Quick Tips for the Home

How a Refrigerator Cycle Works

Our hardest working kitchen appliance is one that we often take for granted. When we get hungry or thirsty, we just open the refrigerator door, reach in and grab something cold.  We seldom give any thought to how the refrigerator works to chill its contents, day in and day out. 

We know it’s not magic, but few of us know exactly how a refrigerator works and what makes a refrigerator run efficiently. 

The fact is that understanding basic refrigeration principles is a good idea for homeowners.  Knowing how your refrigerator cools helps you know how to care for and maintain your appliance, as well as how to spot trouble signs and how to communicate with a repair technician when a component needs attention.  

The refrigeration process is actually a cycle that repeats itself again and again. The appliance gets its name from the refrigerant chemical that is used to create the cool interior environment.  Refrigerants, such as pure ammonia, actually boil at very low temperatures, which is where the process begins.

Then the Compressor Heats the Refrigerant 

Your refrigerator’s compressor does just what its name implies – it compresses the refrigerant to heat it.  As you’ll see, the compressor also controls the refrigerant flow.

Refrigerator Coils Turn Hot Refrigerant Gas Into Liquid 

Most refrigerators have coils on the outside and on the inside of the unit.  The condenser coils on the outside (often on the back) allow the hot refrigerant gas to cool as it exits and pressurize into liquid form (for example, ammonia gas would condense into ammonia liquid). 

 The Refrigerant Flows Through the Expansion Valve and Evaporates Into Gas

Now under high pressure, the refrigerant liquid flows through the expansion valve to low pressure via the interior evaporation coils.  When this happens, the liquid boils and turns into a vapor or gas, dropping temperature. This makes the refrigerator interior cold. Then, the compressor pulls up the gas and the cycle starts again. 

 How to Properly Maintain Your Refrigerator

Now that you know how the refrigerator cycle works, it’s easy to see how proper refrigerator maintenance plays an important role in helping your appliance run smoothly and energy efficiently. 

Inspecting the door seal gaskets regularly helps ensure that the cool gas stays inside the unit where it’s needed to cool the contents. 

Cleaning the refrigerator coils helps the refrigerant gasses and liquids flow properly to perform their duties in the cycle. 

Setting the refrigerator temperature properly (usually between 35 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit) and minimizing how often and how long the door is opened helps keep the interior and your food and drink items cold.  It’s also a good idea to avoid storing items when they are very hot, which will just make the unit work harder to cool.

And, it’s actually better to keep your refrigerator well-stocked and full so that the unit doesn’t have to work to cool empty spaces.  An important part of maintenance is also keeping the interior of the refrigerator clean

A little knowledge and TLC can help you understand what your refrigerator needs to function at peak efficiency for your household. 

Related: 5 Quick Tips For Refrigerator Maintenance

If you are in need of a refrigerator repair or replacement or unable to detect a problem within your refrigerator contact a trusted refrigerator repair professionals. You can also protect your refrigerator and appliances from unexpected repairs and replacements with a Home Warranty Plan from American Home Shield®.

DIY tips are for informational purposes only. Learn more.