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How to Repair a Refrigerator

Simple fixes for the four most common refrigerator problems: an ice-maker breakdown, water leaking onto the floor, a cooling failure and too much noise. Chances are, you can solve the problem yourself, save some money and avoid the expense and inconvenience of a service appointment. The following article will walk you through the simplest solutions to the most common fridge malfunctions.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Problem: Icemaker on strike

When an icemaker stops working or produces only tiny cubes, it's usually because the water supply is partially or completely blocked. To find and fix the blockage, check out the three common trouble spots.

Easy fixes for an icemaker

FIRST, check the water inlet tube for ice (Photos 1 and 2). The tube that supplies water to your icemaker can get plugged with ice when the water pressure is low. The trickling water freezes and plugs the tube before it reaches the icemaker.

SECOND, unblock the saddle valve (Photos 3 and 4). Most icemakers are connected to the household water supply by a “saddle” valve. One problem with saddle valves is that the needle hole in the pipe can clog. Fortunately, that blockage is easy to clear once you locate the saddle valve (Photo 3). If you have an unfinished basement, you'll probably find a tube beneath the fridge that leads to the valve. Otherwise, look under your kitchen sink.

THIRD, replace the water inlet valve (Photo 5). At the back of your fridge, there's a small electric “inlet valve” that turns the water supply to the icemaker on and off. Before you replace the valve, make sure water is flowing to it: Turn off the water at the saddle valve (Photo 3) and disconnect the supply tube from the inlet valve (see Photo 5). Hold the tube over a bucket and have a helper turn on the saddle valve. If water flows out of the tube, the water supply is fine and chances are the inlet valve is bad. See “Finding Fridge Parts” for help finding a new valve. When the job is done, turn the water back on and check for leaks before you push the fridge back into place.

Caution!

Always unplug the refrigerator before you make any repairs.

Problem: The fridge produces puddles

The water supply lines that serve icemakers or water dispensers can leak and make pools under the fridge. But a fridge without these features can create water problems too. Every fridge produces water in the form of condensation and melting ice. When the system that deals with this water fails, you can end up with puddles inside and outside of the fridge.

Easy solutions for fridge leaks

FIRST, check the water supply line (Photo 6). If your fridge has an icemaker or water dispenser, pull out the fridge and look for a leak. If there's a leak at the inlet valve (Photo 5), tighten the compression nuts. If the plastic or copper tube is leaking, replace it. Tubing is usually connected to the saddle valve (Photo 3) and inlet valve (Photo 5) with screw on compression fittings.

SECOND, level the fridge (Photos 7 and 8). Water drains into a pan under the fridge where it evaporates. If your fridge is badly tilted, water can spill out of the pan. Leveling the fridge solves this problem (Photo 7).

THIRD, clear the drain tube (Photos 9 and 10). If the drain tube in the freezer gets plugged, water leaks into the compartment below or onto the floor. To unplug it, first remove the cover panel (Photo 9). In some models, you have to unscrew the floor panel too. Use a hair dryer to melt any ice buildup. Sop away the melt water with a sponge. Then clean up around the drain hole. Blow air through the tube to clear it. Any tube that fits tightly into the hole will work. You can also use a tire pump or air compressor (turn the pressure down to 30 psi).

Problem: Fridge or freezer won't cool

There are lots of malfunctions that can take the chill out of your fridge. One common cause of suddenly soft ice cream or warm juice is a simple loss of electricity. If the light doesn't come on when you open the fridge door, make sure the fridge is plugged in and check the breaker panel. If the fridge runs but doesn't get cold enough, chances are one of the following fixes will restore the chill.

Easy solutions for cooling problems

FIRST, check the thermostat and vents (Photo 11). The temperature control dial inside the fridge is sometimes irresistible to curious kids. Make sure it hasn’t been turned way down. Also make sure the vents in the fridge and freezer compartment aren't blocked by food containers—these vents supply the flow of frigid air.

SECOND, clean the coils (Photo 12). In order for your fridge to create a chill, air has to flow freely through the condenser coils. On most older refrigerators, these coils are on the backside. Cereal boxes on top of the fridge or grocery bags stuffed behind it can reduce the needed airflow. Most newer refrigerators have coils underneath, where they can get blocked by trash and plugged with dust. Even if your fridge is working fine, you should pull off the front grille and clean the coils every year for efficient operation; do it every six months if you have shedding pets. Long brushes are available at appliance stores for $8.

THIRD, free up the condenser fan (Photo 13). Coils on the back of a fridge create their own airflow as they heat up. Models with coils underneath have a fan to push air through them. Dust buildup can slow the fan; wads of paper or other trash can stop it altogether.

Photo 1: Rattle the relay.

Photo 1: Rattle the relay.

Photo 2: Swap out the circuit board.

Photo 2: Swap out the circuit board.

Diagnose and Replace a Bum Refrigerator Circuit Board

If your refrigerator isn’t keeping food cold, the cause could be a burned circuit board or a sticking circuit board relay. Before calling for repair service, try this trick. Unplug the fridge and roll it out. Remove any metal cover plates or cardboard access panels on the back and look for a circuit board. Examine the board for burn marks. If you see any, replace it as shown in Photo 2. Move the press-on connectors to the new board one at a time. Press each connector onto the header pins until it’s firmly seated.

If the board looks good, locate the largest relay on the board (look for the largest rectangular plastic box). Then plug in the fridge (don’t touch any wires!). Tap lightly on the compressor relay to rattle the electrical contacts inside. If the fridge starts, you need a new circuit board.

If there are no burn marks and the tapping doesn’t work, or the compressor makes a humming or clicking sound and then shuts off, the problem may be a relay located on the compressor itself. To learn how to do that fix, see refrigerator compressor repair.

Problem: A noisy fridge

Refrigerator noise comes from either the compressor under the fridge, the condenser fan motor under the fridge, or the evaporator fan motor inside the freezer. Open the freezer door while the fridge is running. If the noise doesn't get louder when you open the freezer, pull out the fridge. Most refrigerators have a condenser fan motor (Photo 13). Unscrew the back cover and listen—you'll be able to tell whether the noise is coming from the fan or the compressor. The best cure for a loud compressor is usually a new fridge. To replace the fan motor, remove its mounting screws, unplug it and install the new one.

Easy solutions to refrigerator noises

If the sound gets louder when you open the freezer, the evaporator fan motor is the noisy culprit. This motor is easy to replace. Your fan may not look exactly like the fan we show here, but the basic steps are the same (Photos 14 and 15). Start by unscrewing the back cover panel in the freezer compartment (Photo 9). To install the new fan, just reverse your steps.

Lay hardboard to protect floor

Lay hardboard to protect floor

Shim ramps wheel up onto hardboard

Shim ramps wheel up onto hardboard

Don't Wreck The Floor When You Pull Out The Fridge

Nine times out of ten, you can pull out a fridge without any damage to the floor. But a sideways skid or a grain of sand caught under a wheel can scar any floor—I even managed to scratch the ceramic tile in my kitchen. At the very least, lay down a cardboard runway before dragging out your fridge. For the ultimate floor protection, use 1/8-in. hardboard (at home centers). A pair of shims create a ramp for easier pulling.

Finding Fridge Parts
  • To get the right part for your refrigerator, you'll need the model number, which is usually stamped on a tag inside the fridge. If you can't find it anywhere on or inside the fridge, check your owner's manual.
  • To locate a parts dealer in your area, look under “Appliances, Major, Parts” in the Yellow Pages or online.
  • To mail-order parts for any major brand, go to www.sears.com or call (800) 4-MY-HOME.
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How to Repair a Refrigerator

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