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How Refrigerators Work

By Francine L. Huff
How Refrigerators Work

Refrigerators keep things cool by evaporating liquid to absorb heat. Here's what you need to know about how refrigerators work so you can keep yours in tip-top condition.

Coil System

Refrigerators use a gas called tetrafluoroethane, a gas that turns to liquid when cooled. The gas heats up when a motor and compressor squeezes it. As the gas passes through coils at the back of the refrigerator, warmer gas loses its heat. The cooler gas then turns into a liquid, which flows through an expansion valve. As the liquid is hit with low pressure between the compressor and expansion valve, it vaporizes into a gas. When the liquid passes through the coils, heat is drawn out of the freezer and refrigerator sections.

Regulating Temperature

There's a device called a thermocouple that helps regulate a refrigerator's temperature. Once it has reached the right level, it shuts off the flow of electricity to the compressor. Because cold air is constantly leaking out and warm air gets in through places where the refrigerator isn't completely sealed, you'll hear the compressor's motor turning itself on and off to regulate the temperature.

Refrigerator Maintenance

Repairs on refrigerators can be as simple as pulling them away from the wall to help air circulate better. In other situations the appliance may not work because of a damaged cord that needs to be replaced. If the refrigerator doesn't run but the light works you may need to check the temperature setting or clean the condenser coils or compressor motor. If the freezer isn't cold enough, inspect the door seals, defrost heater, evaporator fan, and drain tube for clogs.

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