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General Refrigerator Troubleshoot List

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This is meant to be a general troubleshooting guide for home refrigerators. Some problems are beyond the ability of a handyman, and may require a trained technician. Plenty of problems, however, have simple fixes that can be done by an amateur.

General Refrigerator Troubleshoot List
Device Refrigerators
Affects part(s)
Needs equipment screwdriver
Difficulty Easy"Easy" is not in the list (1. Easy, 2. Medium, 3. Hard, 4. Specialist) of allowed values for the "Repair Guide difficulty" property.
Type Explanatory
Issue Possible Causes Troubleshooting Steps Tools
Not Cooling No Power Check that the fridge is plugged in, and that the outlet behind the fridge is working. If the fridge lights don't turn on, and the fans are not running, this is the problem.
Temperature Control Settings Check that the temperature control is set cold enough. Thermometer
Dirty Door Gaskets Check that the door gaskets seal completely when the fridge doors are closed. This may also manifest as extra frost in the freezer, with ice crystals forming near the leak in the door gasket seal. Also verify that the icemaker door is sealing properly after use, as it may jam in an open position. Paper Towels
Blocked Air Circulation Check that air can flow from the freezer to the fridge. Move or remove blockages. You should feel circulation in the freezer due to the evaporator fan.
Condenser Problems
  1. Dirty Condenser
  2. Failing Condenser Fan
First, open the back panel on the fridge and look for the condenser. It should look like a complicated grille and coils with a fan on one side. If the coils are coated in grime, UNPLUG THE FRIDGE and clean the coils with a vaccuum, brush, and condenser coil cleaning spray. Simple green can be used in place of condenser coil cleaner.

Next, check that the fan spins freely. If the condenser fan doesn't spin, you can replace it with a screwdriver. Make sure the condenser is dry before plugging the fridge back in.

Vacuum Cleaner, Coil Brush, Coil Cleaning Spray, Screwdriver
Evaporator Problems
  1. Iced Evaporator Coils
  2. Failing Evaporator Fan
  3. Failing Evaporator Coil Defroster
The evaporator coils are found inside the freezer. To reach them, you will need to remove the freezer contents and shelves. The coils are typically behind a panel that can be removed with a screwdriver.

If the coils are covered in ice, this will result in cooling failure. Remove the ice from the coils by unplugging the freezer and pointing a fan at the evaporator coils. Do not try to chisel the ice off, as you may damage the sensitive coils. If the coils are iced, this means that the evaporator fan and evaporator defroster may be defective. Check that when the fridge is plugged in, the evaporator fan spins freely. Likewise, check that the defroster heating element is not damaged with a continuity test. The defrost element should be ~50 to 100 Ohms. If the fan or defroster are defective, they can be easily replaced with a screwdriver.

Fan, Multimeter, Screwdriver
Defective Thermostat
Faulty Compressor or Compressor Relay When the fridge is on, the compressor (usually a large pancake under the fridge with tubes connected to it, mounted on vibration dampening feet) should start. You will hear a click when the fridge is plugged in as the compressor relay (located next to the compressor) closes, and you will hear the same click when the fridge is disconnected as the relay opens. While the relay is closed, the compressor should run. This can be checked by feeling the compressor; it should be slightly warm to the touch (~35C) and vibrating slightly.

If the relay is not firing, it can be replaced easily by hand. If the relay is functioning, but the compressor is not activating, you may have a defective compressor.

Refrigerant Leak If there is a refrigerant leak, your compressor will be on, your coils will be clean, but there will be no heat passing though the system. The coils will feel room-temp to the touch.
Water Dripping from Freezer Drain Clogged Under the evaporator, there should be a drain tube coming out of the refrigerator into the drain pan (located under the fridge). If the drain tube is clocked or out of position, water will not drain into the drain pan. This can be checked with a bottle of warm water; simply pour some water into the freezer drain, and see if it drains. If it backs up, you need to remove the drain tube and clear the clog. The drain tube can often be found next to the condenser coils behind the fridge. Screwdriver, Water Bottle
Water Line Broken If there is a broken water line in the fridge, you will need to find the break and replace the tube with a new one. This may not be possible, due to the construction of the insulation in the fridge door and main body. Check that the dripping stops when the water line is disconnected from the fridge. Screwdriver