Should a Refrigerator Compressor Be Hot? Here’s What That Might Mean

The compressor is one of the most critical components of any fridge. Some even call it the ‘heart’ of the fridge since it’s responsible for pumping and circulating the refrigerant throughout the system. Because of this crucial function, the compressor tends to get warm when in operation. But what if it gets especially hot?

If a compressor feels too hot, it signifies it’s working too hard. It’s best to turn off the fridge and inspect its components. Several potential causes include a bad thermostat, poor ventilation, clogged condenser coils, a low level of refrigerant, or electrical malfunctions.

There are a couple of measures you can take to prevent a compressor from overheating, such as adequately inspecting and cleaning the components of your fridge on a regular basis and making sure the fridge has sufficient ventilation at all times. Let’s take a look at the role of a compressor, why it gets warm, and what can cause it to get too hot.

Is It Normal for a Refrigerator Compressor to Be Hot?

Male technician with screwdriver repairing refrigerator

A very hot compressor is not normal. High heat indicates the compressor isn’t running optimally. When a fridge’s compressor gets too hot, the thermostat that controls overload will automatically turn it off.

This shutdown will protect the appliance from any damage. Overheating is the most prevalent cause of compressor failure in a fridge.

Too much heat alters the chemical properties of the refrigeration oils and refrigerant, resulting in chemical decomposition and loss of lubrication.

Lubrication loss, in turn, can cause the fridge to malfunction, while decomposition can clog valves and pipes, causing further damage to the system.  

How Does the Compressor Work?

The compressor in a refrigerator is both a pump and a motor that moves the refrigerant through the refrigeration system. Whenever the temperature within the fridge rises above a set point, temperature sensors alert the compressor to start working.

No fridge is completely airtight; cold air escapes and warmer air enters overtime. This process causes the temperature of the fridge to increase above the set point. When the compressor starts working, it pulls in the cold refrigerant gas and transforms it into a liquid state as it exits the evaporator.

Fridges use a type of refrigerant gas that changes to liquid form at low temperatures. After that, the compressor applies pressure to the refrigerant gas, compressing it. The temperature of the refrigerant gas rises as it is compressed.

The compressor pushes the hot, compressed gas through the metal coils behind the fridge. These coils release the heat into the surrounding air. Due to the pressure, the gas turns into liquid as it cools. The liquid gas flows through the system till it reaches the expansion valve.

Then the expansion valve forces the liquid gas through a tiny hole. This process converts the liquid gas into a freezing mist that evaporates as it passes through the fridge’s coils.

As the liquid passes through the coils, it pulls out the heat from the fridge’s compartments and the air around the fridge. The coils at the back of the refrigerator lead to the compressor.

Once the liquid gas reaches the compressor, it is subjected to pressure. Then the compressor recirculates from the hot air through the outside coils. This process releases heat into the air.

The compression and evaporation process continues until the fridge’s temperature returns to its set point.

Why Is Your Fridge Compressor Getting Hot?

There are several reasons why your fridge’s compressor might get hot. It can be tough to figure out which one is the cause but start by checking each of the following. If you’re still having trouble, it’s always best to contact a professional for assistance.

Low Internal Temperature

A common error people make is setting their fridge’s temperature very low. Setting the temperature of your fridge lower than necessary can cause the compressor to overheat and eventually fail.

If you set the temperature of your fridge to less than 35℉, it will cause the compressor to overheat quickly. To prevent your fridge from overheating, ensure the temperature is set between 37℉ and 38℉ on the control panel.

A Bad Thermostat

A basic function of a fridge is temperature control. A thermostat monitors the temperature of the fridge. The thermostat signals the compressor to cool all components whenever the fridge gets hot.

If the fridge’s thermostat fails, the compressor will end up running longer than needed. The extra strain can lead to overheating and eventual failure.

Fridges come with various kinds of thermostats. Mechanical thermostats are the most reliable but are harder to set, whereas electrical thermostats are simpler to use but less reliable. The thermostat in the fridge could fail at any moment.

