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Refrigerator Door Left Open: What Should You Do?

Refrigerator Door Left Open

Leaving your refrigerator door open is an easy mistake to make. However, you may be wondering whether the food inside is still okay and the amount of wasted electricity.

It may not always be down to forgetting to close the door. It could be due to a faulty door seal, allowing the cold air inside to escape and leading your refrigerator to work harder than it needs to.

This article will cover the potential problems when leaving your refrigerator door 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 answered some of the most common questions we’ve received and how to fix them below.

Moist Formation

After leaving a refrigerator door open, the cool breeze inside will mix with the outside air. Naturally, the outside air is warmer than the air in the fridge, and when the two mix, it results in condensation – moisture. 

Once warmer air enters your fridge, it will have to work harder to lower its temperature. This leads to constant moisture formation until you close the door, detrimental to your food and electricity bills.

Items In The Fridge Will Warm Up

Leaving the refrigerator door open will result in it not maintaining its ideal internal temperature, leading to your food and drinks warming. As we know, foods left unrefrigerated for an extended time can quickly spoil, such as milk, meat, and cheeses.

It Will Take Longer For The Fridge To Cool

After noticing that your refrigerator door has been left open and you finally close it, don’t expect it to cool back down immediately. The fridge will take a while to return to its average temperature. The refrigerator coils may even be frozen and must defrost before reaching their ideal temperature.

It May Cause The Compressor To Overheat

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

You’re also likely to hear clicking sounds. This indicates an overloaded or overheating compressor.

Higher Electricity Bills

A refrigerator door left open will also cause your compressor to work harder, meaning a higher electricity bill. 

Even worse, your electricity bill will increase even more if you have a no-frost refrigerator. No frost refrigerators have a heating element that intermittently melts frost in the freezer. When the ice in your freezer or fridge builds up, the heating elements will turn on more regularly than usual.

How Long Until Food Goes Bad If A Refrigerator Door Is Left Open?

How long it takes for food to go bad depends on the type of food in your fridge. However, a fridge door can remain open for up to 240 minutes before food is at risk of spoiling. Typically you should maintain a 35-38°F temperature to ensure no food will spoil. If the temperature goes above 39°F, there is a chance for bacteria to develop, causing food to go bad. 

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

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. 

As a rule of thumb, thawed or raw meat, seafood, poultry, or meat substitutes, egg, chicken, shrimp, and tuna should 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.

Our Fridge Door Was Left Open Overnight

If the fridge door was left open overnight, if the food inside is warm, you might have to throw away those items. If the door was only slightly open overnight and has retained its temperature, then all the food should be safe.

How Long Can A Refrigerator Door Stay Left Open?

A fridge door can remain open up to 240 minutes before food is at risk of spoiling. However, various factors affect how long your fridge can stay open. In particular, modern refrigerators are more equipped to maintain their temperature more effectively for more extended periods with an open door.

How Long Does It Take For A Fridge To Get Cold After Being Left Open?

It may take 24 hours before your freezer or refrigerator returns to its average temperature. This is because it must defrost and clean itself before restarting 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.

Leaving a fridge door open for an extended period could lead to the evaporator coil frosting up. When this happens, your fridge will stop cooling. You’ll need to remove the ice build-up and defrost the fridge to get everything working again.

How To Help A Refrigerator Cool After Being Left Open

To help cool your refrigerator, you need to unplug it, empty the fridge and freezer, and remove the shelving. Afterward, get the back panel out and double-check the frost build-up on the evaporator coil. The tip trim or kick plate will lift off easily on most models. 

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 all debris and dust. If you use this method, do be careful not to dent the cooling fins. 

Once 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 three hours. Soon, it will return to its average temperature.

Does Leaving the Dridge Door Open Damage It?

It can cause damage to your fridge when you leave it open for extended periods. However, the damage will significantly depend on how much time you left the door open or if it was just a crack or wide open.

The compressor will work harder to maintain the cool temperature when it’s open wide. This cycle can overwork your compressor and cause your appliance to stop working.

Does Leaving The Fridge Door Open Waste Electricity?

When you leave your fridge door open, you can waste 50 to 120kWH of electricity annually.

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


Now you know the potential problems of leaving your refrigerator door open. If you’ve left it open for a few minutes, it’s nothing to worry about. However, leaving your fridge door open for more than a couple hours will affect the food inside and your electricity bill.

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