How to Clean Refrigerator Condenser Coils

If you have noticed a spike in your energy bill, you likely need to clean your refrigerator’s condenser coils. A dirty condenser coil will cause the refrigerator to ‘run’ longer, which increases the amount of energy used and causes unnecessary wear on the unit’s compressor. Cleaning the condenser coil can be a fairly simple do-it-yourself project, and can greatly reduce the chances of an unexpected, costly repair.

How to Clean Refrigerator Condenser Coils

What is a refrigerator condenser coil?
A condenser coil is a device designed to efficiently release the heat from the refrigerator. Liquid coolant is circulated though the coil by the compressor. As the coolant passes through the coil, heat is dissipated and the liquid is cooled. If the coil is covered with dirt and dust, the compressor will work harder and longer than it is supposed to, causing the compressor to use more energy than necessary. All of this extra work can result in premature breakdowns and costly repairs.

Prior to starting the project, collect the following tools:

  • Vacuum cleaner with hose and attachments
  • Simple hand tools
  • Flashlight
  • Small Paint Brush
  • Large Piece of Cardboard (if your fridge isn’t on wheels)

Step 1: Disconnect the Power and Water

Prior to moving or cleaning the refrigerator, it is a good idea to turn off the circuit breaker. Also, if your refrigerator is equipped with an ice maker or water dispenser, turn off the water supply.

Step 2: Locate the Condenser Coils

Prior to moving the refrigerator, determine where the coils are located. Your refrigerator’s condenser coils will be located in one of three places.

#1 Behind the Refrigerator: If you have an older refrigerator, the condenser coils will be mounted on the back of the refrigerator; the coil is a likely a black, grid-like structure that runs the entire length of the unit (you can’t miss it!). Accessing the rear-mounted coil is as simple as pulling the unit forward (step 3).

#2 Underneath the Refrigerator and Accessible via the Toe Space Panel: To access the coils, use your tools to remove the panel located at the bottom of the front of the refrigerator. Carefully slide the condensate drip tray out, making sure not to spill any water that may be present. Use your flashlight to look upward for a flat condenser coil. If your coil is accessible via the Toe Space Panel, skip step three, but please ensure your circuit breaker is turned off prior to cleaning the coil.

#3 Underneath the Refrigerator and Accessible via the Rear Access Panel: To access the coils, you’ll need to slide the refrigerator forward (step 3) and locate the rear access panel. Use your tools to remove the panel. The coil may be flat, but will likely be cylindrical and accompanied by a fan.

Step 3: Slide the Fridge Forward and Disconnect Cables and Hoses

Slowly pull the refrigerator forward being careful not to abruptly disconnect any water supply hoses (if equipped with an ice maker or water dispenser). If your refrigerator doesn’t have wheels, it is a good idea to place a piece of cardboard or furniture slides under the legs to avoid scratching your floor (this is especially true if you have vinyl, which will tear and leave unsightly (and unrepairable) gouge marks. Once the refrigerator has been moved forward, unplug the unit from the wall.

Step 4: Vacuum the Coil

Use your vacuum with a brush attachment to carefully remove the dust from the coils. Be careful not to damage the fins or coil; a break in the coil will allow refrigerant to escape, which may result in an expensive repair. Use a small, narrow paint brush to remove any additional stubborn dirt from the coils.

Step 5: Vacuum the Fan (if present)

If your coil is located underneath the refrigerator, you may have a fan. Clean the dust and dirt from the blades as best as possible. Dust and dirt on the fan blades will decrease the airflow, which affects the balance and can contribute to failure of the compressor.

Step 6: Slide the Refrigerator Back Into Position

Plug the refrigerator back into the wall outlet and reattach the water supply lines. Arrange the cords so that they will not be crushed by the refrigerator.

You’re Done!

For optimal results, clean your condenser coils and fan at least every 6 months. If you have pets or live in an especially dusty location, clean your condenser coils more frequently.