This failure can result from various factors, like power outages, voltage surges, and old age. Regular servicing will ensure your fridge continues to work properly.

You should be aware that the thermostat housing in a fridge is prone to expansion when exposed to contrasting temperatures. If the housing expands repeatedly, moisture from the fridge can seep in and damage the thermostat.

If the fridge’s compressor overheats, consider changing the thermostat before buying a new fridge.

Poor Ventilation

There should be enough space at the back of the fridge to ensure proper ventilation. If hot air coming out from the compressor can’t escape, the compressor will eventually overheat. This overheating can then lead to damage to other fridge parts.

Poor ventilation will have a negative effect on the fridge’s functions. It is important to avoid putting anything on top or in front of your fridge, as this obstructs cooling and increases the temperature. These temperature fluctuations can lead to the compressor overheating.

Excess Exposure to Sunlight

If your fridge is exposed to too much sunlight, the appliance will find it hard to maintain its low internal temperature. This difficulty will lead to the compressor working too hard and eventually heating up.

Fridges require adequate airflow to work properly. As a result, the best spot for your fridge is one that’s away from sunlight. It’s best to place your fridge away from windows to protect it from sunlight and other elements.

Low Level of Refrigerant

When a fridge runs noisily, the main culprit is most likely a low refrigerant level. A low refrigerant level is common in old fridges and can trigger various issues.

The main cooling system circulates a refrigerant around the system in a closed-loop. As explained earlier, the compressor then adds pressure to the refrigerant. This pressure will lead to the fridge staying cool.

A low amount of refrigerant in your fridge will lead to overheating and other issues. Leaks in the refrigerant system of your fridge can also cause it to overheat and fail.

A leak will cause the compressor to work harder while using the same refrigerant. The extra strain can lead to the compressor heating until it shuts down. We advise against trying to repair or add refrigerant to your fridge on your own.

You risk damaging the component and voiding the product’s warranty. To repair leaks or add to the refrigerant levels, you should seek the services of an expert.

Clogged Condenser Coils

When the condenser coil gets clogged, the amount of airflow circulating through the fridge is limited. This decrease in airflow will lead to overheating.

To avoid this issue, clean the condenser coils, replace the air filter regularly, and vacuum any debris piled up in your fridge.

Bad Condenser Fan

Condenser fans help keep the fridge working properly. This function is accomplished by cool air circulating from the back panel of the fridge to other components. The cool air is used to cool your food.

When the condenser fan on a refrigerator is clogged or dirty, the compressor gets too hot and damages other fridge components. Fortunately, a bad condenser fan does not always indicate that the entire fridge is faulty.

You can clean a clogged fan with a vacuum cleaner, and if that doesn’t work, you can try cleaning the area around the fan.

The condenser fan in a fridge is responsible for removing all of the heat generated by the fridge internally. Because it is located behind most fridges, the fan is not easy to access. If you’re at a loss about how to fix it, try contacting an experienced repairer.

Electrical issues

Voltage spikes and power surges can occur if your home’s electrical system is in poor condition. As a result, this can lead to a reduction in the lifespan of your appliances, including the fridge. Voltage spikes can generate heat in your compressor and damage it.

Before replacing the compressor or any other component in your fridge, consider the age of the fridge. If the fridge is over ten years old, it is better to buy a new fridge. However, if the refrigerator is under two years old, the internal components may still be covered by a warranty.

Can a Hot Compressor Still Work?

Handyman Checking Refrigerator With Flashlight At Home

A compressor that runs hot can still function. But if the temperature rises too high, the oil inside the compressor can break down, reducing the cooling effect and lubrication the oil provides.

If you notice that the compressor is too hot, it’s best to turn off the fridge and address the issue before the situation gets worse.

Conclusion

The compressor is a vital component of the overall function of a fridge. This component is prone to overheat, and the various situations mentioned above could be the reason for this excessive heat production.

The best way to keep your fridge in good shape is to regularly clean and inspect the internal components of the fridge. Always contact a repair company if you notice any major damage.

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