Your fridge has one of the longest potential lifespans of home appliances. It can comfortably last for 15 years or more, so it's easy to get used to its odd quirks and not notice when it's getting less efficient. Besides, it might seem that the most frugal option is to keep it going for as long as possible.
But if it’s approaching the end of that period or showing other signs of slowing down, that may not be the case. Fridges that are working too hard use much more power than they should, even as they’re wasting your food.
Signs that your fridge is failing
Look out for these signs that your fridge needs to be replaced.
Food doesn't last until its expiration date.
The back of the fridge feels warm or hot to the touch.
The fridge is sweating – there’s condensation on either the inside or outside of the appliance.
There’s an increased build-up of frost in the freezer.
You notice that it’s noisier than it used to be – there’s an ongoing buzz or hum.
Conversely, if your fridge seems quieter than usual, and the food inside seems warmer than it should, this may mean that the compressor is damaged.
Why you should replace your fridge freezer
Faulty or deteriorating appliances use much more power than those that are running well. If your electricity bill is higher than estimates suggest it should be, or if it shoots up suddenly, the first thing you should consider is that one of your appliances may be draining power.
Because it's on all the time, your fridge freezer is one of the home appliances that uses the most power. An average (newish) fridge in an average UK household uses about 12p per day, or £44 per year.
New fridges are made to be more energy-efficient and this technology is improving all the time. So, it’s possible that you could make a saving on your energy bills by finally saying goodbye to an older appliance – especially if you've had it for a decade or more.
Ageing fridges also pose a number of safety issues. Bacteria are a danger if your fridge is not keeping food cold enough. Your fridge should be below 5°C and the freezer below -15°C to keep food at an ideal temperature.
Listeria can thrive in temperatures of between 2°C and 4°C, which means that cracks in the shelves and vegetable drawers of older fridges can harbour this bacterium, even when your fridge is at the right temperature. If your fridge is not cold enough, there is also a risk of salmonella, yeast and mould.
There's also an increased risk of fire from old electrical wiring, which, over time, can become loose and fray. If live wires are exposed, there’s also a risk of electric shock.
If you spot a frayed or unravelling wire, you may be tempted to fix it yourself. Don't do this! Unplug the appliance immediately, stop using it and replace it as soon as you can.
Simple fridge fixes
But, most of the time, if your fridge is not running well, there are things you can try before consigning it to the rubbish heap. If the problem is something straightforward, like the gasket (the rubber seal around the door) not doing its job, you might be able to sort it out yourself. If you've noticed any of the issues mentioned above, you can try the following fixes.
Check the gasket
To test whether or not the gasket is at fault, try putting a piece of paper in the seal and closing the door. If you can pull the paper out without resistance, the seal is compromised. If so, get a cloth and hot water and clean the gasket (don’t use detergent or other cleaners, which may damage the rubber), then carefully open up any areas that have become compressed. This may be enough to solve the problem.
Adjust the thermostat
Check and adjust the thermostat. It’s possible that your setting is just too warm. If you’ve changed the volume of food you’re storing, the temperature might need to be tweaked.
Clear the drain
The next step is to clear the drip drain. You can find this at the back of your fridge: it’s a channel that drains into a small aperture. Depending on your fridge’s design, you may need to remove the vegetable drawers for access. Remove any rubbish from the channel and the top of the drain. If it still seems to be blocked, try inserting a straw and wiggling it around to clear the tube.
Clean the condenser coils
Another good maintenance tip is to pull out your fridge from the wall and vacuum the condenser coils on its reverse. The coils cool and condense the refrigerant but can’t do their job properly if they’re clogged with dirt and dust.
Finally – unless you have a no-frost freezer – defrosting your fridge and freezer on a regular basis is a good idea. If the appliance begins to freeze up again immediately, it’s probably a sign that it’s reaching the end of its operating life.
Replacing your fridge
If the above tips don’t fix the issue – and if your fridge is old – then it's probably more than a minor problem and you’ll need to weigh up the benefits of getting your current fridge repaired versus investing in a new appliance.
There’s a good rule of thumb to bear in mind if any of your appliances malfunction. If it’s more than halfway through its probable lifespan, and if a repair will cost more than half of the cost of a replacement, then it’s probably time to go shopping.
Think about it like this: instead of putting the cost of the repairs towards a new fridge, you're just using that money to put off the repurchase. When that day comes, you’ll have shelled out for both the repair and the new purchase in full. And that’s not even considering the increased day-to-day costs of machines that are limping along.
If you're thinking of buying a new fridge freezer, check out our round-up of the best fridges we've tested.