A refrigerator can't do its job if it doesn't have refrigerant, so the most obvious clue that your refrigerator is leaking is that it doesn't keep food cool. However, there is more than one reason for poor cooling performance. The actual problem could be something as simple as ice on the evaporative coils, which could be rectified by defrosting the freezer. Since a refrigerator gas leak repair is bound to be expensive, it's important to have more than one indication of a leak before you call a repair technician.
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Refrigerator Freon Leak Is Harmful
From the outset, it's important to realize that only very old refrigerators actually contain Freon, the refrigerant developed by Dupont in the 1930s. The original Freon, also known as R-22 refrigerant, is a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC), and its use was discontinued in the 1990s when it was discovered that CFCs damage Earth's ozone layer. The original Freon was replaced by a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) version, also known as Freon and HCFC-22, but even this version is harmful, and as of 2020, the EPA has phased out 99.5 percent of its production.
Few of the refrigerants currently in use, such as R-410A and R-404A are compatible with R-22 systems. Those that are, such as R-407C, usually require some modification of the refrigeration system. What this means for your old R-22 refrigerator is that, if it's leaking, it probably has to go to the dump, and all the refrigerant has to be removed before you do that. You need a licensed technician to empty it, because the law forbids anyone without a license to service refrigeration equipment.
Signs of Freon Leak in Refrigerator
None of the indications that your refrigerator is leaking refrigerant is conclusive in isolation, but if you notice two or three signs and your refrigerator is old enough to contain Freon, it's time to call for service as soon as possible. There are five such signs:
- The refrigerator doesn't keep your food cool.
- The compressor cycles on more frequently than normal.
- Your energy bill spikes.
- You smell strange, musty odors around the refrigerator. Freon releases toxic gases other than CFCs into the atmosphere, and your nose can detect some of these. A Freon leak smell is noticeable.
- People in the house experience unexplained illnesses. Freon inhalation can cause nausea, headaches, fainting, heart palpitations and arrhythmia, according to the folks at Universal Appliance Repair.
If You Suspect a Leak
A refrigerant leak is a fairly serious matter, especially if the refrigerator is an older one that contains Freon. Besides causing health issues, Freon has a disastrous effect on the environment. If you suspect a leak, you should immediately unplug the refrigerator to prevent the refrigerant from circulating and find another way to store your food until you can book a visit from a service pro.
If the refrigerator is a newer model that contains a refrigerant other than Freon, the situation isn't as urgent. However, since the refrigerator won't work properly and will cycle on more often, which ultimately costs you extra money for energy, it's still a good idea to unplug it and stop using it. You can take heart in the fact that it's more likely a service pro will be able to repair the leak and recharge the refrigeration system if the refrigerator doesn't use Freon.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker and Family Handyman.