What Causes a Refrigerator to Be Hot to the Touch?

A normal functioning refrigerator can feel warm to the touch from time to time. However, when you notice your refrigerator is abnormally warm and even hot to the touch, it can indicate a problem. Knowing what to expect when operating a refrigerator can go a long way in helping you determine whether to consult a refrigerator repair specialist.

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Pet hair, dust and food debris can become lodged in the refrigerator’s condenser and raise the heating element’s temperature.

Runs for an Extended Period

A refrigerator that continuously runs and cools contents inside can temporarily feel hotter than usual. For example, if you are opening and closing your refrigerator more than normal when outside temperatures are hot and humid, filling it with fresh food or food that is close to room temperature and turning on a refrigerator previously at room temperature can each cause it to run for an extended period and feel hot, states Whirlpool. Any one of these actions can cause a refrigerator's exterior cabinet to feel warm and even hot for up to 24 hours. Contact a refrigerator repairman to inspect your refrigerator if it remains hot for a period longer than 24 hours as this may indicate a problem.

The Electric Heater Is Turned on

Certain older model refrigerators, such as those manufactured in the 1980s and earlier, were equipped with electric heaters. The heaters were meant to stop moisture and condensation from forming and spoiling food inside the refrigerator on hot and humid days. Due to the heater's placement along the edge of the refrigerator cabinet, it sometimes made the refrigerator door slightly hot to the touch when the heater was switched on. If you have an older refrigerator with this moisture-prevention system, switch off your heater when you notice the temperature of your refrigerator increasing.

Dirty Condenser Tubing

While newer refrigerators frequently do not have heaters, most have hot condenser tubing, which line the edges of the cabinet where an electric heater was once found. The hot condenser tubing, also called a yoder loop tube, serves the same basic function as a heater: to reduce and guard against moisture buildup in a refrigerator. When the hot condensing tubing becomes dirty, it has a tendency to run hot. Hot air may be felt when you reach your hand into the refrigerator from the edge of the cabinet near where the tubing is located. When heat is detected, Appliance Aid recommends cleaning the condenser coils and checking the performance of your condenser cooling fan, which works to cool the coils after they turn off. Follow instructions contained in the manual that came with your refrigerator to clean the coils, or contact a refrigerator repair specialist for assistance.