Homeowner's Guide to DIY Refrigerator Maintenance

Refrigerators are one of the most-used appliances in the home. We’ll teach you how to keep your fridge in great shape and potentially extend its life with our refrigerator maintenance tips.

Kitchen with Double-Door Stainless Steel Refrigerator

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On average, the life span of a refrigerator is between 10 to 18 years. The specific number of years yours lasts may depend on the type of refrigerator you have and how well you maintain it. If your refrigerator routine involves simply re-stocking it with food and beverages from time to time, you might want to reconsider your approach.

A refrigerator is one of the few household appliances that runs continuously, so keeping it in tip-top shape is especially important. Taking a few minutes to perform some simple refrigerator maintenance tasks regularly will help your unit run more efficiently, saving on energy costs and expensive refrigerator repair bills and minimizing wear and tear.

Wear and tear are inevitable, as your fridge is just one of the key appliances you use every day. Along with routine fridge maintenance, protect your home and its hardworking systems and appliances with American Home Shield® home warranty coverage. We cover parts of up to 23 key systems and appliances, including a refrigerator warranty. If you have multiple refrigerators in your home, we will cover them both per the coverage amount in the home warranty plan you select. Without a home warranty, the cost to repair or replace your fridge could cost up to $1,500*. Protect your budget with American Home Shield®.

Here is a refrigeration maintenance checklist that you can easily put into practice.

1. Clean the Coils


Keeping your coils free of dust, debris, and pet hair helps the refrigerator operate smoothly and efficiently. The coils are usually located at the bottom or back of the appliance. You may have to remove a grill to get to them, but that usually just involves snapping off a plate or removing a few simple screws.

If your unit’s coils are in the back, you’ll need to roll or move the fridge away from the wall. This gives you an opportunity to clean the floor underneath the fridge and finally scoop up the grapes, dog treats, and pieces of cereal that magically find their way under there. 

You can purchase a special coil-cleaning tool for the job, but a vacuum cleaner attachment or a stiff brush can also do the trick. Just run the vacuum or brush over and under the coils, removing dust as you go. Clean the condenser fan, too. The coils should be cleaned in this manner once or twice a year, or more often if you have pets that shed. This DIY refrigerator maintenance tip can make your fridge more efficient. 

2.  Maintain the Temperature


Check the temperature often in both the refrigerator and freezer sections of your unit. This fridge/freezer maintenance tip is important for food safety and efficiency. The refrigerator compartment should be around 37 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and the freezer section should be set at zero degrees Fahrenheit or below.

If you have an older model or suspect that your fridge or freezer isn’t cooling correctly, you can purchase an inexpensive refrigerator thermometer at most hardware and home improvement stores. 

3. Check the Gasket


If your gasket isn’t sealing well, cold air can escape. This makes the unit work harder, using more energy to maintain the right temperature. Inspect the gasket frequently for signs of wear and tear. If it’s cracked or deteriorated, you should replace it to avoid fridge cycle problems (hint: this is an easy DIY refrigerator repair task!). A replacement fridge seal can be found at your local hardware store. 

As a part of your fridge maintenance routine, be sure to clean the gasket regularly with warm, soapy water to help prevent crumbs and spills from harming the seal.

4. Change Filters


Many people don’t realize that refrigerator ice makers and water dispensers usually have filters that need changing. Keeping the filters changed will help keep your ice maker and water dispenser clean and running efficiently. A great way to remember to change your fridge filters is to do it when you change other filters around your home, which should be around every three months. 

Check your manufacturer’s instructions for specific recommendations and replacement information for your model. 

5. Close the Door

As it turns out, your mother was right: keeping the refrigerator door closed is one of the best ways to ensure proper refrigerator maintenance. This is because the refrigerator has to work harder to maintain the correct temperatures when the door is opened frequently. 

Think about the items you need out of the fridge before you open the door, and retrieve them all at once. Make sure the door is closed tightly when you’re through. This refrigerator maintenance tip is not only good for your fridge, but it’s also a great way to save energy.  

6. Keep it Level

If your refrigerator is not level, the doors may not close completely or seal properly, and the motor may have to strain unnecessarily. Use a level tool on the shelves to check your refrigerator’s position. Adjust the feet of the refrigerator if necessary to keep the unit even on all sides.

7. Cover Your Food


Store food properly in containers with securely fitting tops or covered tightly with foil or plastic wrap. This will help keep your food fresh for longer and minimize moisture in your fridge. Moisture and appliances don’t mix, so it’s important to control moisture whenever you can to aid in the care and maintenance of your refrigerator. 

8. Keep it Full

While you don’t want to overcrowd your refrigerator or freezer, keeping both compartments full will actually help the unit cool better and operate more efficiently. When filling your refrigerator and freezer, avoid blocking any vents or controls.

9. Empty the Ice Occasionally

While this won’t help your freezer run any more efficiently, it may help your drinks taste better. Often, the ice at the top of the dispenser container gets used while the ice on the bottom sits for long periods and becomes stale. Empty the entire container periodically and let it refill from the bottom to ensure all the ice stays fresh. 

This may not be a fridge maintenance tip, but it should definitely be added to your cleaning schedule

10. Use Proper Lighting

You may not think that working light bulbs will make a big difference, but if you can’t see what you’re looking for inside the refrigerator, you’ll probably keep the door open longer. Your fridge maintenance should involve promptly changing any interior light bulbs that burn out so that your family members don’t have to fumble around in dark shelves and drawers.

11. Cool Down Your Food

Placing hot, steaming food in your fridge will raise the appliance’s temperature and its contents, making it work harder to stabilize. While food safety is very important, take a few minutes to let hot items cool down before storing them in your refrigerator.

12. Consider Refrigerator Placement


It’s not always possible to choose where your refrigerator will go in your kitchen, but if you get the chance, place it away from the cooktop, oven, or heating source. If a refrigerator is close to any of these heat-generating items, it will just have to work harder to keep its contents cold, using more energy in the process.

Also, ensure that your fridge has adequate space around it to allow the vents to function correctly. You don’t want cabinets or other appliances to crowd the unit too closely and impede its operation.

Even if you perform regular refrigerator maintenance, pay attention to any signs you may be headed for a broken refrigerator, such as:

• Food and drink items aren’t as cold as they usually are

• Soft ice cream

• Melted ice or cubes that stick together

• Food starts spoiling early

• Water around the appliance

• Unusual noises or clicking sounds

If you use these fridge troubleshooting tips to catch a problem early, you may be able to save the appliance and extend its life. Routine refrigeration maintenance is a great way to save money and ensure a more efficient refrigerator.

*Repair/Replacement costs ranges are the twentieth and eightieth percentile of U.S. costs as reported in A Study of Homeowners’ Appliance and Home Systems Service Experiences, a nationwide survey of homeowners conducted in 2019 by ClearVantage for American Home Shield.  Further reproduction or use is expressly prohibited.

Do you need help with your Refrigerator? AHS ProConnect offers Refrigerator repair near you.
AHS also offers Appliance Warranties and protection plans. 

AHS assumes no responsibility, and specifically disclaims all liability, for your use of any and all information contained herein.

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