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Have You Ever Wondered How a Refrigerator Works?

One of the most common appliances in homes is a refrigerator. Yet, although most people use them, few people really have much of an idea of how they work. It is really not difficult to understand, though and it is worthwhile knowing how it works.

Sensors inside of the refrigeration and freezing compartment monitor the temperature. When the temperature gets above a pre-set temperature, the compressor turns on. When the compressor is running, it pulls in a refrigerant that is in a liquid form. This refrigerant is liquid at about -16° F (-26.6° C). The compressor compresses the refrigerant, which increases its temperature. This gas is then pushed out through the coils, usually either on the back, as in the picture, or under the refrigerator. As the refrigerant moves through the system, it draws heat from the air in the refrigeration and freezer compartments. This happens because heat always moves from warm to cold. This is the second law of thermodynamics. The evaporating refrigerant is colder than the air, so it draws the warmth.

The hotter refrigerant is pushed back to the compressor, which compresses it. This is sent back through the coils. The coils function to release the heat into the air, cooling the refrigerant. This continues until the sensors detect that the temperature is again below the pre-set temperature and at that point, the compressor shuts off.

It is for this reason that the evaporation coils and compressor should be kept clean and/or vacuumed. If they get dusty, or dirty, the system loses efficiency and the heat can be prevented from leaving the system. This also leads to greater power usage, costing additional electricity. The compressor can burn up and the fridge can stop functioning altogether. This is one of the leading causes of refrigerators needing to be replaced.

It is recommended that the coils and compressor should be cleaned at least as often as the inside of the refrigerator is thoroughly cleaned, perhaps at least once every month or two. Some people may recommend cleaning these once or twice a year, but if they are cleaned more frequently, they don’t have the chance to get really bad.

  • How often do you clean the coils and condenser on your refrigerator?

    • monthly
    • every 2-3 months
    • I don’t clean the coils or condenser
    • I didn’t know that I should clean the coils and condenser
    • I don’t have a refrigerator


What do you think?

11 Points

Written by Rex Trulove


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  1. Thank you for sharing and very informative. I had an amazing fridge in Latvia. I arrived with me from the US completely new ready for the European system because I didn’t know what kind of fridges they had in Latvia, It was a Whirlpool and except for twice having to have some minor repairs it worked for all the 20 years I was there and stayed plugged in and working when I left. The new house owners could either keep using it or throw it out.


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