Is A Refrigerator Compressor Supposed To Get Hot?

While inspecting appliances around your home, you might have noticed a few things. More specifically, you might have noticed that your refrigerator's compressor is hot. Is it supposed to do that? If that's your concern, we've researched the issue for you!

In general, the refrigerator's compressor should get hot to some degree. It's part of the cooling process. However, it depends on how hot it gets. If it's scalding hot, it could indicate that there's a problem.

So, why does the compressor get hot? Additionally, when should you start to worry? After all, you wouldn't want to risk a fire hazard. These aspects could stand between saving the refrigerator and getting a new one. If you'd like to learn more, keep reading ahead.

Domestic refrigerator compressor mounted on the rear side, Is A Refrigerator Compressor Supposed To Get Hot?

How A Refrigerator Works

Refrigeration compressor unit with heat excanger and condenser

If you want to keep food fresh, you need to maintain a low temperature to slow the reproduction rate of harmful bacteria. A refrigerator does this by transferring the heat inside to the outside.

For this reason, it will generally be warm when you're nearby or when you put your hand on the metal on the backside. 

But it does make you wonder—why does it get hot? The simple answer would be because it cycles the refrigerant to keep the inside cold. If you want an in-depth explanation, let's go over how the refrigerator works

The Refrigerant

One of the essential components of the refrigerator is the refrigerant. It circulates throughout the fridge in liquid and gaseous forms. This evaporation process cools the surrounding area.

Evaporation Process

To start the process, you need to reduce the pressure on the refrigerant. This is what changes the refrigerant from a liquid to a gas form. A fridge does this through a component called the capillary tube. 

Returning the Refrigerant Into a Liquid State

Of course, the refrigerant won't always stay in a gas form. It needs to come back into its liquid state. Converting it back to a liquid requires two things: high pressure and temperature. 

As you might've already guessed, this is where the compressor comes into action. It compresses and controls the flow of the refrigerant. Once it finishes its job, the gas goes to the condenser. The refrigerant becomes a liquid again with a lower temperature. 

Then, it travels through to the expansion valve. In the expansion valve, the refrigerant lowers in pressure and temperature again. This process causes about half of it to evaporate. 

The evaporator takes the remaining liquid form of refrigerant and turns it into gas. Finally, this gas makes its way to the compressor, starting the cycle again. 

Heat Is Normal

As you can see, the compressor has an important job in a refrigerator. It compresses and increases the temperature of the refrigerant to restart the cooling process. For this reason, you need an inch of clearance for the back and top of the refrigerator. 

It needs adequate ventilation to prevent it from overheating. So, you shouldn't worry that the compressor gets hot. However, this raises the question—can it get too hot? And if it does, what problems can occur?

Why Is My Refrigerator Compressor So Hot?

The biggest Compressor Factory in Asia Bangladesh

As repair services claim, it should become a concern when the compressor appears to be scalding hot. In other words, if you put your hand on the area, you'd wince because of how hot it is! 

If this description fits your situation, the first thing you want to do is turn off the appliance. Move your food items into another cooling area. Then, inspect the surrounding area. 

Do the walls have any scorch marks? Additionally, are there any signs of burning on the compressor or other components? If not, you might need to defrost the refrigerator, though this solution applies more to older refrigerators. 

Troubleshooting the Problem

The fix for a hot compressor isn't as simple as defrosting for modern refrigerators. It's especially difficult to find a solution because there could be other components causing this condition. If you want to find a fix quickly, you'll need to narrow your options. 

So, let's troubleshoot the problem! 

Poor Ventilation

As mentioned, the refrigerator needs adequate ventilation for the cooling process. Since the compressor gets hot, it needs enough space to cool down again. It won't do this if there are too many obstructions. 

For this reason, make sure the backside and top of the refrigerator have an inch of clearance. This way, you can ensure that it has proper airflow which will prevent the components from overheating. 

Refrigerant Leak

This situation is one where you would need to call repair services immediately. Your refrigerator should keep refrigerant contained. However, in some rare instances, there could be a leak.

