How to Clean Refrigerator Coils
Date: 01/04/2021, 15:23:00
Refrigerators have probably done more to positively impact the modern kitchen than any other appliance. Largely unappreciated until they fail, they need only a minimal amount of maintenance to run effectively. This maintenance mostly consists of a simple cleaning of the condenser coil at 12 month (or less) intervals. This is very important, but is quickly and easily performed in an hour or less.
Disconnect. Shut off the circuit breaker, remove the fuse or slide the refrigerator away from the wall as needed to remove the refrigerator's plug from the electrical outlet. Shut off water supply lines if equipped with ice maker or water dispenser.
Locate the condenser coil. There are two sets of coils for cooling appliances like refrigerators, they are called the evaporator3 and condenser1 coils. Overly simplified, the two coils are filled with gas and liquid respectively, and are parts of a complex "circuit" that has a compressor4 and expansion valve2 that perform the work. The gas filled evaporator coil is located in the space to be cooled, and performs the task by absorbing heat from that space. It is usually protected from damage and out of view inside the freezer section. The "heated" gas is compressed by the compressor, where it is further heated (hot to the touch) by the compression process. The heated compressed gas and liquid is passed through the condenser coil that is located away from the cooled space. This condenser coil is where some of the heat in the liquid is released to the ambient air. The cooled liquid is then drawn through the expansion valve by the suction of the compressor, where the liquid immediately boils off to a gas. This causes the temperature of the gas to drop significantly (well below freezing) in the evaporator coil. The process repeats until the thermostat in the space is satisfied. Because the condenser coil is exposed to the ambient air on the refrigerator, it requires regular cleaning. There are a few locations that the condenser coil may be found:
- Older refrigerators have the coil (a grid-like structure often painted black) mounted on the rear of the refrigerator.
- Newer refrigerators often locate the condenser coil at the bottom. It is likely that a fan (that may or may not be readily visible) will be directed at the coil to assist with heat dissipation. Use a flashlight to assist locating the coil and fan if needed. The coil will be accessible from one of two places:
- Toe space panel. Remove the panel at the bottom of the front of the refrigerator and carefully slide the condensate tray out (if present, the condensate tray may contain water). A visual inspection upward into this space may reveal a flat condenser coil when located here.
- Rear access panel. If not found behind the toe space, the refrigerator will have to be slid away from the wall further to work from behind. Disconnect water supply lines if too short to allow enough room to work. Remove the fasteners that holds an access panel in position. The condenser coil may be flat, but will likely be cylindrical in shape when located here.
Disconnect power. Seriously. Make sure the power to the refrigerator is disconnected.
Vacuum the coil. With a plastic crevice or brush attachment, carefully vacuum dirt and dust wherever it is seen. Use care not to damage the fins or coil. A breach created in the coil will allow the refrigerant to escape and will likely result in an expensive repair.
Vacuum the fan. If the fan is visible and accessible, cleaning it will help it move air across the condenser coil as designed. Dirt and dust, if allowed to accumulate on the fan blades, decreases airflow, affects balance and can contribute to early failure of the compressor.
Brush away stubborn dirt and dust. Use a narrow paint brush to gently remove stubborn dirt and dust from the coil and fan if able to get sufficient access.
Slide refrigerator back into position. Plug the refrigerator back into wall outlet. Arrange any water supply lines and power cords so that they will not be kinked or crushed by the refrigerator.