When it's hot, help your refrigerator keep its cool

Consumer Reports News: June 22, 2012 04:18 PM

A refrigerator that hums along when the weather is fine may start to stress out when temperatures rise and humidity is high. The refrigerator has to work harder to do its job and that'll cost you. In addition to telling your teenager not to hold the door open while deciding what to eat next, there are a few simple things you can do to keep your refrigerator performing at its best and keeping food fresh.

To keep food safe, refrigerators should maintain a temperature between 35 and 38 degrees F and the freezer 0 degrees. Setting the temperature too high puts your food at risk of spoiling and setting it too low wastes energy. If your refrigerator doesn't have a built-in thermometer use an appliance thermometer. Here are some other tips from the U.S. departments of Energy and Agriculture.

Keep it clean. The front grill should be kept free of dust and lint to permit free air flow to the condenser. Several times a year clean the condenser coil with a brush or vacuum cleaner to remove dirt, lint or other accumulations to ensure top performance.

Give it space. Make sure your refrigerator isn't pushed up against a wall so air can circulate freely and better disperse heat from the condenser. Leave a few inches between the wall and the refrigerator.

Keep it airtight. Over time, gaskets and seals can become leaky. To test your door, hold a piece of paper or dollar bill on the door frame and close the door. If you can pull it out easily, the seal or gasket may need replacing.

Keep food covered. Cover liquids and wrap foods before storing them. Uncovered food and beverages release moisture into the unit making the compressor work harder.

Watch door storage. The temperature of the storage bins in the door fluctuate more than the temperature in the cabinet so don't store perishable foods in the door. Eggs should be stored in the carton on a shelf.

Don't overload it. Adding too many room-temperature items such as cans of soda or bottles of juice causes your refrigerator to work harder at cooling. Just add enough to cover your needs for a day or two.

Defrost often. If you're unlucky enough to have a refrigerator with manual defrost don't allow the frost to build up more than a quarter of an inch.

The best way to save energy is to replace an old refrigerator, especially one built before 1993. Newer Energy Star units cost half as much to operate as those made back then. When Consumer Reports tests refrigerators it rates their energy efficiency and also calculates how much each model costs to run a year, based on average utility rates. And if you don't need one, skip the ice-maker, which can increase energy use by up to 20 percent a year.

Mary H.J. Farrell

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