Why Does My Refrigerator Run All the Time?

You depend on your refrigerator to keep food cold or frozen in order to increase a food's shelf life. Refrigerators start and stop running throughout the day to maintain the temperature you set. If you notice that your refrigerator is running all the time, you may worry about energy costs or needing to replace it. This could be part of its normal operation or a major problem with one of its components.

  1. Thermostat Test

    • The thermostat monitors the internal temperature of your refrigerator. It turns the compressor on and off when the temperature inside is below the indicated setting. Your refrigerator may run constantly if you have it set for a temperature that is too low to maintain. Try setting it at a higher temperature to see if that shuts the compressor off. If it does, you simply had the temperature set too cold. If this doesn't work, it is likely that your thermostat has gone bad and needs to be replaced.

    Running on Empty

    • The contents of your refrigerator help to maintain the temperature. Your refrigerator should ideally be at least three-quarters full. When your refrigerator is full, there is less air space to cool, and the cold foods help to maintain the temperature throughout. If you are only trying to cool one gallon of milk, the refrigerator may run all the time to cool the open air around the milk and the milk itself.

    Ambient Temperature

    • If the temperature around the appliance is hot and humid, your refrigerator has to work harder to keep its internal temperature cold. This is a normal problem that is to be expected. You can help reduce the workload of your refrigerator by running an air conditioner in your house to keep the temperature around the refrigerator cooler.

    Door Seal

    • Refrigerators have a gasket seal around the door that keeps cold air in and hot air out. If the door isn't getting a proper seal, your refrigerator may run all the time to keep the box cold. In some cases, there may simply be a food item blocking the door so it can't get a good seal. A sagging door can also cause this problem, so you'd need to straighten the door. If neither of these is the culprit, you probably need to replace the gasket so your refrigerator can resume normal operation.

    Open and Shut Case

    • Opening the door throughout the day releases cold air into the room, so your refrigerator will kick on to make up for the temperature change. A good way to reduce the impact of this is to think about what you need before you open the door so you don't have to leave it open as you make up your mind. If you have kids, designate a snack time so family members can get what they want at the same time.

    Refrigerant Refill

    • If you determine that your thermostat works and there is no dirt accumulated around your refrigerator's working parts, it may be low on refrigerant. In this case, you would need to hire an appliance technician who is certified by the Environmental Protection Agency to check the refrigerant levels and charge the system.

    Damaged Compressor

    • The compressor is responsible for circulating freon through the condenser coils, which creates cold air that cools your refrigerator. If changing the set temperature doesn’t make your refrigerator stop running, you may have a bad thermostat or there may be a problem with the compressor. If the internal parts of the compressor are bad, the compressor may keep trying to kick on but won’t be able to work properly.

    Condenser Coil Dirt

    • Your refrigerator pushes air across the cold condenser fins and into your refrigerator box. If dirt builds up on the condenser fins or condenser coils, it blocks the incoming air flow that cools the refrigerator. The refrigerator then has to work overtime to keep the box cool. You may be able to clean these parts yourself, but in some refrigerator models, they aren't easily accessible and would need to be cleaned by a repair specialist.

    Foiled by Frost

    • If you don't have a frost-free refrigerator, frost can build up in the freezer and block the flow of cold air that keeps everything cold. You can defrost your freezer by turning the thermostat to a warmer setting. If there is a lot of frost accumulation, you could speed up the process by scraping the frost from the inside with a plastic scraping tool.

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