Tips for Troubleshooting Refrigerator Noises: Your Guide to a Quieter Kitchen

Woman protecting her ears from noise

We’re used to noises in the kitchen.

The whoosh of the dishwasher. The whistle of the teapot. The buzz of the timer. The noshing of the midnight snacker.

A little noise from the refrigerator is normal and healthy, but when it starts to bang, bump, and grind, you’ve got a problem on your hands.

In this blog, we’ll examine what those sounds might mean, how to troubleshoot them, and how to fix them DIY before you call the pros for repair.

Understanding Common Refrigerator Sounds

1. Humming

That low hum is your refrigerator saying, “All systems go!” That’s the fridge’s compressor running, a key part of the cooling process.

The compressor emits a gentle humming as it circulates refrigerant through the coils. However, if the hum turns into a drone, buzz, or racket, it’s time to shift to troubleshooting mode.

2. The Ice Maker Crash

The clink and clank of ice cubes dropping into a bin is your signal to refill your glass of iced tea.

But when the icemaker clunks instead of clicking or grunts instead of grinding, there could be an issue with a system component.

3. The Drip Drop of Defrosting

Your fridge is shedding its icy mantle like a snake shedding its skin. It’s a routine and necessary event in the life of your refrigerator.

The defrost system kicks into gear to prevent your fridge from becoming an Arctic wasteland and ruining your food. The melting ice makes a distinct drip-drop sound.

Your fridge is designed to catch that water and drain it away. But if the drip-drop turns into a waterfall, you should don your overalls and troubleshoot.

3. Fan Whirring

The fan in your fridge circulates air and keeps cooling even throughout the unit.

A slight whirring sound is par for the course, but start investigating if the fan vibrates or screams like a small jet engine.

4. Chattering Cycles

Your refrigerator works in cycles, turning the cooling system on and off to maintain a steady temperature.

You may hear a chattering or bubbling sound during cycle transitions. This is the sound of refrigerant moving around in the cooling lines. It means your fridge is managing its temperature efficiently.

5. Thermostat Clicks

Your refrigerator’s thermostat directs the fridge’s components to start and stop to maintain the set temperature. You might hear a clicking noise as a component switches on or off.

6. Door Seal Swoosh

The slight swooshing sound when you open or close the refrigerator door comes from the door gasket. The noise tells you the seal works efficiently to keep cold air in and warm air out.

If the swoosh turns into a squeak or the fridge struggles to maintain its temperature, inspect the door seal for damage.

Troubleshooting Unusual Refrigerator Noises

1. Banging & Clanking

These sounds often indicate loose parts that must be secured. Many of these issues can be fixed with a screwdriver and elbow grease.

  1. Is the noise coming from inside the fridge or from the back where the compressor is located?
  2. If it’s inside, check the drain pan and shelves. Are they securely in place? If not, tighten them up.
  3. If the noise continues, it could be a loose compressor. The compressor is located at the back of the fridge.
  4. Unplug your fridge before investigating the compressor. If it’s loose, tighten the bolts.

2. Clicks & Pops

This could be a sign of malfunctioning relays or switches, which can cause performance issues.

  1. Is the noise coming from inside the fridge or from the back?
  2. If it’s inside, the thermostat might be the culprit. Inspect the thermostat for any visual damage. If you’re unsure, you might need a pro’s opinion.
  3. If the noise comes from the back, it might be the start relay for the compressor. Unplug the fridge, then locate the start relay on the side of the compressor. It should have a box-like structure.
  4. Remove the relay and shake it. If it rattles or has a burnt smell, it needs replacing.

Usually, replacing relays or switches requires a specialist’s touch. Messing with electrical components without proper training can be dangerous.

3. Rattles & Shakes

Rattles and shakes might indicate a misaligned or malfunctioning compressor or unlevel fridge.

  1. Is the noise from inside the fridge or the back?
  2. If it’s from the inside, ensure all compartments, trays, and shelves are secure.
  3. If the noise persists or comes from the back, it may be the compressor. You’ll need a professional to fix it.
  4. Finally, check if your refrigerator is level — there are free smartphone level apps to do this. An unlevel fridge might rattle. Adjust the fridge’s feet or use shims to level it.

