Why Your Refrigerator is Making Strange Noises

By Lyle Weischwill | Jan. 19, 2024 5:09 am PST

Image of man hearing strange noises coming from the fridge

Some strange noises from the fridge are normal. Popping, cracking, sizzling and buzzing noises can be caused by thermal expansion, automatic defrost operations and ice production. Other noises can indicate problems that need immediate attention. A loud and constant buzzing noise could indicate that the evaporator fan is rubbing against abnormal frost build-up in the freezer or that the compressor is struggling to work properly.

Knowing which strange noises to pay attention to and which to ignore is the focus of this article. We’ll describe normal noises that you may hear and strange noises that you’ll need to pay attention to so you can take immediate action to avoid serious refrigerator problems.

Normal Refrigerator Noises

Normal, but strange refrigerator noises that you’ll occasionally hear include the following.

Popping, Cracking and Snapping Noises

Thermal expansion and contraction of plastic and metal parts inside the fridge can cause random and somewhat loud popping noises. Rapid temperature changes caused by opening the doors or the defrost heater turning on or off typically initiate the thermal expansion causing the cracking and popping noises.

If you hear these random sounds and the refrigerator cools and operates properly, you can almost certainly ignore these snapping and popping noises as normal thermal expansion sounds.

Image of refrigerator ice maker making noise

Ice Maker Noises

The automatic ice maker in your refrigerator makes its own unique set of noises. You may hear the clunk of ice hitting the storage bin as the ice maker dumps its load. Next, you’ll hear the buzz of the water valve for a few seconds and then another clunk as the valve shuts off after filling the ice mold with water.

The pattern of noises will typically recur every few hours. When you hear these ice maker noises, you can ignore them as normal.

Popping, Gurgling, Dripping and Sizzling Noises

You’ll may hear these noises when the defrost heater turns on to melt frost and ice off the evaporator fins:

  • Water melts and drops down on the defrost heater to make the sizzling noise.
  • Thermal expansion will cause popping noises during the defrost process.
  • You may hear gurgling noises as water drains out of the collection tray under the evaporator.
  • Water goes through a drain tube to a defrost drain tube and may cause dripping noises as the water drops into the defrost drain tray by the compressor.

Abnormal Refrigerator Noises that Should Alarm You

Knocking and loud buzzing or grinding noises inside your fridge typically indicate problems that need to be addressed immediately. Here are abnormal refrigerator noises that should alarm you.

Image of refrigerator compressor making noise

Knocking Noise

A knocking noise in the refrigerator is often caused by a problem with the compressor. The compressor can knock when it mounts work loose. You’ll typically need to have a service technician examine the compressor and fix the problem as soon as possible to avoid cooling problems and a compressor failure when you hear a knocking noise.

An internal compressor problem can also cause the knocking noise. When you hear the compressor knocking and its motor mounts are tight, you’ll likely need to replace the compressor or replace the refrigerator soon. It’s often more economical to replace the entire refrigerator rather than just replacing the compressor because compressor replacement is typically an expensive repair.

Loud Buzzing Noise

Ice buildup on the evaporator can reach the evaporator fan blades. When the fan blades hit against the ice and frost build-up, you’ll hear a loud buzzing noise as the fan runs.

If the ice build-up was caused by leaving the door open during humid conditions or adding warm food to the freezer compartment, you may be able to fix the problem yourself by manually defrosting the freezer. Safely store food and unplug the refrigerator for 8 hours – leaving the freezer door open. Ice and frost will melt off the evaporator. If the noise disappears when you plug the refrigerator back in, then you know that the sound was likely caused by frost and ice hitting the evaporator fan.

If the sound resumes after a day or so, then the automatic defrost system in your fridge is likely malfunctioning – allowing ice and frost to build up and hit the evaporator fan again.

If you have a basic top-freezer refrigerator, you may be able to troubleshoot and fix the problem yourself as shown in this video:

If you have a French-door or side-by-side refrigerator, you’ll likely need to have a service technician fix the defrost system.

Loud Humming From Compressor

The compressor should make a low humming noise that you can barely hear during normal operation. When the compressor makes a loud humming or buzzing noise and the refrigerator isn’t cooling well, then the compressor is likely failing. You may hear a loud click as the compressor turns on and shuts off. That’s a sign that the compressor is overheating and tripping the overload protection switch.

Sometimes, unplugging the fridge and cleaning dirty condenser coils can fix this problem if the compressor isn’t already too damaged. Dirty condenser coils cause the compressor to overheat. If the noise resumes when you plug the refrigerator back in after cleaning the condenser coils, you’ll need to schedule service. If you’re fairly certain that the compressor is bad, you may consider replacing the refrigerator instead of repairing it.

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Visit our Sears.com upgrade page to find special deals and financing so you can seamlessly replace your fridge in no time.

We’ve consolidated all help, financing offers and savings into one location on our Upgrade page to make it easy for you to replace your refrigerator now. No hassles and no waiting.

Preventing Refrigerator Noises

You can help prevent abnormal refrigerator noises by having your fridge professionally cleaned and maintained yearly. Our Sears Home Services Technician will visit your home and complete these tasks to keep your refrigerator in top shape and running smoothly:

  • 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.

Image of Sears Kitchen and Laundry Appliance Check-up bundle offer

To help keep all of your home appliances in top shape and running smoothly, schedule a Kitchen & Laundry Appliance Clean & Maintain Bundle. Our technician will service all of your home appliances in one convenient visit.

Whether you need expert advice, 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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