10 Reasons Why My Refrigerator Is Not Cooling

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 ten straight-forward reasons why your refrigerator is not cooling and what to do about them.

  • 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. 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 F or lower and that freezers be set at 0 F 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. 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.

  • 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. 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

    Check inside the refrigerator box for food items that might be blocking the cool air vent. Large boxes or bags may have been inadvertently placed in front of the vents, preventing cool air from entering the unit. Pull those items aside or locate them to a different shelf.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Refrigerator Is Understocked

    Mass within the refrigerator helps to maintain coolness. And the mass that you’ll need to provide comes in the form of food items. Understocked fridges need to work harder to maintain cool temperatures. Well-stocked (but not overstocked) fridges have sufficient mass to retain those cool temperatures.

  • 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. To save money, this can be a do-it-yourself project. You’ll find universal and brand-specific door gaskets online for between $35 and $100.

  • 07 of 10

    Refrigerator Is Out of Level

    Refrigerators should be close to level for them to work properly. 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. Use a bubble or laser level to check.

  • 08 of 10

    Clearances Are Not Maintained

    The refrigerator should have enough clearance on the sides and especially on the back for air circulation and in order to cool properly. Tolerances depend on your brand of refrigerator, so check the instructions for details. Generally, you’ll need at least 3/8-inch on the sides and at least 1-inch in back 

    Safety Note

    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. 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. 

  • 10 of 10

    Electric Supply Is Faulty

    Make sure that your refrigerator’s electrical plug is tight and solid in the outlet. 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