4. Buzzing or Humming

A louder-than-usual buzzing or humming often indicates the fridge is struggling to maintain its temperature.

Dirty Coils

  1. Dirty, dusty coils can’t dissipate heat as efficiently, making your fridge work harder and hum louder. These coils are usually located at the back or bottom of the refrigerator.
  2. Unplug your fridge and locate the coils.
  3. Clean them using a vacuum with a brush attachment. Be gentle to avoid damaging the coils.

Malfunctioning Compressor or Motor

  1. The compressor is located at the back, typically in a black box.
  2. If it’s unusually hot or producing a constant, loud noise, it could be malfunctioning.
  3. Motors are trickier to check since they’re less accessible. If you hear a constant, loud noise from inside, you may have a motor problem.
  4. Both these issues need a pro’s attention. Don’t attempt to fix them yourself — it can be dangerous and potentially void your warranty.

5. High-Pitched Whine

Something obstructing the fan or problems with the defrost timer can cause a high-pitched whine.

Debris Clogging the Fan

  1. If the noise comes from inside the fridge, it’s probably due to the evaporator fan, which circulates cool air in the refrigerator.
  2. Unplug your fridge before you start investigating.
  3. The evaporator fan is behind an access panel in the freezer compartment. Remove any items in the freezer, then unscrew the panel to access the fan.
  4. Check for any debris that might be obstructing the fan. Even a tiny piece of plastic can induce a high-pitched whine when the fan runs.
  5. If you find debris, carefully extract it, then replace the panel. If the noise continues, call a professional.

Defrost Timer Malfunction

  1. If the noise appears to come from the back of the fridge, you may have an issue with the defrost timer.
  2. The defrost timer usually sits near the bottom at the back of the refrigerator and is housed in a box-like structure.
  3. Try to advance the timer using a flathead screwdriver. If the fridge gets quieter, you’ve likely found the culprit.
  4. However, fixing the defrost timer is a job for professionals.

6. Gurgling

Gurgling from your fridge often indicates issues with the coolant, a blocked drainpipe, or some other culprit. Let’s troubleshoot:

Low Coolant

  1. The gurgling could be from air bubbles in the refrigerant (coolant) lines.
  2. This is typically a job for a professional, as it involves handling potentially harmful substances.
  3. The technician should check the coolant level, refill it if necessary, and possibly replace the coolant lines if damaged.

Blocked Drainpipe

  1. If the gurgling comes from the back or bottom of the fridge, it could be due to a blocked drainpipe.
  2. Unplug your fridge before you start troubleshooting.
  3. The drainpipe is usually found at the back or bottom of the fridge.
  4. Remove the cover and check for any blockages. This could be food debris, ice buildup, or even mold.
  5. If you find a blockage, use a long, flexible brush to clean the drainpipe.

Other Causes

  1. If the gurgling persists, it could be due to other issues, like a malfunctioning water inlet valve, especially if your fridge has an ice maker or water dispenser.
  2. You may also want to inspect the condenser fan for blockages or damage.
  3. Both issues are best left to a professional, since they involve manipulating the fridge’s water supply or electrical components.

DIY Fixes for a Quieter Fridge

  • Level Up: A wobbly fridge can create quite the ruckus. Level up your appliance to reduce noise disturbances.
  • Keep the Condenser Coils Clean: Dirty condenser coils might force your fridge to work harder and make more noise. Keep them clean for optimal performance.
  • Check the Door Seal: A worn, loose, or damaged door seal can let cold air escape, making your fridge strain to keep up. Replace the seal if necessary.
  • Replace Worn Gaskets: Similar to the door seal, damaged or worn gaskets can also let cold air escape. Replace them if you notice any tears or cracks.
  • Tighten Loose Screws: The vibration from your fridge’s normal operation can loosen screws, leading to annoying rattling noises. Regularly check your fridge for loose screws and tighten them up.
  • Clean the Evaporator Fan Blades: Accumulated dust and debris can make the evaporator fan blades unbalanced. Clean them to keep your fridge running quietly.
  • Inspect and Replace Worn Parts: If you notice any damaged or worn parts during your troubleshooting, have them replaced by a professional. This can save you from further damage and costly repairs in the future.

