Even though refrigerators are not just mechanical, but partly chemical in their method of operation, there are still some simple things you can check before arranging for a service call to have your refrigerator repaired.
Basically, refrigerators are little window air-conditioners that simply
blow cold air into the insulated freezer section instead of into a
living space. Some of the freezer's cold air is diverted by a
baffle into the fresh food section for cooling there. The heat
energy that remains in the food, and the heat that gets in every time
the refrigerator or freezer door is opened, is transferred to a
radiator type grid with a fan, and is blown back out into the
room. Thus, keeping this radiator clean (actually called a
'condenser'), will help the fridge cool, freeze easier, use less
electricity, and the appliance will function longer before needing a
The condenser is usually located underneath and can be cleaned from the front with a long narrow brush and a vacuum cleaner. On some models the refrigerator's condenser is accessible by removing the cover panel on the outer-lower back. Be sure to put the panel back, because it is often also be there to direct the air flow. On older models, the condenser was a large grating hanging off the back. Most manufacturers have stopped making this design, because it requires the refrigerator to sit further out from the wall, allowing less room inside for food.
Both the refrigerator and freezer controls should normally be set to medium or about half way. When making adjustments, make them slight, one increment at a time, then wait for twenty-four hours for the food and inner panels to balance out to the new setting before making another change. If you find it necessary to turn the controls up all the way to get a satisfactory temperature, then that often means that something is malfunctioning and should be checked.
Freezer-refrigerator combination boxes, such as 'Top freezers', 'Bottom freezers', and 'Side-by-sides', will generally cool to similar temperatures. The target temperature for the freezer is usually between minus five and plus five degrees Fahrenheit. For long term storage boxes, such as chest freezers and upright freezers, the temperature should be held down to between minus 15 to 0 degrees F.. At these temperatures ice cream should be hard.
The fresh food section's target temperature is usually about 37 to 38 degrees F.. If the control is set as low as 35 degrees F, because of normal temperature gradients inside the fresh-food section, items such as lettuce may reach 32 degrees F., and freeze.
It is not recommended setting the temperature above 40 degrees F, because at 41 degrees or above, items will spoil prematurely.
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