20 April 2009

Don't forget your refrigerator coils while you're spring cleaning

I stumbled across this WikiHow over the weekend. appliance people swear this little act of maintenance is vital, but most people have no clue how to do it. Well, here's how.

How to Clean Refrigerator Coils

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

Refrigerators have probably done more to positively impact the modern kitchen than any other appliance. Largely unappreciated until they fail, they need only a minimal amount of maintenance to run effectively. This maintenance mostly consists of a simple cleaning of the condenser coil at 12 month (or less) intervals. This is very important, but is quickly and easily performed in an hour or less. Read on.


  1. Disconnect. Shut off the circuit breaker, remove the fuse or slide the refrigerator away from the wall as needed to remove the refrigerator's plug from the electrical outlet. Shut off water supply lines if equipped with ice maker or water dispenser.
  2. Locate the condenser coil. There are two sets of coils for cooling appliances like refrigerators, they are called the evaporator3 and condenser1 coils. Overly simplified, the two coils are filled with gas and liquid respectively, and are parts of a complex "circuit" that has a compressor4 and expansion valve2 that perform the work. The gas filled evaporator coil is located in the space to be cooled, and performs the task by absorbing heat from that space. It is usually protected from damage and out of view. The "heated" gas is compressed by the compressor, where it is further heated (hot to the touch) by the compression process. The heated liquid is passed through the condenser coil that is located away from the cooled space. This condenser coil is where some of the heat in the liquid is released to the ambient air. The cooled liquid is then drawn through the expansion valve by the suction of the compressor, where the liquid immediately boils off to a gas. This causes the temperature of the gas to drop significantly (well below freezing). The process repeats until the thermostat in the space is satisfied. Because the condenser coil is exposed to the ambient air on the refrigerator, it requires regular cleaning. There are a few locations the condenser coil may be found:
    • Older refrigerators have the coil (a grid-like structure often painted black) mounted on the rear of the refrigerator.
    • Newer refrigerators often locate the condenser coil at the bottom. It is likely that a fan (that may or may not be readily visible) will be directed at the coil to assist with heat dissipation. Use a flashlight to assist locating the coil and fan if needed. The coil will be accessible from one of two places:
      1. Toe space panel. Remove the panel at the bottom of the front of the refrigerator and carefully slide the condensate tray out (if present, the condensate tray may contain water). A visual inspection upward into this space may reveal a flat condenser coil when located here.
      2. Rear access panel. If not found behind the toe space, the refrigerator will have to be slid away from the wall further to work from behind. Disconnect water supply lines if too short to allow enough room to work. Remove the fasteners that holds an access panel in position. The condenser coil may be flat, but will likely be cylindrical in shape when located here.

  3. Disconnect power. Seriously. Make sure the power to the refrigerator is disconnected.
  4. Vacuum the coil. With a plastic crevice or brush attachment, carefully vacuum dirt and dust wherever it is seen. Use care not to damage the fins or coil. A breech created in the coil will allow the refrigerant to escape and will likely result in an expensive repair.
  5. Vacuum the fan. If the fan is visible and accessible, cleaning it will help it move air across the condenser coil as designed. Dirt and dust, if allowed to accumulate on the fan blades, decreases airflow, affects balance and can contribute to early failure of the compressor.
  6. Brush away stubborn dirt and dust. Use a narrow paint brush to gently remove stubborn dirt and dust from the coil and fan if able to get sufficient access.
  7. Slide refrigerator back into position. Plug the refrigerator back into wall outlet. Arrange any water supply lines and power cords so that they will not be kinked or crushed by the refrigerator.


  • Increase the frequency of cleanings if located in dusty or dirty areas (garages, basements, etc.) or if pets are owned. Pet hair can collect on the coil and damage the compressor circuit faster than dirt and dust alone.
  • Shutting off water supply lines is not required, but can save time cleaning spilled water if the line should become tangled, caught and ripped from the refrigerator while moving away from the wall.
  • Consider placing cardboard on floor to prevent possible damage to the surface when sliding the refrigerator in or out.


  • Disconnect the plug from the outlet before attempting to clean the coil and fan.
  • If equipped with an ice maker or water dispenser, make sure the water supply line is not ripped from or crushed under the refrigerator when moving out or in.

Things You'll Need

  • Vacuum cleaner with hose & attachments.
  • Simple hand tools
  • Flashlight
  • Narrow paint brush

Related wikiHows

Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Clean Refrigerator Coils. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Good post Paul Thanks for the find! I do clean out the fridge in our house...I also do our AC condenser unit myself...

    It's fun doing it myself, learning how the appliances work...and it also saves money up front and in the long run.

  2. Thank you sir! I like doing things myself in order to understand how appliances (and everything else for that matter) work. I'm glad I'm not the only one!

  3. FLASH BACK of an embarrassing moment when MANY years ago called in a repair-man. (Yes it was 'man' back then not 'person'...grin.) Oblivious to the fact that a fridg must be vacuumed and learned a costly lesson. End of story! Heed Pauls advice people!

  4. The school of hard knocks once taught me a similar lesson Brenda. Who knew the back of fridge was such a dust magnet?


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