Karen Wiggins on August 24, 2015 0 Comments Of all the appliances in your home, your refrigerator is likely one of the largest investments. Fortunately, this appliance has also been the focus of energy-saving initiatives and continual innovation. To avoid a costly replacement or repair, it’s important to keep up with maintenance. This includes cleaning your refrigerator coils on a regular basis. Cleaning your refrigerator coils is an easy task that takes less than an hour of your time, and it can save you a bundle in the long run. First and foremost, it’s a good idea to understand the basics of how your refrigerator works. How a Refrigerator Works Your refrigerator operates under the same scientific principles as your air conditioner, but on a smaller scale. Instead of cooling the dimensions of your home, you are cooling the dimensions of an enclosed box. Refrigeration produces a cold environment in a continuous cycle that utilizes five key components: Refrigerant Compressor Condenser coils Evaporator coils Expansion valve When liquid is converted into gas, it absorbs heat in a process known as phase conversion. Gas cools when it is expanded. Moreover, when you have two close surfaces of differing temperatures, the hotter surface cools while the cooler surface warms. Your refrigerator is continually forcing fluid compounds to evaporate and condense through a system of cooling coils. Instead of using water, however, your appliance utilizes chemical-based refrigerant. Most older refrigerators use a type of gas called chloroflourocarbon (CFC), otherwise known as the brand name Freon. However, this type of chemical is harmful to the environment if it happens to leak. Therefore, most modern designs now use a less harmful type of gas known as tetrafluoroethane (HFC). First, the motorized compressor pressurizes the refrigerant. As the gas is compressed, it also heats up. It is then directed through a system of condenser coils near the back or on the bottom of your unit. The gas then flows into a system of chilled or evaporative coils on the inside of your refrigerator. As the gas is cooled through these coils, it converts into a liquid state while under high pressure. It then absorbs the heat inside the enclosed space. The liquid flows on through a small expansion valve into an area of low pressure. When it hits this stage, it changes back into a gas through a process known as vaporization. Finally, the compressor sucks up the cold gas, and the process is repeated. Why Clean The Coils on Your Fridge? If you want to save money and prolong the life of your appliance, it’s important to clean your condenser coils on a regular basis. Because this network operates on the outside of your unit, it is exposed to your busy kitchen environment. If left alone, these coils tend to build up with cooking grease, floor dirt and especially pet hair. Overtime, the refrigerator coils collect a dangerous amount of gunk and debris. This causes the appliance to use more electricity to operate, which means higher energy bills for you and your family. Even worse, the extra load can cause your compressor to completely burn out, leaving you the hassle of a costly repair or a full-out replacement. How to Clean Your Refrigerator Coils Fortunately, cleaning your refrigerator coils is a relatively easy process. Here are the basic steps: 1. Turn Off the Power First, always be sure to cut off power to the refrigerator before performing any cleaning tasks or repairs. You can shut off the breaker circuit or simply unplug the unit entirely, but it’s a good idea to do both. Not only does this prevent electrical injury, but it also prevents you from generating unnecessary energy that only escapes when you are working with the doors open for an extended period of time. 2. Shut-Off Water Valve If your refrigerator is equipped with a waterspout or an ice maker, be sure to shut off the water supply while the unit is without power. 3. Move The Fridge Lay down a drop cloth before attempting to move your appliance. This helps prevent scratches in your flooring. 4. Locate The Condenser Coils Next, locate your condenser coils. These are found either underneath or behind the unit. Most older models use large grid-style designs that are mounted directly onto the back end of the refrigerator. They’re usually black and often exposed. Unlike the evaporative coils inside of the appliance, the condenser coils operate on the outside and are thus exposed to debris. This is the reason for regular maintenance. On newer fridge models, you may find a panel covering your coils. These are easy to remove with a screwdriver. Most of the newest designs, however, feature smaller coil setups on the underside of the unit. While some are housed in the back, most are accessible from the front. On these models, you can simply remove the grille guard while leaving the entire appliance in place. Cleaning Coils From Underneath For bottom-lying coil panels, use a long, wired brush. These are available at most hardware stores or you can buy on Amazon. Most setups feature several layers of panels. Simply insert the brush between each layer and run it back and forth across the surface. It’s also a good idea to clean off your condenser fan, as this is what blows air onto your coils. In most cases, you only find these fans on refrigerators with an underlying coil setup. Cleaning Coils From The Back Most back end coil panels are usually smaller than those found underneath. Simply run your brush through the coils, being sure to cover all open surface areas. A simple paintbrush usually works on older exposed grid coils. Be sure to keep a vacuum on hand for any stirred up dust. 5. Replace the Panel & Power On Once you’re finished cleaning, simply replace your panel, slide your unit back into place and restore power. How Often Should You Clean the Coils? As a general rule of thumb, you should clean your condenser coils at least twice a year. Homeowners with indoor pets should follow a more frequent schedule. Furthermore, don’t rely solely on your manufacturer’s recommendation. Some models claim to feature self-cleaning coil units. However, most of these recommendations are based on light use and don’t factor in pets, active cooks or high-traffic areas. Cleaning your refrigerator coils is a great way to keep your appliance running optimally, save more in energy costs and extend the life of your investment.