Why is my fridge not cooling?

Man holding a toddler looking into an open fridge in a modern white kitchen.
(Image credit: Getty)

Have you got an issue with your fridge not cooling properly? Maybe your milk isn't as chilled as you would like, or you've had to throw away moldy food before the best-before date. There's nothing worse than wasting food and we rely on our fridges on a day-to-day basis for keeping our food safe to eat and continuously chilled. So not only is it beneficial for your household to fix any cooling issues, but it will also reduce food waste and bills. 

Just because your fridge isn’t cooling properly, it doesn’t mean that you automatically need to purchase a new one, or even that you need to call a technician out. There are several possible causes of fridges not cooling properly, and many of them can be solved at home, with a few simple steps.

Here is everything you need to know as to why your fridge may not be cooling properly, and what you can do about it.

Why is my fridge not cooling?

What the expert says...

“There are several reasons that your fridge may not be cooling properly”, says Alison Haselgrove, a Food Industry Professional of FIFST (opens in new tab). “Some may be mechanical failures in the operation of the fridge, for which you may need a qualified engineer to resolve the issues but there are a number of checks you can do yourself before you reach this conclusion.” 

There are several reasons why your fridge may not be cooling lately, from things causing blockages both internally and externally, to the kind of model you’ve purchased.

1. Is your fridge plugged in correctly?

It may sound incredibly basic, but if your fridge isn’t plugged in correctly, or the plug is slightly pulled out of its socket, it may continue to trip, meaning that it may be shutting down.

2. Make sure the fridge is kept in a reasonable place

If your fridge is kept in an area where the temperature in the air is particularly cold, such as a garage, or hot, such as a conservatory, it can have an impact on the fridge itself, and the occasional air that enters it will be different than standard room temperature.

3. The temperature setting may not be right

You may have knocked the thermostat by accident, and so the setting may be too high. Or, your thermostat may be broken, which is more likely to cause an ongoing temperature regulating problem.

4. The door may not be shutting correctly

If the seals on your fridge door are blocked with debris or dirt, you may have trouble keeping the fridge door shut tight. Or, you may have large bottles or items of food that are preventing the door from staying shut tight. If this happens, air will enter the fridge, and the temperature will be hard to regulate.

5. What are you putting in your fridge?

Maybe you’ve overloaded your fridge, and piled items on top of each other, which can alter the efficiency of how a fridge regulates the airflow. Similarly, if you have too little in the fridge, it will lack the mass it needs to contain for even cooling and will struggle to cool effectively. Putting hot food straight into the fridge can also impact how the temperature regulates and may impact cooling, as it adds additional hot air into the system.

6. Have you blocked the airflow?

If you block vents inside the fridge, you’ll impact how the fridge stays cool, as these need to be free to pass cool air throughout the fridge. Pizza boxes are a common culprit when it comes to blocking air vents.

7. Is everything clean?

A build-up of dust, debris, and dirt will have an impact on not only the cleanliness and freshness of your food but how your fridge works too. If the coils are blocked, or spillages have caused ice to form in the fridge area, then your fridge will struggle to pass airflow as it should.

8. A fridge freezer may have additional problems

The fridge part of a fridge freezer may stop working if the freezer section has become congested with ice, as the flow of the fridge cannot be maintained when there is a build-up. 

How to fix your fridge’s cooling problem 

You can try several things at home to fix your fridge’s cooling problem. If they fail to work, you should consult a technician so that your food stays fresh and safe to eat.

1. Is your fridge plugged in correctly?

Freestanding fridges can sometimes be knocked and the plug can become loose. It seems self-explanatory, but it can happen more often than you may think. Make sure that your plug is pushed in nice and firmly to the socket, and out of the reach of small children or pets who may pull at it.

2. Make sure the fridge is kept in a reasonable place

If your fridge is kept in your kitchen, then it’s likely that the temperature surrounding it is a reasonable one. Avoid placing it somewhere excessively hot or cold, and if you have to keep it in one of these areas, pay extra attention to the thermostat and regular defrosting.

The fridge should also be kept on level ground to allow it to drain properly, and for the airflow to pass through. It’s also recommended that around 2.5cm is the average space needed between a fridge and the wall, to allow all functions to work efficiently.

3. The temperature setting may not be right

The FSA recommends setting the fridge at 5°C or below to achieve 8°C, this allows for opening the door to remove and replace food while keeping the temperature just right.

4. The door may not be shutting correctly

Make sure that your seals are free from debris and dirt before replacing them, as they may just be blocked. If this doesn’t work, you may need to replace them as they may have worn back, and prevent the fridge door from staying shut to regulate the temperature.

5. What are you putting in your fridge?

Make sure not to overload your fridge, as this could prevent it from cooling properly, as the airflow may be restricted. Ensure that your fridge has a happy medium of food inside, and if you feel that you’re always piling up the food inside of your fridge, it may be a good idea to invest in a second fridge.

When it comes to placing cooked food inside the fridge, make sure that you’re not putting hot food directly inside. Instead, wait for it to cool, so that you don’t cause the temperature of other food inside, and the fridge, to rise. But, make sure to do it within a safe timeline, to prevent food from becoming spoiled. It’s recommended (opens in new tab) to do this in under two hours.

6. Have you blocked the airflow?

Make sure you’re not piling up things against the vents within the fridge. Avoid pushing boxes against the back of the fridge where the vents are, or you’ll cause the airflow to be blocked.

7. Is everything clean?

If your fridge is kept nice and clean, it’s less likely that you’ll have major problems with blockages. But most of us don’t clean our fridges enough, and even when we do, it’s easy for bits of debris to become stuck in coils and the drain. Make sure to remove any visible debris, brush the coils, vacuum up any dust, and give the fridge a good clean.

8. A fridge freezer may have additional problems

If you have a fridge freezer, the freezer part may become congested with ice blockages, and as a result, the fridge part can become affected, whereby the airflow struggles to stay maintained. In order to get things back working, you’ll need to defrost your freezer completely.

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Mollie is a UK based, Welsh, lifestyle journalist. She writes frequently on all things involving women, health, and lifestyle. Her work can be found in Cosmopolitan, Insider, the Independent, HuffPost and more. In her spare time, you’ll find her at the pottery wheel or walking her basset hound.

With contributions from