What Is a Refrigerator Condenser?

B. Turner
B. Turner
Refrigerator condensers are the main operating components of a standard refrigerator's cooling system.
Refrigerator condensers are the main operating components of a standard refrigerator's cooling system.

A refrigerator condenser is one of the main operating components that make up the cooling system on a standard refrigerator. It consists of a series of copper tubes that overlap in a grid or coiling pattern. On most models, the condenser is located at the back of the unit, though some may be installed on the bottom or along one side of the unit. While its size can vary, it often covers at least half of the area of the refrigerator wall, and some even cover the entire wall of the unit.

A refrigerator's condenser is part of the system that removes heat from its interior.
A refrigerator's condenser is part of the system that removes heat from its interior.

Combined with the evaporator unit within the fridge, the condenser removes heat from inside the refrigerator and transfers it to the outside of the unit. A series of copper tubes or pipes connect the two devices, and liquid refrigerant passes through these tubes to travel from one to the other. As the refrigerant passes through the evaporator, it collects heat energy from within the refrigerator or freezer, leaving the inside of the unit cold enough for food storage. The extra heat energy warms the refrigerant, causing it to transform into a gaseous material. This gaseous refrigerant then travels down to the condenser.

The electrical breaker should be switched off before attempting to clean the coils of a refrigerator condenser.
The electrical breaker should be switched off before attempting to clean the coils of a refrigerator condenser.

As the refrigerant passes into the condenser, a fan blows air onto the copper tubes. This cools the refrigerant inside, and the excess heat energy is exhausted into the room. Once the heat leaves the refrigerant, it transforms back into a liquid, then travels back into the evaporator to repeat this cooling cycle.

To maximize the operating life of a refrigerator, owners must perform routine maintenance tasks, which include cleaning the refrigerator condenser coils. By keeping these coils free of dirt and debris, owners will often find that the unit is less likely to break down. A clean unit is also able to operate more efficiently, which may result in lower utility costs.

The coils of a refrigerator condenser may be cleaned using a vacuum hose.
The coils of a refrigerator condenser may be cleaned using a vacuum hose.

Before attempting to clean the coils, users should unplug the unit or switch off the electrical breaker to reduce the risk of injury. The refrigerator should then be pulled away from the wall to allow access to the unit. Some coils are covered by a plate or panel, which typically slides or snaps off by hand. Once the condenser is exposed, users can clean the coils with a vacuum hose attachment or a stiff brush. It's important to work carefully during this task to avoid bending or damaging the tubes.

How to Clean Condenser Coils Refrigerator

Cleaning the refrigerator will help maximize its operating life.
Cleaning the refrigerator will help maximize its operating life.

Every refrigerator is different. Some refrigerators have hard-to-access condenser coils due to the coils' location. Usually, the condenser coils live on the back of the refrigerator, on the top of the refrigerator, or underneath, behind the base grille. After you locate the condenser coil, follow these steps to clean them.

Unplug the Refrigerator 

Be safe- unplug the refrigerator from power supplies before getting started on the condenser coils. If you do not, you will increase your risk of electric shock.

After you unplug the refrigerator, remove the base grill if your condenser coil is behind it. If the condenser coil is not behind the base grille, ignore this step.

Use a Condenser Coil Brush 

Condensers are typically combined with evaporators.
Condensers are typically combined with evaporators.

Use a refrigerator condenser coil brush to remove any debris from the condenser coils. A long-handled condenser coil brush is necessary for this step for stubborn and hard-to-reach debris. Use the condenser coil brush directly on the condenser coil and surrounding areas.

Vacuum Leftover Debris

The condenser coil brush effectively loosens and removes some debris but not all.

Some parts of the condenser coils are narrow. Use a long and skinny vacuum attachment to remove the rest of the debris lodged in smaller crevices.

Set the Refrigerator Back to Normal 

After you clean the condenser coils, plug the refrigerator back into a power outlet and set it back in place. Sweep up any leftover debris surrounding the refrigerator. If you remove the base grille, remember to replace the base grille.

If you want to take good care of your refrigerator, clean the condenser coils at least twice a year. If you have pets, especially pets who shed, you need to clean the condenser coils more often. Trapped pet fur causes issues that can be avoided if removed.