Correct Temperature Settings & Tips for Efficiency

  • Set the Right Temperature: Setting your fridge and freezer at the right temperatures will prevent it from overworking. The refrigerator should be between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit (about 3-4 degrees Celsius), and your freezer should be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius).
  • Avoid Overstocking: Overcrowding your fridge can restrict airflow and make it harder for the appliance to maintain the correct temperature. Leave enough space for cold air to circulate.
  • Store Foods Properly: Different foods require different temperatures. Most fridges have various compartments designed for specific types of food. Using these compartments correctly will help your fridge run more efficiently.
  • Regularly Check the Temperature: Your fridge’s internal temperature can fluctuate due to factors like room temperature, how often the door is opened, and how much food is stored. Regularly check the temperature and adjust it if necessary.

When to Call the Pros

Not every refrigerator noise is a cause of concern. But if the noise is persistent and can be heard from other rooms, it’s time to call a professional, like the appliance pros at West Coast Chief. Here’s what to look out for:

  • Unusual Noises: If your fridge serenades you with strange noises, like humming, buzzing, or clanking, it’s not just trying to impress you. This might be a sign that the motor is struggling.
  • Excessive Heat: Does your fridge feel like it’s running a fever? If it’s warmer than usual to the touch, the motor may be overworking.
  • Fridge Not Cooling: This is the most telling sign of a troubled motor that’s not doing its job. If your perishables are perishing too quickly, it’s time to call in the pros.
  • Visible Damage: If you notice any visible damage to your fridge, like a cracked door or bent components, it’s best to have it looked at by a professional.
  • Unusual Smells: Foul odors from your fridge can indicate a malfunctioning motor or other issues that must be addressed.

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FAQs about Refrigerators & Their Noises

Q: Can a noisy fridge damage food inside?

A: A noise can indicate underlying issues affecting the fridge’s performance. We recommend prompt troubleshooting.

Q: How often should I clean the condenser coils?

A: Aim for at least twice a year to ensure optimal performance. However, if you notice excessive dust buildup, consider cleaning more often.

Q: What can I do if my fridge makes noise after troubleshooting?

A: If DIY efforts don’t resolve the issue, it’s time to consult a professional technician.

Q: Can I use WD-40 to silence noisy fridge parts?

A: We don’t recommend it. WD-40 isn’t suitable for all fridge components. Stick to manufacturer-approved solutions.

Q: Why does my fridge make a clicking sound?

A: Clicking often indicates a problem with the fridge’s compressor, or it might result from the fridge’s defrost timer switching on and off. Hire a professional to take a look.

Q: My fridge is vibrating. Is this normal?

A: Minor vibrations are normal, especially if the fridge works hard after a door has been opened for a while. However, excessive or continuous vibration could indicate an issue with the compressor or motor.

Q: What makes a fridge run constantly?

A: This could be due to several reasons, such as a dirty condenser coil, a malfunctioning thermostat, or an overstocked fridge.

Q: How can I extend the lifespan of my fridge?

A: Regular maintenance, including cleaning the coils and seals, checking for proper temperature, and avoiding overstocking, can help extend the life of your fridge.

Q: How long does a refrigerator typically last?

A: Most refrigerators last between 10 and 20 years. The lifespan depends on the brand, model, and maintenance.

Q: What could be the reason for my fridge leaking water?

A: Leaking water could be due to a blocked defrost drain or a clogged or frozen water supply line. Both issues are fixable, but you might need a professional’s help.

Q: What’s the ideal temperature for my freezer?

A: The recommended temperature for a freezer is 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius). This setting ensures food is kept in safe storage conditions.

Q: Can I fix a broken fridge by myself?

A: Maybe, but many fridge problems involve electrical components or refrigerants that require professional handling.

Q: Does my fridge use a lot of electricity?

A: Refrigerators are among the top three energy-consuming household appliances. Choosing an energy-efficient model and keeping your fridge well-maintained can help reduce energy use.

Q: Why is there frost build-up in my freezer?

A: Frost can build up if the freezer door is left open for too long, the door seal is damaged, or the freezer is overfilled. Regular checks and maintenance can help prevent frost build-up.

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