Prevent Refrigerator Problems: Clean the Refrigerator Cooling Coils
The modern refrigerator is a household appliance which is essentially a thermally insulated box that employs a heat pump and condenser coils to maintain a cooler temperature inside for the preservation of perishable foodstuffs.
Numerous inventors over the previous two centuries have all had a hand in the creation of the modern refrigerator as we know it today. While the first example of a refrigeration coil that condensed aromatic vapors was created by a Persian physicist and chemist in the 11th century, the first artificial refrigeration in the term that we know it was demonstrated in 1748 at the University of Glasgow by William Cullen.
Improvements came rapidly over the following years and decades with each inventor adding new innovation and technological advances.
Refrigerators: The Early Years
Early refrigerators were essentially ice boxes that had an external compression and cooling coils located in another room out of sight, such as a back room or basement, etc. They utilized a water-cooled compressor.
In 1922, commercial refrigerator units of this type sold for over $700.00. At the same time for comparison, the 1922 model year vehicle Model-T Ford automobile was selling for around $300.00 (See "Price" on this Wikipedia page.)
Advancing technology allowed for smaller compressor units and more efficient operation as well as assembly line production allowed the prices came down considerably (while automobile prices climbed.) Today, refrigerators are basically plug-in and forget. Very little adjusting is ever required. Even the need for defrosting those models with freezer boxes has been eliminated with the 'frost-free operation' that most models have these days.
Advanced refrigerators still require some basic preventative maintenance care to keep them operating efficiently. Keeping the front and rear cooling air vents and compressor coils cleared of dust to maintain air-flow is essential. Periodic preventative cleaning is called for.
Removing the back panel and blowing-out of accumulated dust will help the refrigerator run more efficiently, adding years of continued trouble-free service.
Back of a Typical Modern Refrigerator
(image by author)
On the back of most refrigerators is typically a removable panel as shown in this image above. With the refrigerator unplugged, remove the screws that hold the panel in place and lift it out. This exposes the heat pump motor, compressor and refrigerator cooling coils.
There is a cooling fan very similar in design and appearance to the cooling fans used on the back of your computers. This blows air over the cooling coils to remove waste heat.
Moving room air over the thin and circuitous copper coils requires that this compartment be kept free of dust and debris. Just like the fan on your computer, this cooling fan actually introduces dust, lint, cobwebs and other miscellaneous debris from your home into this confined space where it often gets trapped and accumulates.
The dust trapped here has an insulating effect, holding the waste heat in the circulating oils, which causes the refrigerator motor to work harder. Removing this dust by high-pressure air (such as a vacuum cleaner, etc.) will make the refrigerator cooling fan run less often, quieter, and will save you money in energy costs.
Cleaned, this Refrigerator Coil is More Efficient
(image by author)
On this refrigerator, the dust has already been removed. Using a vacuum cleaner that allows switching of the hose to the discharge end to use as a high-pressure blower was used. This is easier and more efficient than trying to ‘suck out’ the accumulated debris which can resemble soft dusty corn-silk, as was the case in this example. Handfuls came out with every adjustment of the vacuum-blower.
There were dozens of lint-balls and in total a ball of ‘fluff’ nearly the size of a small cantaloupe! Shown below is the cleaned refrigerator coils in a close-up view.
Close-up view of Cleaned Refrigerator Coils
(image by author)
Replace the back panel and retaining screws, plug the refrigerator back into the wall and reposition the 'fridge as required. The ‘fridge now operates noticeably quieter and when it does come on, a slight draft is felt blowing across the floor. This means that the escape passages are no longer blocked and the cooling fan is doing its job properly.
What you put in your refrigerator is up to you.