Your refrigerator and freezer work harder than ever during the hot, humid days of summer. Here are tips on general use and maintenance, anticipating summer stress.
Locate your refrigerator or freezer away from direct sunlight or from a heat source such as range, dishwasher or heating vent.
Don’t put your refrigerator in an unheated space either. Food will not be kept properly cold in a refrigerator or freezer kept at temperatures below 60 degrees, which can easily happen if you put an old refrigerator or freezer in an unheated laundry room or a garage.
Always plug a refrigerator or freezer into a 15-amp circuit with no other appliances. The outlet should accept a grounded three-prong plug. If you must use an extension cord, it should be a heavy-duty, three-wire type.
How Much Is OK?
A refrigerator or freezer operates most efficiently when fully loaded, but be sure to leave enough space between items for air to circulate. Don’t cover vents that send cold air to the refrigerator compartment.
Keep a refrigerator between 34 and 40 degrees. To check it, put a refrigerator thermometer in the center of the food compartment overnight. If you can’t maintain this temperature by adjusting the refrigerator’s thermostat, check for clogged coils under the refrigerator or on the back of the unit.
Keep a freezer close to zero degrees. To check it, put the thermometer on top of a carton of frozen food and leave it for a day. If ice cream is firmly solid without being brick hard, the temperature is fine.
Clean the drain system in a self-defrosting refrigerator. The drain holes are at the bottom of the refrigerator and freezer compartments. Insert a piece of stiff wire to unclog the drain, then flush it with water from a basting syringe. Wash the drain pan in soapy water.
To see if a refrigerator door gasket is forming a tight seal, close the door on a dollar bill at several points. Look for slight resistance when you pull the dollar out.
Or put a 150-watt outdoor floodlight in the compartment and look for a light leak in a darkened room. Try the light at different angles with the floodlight’s cord coming out a side you are not checking.
You can often fix a small crack in the gasket around a refrigerator door with silicone caulk. Use your fingers to roll back the gasket and apply the caulk to the inside. Be careful not to apply too much. Use only a caulk whose label’s fine print indicates it’s safe for contact with food.
A tripped circuit breaker could turn the food in your freezer into a spoiled mess before you discover it. To avoid this, put a low-wattage night light in the same outlet as the freezer. You’ll see immediately if it’s off.
If your area has power outages, keep your freezer full, packing empty spaces with packets of picnic-cooler artificial ice or plastic bottles of frozen water.
Do ice cubes stick to your automatic ice-maker? Take out the ice-maker unit, wash the tray and let it dry. Lightly coat the inside with nonstick cooking spray and wipe off excess. The cubes will slide right out, and there will be no taste from the spray.
Have an old refrigerator that must be defrosted manually? To help melt the frost in the freezer, reverse the airflow on a canister vacuum and direct the stream of warm air into the emptied freezer.