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Refrigerators & Freezers: Use & Care

Use & Care

If you can’t afford to replace your refrigerator or freezer, there are still some things you can do to make your existing refrigerator or freezer run more efficiently.

Take Its Temperature

Check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer with a thermometer. Set them to whichever setting allows the refrigerator temperature to remain between 35°F and 38°F, and your freezer between 0°F and 5°F. A refrigerator set 10°F colder uses up to 25% more energy1.

Clean the Coils

Clean the condenser coils at least once a year. Be sure to unplug the unit and carefully brush or vacuum the coils. This could improve your refrigerator’s efficiency by 30%.

Don’t Forget to Defrost

Refrigerators that do not have an automatic defrost setting typically use less energy than other refrigerators, but they must be manually defrosted to maintain efficiency. It is good practice to manually defrost whenever ice becomes 1/4 inch thick.

Regulate Room Temperature

Refrigerators can use 2.5% more energy for each 1°F over normal ambient room temperature (70°F). This means your refrigerator could use 22% to 25% more energy in an 80°F room, and 45% to 50% more in a 90°F room2.  Your refrigerator may also use more energy if it is near an oven or dishwasher. On the other hand, if the air temperature of the room falls below 40°F, the thermostat may not run its cooling and defrost cycles appropriately3.

Sweat & Save

Refrigerators not only work to cool your food but they also heat the area around the door seal to prevent condensation—the anti-sweat feature. This requires 5% to 10% more energy use4.  Check to see if your refrigerator has a power-saving switch that limits the amount of time the anti-sweat feature is enabled. Turn off the anti-sweat function when it is not needed.

Make Room

Make sure there are a few inches of space between your refrigerator and the wall to maintain good air circulation. This will help your refrigerator run more efficiently.

Test the Seals

Your refrigerator could be wasting a huge amount of energy if the seals are worn or loose. To check this, close a dollar bill between the door seal and the door. Repeat at different locations along the door edge. If your dollar bill moves easily, your seals are likely not tight enough and you should consider replacing them.

Practice Smart Habits

Not only will these tips give your refrigerator a rest, but they will help you break the cycle of forgotten, spoiled leftovers.

  • Open your refrigerator less frequently
  • Let hot foods cool before moving them to the refrigerator
  • Cover foods
  • Label leftovers
  • Keep your freezer full

Keep Your Appliance Comfortable

When leaving your home for an extended period of time in the summer, set your thermostat to a high temperature (the EPA recommends 85°F), but not off. Your refrigerator works much harder in a room with a high ambient air temperature.


If you’re thinking about making efficiency improvements, the Refrigerator & Freezer Overview is a great place to get acquainted with the basics and your options, before you buy a new fridge or freezer for your kitchen. Return to Kitchen Appliances.

Buyer’s Guide

Before you shop for efficiency upgrades, visit the Refrigerator & Freezer Buyer’s Guide for easy facts and figures that can help you choose the best appliances for your home, needs and budget.

1California Energy Commission. (2012). Consumer Energy Center: Appliances: Refrigerators and Freezers. Retrieved October 4, 2012, from www.consumerenergycenter.org
2ENERGY STAR®. (2010). FAQs: Can I put a refrigerator in an uninsulated garage which is subject to winter and summer extreme temperatures. Retrieved October 9, 2012, from www.energystar.supportportal.com
4California Energy Commission. (2012). Consumer Energy Center:  Refrigerators and Freezers. Retrieved October 5, 2012, from www.consumerenergycenter.org


This program is funded by California utility customers and administered by Southern California Edison under the auspices of the California Public Utilities Commission.

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