Troubleshooting a Refrigerator That Won’t Cool

By Lyle Weischwill | Jan. 03, 2024 9:53 am PST

Image of homeowner discovering that her fridge won't cool.

Common causes for a refrigerator not cooling include dirty condenser coils, dirty or damaged door gaskets, blocked internal air vents, improper installation and failed internal components. Finding the cause of a cooling problem is essential to fixing the the first step to fixing the fridge. Some causes are simple to find and easy to correct, while others may require advanced diagnosis and repair by an appliance technician.

If you’re willing, you can eliminate the simple causes of fridge cooling problems yourself. Follow these simple troubleshooting steps first when you face cooling problems in your refrigerator.

Check for Blocked Air Vents

Blocked air vents can prevent cool air from flowing through the inside of your fridge. The owner’s manual typically shows you where these air vents are located. Find the vents inside your refrigerator and freezer and remove any items that are blocking air flow.

Overpacking or cluttering the inside of the refrigerator or freezer compartment can also inhibit proper air flow and cooling. Toss out expired and spoiled foods regularly to prevent clutter. Organize foods in your fridge to help them last longer and promote proper air flow as shown in this video:

Adjust the Temperature Controls

For optimal cooling performance, it’s recommended to maintain temperatures between 35 degrees and 39 degrees in the refrigerator compartment. Setting the fridge temperature at 37 degrees is recommended in most owner’s manuals. Freezer temperature should typically be set at 0 degrees.

When your fridge isn’t cooling well, check if the temperature controls are correctly set. Temperature setting changes may occur if the controls are accidentally touched. Children are sometimes tempted to play with fridge controls. If your refrigerator is malfunctioning due to this issue, adjust the controls to the desired temperature settings. Keep in mind that the temperature changes will not be immediate and could take up to 24 hours for complete equalization of cooling in the fridge.

Image of homeowner checking the fridge door gasket

Look for Loose, Damaged or Dirty Door Gaskets

The door gasket seals help trap cold air inside and keep warm out of your fridge. Check to see if your door gaskets have any cracks or tears or are loose. If a gasket is loose, push it back into the channel around the door or replace it if necessary. You’ll also need to replace any cracked or torn door gaskets.

If the door gaskets are intact but dirty, clean them with mild soap and water to remove spills and deposits. Coat the gaskets lightly with petroleum jelly to keep them lasting longer and sealing properly.

Check for Proper Installation

Refer to the installation guide to complete this troubleshooting step. Retrace the installation steps to see whether your fridge is installed in a proper location with plenty of room on the top, sides and back of the cabinet for ventilation. Most refrigerators need at least ½-inch on each side and 1-inch of clearance on the top and back. Adjust or move the fridge if necessary to gain proper ventilation space around the cabinet.

Ambient Temperature and Humidity Can Affect Cooling

If you’re having cooling trouble with a refrigerator located in the garage, keep in mind that most refrigerators are intended for indoor use where ambient temperatures don’t fluctuate drastically. Your installation guide provide ambient temperature limits for the fridge. When your fridge is in an environment outside those temperature limits, it won’t cool properly. Also, high humidity in some garages can cause cooling problems. The high humidity can cause excessive frost in the fridge that inhibits airflow through the evaporator. Consider moving the refrigerator indoors if possible when it isn’t cooling due to harsh environmental conditions in the garage.

Level the Fridge for Proper Operation and Cooling

Follow the directions in your installation guide to properly level the fridge. Most fridges need to have a slight backward tilt so that doors swing shut smoothly and don’t stay cracked open. Adjust the leveling legs if your fridge isn’t leveled properly.

Clean Refrigerator Condenser Coils

If you’ve been neglecting your condenser coils and your fridge isn’t cooling, you’ll want to clean them ASAP. When the coils have a buildup of dust on them, the coils won’t be able to remove the heat from the refrigerant flowing through it properly. Thankfully, fixing this problem is as easy as dusting. Locate your appliance’s condenser coils — they’re typically in the back or on the bottom of the fridge — and use a brush to get rid of dust. They even make a special brush just for this purpose. To help keep your fridge running smoothly, clean the coils a couple of times a year. Here’s a video that shows you how to clean the condenser coils.

Have Your Fridge Professionally Cleaned & Maintained by Sears Home Services

When the above DIY troubleshooting tips help you fix a cooling problem in your fridge, keep your refrigerator in top shape going forward by scheduling professional cleaning and maintenance through Sears Home Services every year. This thorough service will keep your fridge cooling properly and working efficiently all year long.

During professional cleaning and maintenance, our Sears Home Services Technician will:

  • Check and adjust the thermostat, temperature controls and air damper as needed.
  • Check refrigerator and freezer door gaskets and clean if needed.
  • Check the automatic defrost cycle. Inspect the defrost drain for blockage and leaks. Clean the drip pan.
  • Check for proper ice dispenser operation. Check the water filter and advise of filter options if a new filter is needed.
  • Inspect the electrical system.
  • Clean the condenser coils and the cabinet.
  • Check cabinet level and adjust as needed.
  • Advise you on any problems, cleaning and ongoing maintenance needed.

Get your Fridge Repaired When it doesn’t Work Right

When your refrigerator isn’t cooling as it should and you’re unable to resolve the problem yourself, get it fixed by a Sears Home Services Technician. Our techs can fix virtually any brand of refrigerator, no matter where you bought it. We have access to the OEM parts needed to fix all types of fridge failures. Same-day and next-day service appointments are available in many areas.

If you decide that your fridge is beyond repair and needs replacing, take advantage of special offers and financing available on our Upgrade page.

Whether you need DIY troubleshooting tips, maintenance, repair or replacement of your refrigerator, Sears has all the help that you need to keep your home running smoothly. We’ll help you manage your home so you can enjoy it with the peace mind that everything is covered.

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