What Can Cause a Refrigerator Not to Get Cold?

Refrigerators are a convenient and economical way to preserve meat, fruit, vegetables and dairy products, eliminating the expensive and time-consuming need to shop daily for fresh food. They also provide the means for enjoying cool, refreshing beverages, and some models even dispense cold water from the refrigerator’s door. However, a refrigerator that does not get cold provides none of these benefits, and since refrigerators consume roughly 20 percent of the average household’s annual energy costs (whether it’s working properly or not), and the consumption of spoiled food presents serious health risks, failure to quickly identify and rectify the appliance’s cooling problem carries grave consequences.


Frost buildup or a dirty condenser prevent a refrigerator from cooling.

Responsible for cooling the refrigerator, the compressor is a large, round, black object located at the rear of the appliance. If the compressor is not running, or if you can hear clicks as it repeatedly tries unsuccessful to start, you may need to replace the compressor. This vital component is so expensive to fix that you may wish to consider just buying another refrigerator instead.

Compressor Start Relay

It is possible that the compressor is fine and compressor start relay is actually causing the refrigerator not to cool. To check the start relay, unplug the refrigerator, remove the start relay from the compressor’s control pad and shake it. If the sound is similar to that of a blown light bulb, the relay definitely needs replacing. Fortunately, the compressor relay costs less than $25.

Condenser Needs Cleaning

A dirty condenser will also prevent the refrigerator from getting cold because it overheats the compressor, causing it to shut off. Locate the condenser coils, which may be next to or underneath the compressor, or they may be on the back of the appliance. ApplianceRepairIt.com suggests that you purchase an inexpensive condenser brush from one of the discount superstores, and clean the debris from the coils. Leave the refrigerator unplugged for half an hour and then restore power and see if your problem is fixed.

Frost Issues

Frost buildup is a common reason why refrigerators don’t get cold. Frost can build up on the evaporation coils and stop the evaporator fan motor from circulating cold air. This frost buildup can also stop the fan blade from working. Test your defrost timer to determine if this is the problem. According to Appliance Aid, depending on your refrigerator, the defrost timer may be “behind the back bottom corners of the fridge at the bottom, in the ceiling of the fresh food section, or behind the cold control cover.” Using a screwdriver, turn the wheel of the timer until the refrigerator shuts off. If the defrost heater (there may be more than one) comes on, the defrost timer and the thermostat need replacing. If the defrost heater doesn’t get hot, you should probably replace it.

About the Author

Terri Williams began writing professionally in 1997, serving as media manager for a large nonprofit organization where she also edited books and created promotional content. She has written extensively on business communication, ethics, leadership, management, education and health. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.