The food inside this refrigerator looks nice and fresh. The coils hiding inside the base of the fridge? Not so much. Photo: Corbis
In an effort to cut costs wherever I can, my attention has turned lately to one of the most notorious energy hogs: the refrigerator.
It's an easy thing to ignore. I don't actually own my fridge because I rent my apartment, but I do pay for the electricity it eats up. So it's in my best interest to make sure the fridge runs at optimum efficiency -- and part of that process is cleaning the appliance's coils regularly.
The fridge is right up there with heating and air conditioning costs, using about 15 percent of a home's total power
. Its refrigerant coils, located at the base of the unit, are designed to remove heat from the unit. When caked with gunk, they're forced to run longer and more often. A machine with soiled coils requires about 25% more energy (and produces that much more CO2 emissions) to function properly than a fridge with a clean underbelly. And all that extra work translates to dollars and cents.
An average family's dust-free fridge (16 to 23 cubic feet) uses approximately 150 to 200 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month, which costs anywhere between $9.50 and $12.20. A study revealed that homeowners could cut electricity costs
by as much as 3% to 6% annually (around $100, or 150 kilowatt hours) just by cleaning those coils.
At first, I was afraid of what was lurking beneath my own fridge. Especially since I have a cat, and I spend staggeringly large parts of my days wrangling huge wads of fur.
Thankfully, I found a lot less detritus under my fridge than I expected. And the whole process was, surprisingly, very manageable. So I've promised myself that I'll do it every time the appliance manufacturer recommends, which is every month or so.
Here's how to clean your refrigerator coils:
1. Power off.
(A good way to tell if you've cut the juice is to check that the light is off when you open the door.)
2. Locate the coils. They're usually found near the floor, hidden behind the rectangular cover panel, also called a kick plate.
3. Remove this protective plate. Usually it's attached via spring clips and just snaps off, but some require removal of two tiny screws. If in doubt, consult your owner's manual. (Tip: An open door may provide better leverage.)
4: Remove caked-on dust from the lower coils with the crevice tool on your vacuum cleaner.
5. Insert a long-handled brush and sweep it over and under the coils.
6. Replace the cover and plug it back in.
Don't worry about pushing more debris into the back of the unit: This type of brush is designed to dislodge dirt from behind, later to be vacuumed up.
(Again, this may be easier to do with the door open.) Line up the two notches on either side, and the cover should easily pop back into place. (Again, consult the user manual if reattachment is problematic.)