What is  this?

My fridge is having issues.  It's about 6 years old, which is considered late middle age for a refrigerator.  There was water and ice on the top right fridge shelf, and food was frozen on the right side, but not the left side, of the fridge.  Clearly something was not going as designed.  And I really want it working well for all that Thanksgiving food!  (To be honest, though, when DON'T I want it working perfectly?) 

Also, the front half of the outside  of the appliance was warm/hot to the touch; the back half was cold.  That means the motor is working harder than it should.  What to do?  I am not fond of paying $100 for a service call, so I tried a couple simple things.

The external hot/cold problem was solved very, very easily.  I should have done this earlier; it is supposed to be done regularly  anyway.  I had forgotten; it's probably been two years.  The condenser coils collect dust and lint- they should be vacuumed or brushed off every six months. 
Mine were covered in a 1/2" thick 'blanket' of fuzz and dust.  They can't do their job of cooling with all that on there! 
I vacuumed the coils and everything else down there, then pulled the fridge out, unplugged it (don't skip this step!), and removed the back access panel to see how bad it was back there.  It was as coated as the front.   I cleaned that area out, using both a long-handled dishwashing brush and the vacuum.  That was last night.  This morning, the outside of the fridge is all the same temperature.  That probably means my electric bill should drop a little bit now, and the motor should last longer.  So how hard is it to clean your condenser coils?  Very, very, easy.  In some cases, you won't even need a screwdriver.  My refrigerator is a Whirlpool; to get instructions for other brands, and other repairs or maintenance, one good site is repairclinic.com 

Once you understand some of the basic inner workings of your fridge, not only will you have a new respect for it (and its inventors!), but you'll be able to problem-solve better, saving you money!

This is the refrigerator grill, at the front bottom.  It's easiest to access with the door open.

Some grills need to have a couple screws removed to pull it off/ mine just clips into place.  All I have to do is pull it straight out.  Normally I do this with two hands, one close to each end of the grill, but I had to have one hand free for the camera!

These are the condenser coils behind the grill.  These have already been cleaned, or you would see nothing but lint!

Sitting next to the fridge grill, this is a specialty brush you can buy to clean with.  It's bendable and close to two feet long.  Other things that work to clean this narrow space include:  some vacuum attachments, a pipe cleaner (those fuzzy things you use in craft projects), a flyswatter, a handled scrub brush. 

The back service panel.  The fridge has to be pulled away from the wall to access it.  Before removing the screws here, cut off the electric current: unplug the fridge or turn it off at the circuit breaker.  Turning the control off inside the fridge will not do it.  These screws had a six-sided head; use a rachet if you have a head to fit, or a wrench.  Or maybe yours are regular screws. 

What it looks like inside, after cleaning.  The long greyish-white thing on the left is the evaporation tray, right behind the post in the center is the condenser fan and motor, and the black thing is the compressor.  Behind the compressor are more condenser coils to clean off. 
This back area does not get dirty as quickly as the front, so a cleaning every year or two should be plenty.



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