The good news is that dirty condenser coils on a refrigerator are easily and quickly remedied. The bad news is you risk the expense of a high-priced compressor failure should you allow the coils to become excessively clogged with dust, dirt and other airborne particles. The first concern with condenser coils is to locate them. Some refrigerator manufacturers place them on the back of the unit, where they are quite easy to reach, while others locate them beneath the unit, which makes them harder to get at but still worth the effort.
The purpose of coils is to dissipate heat drawn from inside the appliance and generated by the compressor running. When coils become dirty, they have to work harder to give off heat, which is crucial to the proper operation of the cooling system. The easiest way to identify dirty coils is simply to look at them. If a visual inspection reveals cobwebs and other debris, you can be certain it's time to give the coils a cleaning. Alternatively, if it's been a year or longer since you brushed them down, it's a safe bet that it's time to do so.
The dirt that collects on a refrigerator's coils causes the condenser to retain heat, rather than dissipating it, which makes the compressor work harder trying to overcome what it senses is too much heat. As the engine that drives the cooling process, the compressor is an expensive piece of equipment to replace. If you notice it running for longer intervals of time between shutting itself off, there's something wrong -- and it could be dirty coils. Another place to watch for the impact is in your utility bill. A spike in usage is a symptom that you could have a coil issue.
Luckily, it is not difficult to clean your refrigerator's coils, especially if they are located on the rear of the unit. One way to clean them is to go over the exterior with a brush or rag. A vacuum cleaner is even better at removing the dirty buildup, since it sucks all the dirt away, rather than simply swiping it to the side. If your coils are beneath the refrigerator, you might need to get someone to tip it slightly and hold it while you do the cleaning.
You can eliminate up to 70 percent of refrigerator service calls by cleaning the coils regularly, according to FamilyHandyman.com. Since the task is so simple, making it a regular part of your routine is a sensible decision. A yearly cleaning is probably sufficient, unless you have long-haired pets in the house, in which case you should probably tend to the task at least every six months. Dirty coils can increase your electric bill by as much as $5 to $10 monthly at the time of publication.
Derek Dowell has ghostwritten dozens of projects and thousands of blogs in the real estate, Internet marketing and travel industry, as well as completed the novel "Chrome Sombrero." He holds a Bachelor of Science in environmental legal studies from Missouri State University.