How Long Does It Take a Refrigerator to Get Cold?

Refrigeration is one of the most popular and effective means of food preservation used today. The basic principle behind refrigeration is to slow down or stop bacterial action so that it takes food much longer to get spoiled.

You probably have a refrigerator in your home, but how much do you know about this essential appliance? Below is a comprehensive overview of some of the cooling aspects of your refrigerator.

How Long Does It Take Your Refrigerator To Get Cold?

When you first turn on your refrigerator (starting from room temperature inside the fridge), you will notice that it takes a significant amount of time to get down to the correct cooling temperature. A refrigerator works by absorbing heat from the chiller cabinets with the cooling fluid, then pumping this fluid outside the cabinets, where the heat is released.

It takes some time since it has to remove the heat from the insulation, metal, and plastic inside. Since all of the cooling occurs in the freezer box, it gets the coldest first. The refrigerator box then follows. The amount of time it takes to get cold will depend on the size, weight, or brand of refrigerator.

Generally, it takes around 3 to 24 hours for your refrigerator to get to the correct temperature and be safe for food storage. Some small and powerful refrigerators can be effectively cold within a few hours. Note that the time may be longer on hot days or if you open and close the doors frequently. Regardless, the recommended waiting time to reach full cooling capacity where you can store food and groceries safely is usually 24 hours.

How Cold Does Your Refrigerator Need To Be?

There is a small temperature range where refrigerated food will stay fresh and safe the longest. The temperature has to be sufficiently cold to impede bacterial growth, but warm enough not to freeze the food. Bacterial growth often begins to increase at around 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) mark while freezing starts at the 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) mark.

As such, the recommended temperature range by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for your refrigerator is between 34 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit (1 and 3 degrees Celsius). Anything above this and your food will spoil faster, and you will be susceptible to food poisoning from bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella.

Note that you should keep your freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius) or lower. Temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit inactivate bacteria temporarily, allowing you to store them for extended periods. Once you thaw out frozen food, handle it like any fresh food.

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It is very important to have an appliance thermometer at home. While many refrigerators have temperature gauges, not all of them are accurate. You may set your fridge temperature at 38 degrees Fahrenheit, but it is keeping temperatures around 34 degrees or even 41 degrees in reality. It is common for some refrigerators to be several degrees off the mark you set.

Moreover, some refrigerators do not display temperatures at all. They may have a numerical scale (often 1 to 5) on which to adjust the freezer and refrigerator box temperatures. Without a refrigerator thermometer, you will not know what the numerals translate to in actual degrees.

Refrigerator thermometers are designed to be very accurate at lower temperatures. Place the thermometer in your refrigerator and leave it for about 20 minutes then check the reading. Your refrigerator will have “cool and warm spots”. Move the thermometer around your fridge for a few days to create a rough map of the temperature fluctuations.

Doing this will help you while organizing your refrigerator. Ideally, you want to keep foods such as milk, eggs, other dairy products, and meat in the colder areas. In the “warmer” sections, you can place condiments, produce, and other items with longer shelf lives.

What Makes Your Refrigerator Not Get Sufficiently Cold?

A refrigerator that does not get down to the correct temperature can be a great hassle. It means that your food will get worse faster, leading to wastages or even food poisoning. Below are some of the reasons why your refrigerator is not getting effectively cold.

Dirty Condenser Coils

The function of the condenser coils is to dissipate heat as the cooling fluid (refrigerant) passes through them. They are usually located behind or under the refrigerator, depending on the type/brand. When the condenser coils are dirty or clogged, they do not dissipate this heat effectively. As such, your refrigerator becomes less efficient as debris collects on them.

This causes your refrigerator to work harder to get cold or operate at slightly higher temperatures. If your condenser coils get significantly dirty, your fridge won’t be able to maintain the correct temperature. Always inspect your condenser regularly to check for debris build-up. Clean them thoroughly with a soft cloth to keep your refrigerator functioning optimally.

Placing Hot Food in the Fridge

When you put hot food in your refrigerator, you heat the enclosed space rapidly. This increases the core temperature at which your fridge runs, thus placing your food at risk of rapid bacterial growth. It is advisable to let food cool for a short period (not to room temperature as it takes too long) before covering and placing in your refrigerator.

Faulty Door Seals

The gaskets placed around the edge of your refrigerator door serve to keep the warm temperatures out and cold temperatures in. Cold air can escape if there are any leaks in any of the gaskets. This will reduce the cooling efficiency of your refrigerator, keeping temperatures slightly higher and using up more electricity. Check the door seals regularly to protect your food and save on your monthly bills.

Keeping the Door Open

Each time you open your refrigerator door, warm air flows in, and cold air flows out. This makes cooling your refrigerator properly more difficult. As such, avoid opening the refrigerator door unnecessarily or constantly.

Avoid the common habit of standing at the refrigerator door while thinking of what to get. Think of what you want to get, take it out and close the door as fast as possible.

Faulty Condenser Fan Motor

The function of the condenser fan motor is to draw in air through the condenser coils and over the fridge compressor. Your refrigerator will not cool effectively if the condenser fan motor is not functioning properly.

Inspect the fan blade for obstructions to determine if the condenser fan motor is faulty. You can try turning the fan blade by hand. If it does not spin freely, you will need to replace the fan motor. You can do this yourself or call in a technician.

Poor Air Circulation

Your refrigerator will not be sufficiently cold if the cold air cannot circulate. Often food items can block the vents, thus obstructing cold air from circulation. Organize your refrigerator such that food items are not blocking the airflow.

Faulty Evaporator Fan Motor

The evaporator is usually situated in the freezer compartment. Some refrigerators may have more than one evaporator. The evaporator fan motor draws in the air over the cooling (evaporator) coils and then circulates it throughout the freezer and refrigerator compartments.

If the evaporator fan is faulty, it won’t circulate the cold air to the refrigerator compartment. When this happens, your freezer may still be cold, but your refrigerator won’t get cold. If the evaporator fan blade does not turn freely by hand, you may have to replace the fan motor. Also, replace the motor if it is unusually noisy.

Faulty Thermostat

The Faulty thermostat directs voltage to the evaporator and condenser (where applicable) fan motors, as well as the compressor. The refrigerant system may not run if the temperature control thermostat is defective.

To check if the thermostat is faulty, rotate it from the lowest to the highest setting and listen keenly for the click sound. The thermostat is most likely not defective if it clicks. If it doesn’t click, it may not have continuity, and you should replace it.

Defective Compressor

The compressor is the pump that compresses the refrigerant and circulates it throughout the condenser and evaporator coils. The refrigerant will not cool if the compressor is not working. Consequently, your fridge won’t get cold. However, this is very rare. Check all commonly defective components of your refrigerator before deciding to replace the compressor.

How Soon Should You Plug In Your New Refrigerator?

Prior to turning on a fridge that has been on the move, it is vital to give it some time for the liquids and gases responsible for cooling to stabilize. The amount of time you should wait before plugging in your new refrigerator varies depending on the brand and even model. Manufacturers usually provide different recommendations in the manual, so it is important to check for warranty guideline purposes. Overall, the recommended resting time before plugging in your refrigerator ranges between 1 hour and 4 hours.

The way the refrigerator was transported is a major determining factor. When it is transported in a non- standard position such as on its side (horizontally), the compressor oil can flow out the compressor and up the refrigerant lines. If you don’t give it plenty of time to drain back, it can cause significant problems when you start it up. You can wait less time if you are sure that it was transported vertically.

Steven Carr

Steven is a certified IT professional and gaming enthusiast. He has been working in the tech industry for over 10 years, and specializes in all things Tech-related. When he's not geeking out over the latest hardware or software release, he can be found testing out the latest video game.

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