The invention of the refrigerator dramatically changed the way that we store food. Now, we can keep our food at optimal temperatures and not have to worry about spoilage. Unfortunately, however, refrigerators don’t always work the way that we want them to—so, what do you do when the refrigerator starts freezing your food?
Stop a refrigerator from freezing food using these methods:
- Change the temperature gauge.
- Arrange the food more efficiently.
- Adjust the freezer’s temperature.
- Ensure the door magnets still work.
- Clean the refrigerator coils.
- Replace the thermostat.
- Inspect the freezer damper.
- Check the control boards.
- Contact the manufacturer.
Fortunately, most of the reasons why a refrigerator freezes food are caused by easy-to-fix problems. In this article, we’ll cover all the ways to stop a refrigerator from freezing food. Read on to learn more.
1. Change the Temperature Gauge
Refrigerators have temperature gauges that allow users to regulate the temperature of the unit. The gauge may look like a dial, or on newer models, it may be a digital display. Dials typically have numbers on them—one meaning the warmest, while the highest number is the coldest. Setting the gauge to zero indicates that the temperature gauge is off. Digital displays usually display the actual temperature.
Adjust the dial or digital display based on your refrigerator’s instructions. Temperatures in a fridge should stay around 40°F (4.44° C). Before readjusting the gauge, allow 24 hours to pass and then check the food. If the food continues to freeze in the refrigerator, adjust the gauge again and wait 24 more hours.
(Source: US Food and Drug Administration)
If the food continues to freeze, place a separate thermometer in the unit to get a more accurate reading. The Wrenwane Digital Refrigerator Thermometer is available on Amazon.com. It’s a simple, sleek thermometer that has large digits, making it easy to read. The back of the thermometer is magnetic so that it can stick to the back of the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can hang it on a refrigerator shelf with the hook.
If this fails to fix the problem, move on to step two.
2. Arrange the Food More Efficiently
Many refrigerators utilize air vents to keep air flowing freely. You can find the vent positioned on the side of or above the top shelf. This is where the cold air enters the refrigerator. Keep this air vent free of obstruction. Otherwise, the food near it or blocking it is sure to freeze. The vent should have at least five inches (12.7 cm) of space around it (source).
If the food only freezes on the top shelf, adjust the position of the first shelf. Sometimes the cold air vent blows the air all over everything around it—if that’s the case, then moving the food lower should help. For bottom-freezer models, you may notice food freezing around the bottom of the refrigerator. If that’s the case, it’s likely the air venting from the freezer compartment below. Again, you can raise the shelf in this case.
In addition, if the refrigerator is empty, add more foods. A well-stocked refrigerator allows the food to absorb the cold air. If there isn’t much food within the unit, the cold air sinks to the bottom of the fridge—so keep it filled up but not too full, or the food may not cool properly. A fully stocked fridge maintains temperatures and thus, lowers energy costs, so it’s a win-win.
If fully stocking the refrigerator is not an option, at least rearrange the food. Keep it all evenly spread out. Raw meats, dairy, and other perishable foods belong on the bottom shelves. This ensures that they stay cool and prevents leakage if they spoil. Store milk and other dairy products on the bottom shelf, with milk toward the back. Hold butter and soft cheeses in the door of the refrigerator. Fresh produce does best in storage compartments, like a crisper drawer.
3. Adjust the Freezer’s Temperature
If you’ve adjusted the temperature gauge of the refrigerator and rearranged the food yet the problem persists, check the freezer’s temperature. The problem may not be with the fridge at all—it could be that the freezer is too cold.
Bottom-freezers, in particular, can cause many issues with freezing food in the refrigerator. Make sure that the freezer is at least 0°F (-17.77°C). If the freezer temperature is lower, moving it to 0°F (-17.77°C) may fix the problem.
(Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
Next, look at your ice maker settings. Does it run all day? If so, you may want to adjust those settings. An ice maker that constantly runs can cause the freezer to become too cold, thus causing the refrigerator to over-cool.
4. Ensure the Door Magnets Still Work
Refrigerator doors use “permanent magnets” to keep the doors fully closed. These magnets ensure a secure seal and prevent cold air from escaping and warm air from entering. In rare cases, however, refrigerator seals may lose magnetism, “permanent” or not.
When refrigerator seals don’t work correctly, it can cause a refrigerator to frost over as warm air makes its way in.
Open the refrigerator door and then gently shut it. Does it create a secure seal? If the doors do not seem fully closed or the refrigerator starts to open on its own shortly after closing, the magnets may be too weak.
It could also be that the seals are dirty. In that case, a little mild detergent and water should do the trick. If the magnets look worn, warped, or are generally not working, replace them immediately.
5. Clean the Refrigerator Coils
Refrigerators utilize coils to cool down and condense the freon, or other refrigerants. Users must keep the refrigerator coils free of dirt, debris, and dust to ensure proper function. When these coils are clogged, they can’t release heat efficiently, and thus, the compressor works harder to keep temperatures cool enough. In some cases, the refrigerator works too hard, and the result is frozen food and drinks.
To clean refrigerator coils:
- Unplug the refrigerator. Do not open the door after unplugging. The refrigerator should be able to maintain a cool enough temperature—as long as the door is closed—until you’re finished cleaning the coils.
