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How Long Do Refrigerators Last, and How Can Yours Last Longer?


Apr 19, 2020 by Aly J. Yale

Compared to some home appliances, refrigerators actually have a pretty lengthy lifespan. In fact, according to the National Association of Home Builders, the average fridge lasts about 13 years -- longer than freezers, dishwashers, trash compactors, and even the typical washing machine.

Of course, that lifespan varies, depending largely on the type of refrigerator you own, its brand and size, your maintenance habits, and a whole slew of other factors, including where in the kitchen you place your fridge.

Are you curious how long you can expect your home's fridge to last? Here's what you need to know.

The average lifespan of a refrigerator

According to a study from the National Association of Home Builders and Bank of America (NYSE: BAC), the typical standard fridge lasts 13 years. For compact refrigerators, often called mini fridges, the lifespan is slightly less at nine years.

Those are just averages, though, and it's quite possible your fridge could last longer (or a shorter amount of time) than that. As the report states, "The life expectancy of a typical appliance depends to a great extent on the use it receives."

How to help your refrigerator last longer

Proper maintenance is the key if you want your fridge to live its longest life. That means regularly cleaning its parts, replacing its supply lines, and calling in a pro anytime something seems amiss.

Here are some steps for properly maintaining your fridge:

1. Clean the condenser coils at least every six months

Condenser coils tend to attract dirt, dust, and buildup over time (especially if you have pets), which can impact their ability to keep your fridge cool. To keep these in top working order, make it a point to clean them regularly with a duster and the hose attachment on your vacuum. You'll usually find them located below the fridge, behind a clip-on plate or grate. In some models, they might be in the back of the unit.

2. Clean and lubricate the door seals

The seals on your fridge door (as well as the door on your freezer) help keep cold air from escaping, but like with the coils, buildup of dirt and grime can stop them from doing their job. Make it a point to clean the seals often using soap and warm water.

You should also check your refrigerator seals for any tears or breaks and replace them whenever necessary. Lubricating the seals can be a great way to prevent these tears, as it helps keep them flexible and elastic. Just apply a thin layer of Vaseline to the edges, and you're set.

3. Clean out the vents

Your fridge has interior vents that help circulate cold air throughout the unit. Occasionally, these can get blocked with food, liquid, or even dust and dirt, thus affecting your fridge's ability to move cool air evenly. Try to visually inspect these vents often, and use a warm, wet rag to wipe away any blockages before they can do any damage.

4. Change out your water filter often

If your refrigerator has a built-in water filter, set yourself a reminder to replace it at least every six months. For one, this ensures your drinking water (and the ice it's used to produce) are clean and clear of bacteria. It also prevents buildup that could damage your water dispenser and ice maker permanently.

5. Make sure the fridge is level

If you can tip the fridge downward on any corner, even just slightly, then it's not on level flooring. This can strain the motor and shorten its lifespan. To give your unit the best shot at a long and full life, adjust the feet until it sits completely level. (You may need to stick a leveler on top while you do this just to be sure.)

6. Give it plenty of space

If at all possible, give your fridge plenty of real estate. Leave at least a few inches on each side of it, and avoid piling items on top of the unit -- especially heavy ones. For optimal efficiency, refrigerators need plenty of airflow, and closing yours in tightly with cabinets and other items can hinder that flow and reduce its operating capacity significantly.

7. Spot issues early

If you suspect anything might be wrong with your fridge, you'll want to address it quickly. Weird noises, reduced cooling abilities, or problems with the ice maker or water filter should all be evaluated by a professional as soon as you spot them. Puddles in or around the fridge are also indicative of an issue (possibly one with the supply line) and should be assessed as well.

A quick note here: Avoid trying to fix fridge-related issues on your own. Even if you're the handy type, attempting to DIY your repairs could do serious or even irreparable damage to the unit. Always call in an appliance repair pro if you suspect something is wrong with your refrigerator.

How to tell your fridge is on its last legs

Even with the most detailed and thorough maintenance, there will come a day when your fridge needs replacing.

While you should still call in a professional for evaluation, the following signs generally mean your fridge is in its last phase of life:

  • It can't keep temperature.
  • Food is spoiling or melting.
  • There's condensation inside the unit.
  • The back of the fridge is extremely hot.
  • Your frozen items are coated in thick frost.
  • Your energy bills are suddenly higher than normal despite no changes in usage.
  • It's making buzzing or grinding noises.

If your fridge is on the older side (think 10 years or more), you should be especially wary should any of these indicators crop up.

The bottom line

Your fridge may outlast some of the other appliances in your home, but you can be sure it will bite the dust someday. Until that day comes, focus on maintaining your unit, and keep a watchful eye on its condition. Addressing issues early could help extend your fridge's lifespan considerably, so call in a pro the second something goes awry.

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Aly Yale has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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