Of the various electrical devices in a kitchen, refrigerators have probably had the most significant impact than any other. Unfortunately, until they fail, they are taken for granted; however, operating problems can be avoided by carrying out minimal maintenance. Maintenance consists of a simple cleaning of the condenser coils every 12 months (or less). It is very important to do this, and it only takes about an hour.
Step 1. Unplug the refrigerator
Turn off the breaker, remove the fuse and move the fridge slightly away from the wall to unplug it from the socket. If your fridge is equipped with a water dispenser or ice maker, also close the water pipes.
Step 2. Locate the coils
There are two sets of coils for refrigeration equipment such as refrigerators, one is that of the evaporator3 and the other of the capacitor1. Simplifying as much as possible, the two coils are respectively filled with gas and liquid, and are part of a complex "circuit" that allows the refrigerator to work and that includes a compressor4 and an expansion valve2. The gas-filled evaporator is located in the space to be cooled, and performs its function by absorbing heat from that same space. It is usually hidden inside the freezer compartment to prevent damage. The "heated" gas then undergoes pressure from a compressor, heating up further. The gas (heated and compressed) condenses, and once liquid passes through the condenser, which is sheltered from the cold. The condenser allows part of the heat present in the liquid to be released into the air. The cooled liquid is drawn to the expansion valve by the compressor intake, where it immediately turns into gas. This causes a significant drop in the gas temperature (well below zero) in the evaporator. The process repeats until the thermostat reaches the desired temperature. As the condenser is placed outside the refrigerator it requires regular cleaning. There are a few places where the capacitor can be located:
- The old refrigerators they have it on the back (it looks like a grid structure, often painted black).
- New generation refrigerators often have a condenser on the bottom. There should also be a fan (which may or may not be immediately visible) oriented towards the coil to help dissipate heat. Use a flashlight to find these components if necessary. You can reach the coil in question from one of these two points:
- Front panel. Remove the panel at the bottom of the fridge and carefully slide the condensation tray out (be careful as it will contain water). A glance in this area will reveal the presence of the coil, if placed in this area.
- Back panel. If it's not on the front, you'll need to move the fridge away from the wall in order to access the back. Remove the fasteners holding the panel in place. The capacitor is usually flat, but if placed in that position it will likely be cylinder-shaped.
Step 3. Disconnect the power
Seriously. Make sure the refrigerator is not receiving energy.
Step 4. Clean the coil with the vacuum cleaner
Using a hose or brush attachment, carefully clean any dirt and dust that has accumulated. Be careful not to damage the coil and its components. A crack in the coil will cause the coolant to leak, and the repair will be expensive.
Step 5. Clean the fan
If the fan is visible and accessible, cleaning it will facilitate air circulation through the condenser. Dirt and dust, if they accumulate on the fan, decrease the air flow and damage the compressor.
Step 6. Dust off stubborn dirt and dust
Use a thin brush to gently remove stubborn dirt and dust from the condenser and fan if you can.
Step 7. Return the fridge to its original position
Put the plug back in the socket. Reattach the water pipes and power cords without kinking or breaking them.
- If the refrigerator is enclosed within a larger structure, check that there is at least 5 cm of space on the top and 1.5 cm on the sides.
- Increase the cleaning frequency if the device is placed in dirty and dusty places (garage, basement, etc.) or if you have pets. Pet hair could accumulate on the coil and damage the compressor circuit faster than dirt and dust can.
- Put some cardboard on the floor to prevent any damage to the surfaces when you move the refrigerator.
- Turning off the water is not strictly necessary, but doing so will save you the time you would use to clean the water that has spilled from the pipes, should they tear as you move the fridge away from the wall.
- Disconnect the plug from the socket before you start cleaning the condenser and the fan.
- If there is an ice maker or water dispenser, make sure the water lines are not torn or squashed by the fridge when moving.
- Make sure you have an area where the fridge can be well ventilated to cope with the accumulation of dust.
- If you are sensitive to dust, use adequate protection or ask someone who is not allergic to it to help you do this job.