With the holidays approaching, your fridge will be working overtime to preserve festive meals and bunches of leftovers. However, if your fridge tends to freeze up, you may be experiencing some anxiety. Luckily, a freezing refrigerator is a common problem with mostly simple solutions.
A refrigerator freezes up because of inhibition or exacerbation of the evaporation process. Refrigerators cool food by continually heating and cooling refrigerant from gas to liquid. Small factors, like user error or a broken door seal, can cause your fridge to work harder and freeze.
Read on to learn how a refrigerator works, what causes it to freeze, and how you can fix the problem.
How Does a Refrigerator Work
If you do not know how a refrigerator works, anything we tell you will get lost in translation. However, once you break it down, refrigeration is easy to understand. Let us guide you through the process, piece by piece.
What Is Refrigerant?
Refrigerant is a compound that absorbs heat. It is often used in appliances that cool or heat spaces, such as air conditioners, vehicle ACs, freezers, and refrigerators.
The compound is a gas at room temperature but exists as a liquid before dispersion in your fridge. Every component of your refrigerator handles refrigerants and controls the quantity and frequency of their distribution in the appliance.
Refrigerants have contained different chemicals throughout the years. For example, fluorocarbons and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have been traditional until recently. Other chemicals found in refrigerants include ammonia, non-halogenated hydrocarbons (i.e., propane), and sulfur dioxide. Some of these chemicals, like CFCs, are very harmful to the environment and are phasing out from modern products.
- Compressor: The compressor is the component of your refrigerator that makes everything happen. It circulates refrigerant throughout the system and compresses the gas for practical storage. Since compressors generate heat from doing their job, they run hot.
- Condenser: Have you ever noticed the long coil running along the back of the refrigerator? That is the condenser. This component condenses the refrigerant back to a liquid by cooling it down.
- Evaporator: The evaporator is the coil that runs inside of your fridge. It evaporates liquid refrigerant as a gas, which cools down the refrigerator. An evaporator habilitates the proper environment for storing your food.
- Capillary Tube: The capillary tube is small, thin tubing that manages refrigerant expansion from liquid to gas. Liquid refrigerant travels from the condenser to the capillary tube. Afterward, the tube sprays gaseous refrigerant into the low-pressure environment of the evaporator.
- Thermostat: The thermostat keeps everything in check by monitoring the temperature of the refrigerator. If the fridge gets too cold, the thermostat shuts off the compressor. Conversely, the thermostat turns the compressor back on when more refrigerant is needed to cool the appliance. Without the thermostat, your fridge would keep cooling, or perhaps even stop cooling, without any checks.
Refrigerators use evaporation to cool the food storage area. A quick and practical way to test this process is applying rubbing alcohol.
When the cool liquid evaporates into gas on your skin, you will feel a chilling sensation. Evaporation works the same way. The refrigeration process is a continuous cycle of refrigerant converting from liquid to gas back to liquid again.
First, the capillary tube releases pressure off of the liquid refrigerant and sprays it into the evaporator. This step works similarly to a can of hairspray. The contents in the can are under a lot of pressure.
Once the spray escapes the can, however, it is given room to disperse and become gaseous. The evaporator, which runs throughout the fridge, evenly distributes gaseous refrigerant and cools the system.
If a refrigerator only evaporated refrigerant, the process would be unable to continue. So once the refrigerant disperses through the fridge, it has to be collected and liquified again.
‘That is why the compressor is vital. This component raises the refrigerant’s temperature while compressing the air around it, which eases liquefaction later in the process.
It may seem counterintuitive to heat refrigerant before cooling it down to a liquid. However, being so highly condensed, the refrigerant is under perfect conditions to be liquified by the condenser.
The refrigeration cycle repeats itself as the capillary tube initiates the evaporation between the condenser and the evaporator.
The thermostat regulates this cycle by switching the compressor on or off, depending on the fridge’s evaporation needs.
What Is Freezing Up My Refrigerator, and How Can I Fix It?
If your refrigerator keeps freezing up, then something is inhibiting or disrupting the evaporation process.
Sometimes, the issue can be as simple as user error or neglect, like accidental setting changes or lack of maintenance. A frozen refrigerator may also indicate that a minor component (i.e., door seal or air duct) may have to be adjusted or replaced.
Here are the most common causes of a refrigerator freezing up and how to fix them:
- The temperature was set too low or too high: As simple as this sounds, this happens quite often. Accidental temperature changes can also cause your fridge to hold back on refrigerant, causing your food to warm up and spoil. Luckily, adjusting the temp setting will quickly resolve the problem.
- The fridge coils are dirty: Neglecting the coils behind your fridge causes distress to the compressor, forcing it to work harder to cool the freezer. On some models, this distortion leads to your refrigerator contents freezing. To fix this problem, pull the refrigerator away from the wall and remove dust and grime with a canister vacuum.
- The freezer door is not sealing closed: Freezer doors use gaskets to contain cold air. However, if the gasket does not close properly, the freezer continuously loses cold air and works even more to freeze food. The extra work freezes the food in your refrigerator as well. When this happens, check the gasket on your freezer door for cracks and other damage. If you find anything, then it’s time to replace the gasket or door sealing.
- The air duct is in the wrong place: Newer fridge models have adjustable air ducts. Most users place these ducts near the milk to keep it colder than the rest of the fridge. If you find that the duct is in the wrong place, try moving it or closing it completely.
Preventing Issues in the Future
Closely monitoring your fridge and refrigerator temperature is the easiest way to ensure proper functioning in the future. As a rule, the best temperature to maintain your fridge at is just below 40℉ (4.4℃). New refrigerators have a display that shows the temperature. Users working with an older model should invest in a small fridge thermometer.
If you or a family member accidentally changed the temperature once, it can happen again, so keep track of any changes.
Here are some more quick tips to prevent fridge malfunction:
- Monitor and maintain appropriate fridge and freezer temperatures
- Consistently clean the condenser coils behind the fridge
- Fully pack your freezer to lower its workload
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed
- Wait for your food to reach room temperature before placing it in the fridge
In short, refrigerators continually evaporate refrigerant to keep your food cold. Anything that inhibits or exacerbates this process freezes the fridge. A common culprit is user error or neglect, such as accidentally changing the temperature settings or letting dust gather on the back coils.
However, a frozen refrigerator may indicate you need to make adjustments or replace appliance parts. The best defense against these issues is regular maintenance and temperature checks.
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As a homeowner, I am constantly experimenting with making the structure of my house more energy-efficient, eliminating pests, and taking on DIY home improvement projects. Over the past two decades, my family has rehabbed houses and contracted new home builds and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I share my hard-learned lessons so that you can save time and money by not repeating my mistakes.