Why Is My Refrigerator Not Getting Cold?

A typical refrigerator maintains between 36 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit on the refrigerator side and 0 to 5 degrees in the freezer section. Although a few remedies for correcting a too warm refrigerator require the services of a professional, you can troubleshoot and fix the most common problems yourself. While it may seem too obvious, make sure the unit is still plugged in, especially if it had been recently moved.

Man looking in refrigerator
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Man looking into modern refrigerator

Refrigerator Light

Lights, including the one inside your refrigerator, give off heat when they are operating. Your fridge has a switch on the door frame that controls when the light is on or off. If the switch malfunctions, or if the door aligns incorrectly, the light stays on and the refrigerator compartments gets warm. Unplug the fridge, pop the switch and test it with a multimeter. The meter should bounce from infinity to zero and back again on the ohms scale as you rock the switch.

Temperature Control Setting

Check the temperature settings inside the refrigerator box. They typically don't change unless someone moves them or they get bumped accidentally when loading or unloading items from the fridge. Move them to a lower setting and check the fridge again a few hours later.

Door Seal

A leaky door seal allows cool air to escape from the box. That either makes the fridge work overtime to compensate, or it keeps the box warmer than you prefer. Slip a dollar bill between the door seal and the refrigerator. Close the door and tug on the dollar. The bill will slip out, but you should feel tension as it does. Perform this test along the entire seal. Look for cracks in the seal or a seal that has hardened. Replace a bad door seal.

Condenser Coils and Condenser Fan

A coating of dust around the condenser coils acts like a blanket that prevents heat from escaping the coils. As a result, the system has to work much harder to maintain a cool fridge, and the result is often a warmer than desirable refrigerator. Clean the coils and check the fan as well. Unplug the fridge and turn the fan manually. It should spin freely. If not, something may be stuck between the fan blades and the fan housing, or the fan may be ready for replacement. The condenser and its fan are located on the back, bottom of the fridge.

Evaporator Fan and Coils

A refrigerator typically has one or sometimes two evaporator fans. One is most certainly located in the freezer compartment, and the other may be in the refrigerator box. If these fans are blocked, even with food items jammed up against them, they cannot distribute cold air into the fridge. Rearrange items and listen to make sure the fans are running and cold air comes out of the ports.

Time to Call for Service

A refrigerator has electrical components and sensors that monitor temperature, then signal when the unit must cycle. If these go bad -- which is not common, but it can happen -- a refrigerator technician is the best idea for servicing the unit. Refrigerators rarely need additional coolant added, and the compressor typically lasts a long time. If you have tried everything else without success, however, a technician can diagnose the coolant level and compressor.