Don’t Lose Cool Over Dirty Refrigerator Coils

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Gary Abrams is a general contractor who has written on home improvement topics for The Times since 1989</i>

Accumulated dirt, dust and pet hair on refrigerator and freezer cooling coils can cause these appliances to work much harder than normal.

When appliances are forced to work hard, not only do your power bills take a jump, but you significantly increase your risk of incurring the major expense of a compressor failure (a $500 expense on most freezers and refrigerators).

Most refrigeration experts suggest that the coils be checked and cleaned at least twice yearly, and double that if pets are in the house.

Cleaning a refrigerator or freezer coil is one of the easier do-it-yourself items in your home. Most coils are located either at the bottom of the unit behind a rectangular black metal or plastic grill or mounted vertically on the back of the machine.


If you see a grill at the bottom, carefully remove it by prying it at either end by hand or with a screwdriver. Note how it attaches to make it easier to replace later.

Use a flashlight to inspect coil compartment under the box behind the grill. If it has been awhile since cleaning, you will likely be amazed at how much filth has accumulated.

Best way to remove the dust and hair you find is with a vacuum cleaner. Use either an open ended hose or a hose with a crevice attachment. Simply push the hose all over the coil compartment and toward the rear components. It should take three to five minutes. Again, check with a flashlight for any spots you may have missed. If clean, reattach the grill.

If you see no lower grill on your fridge, you likely have a vertical coil behind the unit and will have to pull the appliance from the wall to clean the coil. Use a vacuum cleaner to do the best job.


Some models have a grill at the top of the unit above the door, behind which you will find the coils. The grill will easily pull away for access to the coils. Clean these coils every month because compressor failure is more common and expensive with this design.

Whenever you clean the coils, take a minute to inspect the vinyl door gaskets for cracks or gaps. Any defects you see will allow cold air to escape, which, again, makes the system work harder. Contact an appliance repair service to replace the gaskets if worn.

Window air conditioners are also prone to malfunction and inefficient operation from dirt and dust, and need to be cleaned every month or so when used regularly.