Print Friendly and PDF

Repair a faulty fridge

Here are some simple fixes for the four most common refrigerator problems: an ice-maker breakdown, water leaking onto the floor, a cooling failure and too much noise.


Icemaker on strike

Problem: Tiny ice cubes

When an icemaker stops working or produces only tiny cubes, it's usually because the water supply is partially or completely blocked. To find and fix the blockage, check out the three common trouble spots.

The tube that supplies water to your icemaker can get plugged with ice when the water pressure is low. The trickling water freezes and plugs the tube before it reaches the icemaker.

Remove the screws that hold the icemaker in place. Unplug the wiring harness and remove the icemaker to expose the water inlet tube.

Melt the ice in the water inlet tube with a hair dryer. Don't stop until water stops dripping from the tube. Reverse these steps to put the icemaker back in position.

Caution! Always unplug the refrigerator before you make any repairs.

Problem: The fridge produces puddles

The water supply lines that serve icemakers or water dispensers can leak and make pools under the fridge. But a fridge without these features can create water problems too.

Every fridge produces water in the form of condensation and melting ice. When the system that deals with this water fails, you can end up with puddles inside and outside of the fridge.

Water drains into a pan under the fridge where it evaporates. If your fridge is badly tilted, water can spill out of the pan. Levelling the fridge solves this problem

Adjust the fridge so it's level from side to side and tilted backward. Stack 20 cent coins near the back and set a spirit level on them. When the bubble shows level, the tilt is correct.

Adjust the legs under the fridge. You may need to pull off the front cover grille to level or tilt the fridge.

Clean out the drain hole inside and at the back of the fridge.

Remove the screws that hold the back cover panel in place. On some models, you have to pry out plastic screw covers with a putty knife to expose the screws.

Insert a tube in the drain hole and blow out any debris. Pour a cup of water into the tube to make sure it drains before you replace the cover panel.

Problem: Fridge or freezer won't cool

There are lots of malfunctions that can take the chill out of your fridge. One common cause of suddenly soft ice cream or warm juice is a simple loss of electricity. If the light doesn't come on when you open the fridge door, make sure the fridge is plugged in and check the mains box to see if a switch has tripped.

If the fridge runs but doesn't get cold enough, chances are one of the following fixes will restore the chill:

  • - The temperature control dial inside the fridge is sometimes irresistible to curious kids. Make sure it hasn’t been turned way down.
  • - Make sure the vents in the fridge and freezer compartment aren't blocked by food containers—these vents supply the flow of frigid air. Adjust the temperature control dial. Also make sure the vents inside the fridge or freezer compartment aren’t blocked by containers.
  • - In order for your fridge to create a chill, air has to flow freely through the condenser coils. On most older refrigerators, these coils are on the backside. Cereal boxes on top of the fridge or grocery bags stuffed behind it can reduce the needed airflow. Clean the coils so air can flow through them. Pull dust and fur balls from beneath and between coils with a long brush.
  • - Pull out the fridge and unscrew the cover panel. Vacuum the fan. Then start the refrigerator to make sure the fan turns freely.

Problem: A noisy fridge

Constant refrigerator noises can drive you nuts. Refrigerator noise comes from either the compressor under the fridge, the condenser fan motor under the fridge, or the evaporator fan motor inside the freezer.

Open the freezer door while the fridge is running. If the noise doesn't get louder when you open the freezer, pull out the fridge. Most refrigerators have a condenser fan motor (see above). Unscrew the back cover and listen - you'll be able to tell whether the noise is coming from the fan or the compressor. The best cure for a loud compressor is usually a new fridge. To replace the fan motor, remove its mounting screws, unplug it and install the new one.

Here's how:

Unplug the fridge and then unscrew the fan from the rear wall of the freezer and unplug the wires. With some models, you'll need a socket set or nut driver to remove the fan. Remove the fan motor from its mounting bracket. Fasten the new fan to the mounting bracket, reconnect the wires and screw the new fan into place.

Helpful Hints:

Nine times out of ten, you can pull out a fridge without any damage to the floor. But a sideways skid or a grain of sand caught under a wheel can scar any floor - I even managed to scratch the ceramic tile in my kitchen. At the very least, lay down a cardboard runway before dragging out your fridge.

To get the right part for your refrigerator, you'll need the model number, which is usually stamped on a tag inside the fridge. If you can't find it anywhere on or inside the fridge, check your owner's manual. To locate a parts dealer in your area, look under “Appliances, Major, Parts” in the Yellow Pages or online.

Time to replace a refrigerator?

Home appliances account for an estimated 17 percent of your monthly electricity usage, and as an appliance that operates 24/7 your refrigerator uses a hefty portion of that! Added to that, a refrigerator older than 10 years uses twice as much electricity than a new energy-efficient model. If your refrigerator shows any of the faults listed below, it's time to replace with a new model:

1. Do you see signs of moisture?

Are there signs of condensation on the inside of the door frame? If so, the rubber seal designed to keep cold air in and warm air out isn’t as airtight as it needs to be. While the energy loss may seem negligible, anything that requires the motor to run more frequently over time is costing you energy -- and money. You may be able to change the seal yourself or have a handyman do it. But if your refrigerator is old, and this is only one of several problems, it might be wise to start shopping for a new one.

2. Is your unit generating heat?

We all know refrigerators are meant to keep food cold, but if your unit is generating noticeable heat from the back coils or the sides, a replacement is in order. New refrigerators have improved insulation in the doors and exterior walls to help maintain better temperatures and muffle motor noise. With more energy-efficient compressors and more precise temperature and defrost mechanisms, new models produce less heat, operate more quietly and insure temperatures are kept at the optimum settings.

3. Is the motor running continuously?

The old joke “Is your refrigerator running? Well, you’d better catch it!” isn’t far from the truth. Refrigerators have an on-off timer that lets the motor operate just enough to maintain the temperatures inside. Door openings and closing will, of course, contribute to the motor running more frequently. But if you suspect your refrigerator is running more than normal -- or continuously -- it may be a sign that your refrigerator needs replacing.

4. Do you manually defrost your freezer?

Finally, if your freezer compartment requires manual defrosting, there’s no need to contemplate whether you need a new refrigerator -- you do. Although freezers that require manual defrosting are somewhat more efficient than frost-free models, they have to be maintained regularly in order to operate at peak efficiency. The more frost and ice that builds up on the inside of a freezer, the harder the unit has to work. Taking into account the time it requires to defrost a freezer and the problems with temporary food displacement, a new fridge will eliminate the chore (saving you time) and still be more energy-efficient than your current model (saving you money). 

[ janice anderssen - she knows ]