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Maintaining a Commercial Refrigerator

Maintaining a Commercial Refrigerator

Last updated on 4/17/2018

No matter what kind of foodservice establishment you own, having a functional refrigerator is necessary for your day-to-day operations. However, because this piece of equipment is so commonly used in your kitchen, you may find that it requires attention more often than some of your other appliances. For this reason, it is useful for every foodservice establishment owner or manager to know how to troubleshoot the most common problems that commercial refrigerators face. Keep reading to see what you should check when your commercial refrigerator is having power issues, temperature problems, or it is leaking onto your floor.

Refrigerator Is Not Turning On or Not Receiving Power

If your commercial refrigerator won’t turn on, there are a few simple things to check to ensure that it is getting the proper power supply.

  • Is the unit’s power switch in the “on” position?
  • Is the unit plugged in, and is the outlet functional?
  • Is the power cord loose in the wall or the unit, or does it have fraying or splitting?
  • Are you using an extension cord to connect your unit to power? Extension cords are not always safe to use with commercial refrigerators. In fact, many companies void your unit’s warranty if you use an extension cord.

Refrigerator Is Not Cold Enough

If your commercial refrigerator’s temperature is not cold enough, this could be the result of numerous factors, including mechanical or environmental problems.

is your refrigerator not cold enough?

  • Is the temperature gauge correct? Double-check your refrigerator’s temperature with a thermometer. If the gauge isn’t correct, consult with your unit’s manufacturer for the best way to repair it.
  • Was your unit just installed recently? If so, it may have been tilted during delivery or installation. Let your refrigerator sit for 24 hours before turning it on again.
  • Is the door being opened too often? One of the most common causes of improper temperature in a refrigerator is that the unit is simply being opened too frequently. Tell your employees to be aware of how long they keep your refrigerator’s door open, and try to encourage them to minimize the amount of times they open its door.
  • Are your refrigerator’s doors closing properly? You may need to replace the gasket or hinge to ensure that your unit’s doors are sealing properly and keeping cold air inside.
  • Is your kitchen too hot, or is your refrigerator in direct sunlight? This excess heat can compromise your refrigerator’s functionality. Consider reorganizing your kitchen’s layout, so your refrigerator is not in sunlight or near hot cooking equipment.
  • Is your unit too full of food? If you tightly pack your refrigerator, cool air cannot adequately circulate around your ingredients to cool them.
  • Are your refrigerator’s shelves installed properly? The standoff of your refrigerator’s shelving should be in the back of the unit. If you do not have any clearance between the shelving and the back of the refrigerator, air may not be circulating properly within your unit.
  • Is your refrigerator too close to the wall or other pieces of equipment? The refrigeration process requires ample room for air circulation. Your unit requires ambient air to cool refrigerant, and it also needs room to let warm air out.
  • Is your refrigerator’s compressor functioning? The compressor compresses the refrigerant before it is cooled by the condenser. If your compressor is top-mounted, make sure that there is nothing on top of your refrigerator that is blocking airflow from the compressor.
  • Are your unit’s condenser coils clean? Always make sure that your condenser coils are clean according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. If these coils accumulate a buildup of dirt and grease, this insulation can hinder the condenser’s performance.

Ice Is Building Up or the Refrigerator Is Too Cold

  • Are your unit’s doors closing properly? Improper closing can cause the unit to overwork in order to compensate for temperature fluctuations. This decreases its lifespan and wastes energy. Check your refrigerator’s gaskets and hinges for proper alignment and sealing.
  • is ice building up in your refrigerator?
  • Is your evaporator functional? If your fan is making noise, it may need to be repaired or replaced in order for your unit to maintain temperature properly again.
  • Are your unit’s coils freezing? If part of your unit’s coils is freezing, it could be an issue with your refrigerator’s pressures, which will need to be checked by a professional.
  • Does your refrigerator have auto-defrost, and is the defrost cycle working properly? A refrigerator with auto-defrost uses fans to thaw out the condenser coils in between compressor cycles. If this cycle is not functioning, this could cause ice to build up. Check to see if your unit's defrost timer needs replacing.
  • If your refrigerator does not have auto-defrost, are you manually defrosting often enough? How often this should occur varies by unit, but you should defrost your equipment when the ice buildup reaches one quarter of an inch.

Refrigerator Is Leaking Water

  • Is your kitchen too humid? If your kitchen has an abundance of excess moisture, your unit may not be able to function in such a humid environment. This can bring about moisture issues around your refrigerator’s doors and may lead to dripping in the unit’s evaporator pan.
  • Is your refrigerator on uneven flooring? Tilting could cause the water in the evaporator pan to overflow.
  • Is your unit’s evaporator pan full? This can often cause your refrigerator to leak water onto the floor. See if the absorbent wicking in the pan is moldy, worn, or oversaturated. You may need to replace it. If the pan is very full, it could also indicate a problem with the compressor, because the water in the pan requires heat from the compressor in order to evaporate.


If your commercial refrigerator is not functioning properly, make sure that you know what questions to ask to get to the root of the problem. The best practices for keeping a working refrigerator are to always make sure that its coils are clean, give it enough clearance for proper air flow, and avoid keeping its doors open too long or too often. When the solution to your unit's problem is less clear, refer to this troubleshooting list for help.

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