Energy-Saving Tips for Refrigerators

Chris Hall, president of®, sees refrigerators as the most attention-deprived household appliance.

"It's true that refrigerators just keep on ticking -- often with minimal care -- but many problems we see are a result of homeowners not taking simple steps to ensure their refrigerator is operating at peak efficiency," Hall said.

Here are some areas that often need attention, and some easy fixes:

  1. Please shut the door. The refrigerator and freezer door gaskets provide a tight seal to keep the cool in and warm air out. If the gaskets are torn or bent, or if the door isn't closing tightly, the refrigerator will have to work overtime to keep its contents cold.
    • How to fix: Inspect the gaskets all the way around and check for any tears or rips. If the gasket is torn, replace it -- it's an easy job. If there is a gap where the gasket meets the refrigerator/freezer, you might be able to correct this by loosening the screws that retain the gasket to the door. Then, gently twist the door so that the gasket makes contact, and tighten the screws.
  2. Dusty coils? The condenser coils on self-defrosting refrigerators are fan-cooled and must be kept clean. Look for black, radiator-like coils underneath the refrigerator -- you may have to remove the toe-kick grill on the front to gain access to them. On older refrigerators, they may be on the back.
    • How to fix: Use a special condenser cleaning brush (a long, narrow bristle brush), fitted to your vacuum cleaner to clean the coils once a year. If you have pets, clean them more often.
  3. Give it some room. If the refrigerator never seems to stop cooling, there may be inadequate clearance around the appliance, restricting airflow to the cooling coils.
    • How to fix: If the condenser coils on your fridge are on the back, make sure there's at least one inch between them and the wall behind the unit. If they are underneath, make sure the bottom front of the refrigerator is clear so that cool air can reach them.

Inexpensive items that make for a healthier fridge:

  1. Condenser cleaning brush. This handy device makes it much easier to thoroughly clean the condenser coils. This brush is also useful for cleaning lint build-up in dryers.
  2. Freezer and refrigerator air cleaner. These special packs last up to one year and work much better than baking soda.
  3. If racks and bins inside the fridge are old or cracked, these can easily be replaced to make a fridge look good as new.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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