10 Reasons Your Refrigerator Is Not Cooling & How to Fit It

Troubleshooting and Repairing Common Refrigerator Problems

Stainless steal refrigerator not cooling in kitchen

The Spruce / Almar Creative

If you open your refrigerator and find sour milk or warm wine it should be apparent that your fridge is not cooling well enough. The problem is more than just one of annoyance and odors; it’s a health issue. Listeria and other foodborne pathogens, along with mold, can grow in refrigerators that are not cool enough. 

In many cases, there is no need to rush out and buy a new refrigerator. While you may need to eventually call in an appliance technician for some repairs, other fixes are simple to do and require no special tools or knowledge.

Listed below are 10 straightforward reasons why your refrigerator is not cooling and what to do about them.


The average lifespan of a refrigerator is around 10 years and can last for up to 20 years if maintained properly.

  • 01 of 10

    Temperature Control Is Improperly Set

    Resetting the temperature control is often the first and easiest fix for a refrigerator that is not cool enough. If you have children in your home, they are sometimes the culprits behind temperature control changes, especially if they are on the fridge exterior.

    But anything can inadvertently reset the temperature, including brushing against it with your hand or food items being pushed into the fridge or freezer.

    A problem with the temperature control may also be the reason you hear your fridge compressor running but the appliance is not cooling down its contents.

    How To Fix It:

    • Change the thermostat down to the desired temperature setting.
    • Be sure to check both the freezer and the refrigerator, as they should have separate controls.
    • Don't expect the temperature in the box to change immediately. Instead, allow a full day for the temperature to restabilize.

    What Is Optimal Fridge Temperature?

    The FDA recommends that refrigerators be at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower and that freezers be set at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Purchase a separate appliance thermometer to check temperatures rather than relying on internal gauges.

  • 02 of 10

    Condenser Coils Are Dirty

    When the condenser coils on the back of the refrigerator are dirty or covered in spiderwebs, the unit cannot properly cool. One of the easiest maintenance items you can do for your refrigerator is to pull it out and clean off the condenser coils at least every six months.

    How To Fix It:

    • Unlatch the anti-tip brackets located at the exterior bottom-front of the cabinet.
    • Carefully slide the refrigerator out and clean the coils with the hand attachment on a vacuum cleaner.
    • Be careful not to bend or otherwise damage the coils.


    If you have pets, you should consider pulling the refrigerator out and cleaning the coils more frequently than every six months.

  • 03 of 10

    Door Gaskets Are Not Clean

    Over time, the flexible door seals (gaskets) can become dirty from food or fingerprints, preventing the door from sealing properly.

    How To Fix It:

    • Wipe down the gaskets with a sponge and warm, soapy water.
    • Also, wipe down the sections on the fridge where the gaskets touch.
    • Do not use abrasive cleaners, brushes, scouring pads, flammable fluids, or window cleaning sprays.
  • 04 of 10

    Food Items Are Blocking the Air Vents

    Most refrigerators receive cool air from vents in the freezer section, regardless of the position of the freezer. This includes side-by-side refrigerators that are not cooling, too. Food items inside the refrigerator portion of the appliance might be blocking the cool air vent from letting the freezer air come through.

    How To Fix It:

    • Look for large boxes or bags that may have been inadvertently placed in front of the vents, preventing cool air from entering the unit.
    • Pull those items aside or locate them on a different shelf.
    • Check to see if there is a layer of ice blocking the vent, as well. If so, remove by gently chipping it away and checking the temperature of the appliance.
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Refrigerator Is Understocked

    Mass (food) within the refrigerator helps to maintain coolness. Understocked fridges can have temperature issues and need to work harder to maintain cool temperatures. Well-stocked (but not overstocked) fridges have sufficient mass to retain those cool temperatures.

