My Refrigerator Compressor Is Hot – What Should I Do?

Refrigerator Compressor Hot

If your refrigerator compressor is hot to the touch, its likely that its having to work too hard.
Although, rest assured. As fixes for cooling a refrigerators compressor can be done with little technical knowledge.

Other times, it may be necessary to call a professional for help.

What Should I Do If My Refrigerator Compressor Is Hot?

If you have a little bit of handiness, you can inspect your system to try and diagnose what is going wrong. Almost anyone can do some troubleshooting and clean the coils if needed. Or, you can contact a repair service.

If you want to try and troubleshoot a hot refrigerator compressor, you first need to understand how the system works.

Safety Tips Before You Start

Before working on the refrigerator or inspecting it to see what might be wrong, make sure your refrigerator is unplugged. If possible, consider letting all of the components cool down. You don’t want to keep it off for too long because the food inside will spoil. However,  you also don’t want it to be so hot that you burn your skin. 

Should Your Refrigerator Compressor Be Hot?

Anytime your refrigerator’s compressor is running, it will warm up. But a hot refrigerator compressor can be a sign that the refrigerator has a larger issue. 

Even though refrigerator compressors handle high temperatures during regular operation, being exposed to extremely high heat for a long period of time wears down the internal parts of the compressor. 

If a compressor gets so hot that it overheats, the part will immediately begin to break down.

How Hot Should A Fridge Compressor Get?

There is a difference between warm, hot, and too hot when it comes to your fridge. The refrigerator’s compressor cycles on and off to meet the demand of keeping the refrigerator cold inside. Under peak load, your compressor will get pretty hot. 

When it hasn’t run for a bit, it will cool off but may still feel warm to the touch. If you can feel heat radiating off the walls behind your refrigerator, it’s probably getting too hot. 

While it’s normal for a refrigerator to be quite warm where the working parts are housed, the compressor does shut itself off if it reaches too high of an internal temperature. 

If your compressor is over 300 degrees Fahrenheit, it is probably overheating.

A good rule of thumb is to keep your refrigerator compressor below 275°F before checking to see if there is a more significant issue looming. 

What Should You Do When A Refrigerator Compressor is Very Hot?

If you think your compressor is very hot, you can consider doing some troubleshooting. 

First, make sure the refrigerator isn’t too close to the wall, the surrounding cabinets, or limiting the airflow. Manufacturers specify the minimum clearance needed to accommodate their refrigerators, so check to ensure you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Make sure the air passages aren’t blocked. Sometimes, we put things on top of our fridge that end up disrupting airflow. 

When your refrigerator compressor gets very hot, there are some simple steps you can take to try and fix the issue on your own. 

Check the internal temperature setting to make sure it’s set appropriately. Your refrigerator also has a system of condensing coils that help circulate the refrigerant through the cooling system. It is common for the coils to fill up with debris like particles from human skin, pet dander, household dust, dirt, and other particles inside your home.

Why Is My Refrigerator Compressor So Hot?

There are quite a few reasons why your refrigerator compressor may be getting so hot. Let’s look at some of the most common. 

The Temperature Thermostat Is Faulty

Your refrigerator’s compressor will work very hard if your fridge’s internal temperature is set very low. If you set the temperature so low that the compressor can’t meet the demand, the system works harder and harder until it finally overheats.

To prevent this, you can adjust the inside temperature of the refrigerator. Most manufacturers recommend that the internal temperature of a fridge is set anywhere from 33 to 42 degrees.  

If the thermostat temperature is set very low, it will overwork the refrigerator and cause the compressor to overheat. On the other hand, if your temperature is set higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it may allow bacteria to grow. You have to find the sweet spot that prevents bacteria but doesn’t overheat your coils. 

If the thermostat that governs the internal temperature of your refrigerator fails, the compressor will run continuously. A faulty thermostat leads to catastrophic failure of the compressor via overheating since the thermostat controls the cycling of the compressor.

You don’t need a professional to change the thermostat. First, use the model and serial numbers to order a new thermostat from the internet. Next, you’ll shut down the refrigerator by unplugging it or turning off the breaker in your fuse panel and find the adjustment knob in your fridge. You can probably pull the knob right off, or there might be a set screw holding it on. 

Once the knob is off, remove the thermostat housing, which is probably held on by a few screws. Once you have access to the thermostat, take pictures to make sure you understand how things should look when installing the new thermostat. Pay attention to the wires in particular. 

Remove the brackets, insulation, and set them aside. Disconnect the wires, and label them as needed. Install your new thermostats, the old brackets, and insulation. Reconnect your wires. 

Reinstall the housing, being careful to avoid crimping the wires. Everything should fit together easily and look like it did before you disassembled the thermostat. Turn the fridge back on, and you should be good to go. 

The Sealed System Is Lacking Refrigerant

Refrigerators all have refrigerants within their cooling system. Refrigerants do a lot of the work of keeping your food cold. Refrigerant is drawn into the compressor as a gas or vapor under high pressure. 

It is then circulated just below the inside temperature of the refrigerator to draw out the heat and cool things down. Once refrigerant overheats, it begins to break down. It’s no longer able to keep your food cold. 

A lack of an appropriate amount of refrigerant quickly leads to a situation where you cannot keep your refrigerator cold enough to keep your food safe. 

