Why the Freezer Works But Not the Refrigerator

The freezer on your refrigerator-freezer combination appliance may still work even when the refrigerator is not cooling stored foods.

Keep Refrigerated Foods Cool

Defrosting problems can make your refrigerator stop working.
If the appliance is still under warranty, any home repairs on it may void the warranty. However, you may be able to fix the refrigerator yourself if the warranty has expired. It is important to keep refrigerated foods cool while you complete the repair. .

You may have to keep the refrigerator door open for long periods while you are assessing the problem. According to the Virginia State University Cooperative Extension, any refrigerated foods that are derived from animals -- such as meat, cheese or milk -- should be thrown away after six hours with no power or cooling. You can temporarily store food from the refrigerator in the freezer or a cooler with ice or dry ice. Do not handle the dry ice with your bare hands. Check the food you have removed from the refrigerator periodically to prevent it from freezing.

Thermostat Control

The refrigerator and freezer compartments usually have separate thermostat controls. The thermostat should be easily visible on the side or back of the refrigerator compartment once the food has been removed. Set the thermostat control to a lower setting and listen for the refrigerator to turn on. The thermostat control may need to be replaced if the control knob that changes the temperature is broken or if the refrigerator fails to turn on and all other parts still work.

Defrost Timer

The refrigerator and freezer may also have separate defrost timers. The refrigerator should defrost about four times in one 24-hour period. Ice can build up on the appliance's components when the defrost timer does not work. This can make the refrigerator stop cooling. Turn the refrigerator thermostat to "Off." Keep the refrigerator door open for up to two days to let it defrost manually. Use towels to soak up any water from the defrosting process. Set the refrigerator thermostat to its normal cooling setting and close the door. The defrost timer may need to be replaced if the refrigerator doesn't resume cooling.


Separate controls for the refrigerator and freezer compartments means there will also be separate wiring for these controls. Unplug the refrigerator and remove the service panel at the back of the appliance. Broken, frayed or burnt wires that run from the electrical relay panel to the refrigerator controls should be replaced by a qualified electrician. Transfer the frozen food to a cooler with ice or dry ice. Check this food periodically with a thermometer so it does not rise above 40 degrees F.

About the Author

Mary McNally has been writing and editing for over 13 years, including publications at Cornell University Press, Larson Publications and College Athletic Magazines. McNally also wrote and edited career and computer materials for Stanford University and Ithaca College. She holds a master's degree in career development from John F. Kennedy University and a bachelor's degree from Cornell University in counseling.