Help Your Refrigerator Coils Keep Their Cool


When dust, dirt and pet hair accumulate on the cooling coils of a refrigerator, the appliance is forced to work overtime to maintain the proper temperature inside. This results in higher operating costs and increases the risk of a compressor failure (more than $1,000 to repair on some models).

Keeping the coils clean is one of the easier do-it-yourself items in your home. Most experts recommend checking the coils and cleaning them as needed twice yearly (double that if you have pets).

On free-standing refrigerators the coils are usually located under the doors, at the bottom, behind a removable metal or plastic grill. Most “built-in” refrigerators, such as Sub Zero and G.E. Monogram series, have coils positioned behind a grill above the doors. These grills are typically removed by pulling them forward and unhooking a retaining spring.

Regardless of where the grill is located, make a mental note about how it attaches to make it easier to replace it later.


Use a flashlight to inspect the compartment behind the grill. The coils look like a series of metallic fins spaced closely together. If they have not been cleaned for a while, a thick layer of dust and debris will probably be coating every surface behind the grill.

The best way to clean the cooling coils is with a vacuum cleaner. Use an open-ended hose or a crevice attachment. Simply push the hose over all the dirty areas behind the grill and toward the rear components. Check with a flashlight for any missed areas. If clean, reattach the grill.

If you see no grill at the top or bottom of the unit, you probably have a vertically mounted coil system at the back of the refrigerator. If so, you will have to pull it away from the wall to get access to it. Again, use a vacuum cleaner to remove dust.

Whenever you clean the coils, take a minute to examine the door gaskets for cracks or gaps. The door gasket creates a tight seal between the door and the front of the door frame to keep in the cold. Any gaps will allow warm air into the box and cause condensation to form inside. Naturally, the unit will have to work harder to compensate. Contact a qualified appliance repair technician to replace the gaskets if they appear worn.


Window air conditioners are also prone to inefficient operation and compressor failure from dirt and dust.

Some window units have a front grill that snaps into place, and some require a screwdriver for removal. Look carefully at how yours is attached. If unsure, contact the manufacturer.

Once the grill is off, the coils are readily accessible right in front and can be easily cleaned with a vacuum cleaner hose attachment.

Some units have a foam-type filter behind the front plastic grill that can be cleaned with soap and water. Let it dry before carefully reinstalling it. Replace the grill as it came out.

Gary Abrams is a general contractor who has written about home improvement for The Times for 10 years. Comments and questions can be sent to him at