DIY Guide to Repairing Refrigerators

Woman Repairing Her Own Refrigerator
Paul Bradbury/Getty Images

Your refrigerator is the workhorse of the house, diligently keeping food cool or frozen all day, all night. So it is no wonder that troubles might happen from time to time. You may be pleased to learn that refrigerator repair is not solely left to professional technicians.

Owners can troubleshoot common refrigerator problems by using simple tools like a manual screwdriver and a cordless drill, and with parts that are easy and inexpensive to obtain.

  • 01 of 04

    Refrigerator Is Leaking

    Do you have water on the kitchen floor? What about pools developing on the inside floor of the refrigerator? Leaky refrigerators are usually easy to fix, as there are only a few possible culprits: door gaskets, defrost drain, and drain pan.

    Clean or Replace Refrigerator Door Gaskets

    The soft rubber-like door gaskets may leak water at the bottom if they do not properly seal. First, clean the seal and the section of the refrigerator that the seal touches with warm, soapy water. If that does not work, replace the door gaskets entirely.

    Defrost or Unblock Refrigerator Drain

    Check to see if the defrost drain that leads out of the freezer is clogged. Knock out any visible obstructions. Use hot water to break up any obstructions farther down the tube.

    Clear Out or Clean Refrigerator Drain Pan

    The drain pan at the bottom of the refrigerator may be so full of water that the water has begun to spill out. Clear the drain pan of water. While you have the drain pan removed, clean it with warm, soapy water and a soft cloth. Do not use abrasives.

    If the drain pan is smelly or has developed mold spots, use a mild bleach solution of 1:10 bleach to warm water. Be sure to rinse and dry the pan before replacing it.

  • 02 of 04

    Refrigerator Is Too Loud

    Does your refrigerator make noise? Yes, refrigerators do make sounds. Expected and normal are the sounds of ice clattering into the storage bin and refrigerant hissing through lines. Even new refrigerators can make sounds.

    But buzzing, humming, whirring and vibrating noises are not normal, so try these fixes:

    Level Refrigerator

    Your refrigerator has leveling legs that likely were set in place years ago. As your home ages and your kitchen floors sag, the refrigerator needs to occasionally be leveled again. Use a wrench to turn the legs. It is recommended that doors be able to shut on their own when opened halfway (45 degrees). So, adjust the legs with the door halfway open and keep adjusting until the door swings shut.

    Place Refrigerator on Soundproofing Mat

    Special dense foam mats can be purchased online which go under the refrigerator, reducing vibration that passes through the legs onto the floor. This fix is especially valuable if people living below you complain about refrigerator noise.

    Or slip anti-vibration pads under each of the fridge's four feet. Have an assistant slightly tip back the fridge while you slip the pads in, then repeat for the other side. Do not stand on the tipped side as the fridge can tip over onto you.

    Adjust Refrigerator's Icemaker

    If your refrigerator emits a buzzing sound every 10 to 15 minutes, with each buzz lasting only about five seconds, the icemaker may be trying to make ice but cannot because the water is turned off.

    Stop the fridge from buzzing by turning the icemaker off (with the on-off switch) or raising the ice sensor arm. Check that the supply valve, usually found under the sink, is turned on. Also, check behind the refrigerator to see if the line is still attached to the refrigerator and is not leaking.

    Replace Refrigerator Evaporator Fan Grommets

    The fan is responsible for distributing air from the coils to maintain an even temperature. This fan may be rattling due to worn or broken rubber grommets. Inexpensive grommets are available online.

    You can access the evaporator fan inside your freezer compartment. Unplug the unit, then remove all items and shelves from the freezer. With a screwdriver, open the access door at the very back of the freezer and remove the fan. Remove the old grommets and replace with the new grommets, then replace the fan and tighten.

  • 03 of 04

    Refrigerator or Freezer Are Not Cold Enough

    Is the milk spoiling faster than it should? When you put your hand on the wire rack, does it not feel as cold as it should?

    Adjust Refrigerator Temperature Settings

    While this fix may seem obvious, remember that it may have accidentally been adjusted to a higher temperature. Not only that but some fridge temperature settings are confusing.

    You will find this thermostat inside the refrigerator. Turn down the thermostat as low as possible until the fridge's compressor clicks on. Then, turn the thermostat up to the required temperature.

    Inspect Refrigerator Door Gaskets

    Refrigerator door gaskets (or seals) need to form a perfect seal to keep in all of the cold.

    Door gaskets become dirty on a regular basis. So, first try cleaning the seals with warm water. Smear a thin layer of petroleum jelly on the cleaned seals. If this does not work, replace the seals.

    Check Refrigerator Box for Blockage

    Tall items may have been placed in the refrigerator or freezer, blocking the flow of cold air. Move all tall items away from the back. No items should be near or around the air vents inside the refrigerator box.

    Clean Refrigerator Condenser Coils

    Dirty condenser coils will reduce your unit's cooling abilities. For homes that have pets or a significant amount of traffic, it is recommended that you clean the coils every two to three months.​

    Move the refrigerator away from the wall and unplug it. Remove the grille at the bottom, typically by pulling straight back. It should unsnap. Use a household or shop vacuum with a long attachment thin enough to reach underneath. Carefully vacuum around the coils, watching your progress with a flashlight. If you push too vigorously, you risk snapping a coil—an expensive fix requiring a technician.

    Add More Items to Refrigerator

    Freezers and refrigerators that are low on food items (especially large containers of liquids such as milk jugs) do not stay cool as well as those packed with more items, which retain and maintain the cold. 

    As a quick fix, add two or three gallons of water in plastic jugs and allow them to chill. If you end up buying more food, replace chilled water as needed with the food.

  • 04 of 04

    Refrigerator Is Too Cold or Freezes Over

    You want your refrigerator and freezer to be cold. But is it getting to be too much of a good thing? After you have tried readjusting the thermostat, here are some other repairs.

    Check Refrigerator Damper

    Cold air may be continually rushing into the compartment, unchecked by a damper stuck in an open position. The damper is located between the cooling and freezing compartments and is controlled by the thermostat. 

    Replace Refrigerator Thermostat

    Refrigerator thermostats are easily obtainable online. Find your model number on the inside of your door or the back, then order a compatible thermostat.

    1. Unplug the refrigerator first, then open the cooling compartment.
    2. Using a Phillips head screwdriver, remove the cover located at the top of the cooling compartment (inside the box). Usually, there are no more than a couple of screws holding this in.
    3. Using the same screwdriver, remove the plastic control assembly cover.
    4. Lift the cover down gently, as it is attached to the refrigerator with wires. The thermostat will be a bronze-colored metal device attached to copper wires and a plastic capillary tube.
    5. At this point, you may find it helpful to take a photo of the wire arrangement so that you can duplicate it with the new thermostat. Pull the wires straight out by hand and remove the tube.
    6. The new thermostat installation is a one-for-one replacement: two black wires that are doubled up and attached to one terminal; one orange wire; and one green ground wire.
    7. Attach the capillary tube.
    8. Replace the assembly covers with their matching screws.