Fix Refrigerator Problems

Problem: Fridge or freezer won't cool

Here's how to troubleshoot a failing fridge that's lost its frosty feel. This step-by-step guide will show you how to identify the problem and possibly even fix it yourself. Even if the repair requires a pro, you will be able to show them the problem thus saving them time and you money.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Problem: Fridge or freezer won't cool

There are several possible causes when a refrigerator doesn’t keep your milk cold or your ice cream frozen. Before you attempt more complex repairs, try these simple fixes:

  • Be sure the fridge is plugged in and getting power. The light should come on when you open the door.
  • Check the thermostat to make sure it hasn’t been turned way down by mistake.
  • Be sure the vents on the back of the freezer compartment aren’t blocked by boxes of ice cream or frozen vegetables—the vents have to be clear for cold air to circulate.
  • Vacuum the coils under or behind the fridge. Clogged coils can cause poor cooling.
  • Check to make sure nothing is stuck in the condenser fan and that it spins freely (models with coils on the back won’t have a fan). To do this, unplug the fridge and pull it out. Clean the fan blades and spin the fan by hand to see if it’s stuck (Photo 5 shows the condenser fan location). Plug in the fridge and make sure the fan runs when the compressor is running. If the fan doesn’t run, see Photos 5 and 6, which show how to replace it.

Back to Top

Replace the evaporator fan

Here are some troubleshooting tips to help you zero in on the problem. If you can hear the compressor running but the fridge isn’t cooling, the problem is most likely either frost-clogged evaporator coils or a stuck or broken evaporator fan. Evaporator fans often squeal or chirp when they start to go bad. You’ll know it’s the evaporator fan if the noise gets louder when you open the freezer door. The evaporator coils and fan are located behind a cover in the freezer compartment. Photos 3 and 4 show how to replace the fan if it’s necessary.

If you remove the cover inside the freezer and find the coils completely filled with frost, take everything out of the freezer and fridge, unplug it and let it thaw for 24 to 48 hours. Keep a few towels handy to soak up water that may leak onto the floor. When all the frost is melted away, plug the fridge back in. If it works, the problem may be a defrost timer, defrost heater or defrost thermostat. Replacing these parts isn’t difficult, but figuring out which is faulty requires troubleshooting that we won’t cover here. Call a pro if you suspect a problem with these parts.

Normally the condenser fan and compressor, located near the floor on the back of most refrigerators, come on the back of most refrigerators, come on when the thermostat calls for more cooling. If you don’t hear the compressor running after the door has been left open for a while, it could mean the condenser fan is stuck or worn out or that the relay or compressor is bad.

Back to Top

Replace the condenser fan

Pull the fridge away from the wall, unplug it and remove the thin panel on the back near the bottom to access the compressor and condenser fan. Next plug the fridge in and wait for the compressor to come on. The fan should also come on. If the compressor runs but the fan doesn’t, or if the fan is noisy, you need a new fan. If neither runs and the compressor is hot, unplug the fridge and point a fan or a hair dryer set to “no heat” at the compressor. Wait for the compressor to cool and try again. If the compressor runs but the fan doesn’t, the fan is bad. Unplug the refrigerator and replace the fan (Photos 5 and 6). If neither runs, then you may need a new relay or compressor. Call an appliance repair technician to find out.

Back to Top

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Socket/ratchet set
  • Wire stripper/cutter

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • Evaporator fan and/or condenser fan