Is Your Refrigerator Running? Common Causes & Fixes

You open your refrigerator door, expecting a blast of cool air, but instead, you’re met with the disappointing warmth of room temperature. Your milk is on the verge of spoiling, and the thought of losing a week’s worth of groceries fills you with dread. A refrigerator on the fritz is more than an inconvenience; it’s a potential disaster for your food budget and meal plans.

Refrigerators are complex appliances that can stop cooling for various reasons. Some are simple fixes you can tackle yourself, while others require the expertise of a professional. But before you panic or start throwing out food, let’s check some troubleshooting tips and eliminate the common culprits.

Quick Checks Anyone Can Do

Before you assume the worst, let’s start with the most straightforward troubleshooting steps. These won’t require any tools or special knowledge, just a few minutes of your time:

Power Check

Is the refrigerator plugged in securely? Sometimes, a loose connection is all that’s causing the issue. Also, check your electrical panel to see if a breaker has tripped. If so, reset it.

Thermostat Settings

Is the thermostat set to the correct temperature? It might sound silly, but a simple adjustment can make all the difference. Aim for a temperature between 37°F and 40°F (3°C and 4°C) for the refrigerator and 0°F (-18°C) for the freezer.

Door Seal Inspection

Run your hand along the door seal to feel for any gaps or tears. A damaged seal can allow cold air to escape, leading to a warm interior. If you have any issues, cleaning the seal with warm, soapy water might help. For more serious damage, you may need to replace it.

If you’ve tried these quick checks and your fridge is still not cooling, don’t worry. Before calling a professional technician, you can investigate a few more things.

A Bit More Involved Troubleshooting

If the basic checks didn’t solve the problem, don’t fret. There are a few more areas to investigate:

Condenser Coils

These coils are usually located on the back or bottom of your fridge. They release heat but can get covered in dust and dirt, making it difficult for them to work efficiently. 

To clean them, unplug the fridge, locate the coils, and gently vacuum or brush away any debris.


Your fridge has two fans: the evaporator fan (inside the freezer compartment) and the condenser fan (near the condenser coils). These fans circulate air, and it can affect cooling if either isn’t working. 

Listen carefully for the fans’ hum. If you don’t hear anything or notice a rattling or grinding noise, it could indicate a problem.

Frost Buildup

Excessive frost buildup can restrict airflow and prevent proper cooling if you have a manual defrost freezer. If you notice a thick layer of frost, it’s time to defrost. 

Refer to your owner’s manual for instructions on how to defrost your specific model.

These steps might require more effort than the quick checks, but they are still things you can do yourself. Just remember to always unplug your fridge before cleaning the coils or inspecting the fans.

When It’s NOT a DIY Job

While it’s empowering to tackle some repairs yourself, there are certain situations where it’s best to leave it to the professionals. Attempting these repairs without the proper knowledge and tools can worsen the problem and even be dangerous:


Refrigerant Leaks

Refrigerant is the substance that cools your fridge. If it’s leaking, your fridge won’t cool properly, and you’ll likely notice a hissing or gurgling sound. 

Refrigerant leaks require specialized tools and expertise, so calling a technician is crucial.

Compressor Failure

The compressor is the heart of your refrigerator, pumping refrigerant throughout the system. If it fails, your fridge will stop cooling altogether. 

Compressor replacement is a complex job that should only be done by a qualified technician.

Electrical Issues

While you can quickly check fuses and breakers, more complex electrical problems should be left to a professional electrician. Faulty wiring can be a fire hazard, so only attempt to fix it yourself if you’re trained.

If you’ve tried troubleshooting and haven’t had any luck or suspect any of these issues, it’s time to call a professional. Attempting these repairs yourself can be costly and dangerous.

Related article: How to Quiet a Noisy Fridge

Preventing Future Fridge Failures

Taking proactive steps to maintain your refrigerator can help you avoid unexpected breakdowns and prolong its lifespan:

Regular Cleaning

Clean the interior and exterior of your fridge regularly. Wipe up spills promptly, clean the condenser coils every few months, and check the door seal for debris. A clean fridge runs more efficiently and is less prone to problems.

Give Your Fridge Some Breathing Room

Avoid overcrowding your fridge or freezer. Too much stuff inside can block the vents that circulate cold air, causing your fridge to work harder than it needs to. 

Also, let hot leftovers cool down before putting them in the refrigerator. The extra heat can strain the appliance and raise the overall temperature.

Mind the Vents

Ensure that nothing is blocking the air vents inside your refrigerator. These vents allow for proper air circulation, essential for maintaining a consistent temperature.

Watch for Warning Signs

Consider any unusual noises, inconsistent cooling, or water leaks. These could be early signs of a problem that, if addressed promptly, can prevent a more serious breakdown.

Schedule Regular Check-ups

If your fridge has recurring problems or is getting older, consider having a professional technician inspect it regularly. They can identify potential issues before they become major problems, saving you time, money, and frustration.

Following these simple maintenance tips and being vigilant about potential issues, you can keep your refrigerator running smoothly and avoid unexpected breakdowns.

A Refrigerator Lifeline: Your Next Steps

As you can see, a refrigerator that’s running but not cooling can be caused by several factors, ranging from simple fixes to more complex issues. Understanding these potential problems and knowing when to seek professional help can save time, money, and unnecessary stress.

If your DIY troubleshooting efforts have yet to yield results, contact the experts at Perfect Appliance Repair. With 24/7 availability in Hamilton, Ontario, we’re here to help you diagnose and fix the problem quickly, ensuring your food stays fresh, and your peace of mind is restored. Your refrigerator is an essential appliance, and we’re committed to keeping it running smoothly.

Call us anytime, day or night, and let our team of skilled technicians handle your refrigerator repair needs.

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