    How To Fix It:

    • Keep your refrigerator about three-quarters full of food and beverages to allow the air to circulate properly.
    • In a pinch, put a couple of pitchers of water in the empty corners of your fridge to give your appliance something more to keep cool.
    • Don't overstuff your fridge because items need air circulation to keep properly cooled, as well.
  • 06 of 10

    Door Gaskets Are Faulty and Need Replacement

    If you have cleaned the door gaskets but they still do not seal correctly, it’s time to replace the gaskets entirely. They could be too old and brittle. To confirm, close your refrigerator with a dollar bill in the door, then pull the bill to see if it comes out easily. If you have to give the bill a slight tug to release it, your gaskets are okay. If the bill slips out way too easily, your gaskets are in need of replacement. To save money, this can be a do-it-yourself project.

    How To Fix It:

    • Look for universal and brand-specific door gaskets online for between $35 and $100 for your fix.
    • Soak the new gasket in hot water for a few minutes to make it more pliable for installation.
    • Loosen and remove the old gasket (you may need to remove screws in the process).
    • Lay the new gasket in place per instructions.
  • 07 of 10

    Refrigerator Is Out of Level

    Refrigerators should be close to level for them to work properly. If your refrigerator isn't level, the doors may not close or the door switch may not work correctly, which means the appliance won't cool down your food.

    How To Fix It:

    • Use a bubble or laser level to check levels.
    • From side to side, the fridge should be perfectly level.
    • From front to back, though, the fridge should tilt 1/4-inch toward the back to allow the doors to shut properly.
  • 08 of 10

    Clearances Are Not Maintained

    The refrigerator should have enough clearance on the sides and especially in the back for air circulation to cool properly.

    How To Fix It:

    • Check your instructions for details on tolerances. The tolerances depend on your brand of refrigerator.
    • Generally, you’ll need at least 3/8-inch on the sides.
    • You'll need at least 1-inch tolerance in the back. 
    • After sliding the unit back in place, be sure to reset the anti-tip brackets located at the lower two front corners of the unit.
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Location Is Affecting the Cooling Capacity

    If the refrigerator is placed in a warm or cold environment, such as outdoors or in a garage, this can affect the unit’s cooling capacity. A garage that's too cold will confuse the fridge and it won't cool down its contents. If the garage is hot, the fridge will work overtime to cool down the interior.

    Even when the fridge is located in a temperate environment, hot appliances such as dishwashers, ranges, or ovens adjacent to the fridge can affect the fridge’s cooling. 

    How To Fix It:

    • To protect the fridge from the stove’s heat, attach a heat-insulating material to the wall of the refrigerator
    • Use your kitchen fan when cooking to reduce the heat in the kitchen.
    • Surround the refrigerator in a customized box to separate the appliance from other hot appliances. This is also a solution for a fridge located in a garage with extreme temperatures.
  • 10 of 10

    Electric Supply Is Faulty

    Sometimes the simplest thing is causing the problem: the plug. Maybe the fridge isn't plugged in or the plug is loose. If the light in the fridge doesn't come on and it's not cold inside, this could be the issue. If the fridge is cold inside but there's no light, then that's likely a burned-out bulb.

    How To Fix It:

    • Make sure that your refrigerator’s electrical plug is tight and solid in the outlet.
    • Check the outlet type. Refrigerators should not be plugged into GFCI outlets as the GCFI may shut off power to the fridge.

When to Call Out the Pros

More complex reasons for your refrigerator not cooling involving mechanical operations may require a visit from an appliance technician. These can include:

  • Fan motor not working
  • Compressor not turning on or off
  • Compressor relay replacement
  • Thermostat not working
  • Evaporator fan faulty
  • Why is my refrigerator not cooling but the freezer is?

    The likely cause is a problem with the evaporator fan or coils that are not functioning properly. Another problem could be a defrost timer malfunction. Although you can troubleshoot the problem as a DIY project, it may be best to call in a pro.

  • Should I unplug my refrigerator if it's not cooling?

    If your fridge is not cooling but the light is on, your freezer may have an icy build-up. Unplugging your refrigerator may be a good troubleshooting move. The ice may be blocking a vent in the freezer that's preventing your refrigerator portion from properly cooling.

  • When should I turn down the temperature in my refrigerator?

    Turn down the temperature (which makes it colder) a notch in the hot summer months. When it's very hot and humid, your refrigerator will struggle to keep items cold. The items you put into your fridge may also be very warm from the room temperature on a hot day and your fridge needs that extra boost to keep food cold.