How to Repair a Vintage Refrigerator

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Things You'll Need

  • Sponge

  • Bucket

  • Liquid dish detergent

  • Rags or towels

  • Drop cloths

  • Protective face mask

  • Rubber gloves

  • Rust remover

  • Steel wool pads

  • 120-grit sandpaper

  • Sanding block

  • Newspapers

  • Masking tape

  • Automotive body repair putty

  • Rust inhibiting spray metal primer

  • Spray paint - exterior and metal use

  • Clear spray paint - metal use

  • Silicone caulk

  • Replacement gaskets * optional

  • White enamel paint

  • Clear enamel paint

  • Small paintbrush

  • Screwdriver

  • Wrench


Handles, internal light switches, and door locking mechanisms usually require the door to be disassembled. Unless you have electrician or appliance manufacturing skills, these tasks should be left to professional services.


Vintage paint used on refrigerators may contain lead. Never repair a refrigerator indoors.

Repair interior and exterior refrigerator surface damage without special skills.

Retro kitchen appliances are sought after by vintage enthusiasts. Vintage refrigerators are so durably constructed that many are still in working order. The internal parts may outlast the exterior factory finish. Repair surface damage to the exterior and the interior of the refrigerator without special skills. Many replacement parts can be obtained for various vintage models. Seek professional services for electrical repair of the refrigerator to avoid risk of electrocution.

Repairing Exterior and Interior Surface Damage

Step 1

Clean the refrigerator with hot, soapy water. Remove racks, crisper drawers and removable parts. Dry thoroughly.

Step 2

Move the refrigerator onto a drop cloth in a ventilated area. Put on a protective face mask and gloves.

Step 3

Spray rust remover onto rust. Scrub away the rust with steel wool. Clean the residue with soap and water. Dry thoroughly.

Step 4

Fill holes or dents with automotive body repair putty. Smooth while wet with a broad knife or spoon back. Auto putty is sold under many brand names and is available at automotive stores. Allow the putty to dry.

Step 5

Sand surfaces with 120-grit sandpaper wrapped around a sanding block until smooth. The same steps must be completed for the interior as well as the exterior if repairing the inside. Many interiors only require touch ups to chips, whereas the exterior requires full repair and restoration.

Step 6

Wipe the sanded surfaces with a soapy sponge, followed by a clear water rinse with a clean sponge. Dry thoroughly.

Step 7

Tape the rubber gasket (if you're retaining it) so it is completely covered with masking tape. Cover the interior door with newspaper. Tape securely. Cover the inside opening with newspaper and tape. Cover metal logo pieces or designs on the door or elsewhere with tape. Leave the door open when priming and painting.

Step 8

Spray surfaces to be painted with metal primer. According to Ask the Builder, the primer must indicate rust inhibiting properties and be oil-based. Allow the primer to dry.

Step 9

Spray the exterior with paint intended for outdoors and metal use. Allow the base coat to dry. Repeat with one or two additional coats. Each coat must dry before the next is applied. Allow paint to dry.

Step 10

Spray with a clear coat. Allow the paint to dry.

Interior Repairs

Step 1

Fill cracks in the rubber gasket around the door with silicone caulk. Extensive damage to gaskets cannot be repaired and these gaskets should be replaced. Many online services, as well as manufacturers of vintage refrigerators, offer replacement parts. You will need the appliance serial number.

Step 2

Paint chips, cracks and other minor damage to the interior finish (or to the steel drawers) with white enamel paint. Allow the paint to dry. Repeat with as many coats necessary to create a solid finish. Paint the repair with clear enamel paint.

Step 3

Sand discolored metal racks with steel wool. Apply rust remover and remove rust with steel wool. Clean thoroughly. Spray a rust inhibiting metal primer onto the rack. Allow primer to dry. Spray the rack the appropriate color paint intended for metal and outdoor use. The moisture and temperatures of the refrigerator mandate outdoor paint.

Step 4

Tighten hinges or screws on icebox doors or condiment shelves.


Louise Harding

Louise Harding holds a B.A. in English language arts and is a licensed teacher. Harding is a professional fiction writer. She is mother to four children, two adopted internationally, and has had small businesses involving sewing and crafting for children and the home. Harding's frugal domestic skills help readers save money around the home.