It only happens if someone was messing with the components behind the refrigerator. Whether it's DIY repairs or general cleaning, there could be an opening that's leaking refrigerant. 

There are a few indicators of a refrigerant leak:

  • Higher electricity bills
  • The refrigerator is always running
  • Odd smells
  • Warm food

Regarding the compressor, if the refrigerator is always running, it's most likely overheating because there isn't enough refrigerant to use. Thus, it's trying to compensate for the incorrect amounts. 

Door Seal Issues

If the door is not properly closing, the fridge won't maintain a cold environment efficiently. This situation means the inside is losing cold air. So, to compensate for the loss, the refrigerator will continuously run to keep the inside cool, which will overwork components like the compressor. 

How Do You Know if Your Refrigerator Compressor Is Bad?

If everything else seems acceptable, there is no other option but to check the compressor itself. However, as a warning, make sure you proceed with caution. When you're trying to fix a problem in appliances with little expertise, the situation could get out of hand. 

Refrigerator compressor pump with air condenser unit

You'll start by making sure there's no power to the refrigerator. Unplug it and pull it away from the wall. Remove the back panel and find the compressor. It should look similar to the picture above. 

Inspect the area for ice or dirt. If both are present, give it a cleaning. Look to the side of the compressor. There should be a few pins there. 

Grab a multimeter. You will need it to test the pins for continuity. If the test shows an open circuit, call a technician to replace your compressor. However, if the pins show continuity, test the refrigerator again. 

Click here to see this multimeter on Amazon.

At this point, it might point to problems other than the compressor. So, you'll have to continue troubleshooting. 

Everything seems simple in writing. Of course, it's never that easy when you try to follow the steps. If you need visual guidance, here's a YouTube video demonstrating what a good and bad compressor reads:

What Happens When the Refrigerator Compressor Overheats?

Close up refrigerator compressor mounted on the minibar.

If the compressor isn't functioning as it should, it means other parts will overcompensate. Allowing a compressor to keep running when the rest of the refrigerator is not working can lead it to overheat. As some claim, the compressor overheating can lead to disastrous complications.

It can potentially start a fire. However, the compressor will most likely run until it breaks down. From here, the whole refrigerator will stop functioning. 

For this reason, if you notice problems with the compressor early, it's best to stop using the refrigerator until you or a professional can find and fix the problem. Otherwise, you'll be looking for replacement parts. In the worst case, a replacement refrigerator will be necessary. 

How Do I Reset My Refrigerator Compressor?

Handyman trying to move a fridge at house

Sometimes the fix can be as easy as resetting the compressor. If you feel like you'd benefit from this, let's go over how to reset it!

The first step is to unplug the appliance and move it away from the wall. It won't shut off immediately, so wait a few minutes for the fridge to shut down completely. The refrigerator will make noises as it shuts down. 

Once it shows there's no power, you can start putting the fridge back. Begin by plugging the refrigerator into the wall outlet. Reset your temperature settings if you notice any changes. 

You can choose between putting the fridge back in place or leaving it in its current spot. The latter will be better to check if resetting the compressor was successful. If you're putting the fridge back in place, ensure there's enough clearance for adequate ventilation. 

Finally, all that's left to do is wait 24 hours. The refrigerator will stabilize within this timeframe. If problems persist, consider getting the help of a professional to see what's wrong. Otherwise, you can look online to see how to do the repairs yourself. 

As mentioned, be careful when you're performing any DIY fixes. You wouldn't want to damage components and make the situation worse.

In Closing

Close up black refrigerator compressors. New steel fridge motors in a shop.

Maintaining peace of mind can be as simple as learning how an appliance works. But when there's something off, it's best to take action quickly. It's normal for a compressor to get hot, but when it's scalding to the touch, you need to find and fix the problem. 

We hope you found the information above helpful! Before you go, do you have other refrigerator concerns? Do you own an old one? If you want to find out how old it is, check out this post:

How Old Is My Refrigerator? Here's How To Find Out!

Are you skeptical about the unplugging reset method? If you'd like to learn more about the process, check out this post:

Can You Reset A Refrigerator By Unplugging It?

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