Why Does a Refrigerator Compressor Fan Keep Running?


A refrigerator's compressor carries out a vital function of the electrical refrigeration unit that provides cold air to the appliance. The compressor cycles on and off continually, depending on various temperature readings within the machine. This is a normal function of all traditionally made refrigerators, for home or commercial use, and is coordinated with the operation of (on current models) two fans that do the vital job of moving air around and outside the unit.

What Compressors Do

  • The compressor is located on the bottom of the unit, in the back, and consists of a rectangular black box and a series of electrical leads. The compressor's function is to handle a chemical refrigerant, commonly the compound known as tetrafluoroethane. This substance will be heated and then cooled in a process that eventually produces cold air moving inside the unit and warmer air moving out.

Heating and Cooling Gas

  • The compressor pressurizes the refrigerant, which is heated by the process. The gas passes through a series of coils, and its heat is drawn off into the surrounding air. As the gas cools, it liquefies. Coils pass the refrigerant along the freezer and main compartments, drawing off heat and bringing them down to the desired temperature.


  • The temperature setting in the refrigerator controls a thermocouple or "cold control." When the refrigerator gets cold enough, the thermocouple cuts off electrical current to the compressor, which shuts off. The interior of the refrigerator will eventually warm up, either through leaks or by the door being opened. The temperature rises, the thermocouple restores electrical current to the compressor, and the compressor cycles back on.

Condenser Fans

  • Modern refrigerators carry two fans. One is a condenser fan, which helps to transfer heat from inside the refrigerator to the outside. This fan should be running whenever the compressor is operating.

Evaporator Fans

  • A second fan is moving air from the freezer unit through the rest of the refrigerator, and is known as an evaporator fan. This fan should also be running whenever the compressor is operating. The various parts of the evaporator motor are subject to breakdown and wear; if the evaporator fan is not operating in coordination with the compressor then the unit will not stay cool.

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  • Photo Credit Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Randy
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