Older fridges can leak coolant, rendering them inefficient and ineffective. This leak will cost you in energy bills as well as spoiled food, and additionally, leaking freon is considered hazardous to the environment, so it’s important to make a quick repair.
Safety Note: Many municipalities require a license to perform this kind of repair, which can be complex and dangerous. If you are not a professional, please use this information for educational purposes only.
Step 1 - Diagnose
Many people immediately attribute an improperly cooled icebox to a refrigerant leak, but there are several other reasons why the unit may not be working. It’s important not to jump to conclusions.
With that in mind, you should inspect the refrigerator to ensure the air intake grill is free of debris, the vents on the back of the freezer compartment are not blocked by bags or boxes of frozen goods, the coil behind or under the fridge is clean, and the thermostat is working properly, as all of these things can prevent a fridge from cooling properly.
While most new refrigerators and freezers do not use Freon as a coolant, older models usually do. Finding out if a refrigerant leak is a culprit behind a broken down unit is an easy process. The most telltale sign of a refrigerant leak is the presence of an oily substance at the bottom of the appliance. If you are unable to detect such a substance, then there are a number of alternative things to inspect in order to get to the bottom of the problem. You should also keep in mind that these types of coolant leaks are often the result of a puncture, so if your appliance has been sitting idle in a kitchen all its life, you are unlikely to have a Freon leak.
Step 2 - Purchase
If you’re certain that the problem is, in fact, a coolant leak, you will need to repair and replenish the substance. Since Freon is generally considered environmentally hazardous, it’s being phased out of use, so depending on where you are located, purchasing refrigerant can be difficult; some areas even require a special permit to buy it.
If the refrigerator was manufactured before 1995, it will likely contain R-12 as a refrigerant. Only EPA certified technicians can buy R-12. Since 1995, R-134a refrigerant has become the typical type to use in both refrigerators and automobiles and is available at most auto parts stores. Make certain of the type of refrigerant you need since combining the two types will lock up the compressor.
Step 3 - Add a Saddle Valve
In most refrigerators, Freon is used in a three-part system that consists of a compressor, evaporator, and condenser. Use the owner's manual to determine where your Freon system is located. You’ll want to pay special attention to where the compressor is. A saddle valve will have to be installed on the large copper pipe coming from the compressor. The valve is fastened by two screws while it punctures the copper pipe giving access to the line for adding the new coolant to the system later.
Step 4 - Vacuum
After you have opened up the system for repair, you will need to vacuum any air that is currently in the system. This is accomplished using a special pump, which can normally be rented from a local repair shop or tool rental store.
Step 5 - Add Freon
Once the air has been successfully removed from the system, the next step is to add the proper refrigerant. Remember, your owner’s manual is a good reference to find out what types of coolants can be used with your model fridge.
To add the coolant to your system, you’ll place a hose onto the newly added saddle valve in step three. This hose will ensure the Freon is safely funneled through the system.
Step 6 - Add Oil
The last step in replacing the Freon in your refrigerator is to add a few tablespoons of PAG oil. This oil helps lubricate the compressor, which allows the refrigerant to easily pass through the system. Refer to the manual to determine the exact amount of oil required for your model. Typically, you’ll add about five tablespoons.
Before making any purchases, it is a good idea to compare the costs of having a certified technician do the Freon repair, especially if you need to replace more than one part. Additionally, you can often purchase the parts you need through your fridge manufacturer.
Keep in mind that every refrigerator is different, so your fridge’s manual is likely going to provide the most helpful instructions for replacing refrigerant properly and safely.