The Freezer Isn’t Working and You’re Having a Meltdown

freezer repair

You probably don’t think much about your freezer. As long as it’s running and nothing calls your attention to it, chances are it fades into the background – just another appliance you take for granted. That is, until something happens. Freezer meltdowns always seem to happen at the worst possible moment. You know the scenario: It’s the middle of a summer heat wave, or you’re set to go on vacation and haven’t got a moment to spare. And then it happens. Sound familiar?

Many symptoms and causes overlap. Additionally, sometimes a freezer confounds even the professionals when diagnostics rely on symptoms alone.

Before you call a repairman to the house or start throwing away food, perform some simple freezer troubleshooting. In many cases, there’s a simple explanation for the problem you experience – and possibly, a simple repair. In the worst case scenario, you will be better prepared to describe the situation to a professional, saving time and hassle and leading to a quick fix. The good news is, whether you can fix it yourself or must call in a technician, you’ll most likely have it running in short order. Only in rare cases will the problem require actually replacing the freezer.

Freezer Won’t Run

When your freezer suddenly stops working right in front of you, or you just happen to notice it isn’t running but don’t know when it stopped, don’t panic. In most cases, the cause – and the solution – are very simple. When troubleshooting a problem, work from the simplest to most complex cause.

  1. Turn the freezer on. If the freezer is new or the switch may have been moved accidentally, the unit may simply be turned off. Check the switch, if any, and verify it is in the “on” position before you proceed.
  2. Make sure the freezer really won’t run. Wait a few minutes to see if the unit starts again, meaning the compressor and fan activate to spread cold throughout the freezer. In some instances, the freezer temperature control is merely set too high, so the freezer doesn’t cycle as often as expected. Alternatively, if the freezer is in a defrost cycle, it will not kick on immediately, the temperature will rise slightly, and sometimes you will hear a faint dripping or wet noise. Coupled with the fact that many newer units run quietly, you may not know when its running or defrosting. Try turning the temperature setting down slightly to force the unit to kick on – as well as to ensure the freezer runs more often – and check in an hour.
  3. Check for power to the freezer. Pull the freezer out from the wall, if necessary, and look at the outlet and freezer cord. Use a flashlight, if visibility is poor. If you see that the cord has dropped free of the outlet, plug it back in. If it’s plugged in, wiggle the cord to ensure it is plugged in completely. Sometimes the cord is merely loose and looks like it is plugged in, but isn’t actually making contact with the electricity. If the freezer kicks on while you are pushing the plug in or wiggling the cord, the problem is solved.
  4. Check the condition of the power cord. Unplug the cord completely to ensure that the cord isn’t live. Run your hands down the length of the cord and feel for breaks in the coating (such as those made by puppies or rodents or when something gets caught in a vacuum or door opening), bare wires and unusual kinks or bends. Verify the damage visually. Any of these problems can cause the freezer to not get the power it needs to run. Suspect this issue particularly if the freezer is plugged in and kicks on when you wiggle the cord in the outlet or rearrange the power cord, then stops when you let go or move the cord again.
  5. Move the power cord to a wall outlet. Remove any extension cords – no matter how fancy or strong they appear – and plug the freezer into a wall outlet if it isn’t plugged directly into the wall already. Freezer manufacturers always require that their products connect directly to home electrical receptacles due to the strength of current needed. If you plugged your appliance into an extension cord because you didn’t have an outlet close enough, you must either relocate the freezer or consult an electrician who can install a proper outlet in the location you desire.
  6. Test that the outlet is live. Plug another electrical item in the same position in the outlet and see if it turns on. A radio, lamp, hair dryer or similar appliance will provide instant results. Strange as it sounds, outlets can go bad all of a sudden due to causes such as a short, a loose wire or a poor connection. Check other causes before you turn the power off at the fuse box or breaker, unscrew the face plate and pull the receptacle from the wall far enough to inspect the wiring. If you are not experienced with wiring, consult a professional to assist you.
  7. Check the breaker box. Identify the breaker involved, if possible, by looking it up on a list commonly attached to the inside cover or by finding a breaker lever that isn’t aligned with the others. If the breaker tripped, it will be slightly out of line. Flip the switch off completely, wait about a minute, and turn it back on. Return to the freezer and see if it is now running. Not only will this fix a tripped breaker, but in some cases it also resets the freezer.

Freezer Runs Constantly

If your freezer runs far more than you expect, the cause may range from a simple fix to a more complicated repair that requires a professional. First, check the temperature inside the unit with a thermometer. If the temperature is around 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius), the unit is most likely operating properly, regardless of how long it runs. In that case, it’s probably not a matter of your freezer going on the fritz but rather an environmental problem you may easily solve. Consult a professional if troubleshooting fails to fix it and your freezer temperature is too high.