What Happens When Refrigerator Condenser Fan Fails?

A refrigerator condenser fan that fails causes many issues since a condenser fan plays a vital role in the refrigeration process. The condenser fan creates cool air that circulates through condenser coils. The cool air helps the compressor and condenser coils stay cool.

If the condenser fan fails, the refrigerator temperature rises, leading to spoiled foods and a fridge that does not work. Additionally, a condenser fan that fails causes the refrigerator's compressor to overheat. Repairing the refrigerator after the condenser fan fails proves to be costly. Taking care of your refrigerator's condenser coils prevents breakage from happening.

Over time, the condenser fan pulls in dust that covers the condenser coils. If more and more debris manifests on the condenser coils, the condenser will eventually have to work harder than normal to keep the fridge cool. Essentially, the debris build-up causes the condenser to run non-stop. At the same time, the condenser fan runs harder so the refrigerator stays cool, leading to failure.

Check the condenser fan if you suspect failure. Investigating the fan's motor is one of the easiest ways to gauge potential issues. The condenser fan operates alongside the temperature control switch. If other parts of the fridge run, such as the compressor, and the condenser fan is not running, you may need to replace the fan's motor.

When Should Refrigerant be Removed From the Condenser Outlet?

Refrigerant is a cooling liquid inside refrigerators. The refrigerant absorbs heat, creating cool air that passes through the compressor. As refrigerant goes through the thermodynamic process, it fluctuates between a gas and liquid state.

First, the refrigerant begins as a liquid and expands and cools due to the sudden pressure drop. Then, the refrigerant turns into gas. As the gas moves through the refrigerator, it absorbs heat from the inside. The compressor pulls the gas and heat away from food products, increasing the pressure of the gas.

Next, high pressure and high-temperature refrigerant move through the condenser coils. As it moves, heat releases into the atmosphere, causing the refrigerant gas to turn back into a liquid. After it turns into a liquid again, the refrigerant returns to the expansion device, causing the process to start over again.

The refrigerant should be removed from the condenser outlet when the condenser is below the receiver. The receiver stores extra refrigerant that is not in circulation. The receiver is important because it ensures that liquid refrigerant enters the expansion device.

Additionally, remove refrigerant when it is clear that you have a faulty condenser outlet. Your fridge will make abnormally loud noises when there is a condenser outlet issue. A faulty condenser outlet also causes your refrigerator's cooling capability to reduce. Refrigerant may even leak when your condenser outlet is faulty.

How To Clean Condenser Coils in a Refrigerator

Experts recommend cleaning your refrigerator condenser coils every six months. Depending on your living conditions, you may need to clean them more frequently. This is especially true if you have companion animals in your home, live near manufacturing plants or your area of town is generally dustier.

Symptoms of Dirty Refrigerator Coils

Life happens. It's easy to sometimes lose track of essential household maintenance tasks, including cleaning condenser coils in your refrigerator. If too much dust and dirt accumulate on those coils, you may notice some telltale signs:

  • Compressor running for longer intervals
  • Sudden increases in electricity usage
  • Less effective cooling and freezing

Excess dirt on the condenser coils causes the compressor to work harder than it should. That's because dirt holds more heat, and the compressor is running longer and harder to compensate. If left unremedied, dirty coils can cause the compressor to completely break down. While compressors aren't normally very expensive by themselves, labor can add more to your repair bill.

The Right Tools for the Job

Before cleaning your refrigerator condenser coils, you'll need to have the right supplies. As mentioned earlier, you should use a condenser coil brush. If you don't have one on hand, you can use a small nylon-bristled brush as an alternative. While you're at it, consider wearing a mask to prevent breathing in any loose dust. A white molded dusk mask or an N95 respirator mask are optimal choices. You can wear a disposable earloop blue face mask if you can't get an N95 or dust mask.

How To Remove Stubborn Dirt

While a condenser coil brush is a useful tool for removing dirt and dust, you may encounter stubborn grime on the coils. While you may think of using soapy water, there's a better solution. Instead of a foaming or chemical cleaner, you can mix up a DIY cleaning solution that's safe to use on your coils:

  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons rubbing alcohol
  • 2 cups warm water

Place the white vinegar and rubbing alcohol inside a spray bottle. Swirl the ingredients to mix, then add the 2 cups of warm water and mix again.