Refrigerant systems on refrigerators are meant to be sealed. A common cause of an overheating compressor is a loss of refrigerant. Refrigerant is vital to keeping your system running properly.

Your compressor moves the refrigerant around the system by pressurizing it and circulating it through a closed, sealed system that is not designed to be serviced by the user. That’s you.

If the refrigerant loop is disrupted by high temperatures, clogs, or a leak, the compressor will be under extra strain to keep everything cool. That strain is likely to lead to the compressor overheating under the increased workload.

To address any issues with low refrigerant, or its circulation, you should contact a licensed professional. Not only can you risk damaging your refrigerator by adding the wrong amount or type of refrigerant, but you could also imperil your warranty. 

The system is closed for a reason. Liquid refrigerants are toxic and dangerous under certain conditions. It may also be illegal for an unlicensed individual to try to service these parts.

Condenser Fan Failed

The fan on the condenser is another possible source of your compressor generating a lot of heat. An issue with the condenser fan can cause the compressor to overheat by limiting airflow.

If hot air cannot escape, the heat will become trapped in the compressor and lead to overheating. A dirty condenser fan is something you can handle yourself. 

Clean a condenser fan similarly to the way that you cleaned the coils. If you can’t access it easily, use a can of compressed air to blow the dust off of the condenser fan. If a condenser fan is not working at all, it may already have significant damage to the compressor. 

You may have to replace the compressor as well as the fan, so now it’s time to call in a professional. 

If you want to try and change the fan yourself, you can order a replacement from the manufacturer or a third party. Before doing so, take a look at the condenser fan. Make sure the refrigerator has no power, and try turning the fan by hand. If the fan doesn’t turn, try and free it by applying a penetrating lubricant to the shaft. 

Now, you can check the motor for breakdown by using a multimeter. If you don’t know how to use one, be careful. You need to set your multimeter to ohms and attach the leads to the motor leads. 

If there is resistance, that’s good. If your meter shows no resistance, the motor has failed. Check the wiring by finding the wiring schematic for your refrigerator. It is often attached to the back of your refrigerator.

Troubleshooting Condenser Coils

It’s important to ensure your refrigerator condenser coils are clean. Debris in our home is light enough that it accumulates on the compressor coils. That’s totally normal. 

However, if the coils become inundated with dirt or debris, they will not work efficiently. 

Cleaning your condenser coil is something you can do yourself, and it’s the first step to troubleshooting an overheating refrigerator compressor. 

Move the refrigerator away from the wall to access the coils, but you should also unplug it before beginning any troubleshooting or cleaning. Once the refrigerator is unplugged, allow the compressor some time to cool down, so you don’t risk burning your skin when you touch it. 

The refrigerator probably has a back panel that is removed with a screwdriver or an Allen key wrench. It’s typically near the bottom of the refrigerator. If the condenser coils are covered in dust, use a light brush to remove the debris and a vacuum to suck it up. 

Keep an eye peeled for punctures, drip marks, or crimps that can indicate a leak or a clog in the coil. 

The Compressor Is Worn Out And Overheating

Like any piece of equipment, a compressor can fail. If your compressor is worn out and overheating, it may need to be replaced. If your refrigerator’s compressor clicks, it’s a sign the internal temperature sensor was tripped.

Basically, it shut down to protect itself from overheating. Consider shutting off the refrigerator to clean the coils, the fan, and assess for any other problems while you are inside the panel at the back of your refrigerator.

Look around for signs of refrigerant leaks or any lubricant leaking. If you see oil staining, heat damage, or drops of fluid on the floor, it is likely that you have a larger issue that needs to be addressed.

If you can’t hear the compressor motor running and your refrigerator is getting warm, that is a sure sign your compressor has stopped working. Your refrigerator compressor should be warm, but it should never be so hot that you can feel the heat more than a foot away. 

Compressors also need lubricant to function correctly. When the compressors reach a very high temperature, the lubricant will deteriorate. Without proper lubrication, a compressor will build up a tremendous amount of heat very quickly. It will work for some time, but it will eventually break down.

Call a licensed professional to change your refrigerator compressor. Refrigerator compressors are under a tremendous amount of pressure. If the pressure builds too high due to a clog, a cloud compressor could explode.

The Fridge Is Placed On The Sunny Side

If your refrigerator is placed in an overwhelmingly sunny area of your kitchen, it is going to be under more strain than if it was in a shady area. Consider the placement of your refrigerator to keep it as cool as possible.

Ideally, you’ll end up putting your fridge in a part of your kitchen that is not exposed to a lot of sun. If it constantly has the sun shining on it, it’s automatically going to have to work much harder than if it was placed in a shadier location. 

You can mitigate the heat buildup from the sun with the use of a shade, fan, or air-conditioning system.

Auto Defrost System Not Working Properly

If the automatic defroster on your refrigerator isn’t working properly, the compressor will stop working properly. A sign of the auto defrost not working is any icy buildup in your refrigerator. 

The single biggest cause of issues with automatic defrosters is a frozen coil. To solve that issue, shut off your refrigerator overnight and let the coils thaw. You may have to shift some of your food to a cooler or another refrigerator temporarily to avoid spoiling. 

Your automatic defroster is also controlled by a thermostat, sensor, and wiring. If those components have failed, they may need to be replaced. Don’t delay doing so or contacting a professional, or the disrupted airflow in your refrigerator could end up leading to damage to your compressor. 

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