What Should You Do if Your Refrigerator Door Is Left Open?

Refrigerator Door Left Open

Imagine getting home after work, only to find out your refrigerator door was left open. How much electricity did it waste? And most importantly, how can you save your food inside the refrigerator? 

Don’t panic just yet. This accident happens all the time. So, what should you do if your refrigerator door is has been left open?

What Will Happen if a Refrigerator Door Is Left Open?

What happens if your refrigerator door is left open? How long does your food take to go bad? We’ve covered some of the most common things to expect and how to fix them, below.

Moist Formation

When you’re dealing with a refrigerator door left open, the cool breeze inside it will mix automatically with the air that gets into your appliance. Naturally, the outside air is warmer than the air in the fridge, and when the two mix, it results in condensation—moisture. 

The fridge will automatically lower its temperature if hot air comes in, and will save power when the right temperature is reached. However, when the door is left open and warm air is constantly going inside it, it will continue to work because its sensors determine that it is too warm inside the fridge.

This will lead your fridge to continue creating moisture until you close the door. When you check the contents of your fridge, you will notice that your food has turned wet or soggy. 

Your freezer or refrigerator removes the moisture that is present in the air inside it. If there is too much condensation and your fridge can’t remove it, the moisture will build up in the interior of your appliance.

Items in the Fridge Will Start to Be Warm

When you leave the refrigerator door open, it will not be able to maintain its ideal internal temperature. Of course, the most likely outcome is that your food and drinks get warm. This won’t be an issue with items like bottled water, but it can be a problem for items such as milk, meat, or cheese since those items tend to spoil.

It Will Take Longer for the Refrigerator to Cool

After noticing that your refrigerator door has been left open and you finally close it, don’t expect it to immediately cool back down. The fridge will take a while to return to its usual temperature as the refrigerator coils may be frozen and need to go through a defrosting process before it can get to the ideal temperature again.

It May Cause the Compressor to Work Harder Leading to Overheating

When you leave your fridge open for a long time, your compressor needs to work harder to keep the fridge cool. Worse, the sensors still can’t detect the ideal temperature as warm air continues to flow in. This can lead to your compressor overheating and failing.

If your refrigerator door was left open, you might also hear clicking sounds. This is an indication of an overloaded or overheating compressor, which may cause your fridge not to function properly every time it’s restarted.

Before ruling out a compressor issue, make sure to check if the coils are free of dirt or dust since these can also interfere with the cooling system. 

Higher Electricity Bill

A refrigerator door left open will cause your compressor to work harder, but does this mean you should expect a higher electricity bill? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. 

Even worse, your electricity bill will increase even more if you have a no-frost refrigerator as this type has a heating element in the freezer that intermittently melts the frost. When the frost in your freezer or fridge builds up, the heating elements will turn on more regularly than usual. This, in turn, will lead to a higher electricity bill.

How Long Until Food Goes Bad if a Refrigerator Door Is Left Open?

To accurately answer this question, it’s important to consider various factors, including the type of fridge you have and the foods you keep inside. For example, a 35-38°F temperature should be maintained to ensure that no food will go to waste. If the temperature goes above 39°F, there is a chance for bacteria to develop, which causes food to go bad. 

What Foods Can I Save After the Fridge Door Is Left Open?

There is a common rule regarding food that you think may be spoiled: when in doubt, throw it out.

First, try to feel your food. Is it warm? Or does its temperature seem cold? What you store in your fridge will also influence how much you can save. If your fridge is mostly empty but has goods that are prone to spoiling, your best bet is to get rid of them all. Alternatively, if your fridge is full, your food will stay cooler for a longer period since bundled foods will prevent the warm air from circulating.

Foods such as cheese, fruit juices, jelly, fresh fruit, butter, fresh mushrooms, spices, raw veggies, herbs, vinegar-based dressings, bread, fruit desserts, and pies can likely be kept. Nevertheless, it’s still recommended to always do a texture and smell test. If it stinks and looks soggy, slimy, or moldy, it’s best to get rid of it. 

On the other hand, don’t keep leftovers, thawed or raw meat, seafood, poultry, or meat substitutes. Salads with egg, chicken, shrimp, and tuna should also be discarded, along with canned meat with a “keep refrigerated” label, soups, casseroles, soft cheeses, low-fat and shredded cheeses, milk, buttermilk, yogurt, cream, and custard.

How Long Can a Refrigerator Door Stay Left Open?

If it’s just a matter of the power going out (and not the door being open), you’re in luck. The USDA states that the refrigerator can keep food safe for up to four hours, so long as the door is closed. Still, a fridge door can remain open between 60 and 240 minutes before food is at risk of spoiling.

However, various factors play a role in how long your fridge can stay open. In particular, newer models are better equipped to maintain their temperature more effectively for longer periods with an open door.

Your kitchen’s temperature will also influence matters. So, if your kitchen is warm, the food will spoil faster, but may last longer when it is cool.

How Long Does It Take for a Fridge to Get Cold After Being Left Open?

It may take as long as 24 hours before your freezer or refrigerator can return to its usual temperature. This is because it has to defrost and clean itself before it can restart the cooling process.

My Refrigerator Won’t Cool After Being Left Open

While refrigerators are typically dependable, they are still machines that have the potential to break down.

In fact, leaving a fridge door open for any extended period of time could lead to the evaporator coil developing frost build-up. When this happens, your fridge will stop cooling. To get everything working again, you’ll need to remove the ice build-up and then defrost the fridge.

How to Help a Refrigerator Cool After Being Left Open

To help cool the temperature of your refrigerator, you need to unplug it from your outlet, empty the fridge and freezer, and remove the shelving. After this, get the back panel out and double-check if there is frost build-up on the evaporator coil. On most models, the tip trim plate or kick plate will lift off easily. 

If ice is present, you can use a hairdryer to accelerate the defrosting process. You can also use a vacuum with a narrow nozzle or a coil brush to clean out all debris and dust. If you use this method, do be careful not to dent the cooling fins. 

Once this is done, you can put back your panel and put the shelving and food items back in place. Then, let your refrigerator run continuously without opening it for at least three hours. Soon, it will return to its normal temperature.

Will This Cause Damage to the Fridge?

There can be damage to your fridge when you leave it open overnight, and this may reduce its life. However, the rate of the damage will greatly depend on how much time you left the door open or if it was just a crack or wide open.

When it’s open wide, the compressor will work harder to maintain the cool temperature. Therefore, it may overheat and make the temperature in the surrounding area increase. This cycle can burn out your compressor and cause your appliance to work improperly or stop working.  

Does Leaving the Fridge Door Open Waste Electricity?

The cold air that keeps your foods and drinks fresh will of course be affected by the warmer air. This will increase not only your electricity bill but also your carbon footprint. When you unintentionally leave your fridge door open, you can waste 50 to 120kWH annually. 

To put things into perspective, 100kWh can power your washing machine for 50 cycles. So keeping your fridge door closed is roughly the same as running an extra load of laundry each week in terms of energy use.

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