- Move the refrigerator away from the wall. Access the back of the fridge to see the coils. If you’re not sure where the coils are, consult your manual.
- Use an air duster spray can to blow away dust and debris. Vacuum up any dust left behind.
- Wipe the coils down with a clean cloth. Keep in mind that the coils may be hot, so use caution and wear heat-resistant gloves.
- Move the refrigerator back to its original position. Plug it in. Allow at least an hour to pass before opening the refrigerator door to ensure the fridge has time to cool back down.
Once you’ve cleaned the coils, see if the refrigerator continues to freeze food. If it does, move on to the next step.
(Source: Carnegie Mellon University)
6. Replace the Thermostat
Not all refrigerators last forever. The older the appliance, the more likely it is to require maintenance and replacement parts. Refrigerator thermostats are one common part that tends to go bad after several years.
As soon as the fridge reaches the desired temperature, the thermostat lets the compressor know that it’s time to stop cooling. Sometimes, however, these thermostats malfunction, leading to over-cooling as it continually runs. Fortunately, refrigerator thermostats are relatively inexpensive and easy to replace.
As a temporary fix, you may be able to use contact cleaner to clean the contacts—but you’ll still have to replace the thermostat later if it’s faulty.
To replace a refrigerator thermostat:
- Move food to a safe place. A second refrigerator or chest freezer is ideal. Otherwise, do not open the refrigerator door during this process to ensure food remains cold.
- Unplug the refrigerator from the wall. Move the refrigerator away from the wall so that you have access to the thermostat.
- Locate the thermostat using your refrigerator’s manual. Newer models often have thermostats in the back of the appliance. Older units place the thermostat at the bottom, under the refrigerator.
- Remove the thermostat cover. Unscrew the screws with a screwdriver (some covers have clips). Set the clips or screws, and cover aside.
- Pull the wires off of the terminals. You’ll see two wires on the thermostat that connect to pin terminals. Remove these with needle-nose pliers.
- Remove the mounting screw or clip. After removing the screws or clips, you should be able to pull the thermostat out of the evaporator tube.
- Attach the new thermostat to the evaporator tube. Using needle-nose pliers again, gently attach the wires on the new thermostat to the pin terminals.
- Replace the thermostat cover. Screw all of the screws back in or reattach the clips. Plug the refrigerator into the wall. Adjust the temperature dial to test the operation of the new thermostat.
If the refrigerator continues to freeze foods, move on to step seven.
(Source: University of Pennsylvania)
7. Inspect the Freezer Damper
Some refrigerator models have a damper in the freezer compartment. The damper is like a flap—it opens and closes, allowing air into the refrigerator.
Essentially, the damper regulates the temperature of the fridge. If the damper isn’t working properly, excess cold air may enter the refrigerator. This decreases the temperature of the refrigerator, allowing food and drinks to over-cool and subsequently freeze.
In some cases, food from the freezer may fall into the damper and prevent opening and closing. Inspect the damper to ensure it’s free of obstructions. If it’s broken or stuck open, you’ll need to get it fixed.
Reach out to your manufacturer if the refrigerator is under warranty. Otherwise, you’ll need to call a repair person to check it out.
8. Check the Control Boards
Once you’ve ruled out the most common problems, there are only a few more components to consider. The two most common control boards that can cause freezing are the main control board and the temperature control board.
While control boards are not usually the problem, it doesn’t mean that failure of these components is impossible. With that said, however, it’s best to thoroughly double-check all of the other components before replacing these parts.
Main Control Board
It’s unlikely that the main control board is defective, but it can happen. With that said, it’s important to first inspect every other component of the refrigerator before replacing this expensive piece. If you cannot find any other issues, the main control board could be the culprit.
It’s highly recommended that you hire a professional to replace a control board, especially if you’re not sure what you’re doing. To save money, you can first order the part using your make and model number.
Temperature Control Board
Like the main control board, the temperature control board is unlikely to be the problem—but they sometimes malfunction. These control boards send electricity to the compressor and fans on the fridge. If the control board is defective, it can cause the compressor or fans to run continuously, thus over-cooling the refrigerator.
Before replacing the temperature control board, inspect all other parts. In addition, if the temperature control board needs replacing, consult a professional, especially if you do not have experience with these parts.
9. Contact the Manufacturer
If none of the above steps work to remedy the problem, it’s plausible that there is a mechanical problem with the refrigerator. These problems need to be addressed by a professional. When the model is under warranty, you may be able to get a free inspection. Contact the manufacturer of your model. They may walk you through some troubleshooting steps first, and if the problem cannot be resolved, they’ll send out a technician.
If the refrigerator isn’t under warranty, you’ll need to pay out-of-pocket for an appliance repair team to come and look at your unit.
Manufacturers design refrigerators to keep our food at safe temperatures. Sometimes, however, these appliances malfunction and end up making our food too cold. If your fridge is freezing your food, try changing the temperature gauge, rearranging the food, adjusting the freezer temp, checking the magnets, cleaning the coils, replacing the thermostat, or checking the damper. If all else fails, reach out to a trusted technician.
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.