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Do You Really Need to Clean Your Fridge Coils?

Jan 01, 2024

The internet is full of scary videos where so-called appliance repair experts warn you that if you’re not regularly vacuuming up shocking amounts of dust from the condenser coils hidden in the back of your refrigerator, you’re doing everything wrong. Ignore them: The majority of us don't need to clean them, ever. "I haven't cleaned a condenser in 20 years," said Marco Amiel, who has been fixing refrigerators for nearly five decades at his Freeport, New York company, Speedy Refrigeration.

In the past, said Amiel, dust and lint would collect in the fan and the condenser coils that lived under or in the back of your refrigerator, and that dust would block the air flow that a fridge needs to keep things cool. But for the past two decades, fridges have been designed to fully protect those elements so you don't need to worry about cleaning them, said Amiel.

He told us one big exception—luxury models from companies like Sub-Zero or Viking. These are often known in the business as built-ins, because your cabinetry is generally built around them, and they do need to be cleaned at least once a year, he said. If you have one of these—or just a 20-year-old refrigerator—here's what to do.

It depends on your fridge. If you have to move it from the wall and remove a back plate with a screwdriver, a few hours. If you have a fridge like a Sub-Zero with an easy-to-access top grill panel, about 15 minutes.

Consult the manual to determine if your condenser coils are behind a front kickplate under the doors, behind a grill at the top or bottom of your fridge, or on the back of your fridge.

Turn off the power to the refrigerator, either at the plug or from your electrical panel box, and put on work gloves.

If you need to move your fridge from the wall to clean the condenser coils, pull it directly and gently out from the wall in a straight line.

If necessary, use a screwdriver to remove any panels that are in the way, or open the grill that covers the coils.

Use a vacuum cleaner fitted with the brush attachment to vacuum any dust you see. Work with the grain of the coils or any metalwork covering the coils so as not to bend them. If you have an older fridge, not a luxury one, you can also use the coil brush to gently work out any dust or lint you see around the coils or the fan or at the base of the fridge. Then vacuum again.

Put any panels or grills back in place.

Electricity: Always disconnect the power to the refrigerator before cleaning under or behind it.

Injuring your back or upper body: Don't move a refrigerator by yourself unless you’re certain you’re up to the task. Most fridges have wheels to make them easier to move, but they are still big and heavy.

Injuring your hands and arms: Watch for old, rusty, or dirty metal parts on older fridges.

Wasting your time: Remember, only some fridges that are luxury or fairly old—about 15 or 20 years old—need to have their condenser coils cleaned. If you can't find this information in your manual, your fridge probably doesn't need cleaning.

This article was edited by Amy Koplin, Brittney Ho, and Sofia Sokolove.

Marco Amiel, president of Speedy Refrigeration, phone interview, December 12, 2022

Rachel Wharton

Rachel Wharton is a senior staff writer at Wirecutter covering ovens, stoves, fridges and other essential kitchen appliances. She has more than 15 years of experience reporting on food issues and a master's degree in food studies, and has helped write more than a dozen books on that topic (including her own, American Food: A Not-So-Serious History). One of her first real gigs was reviewing kitchen gadgets in less than 50 words for the New York Daily News.

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The manual to your refrigerator: Screwdriver: Work gloves: Vacuum cleaner: Refrigerator coil cleaning brush: Electricity: Injuring your back or upper body: Injuring your hands and arms: Wasting your time: