Outside the fridge

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.

Inside the fridge

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 open for too long and that the seals are working well. This can also happen during spells of high humidity in the environment.

Fruit/vegetable compartments

If water is leaking in the vegetable/fruit compartments, it could be because of low humidity in the fridge. This means vegetables and fruit will lose water, which can cause condensation on the compartments they're stored in. If your fridge has a humidity setting, try adjusting it to see if it makes a difference. You can 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.

 How to move your fridge

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.

Why is my ice maker overflowing?

The reason could be the inlet pressure of the hose supplying water to the ice maker. If the pressure is too low, a valve under your sink that supplies water to the ice maker won't turn off, as it won't recognise the flow. This means a slow leak of water into the ice maker triggers it to keep on producing ice. You'll have to turn off the water inlet valve (usually under your kitchen sink) to stop this happening. Get it checked out by a service person to see whether the valve needs changing.

Why isn't my fridge water dispenser working?

If your water dispenser comes from your mains water, check that the inlet valve under your kitchen sink is turned on – if you have to refill a tub in your fridge, check that it's full. Once you turn it on or fill up the tub, press the water dispenser button for a while to bleed the air from the piping. Generally, a water dispenser is located close to the freezer – for instance, in a side-by-side fridge, it'll often be on the left-hand side, as this is usually where the freezer is too.

A lack of water in your dispenser can also be caused by low water pressure

This means the water tubing could be frozen from the cold temperatures, so nothing can come out. You can check this yourself by removing the tubing and blowing through it (consult your manual for the best way to do this). You may need to increase the temperature in the fridge/freeze compartments to the recommended settings to defrost the ice.

A lack of water in your dispenser can also be caused by low water pressure – for instance, if your home is connected to tank water, which often has lower water pressure than a mains connection. In which case, you'll need to get it checked by a service person.

If you live in an area with hard water, such as Adelaide, the minerals can accumulate in tubing from the mains water if it's unfiltered.

Finally, there could be several other causes: a faulty inlet valve, defective tubing to or within the fridge, bent or twisted tubing, a water filter that needs replacing, or simply a child-lock mechanism that's been activated. All of these can contribute to the water dispenser not flowing.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

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