Your refrigerator is arguably the most important appliance in your home — and if you’re like most homeowners, you don’t give it much thought unless it starts making an odd noise or (heaven forbid!) stops doing its job.
The goal, of course, is for your major home appliances to last for years, preferably decades. And while you’re certainly not alone in your suspicions that appliances just aren’t made the way they used to be, there are some easy steps you can take on your own to extend the life span of your kitchen’s workhorse: the refrigerator.
You probably won’t have to change anything in the day-to-day management of your household — keep shopping, cooking and cleaning the way you normally would. All you’ll need to do is add a couple of small steps to your routine.
Ready to learn more about basic refrigerator maintenance? Keep reading!
5 simple refrigerator maintenance steps
1. Keep your fridge and freezer comfortably full.
Cramming your fridge and freezer to the gills isn’t a good idea, but neither is leaving the appliance largely empty. Your refrigerator and freezer function at optimum efficiency when both areas are well stocked.
Cold and frozen food helps keep everything else in the fridge or freezer at the intended temperature, which means that the refrigerator doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain the temperature you set at the appliance’s thermostat. An appliance that isn’t consistently overworked is an appliance that lasts longer.
Think about it: It’s best practice to let hot soup cool down before you refrigerate or freeze it, right? That’s because putting hot or warm food into a functioning refrigerator forces the appliance to work overtime to bring the interior temperature back down to the recommended 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
You probably won’t have a difficult time keeping your fridge full, but keep an eye on your freezer. If you notice it looking a little empty, go stock up on frozen veggies or make a double recipe of soup to freeze for later.
2. Wipe down the door seals every once in a while.
Refrigerators get dirty — that’s just part of life (and it’s even more of a certainty if you have kids). Keeping the door seals clean, however, will help your refrigerator do its job well for many years. Door gaskets that are clean and haven’t started disintegrating are far more efficient at maintaining a tight seal around the fridge and freezer doors. An easy way to test the integrity of your refrigerator’s door seals is to close a sheet of paper in the door. If you can pull out the paper easily, the seals need to be replaced.
Tightly sealed fridge and freezer doors won’t let cool air escape, which helps maintain the interior temperature and keeps the appliance from working overtime. A dishcloth or sponge dampened with warm water is usually sufficient to wipe away mysterious food remnants; have a bowl of warm, soapy water nearby for any spots that are especially tenacious.
If the seals have already started to disintegrate, your best bet is to contact an appliance repair service to get a quote for replacement. You can replace refrigerator door seals yourself if you’re more inclined toward DIY repairs. Depending on the age of your refrigerator, however, this might be a good opportunity to upgrade to a new, energy-efficient model.
3. Stick to middle-of-the-road temperature settings.
There’s no need to keep your refrigerator at the coldest setting. All you’ll do is raise your power bill and possibly freeze anything stored toward the back of the shelves — and also increase the likelihood that you’ll be appliance shopping in a few short years.
Keep your refrigerator set to a temperature range between 35 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Your freezer shouldn’t be any warmer than 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Most modern full-size refrigerators give you good control over the thermostat for both the refrigerator and the freezer. If you’re renting or live in a small house, you may have a smaller, apartment-size unit with fewer or less-flexible temperature settings. Go with the middle setting in these cases, and be sure to keep the fridge and freezer well stocked to prevent uneven temperatures inside.
4. Make sure the vents aren’t blocked.
Both your refrigerator and freezer have air vents — usually in the back and near the top shelf — to circulate cooled air. Be sure to keep those vents clear of any food items or packages. Stacking items in front of the air vents will prevent cold air from circulating efficiently through the fridge and freezer.
If you find the vents in your freezer getting blocked on a regular basis (and rest assured, you aren’t alone), consider investing in some simple shelves or clear bins. These items will help you organize your freezer, which will keep the airflow in both your freezer and refrigerator more efficient. As a bonus, you’ll likely waste less food.
5. Vacuum underneath and behind the fridge.
The dust, dirt and debris that result from the everyday running of a household can accumulate underneath and behind the refrigerator. And because a refrigerator’s motor and compressor are located either at the bottom or the back side of the unit, this accumulation of debris can lead to some problems.
A dust- and dirt-covered motor, evaporator coil and condenser coil can’t function efficiently. And when your refrigerator can’t do its job very well — or it has to work harder than usual to do its job — your energy bills will rise, and you might find yourself refrigerator shopping earlier than you anticipated.
Vacuum around the refrigerator every time you clean the rest of the house. This is especially important if your family includes furry, four-legged children. Periodically (once per quarter is a good rule of thumb), slide your refrigerator away from the wall and vacuum the coil.
If you’re comfortable doing so, you can remove the grille on the bottom or back of your refrigerator to access and clean the condenser fan. This is easier than you might think, and it’s a simple way to keep your fridge and freezer functioning efficiently.
An important safety note: Always shut off power to the refrigerator before removing the grille, cleaning the coils or handling any other maintenance.
Our ancestors managed just fine without refrigerators, but most of us living in today’s world would be hard-pressed to go longer than a day or two without such a convenience. (Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is a more involved discussion for another time!) T
he bottom line is that when you buy a refrigerator, your goal is for it to last a long time. All major appliances require some level of maintenance over the years, and basic refrigerator maintenance happens to be something you can do yourself without much hassle.
At Cinch Home Services, we take a lot of pride in bringing you tips and tricks to make your life at home easier. Let’s stay in touch! Subscribe to our newsletter for more home-related insight and helpful information.
The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.