  1. Adjust the temperature setting. If the freezer is set to the coldest setting, it will run more often than if it is set to a mid-range setting. Try moving it to a warmer setting and allow time for it to stabilize in temperature before proceeding.
  2. Inspect the door seal. Pull on the door slightly to test how tightly it seals to the freezer frame. Touch the frame around the door to see if it feels extremely cold, a symptom of freezer air leaking around the door seal. Upright freezers and freezer refrigerator combinations are particularly prone to poor sealing. Look to see if anything is sticking out far enough to prevent a good seal. Check the ridges and body of the gasket for food and debris that may stop it from sealing properly; clean if present. Test the freezer door for level. Hold a carpenter’s level against the front and along the side that features the freezer door handle. If the freezer isn’t level, it may prevent the door from sealing well. Another method of determining level is to open the door halfway and watch which direction it wants to swing. If it stays relatively still, it’s mostly level. Adjust the legs under the freezer to solve level problems or insert wedges to create level.
  3. Check the coils and motor. Pull the freezer out of position and inspect the coils that run along the rear, if present. Some chest freezers lack external coils – they instead run through the freezer walls and are completely inaccessible. Refrigerant circulates through coils, spreading cold through the unit interior before returning to the compressor where it is again cooled to cycle back through. External coils are something of a magnet that attracts dust, dirt, hair and any number of airborne contaminants. If the coils are coated with debris, it will interfere with normal operation. Look at the motor as well – it may be under the unit – and determine if it is clogged with dirt and debris. If so, it may overheat, leading to poor cooling and eventual freezer failure. Clean the coils and motor area with a vacuum or clean, soft cloth. Take care to avoid damaging the equipment, which could lead to costly repairs.
  4. Melt any ice coating the coils. Use a hair dryer to slowly melt the buildup. Sometimes ice will gather around the coils due to the freezer running constantly. Both a symptom and a cause, accumulated ice will cause the freezer to run worse and not cool efficiently. After removing the ice, check other causes to prevent a recurrence.
  5. Test the room temperature. Use a thermometer to determine the heat and humidity present. Notice if the freezer sits in intense sunlight for long periods of time. During periods of intense heat, the freezer will naturally run more often. Additionally, freezers should never be kept outside or in unheated areas. If you can’t live in the weather conditions, neither can your freezer.
  6. Examine the clearance around the freezer. Measure the space between the unit and any wall or obstacle on the sides, in the back and even above. Compare with the manufacturer’s specifications. Some require as little as an inch clearance, while some specify several inches for proper operation. Pull the unit out and provide the clearance necessary. Lack of clearance can result in overheated components or coils that cannot dissipate heat properly, which causes the freezer to either run warmer than it should or run constantly as it tries to cool.

Freezer Isn’t Cooling Properly

Some of the same problems that may cause the freezer to run too much may also result in improper cooling. Follow the same steps before checking additional causes. In some cases, internal parts, such as the thermostat, may be faulty. If none of these steps solve the problem, consult a professional.

  1. Check the freezer contents. Take a few items out to create a little extra space. Rearrange items to uncover blocked freezer vents. Over-filling the freezer can make the freezer run more, cool less and lead to content spoilage. The air should flow freely from the vents and be able to circulate around the contents.
  2. Feel items in the freezer. Touch them to identify which are frozen solid and which are soft. If you recently added a large amount of fresh food or placed extremely warm items in the freezer, the temperature will rise and it will seem like the freezer isn’t cooling, although it is. Wait an hour or two to see if the operation returns to normal. Allow warm items to cool before placing them in the freezer to prevent this problem in the future.
  3. Check the drain lines. Look underneath the coils to find a drain pan. If the lines are clogged and unable to drain into the pan, poor performance may result.
  4. Defrost the freezer. Turn the knob to the defrost setting, if applicable, or unplug the freezer, move the contents to an area where you can keep them cold – a chest cooler works temporarily – and force the freezer to defrost if the freezer requires manual defrost. If it is a self-defrosting freezer and ice has built up on the interior, it may signify a failure with the defrosting system components. Consult a professional for these repairs.
  5. Listen to the freezer running. If you hear a humming sound near the bottom rear, the compressor, condenser or evaporator may be at fault. The overload and relay are additional parts that may fail. Failure of these parts requires a professional service technician. A professional can also check refrigerant levels, another cause of poor cooling.

Freezer Making Strange Noises

Whooshing, whirring, popping and water dripping can all be harmless noises. When it comes to sounds, it’s hard to say exactly what is “normal” for any given unit. In general, use your best judgment: If a sound suddenly appears, pay closer attention. If it’s a sound you’ve heard many times, relax. If your freezer runs normally and the temperature is stable, the sound is likely nothing. Some sounds, however, may signal more serious problems.

  1. Check the stability of the freezer unit. Push on it slightly to see if it wobbles even slightly. Use a level to determine it is straight up and down as well. Adjust the unit legs or use a shim to make the freezer level and sturdy to eliminate rattling sounds that arise from drain trays vibrating or similar causes.
  2. Identify noisy fans in self-defrosting freezers. Open the freezer door if you hear a chirping, shrieking or squealing sound. If the sound is louder inside the freezer, suspect the evaporator fan. Consult a professional for replacement.
  3. Find the source of other loud noises. If the sound comes from the rear exterior or bottom of the unit, the condenser fan or compressor fan may be at fault. Try cleaning the fan blades of either, if accessible. Typically, loud fans signal the need for professional replacement.
  4. Notice if the noise is a clicking or buzzing sound. Generally, this indicates that while the compressor is getting power, the starting components inside it are failing. Consult a professional for further help.

Final Troubleshooting Tips:

Many symptoms and causes overlap. Additionally, sometimes a freezer confounds even the professionals when diagnostics rely on symptoms alone. However, a qualified repair technician possesses meters and tools that allow precise identification and complicated repairs.

Unplug the freezer before removing any panels or cleaning any component. The current in a freezer is strong enough to kill.