You can use this cleaning solution alone to remove caked-on grime. You'll want to spray the coils and allow them to sit for about five minutes before wiping them down. For spots of dirt that won't come off, sprinkle a very small amount of baking soda and then spray on your cleaning solution. Wait a few minutes, then wipe the mixture off.

When Should Refrigerant Be Removed From the Condenser Outlet?

The cooling system in your refrigerator helps keep food cold or frozen. It's a closed system that's completely sealed, keeping freon inside the compressor, evaporator coil, condenser coils and other tubing. Since this system is sealed, freon should never escape outside. This only happens when a hole or crack develops in either the evaporate coil or condenser coils. Another possible cause is a broken joint section between the coils and the tubing that connects to them. This requires a professional to repair the leak and recharge the system with freon.

How To Replace the Condenser Coil in a Refrigerator

It's rare that refrigerator condenser coils break by themselves. More often than not, the condenser itself may develop a fault. Usually, this results from a broken condenser fan or fan motor. Knowing the signs can help as you try to determine the problem and possible solutions.

Common Refrigerator Condenser Issues

We've briefly discussed refrigerator compressor issues, but the condenser can develop problems as well. The condenser fan kicks on whenever the compressor is running, pulling cool air over the condenser coils to keep them at proper temperatures. When the condenser fan goes on the fritz, the compressor may overheat and eventually give out.

Condenser fan problems come from two possible causes. First, dust or debris can collect on the condenser fan's blades and prevent it from properly spinning. Alternatively, the condenser fan motor can fail. Fan motor troubles may result from a bad electrical connection, but the motor's bearings may become jammed with dirt and grime.

Another less common cause of condenser fan motor failure is trouble with the motor's winding. This component consists of conductive wires that are wound around a magnetic core, which permits the flow of current to generate a magnetic field and spin the motor. A faulty motor winding usually results from a broken or separated wire. If this is the case, you may need to replace the entire fan motor.

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Discussion Comments

anon961023

Our refrigerator is only two years old. My problem is it is defrosting for days and freezer is not working and it is warm. It is a Kenmore. What do you think is the problem?

anon959388

If the door of a refrigerator is kept open, the temperature of the room will not decrease.

anon325465

@JimmyT: Neither, really. If it keeps working, you'll have colder air in front of the door and hotter air in the back or wherever the radiator/condenser is. But overall, the effects should mostly cancel each other out.

JimmyT

The article says the refrigerator cools air on the inside and basically transfers the heat to the outside. What happens when you leave the door open? Would it make the room warmer or cooler?

Emilski

@cardsfan27 - You're right. It seems appliance parts are never cheap.

I'm really glad I read this though, because I never knew you should clean the coils. My refrigerator is a few years old, so I'll have to add that to my summer cleaning list. I'd hate to have to shell out for a condenser just because I didn't take the time to maintain my fridge.

cardsfan27

Very interesting. I just had my condenser replaced, and refrigerator parts are expensive! I guess it's worth it to keep my food cold.

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    • Refrigerator condensers are the main operating components of a standard refrigerator's cooling system.
      By: Brian Jackson
      Refrigerator condensers are the main operating components of a standard refrigerator's cooling system.
    • A refrigerator's condenser is part of the system that removes heat from its interior.
      By: Tomasz Trojanowski
      A refrigerator's condenser is part of the system that removes heat from its interior.
    • The electrical breaker should be switched off before attempting to clean the coils of a refrigerator condenser.
      By: auremar
      The electrical breaker should be switched off before attempting to clean the coils of a refrigerator condenser.
    • The coils of a refrigerator condenser may be cleaned using a vacuum hose.
      By: EuToch
      The coils of a refrigerator condenser may be cleaned using a vacuum hose.
    • Cleaning the refrigerator will help maximize its operating life.
      By: Janis Smits
      Cleaning the refrigerator will help maximize its operating life.
    • Condensers are typically combined with evaporators.
      By: EuToch
      Condensers are typically combined with evaporators.