How Do You Know If Your Refrigerator Is Leaking Freon?

Dennis Howard
by Dennis Howard

Refrigerators are now so commonplace in kitchens in the United States that we take them for granted. These major appliances have become so refined and reliable that we seldom give a second thought to them, but refrigerators still do malfunction. One problem many people wonder about is how to know if your refrigerator is leaking freon.

Signs your refrigerator is leaking Freon include warm food in the fridge, a constantly running motor, or odd smells near the refrigerator. Unexplained health problems or a spike in your energy bills can also signal your refrigerator is leaking Freon. You can test for a Freon with a store-bought detection kit, do a DIY test with soap and water, or call a professional.

If you notice any of these signs, you should suspect that your refrigerator has a Freon leak or another problem. Quick action to diagnose the problem and make repairs is critical. A refrigerator leaking Freon causes other problems that can affect you financially and physically.

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What Is Freon?

Technically, Freon is the registered trademark of The Chemours Company. The trademark name appears on several halocarbon products used as refrigerants in commercial and residential applications.

Freon is popular because of its stable, nonflammable, and low-toxic characteristics. The term “freon” has become an industry term for almost any refrigerant, but only certain refrigerant products are Freon products.

Is It Normal If My Refrigerator Is Leaking Freon?

Freon stays within a pressurized system inside your fridge, and you should never need to refill it. Therefore, if your refrigerator is leaking Freon, it’s likely something happened to the fridge, like a puncture or other type of damage.

Many things can go wrong with a fridge, so if you’re noticing issues, don’t assume immediately that it’s a Freon problem. Fridges come with lots of electrical and mechanical components, any one of which can cause an issue.

But, it’s possible that you could inadvertently puncture a Freon line. For example, if you recently scraped ice off of your freezer using a metal or plastic scraper, you might have compromised the integrity of the refrigeration system.

Typically the refrigeration system is sealed and no Freon can escape, but if you accidentally puncture it, you can create a Freon leak. Manufacturing defects can also be the cause of a Freon leak. If your refrigerator is relatively new and develops a Freon leak, contact the manufacturer for help in submitting a warranty claim.

How Do You Know If Your Refrigerator Is Leaking Freon?

So, if your fridge can experience a variety of issues, what can you look for to diagnose a Freon leak?

1. Warm Food In The Refrigerator

If you notice that the food in your refrigerator is not staying as cold as it should be, a freon leak may be the cause. If freon levels in the cooling system fall too low, the system cannot maintain cold temperatures.

The compressor in your refrigerator turns the refrigerant into a liquid. In the evaporator coil, the freon is allowed to expand back into a gas. This expansion cools the refrigerator to the desired temperature. If there is not enough refrigerant, the system cannot chill the refrigerator.

Usually, the first place you will notice a problem is in the freezer unit. Food will not stay solidly frozen or your ice maker will not make ice.

2. A Constantly Running Refrigerator

Normally, refrigerators run about 80% of the time. You should notice your refrigerator cycling on and off occasionally. Most people don’t realize that new refrigerators are designed to run rather than cycle on and off periodically.

Newer compressor technology uses less energy when it is running. The greatest amount of electricity is used to start the compressor. New refrigerator compressor designs run as much as 80 percent of the time for the most efficient operation.

However, if you notice your refrigerator constantly running without cycling off, there may be a problem with the freon levels. However, there may be other causes for your refrigerator compressor to run nearly all the time.

A Constantly Running Refrigerator – Common Causes

  • Extremely hot or humid conditions can cause your refrigerator to run almost 100 percent of the time.
  • Loading the refrigerator or freezer with hot food or large amounts of unchilled food may cause the compressor to run continuously for several hours.
  • A nearly empty refrigerator or freeze may also cause the compressor to run full-time.
  • Frequent opening and closing of the refrigerator doors will cause the compressor motor to run almost non-stop
  • If the door gaskets are worn or dirty and leak cold air, the compressor will operate continuously
  • Anything blocking the air vents between the freezer and the refrigerator will result in the compressor motor’s constant operation.
  • Dirt or debris on or around the compressor coils can make the compressor run all the time.

3. Oily Spots Under The Refrigerator

If you move your refrigerator and notice oily spots or puddles on the floor, you may have a refrigerant leak. In most refrigerators, a small amount of lubricating oil is mixed with the freon. This oil keeps the internal parts of the compressor running freely.

When a leak occurs, as the freon escapes, it carries traces of this lubricant as well. The freon gas dissipates into the air. The oil condenses out and drips onto the floor or the bottom of the refrigerator.

4. A Sudden Spike In You Utility Bills

New refrigerators are, by and large, extremely efficient machines. However, if there is a problem with the freon levels in the cooling system, the compressor begins to work harder. As the compressor works harder, it consumes more energy, which can affect your utility bills.

If you notice a sudden and unexplained spike in your utility bill, check for some of the other symptoms of a freon leak in your refrigerator. Sometimes the other symptoms may be so subtle that they go unnoticed.

5. Odd Smells Near The Fridge

If you have a freon leak in your refrigerator, your nose may be the first indicator. Refrigerant products each have a characteristic smell. On the whole, a musty smell how most people describe the characteristic odor.

Some people confuse the smell with spoiled or rotten food. If your refrigerator is still cooling adequately and there is no spoiled food, something else is amiss. If you detect an odor that reminds you of a musty area or spoiled food, you should suspect a freon leak.

6. Unexplained Health Problems Could Signal Your Refrigerator Is Leaking Freon

A freon leak from your refrigerator can expose you and your family to exposure to the freon. The exposure can be so subtle that no one suspects there is a problem. However, long-term exposure to freon gas can have some negative health results.

Inhaling freon over a long period, even in low concentrations, can cause several physical symptoms

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Respiratory issues

Freon Poisoning – A Long Term Danger

Anyone exposed to freon gas in high concentrations or for long periods may experience freon poisoning. Freon poisoning is a more serious complication of inhalation of freon gas. The symptoms of freon poisoning include:

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Unexplained headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A persistent cough
  • Dizziness or sinus irritation

Freon poisoning is a serious situation and required immediate medical attention. If you think you or someone in your family is suffering from freon poisoning, seek medical attention immediately.

Can A Homeowner Fix It If The Refrigerator Is Leaking Freon?

Unfortunately, most modern refrigerator designs make it almost impossible for a homeowner to find and fix a freon leak. Many professional appliance repair technicians admit that a refrigerant leak in a new refrigerator is a death sentence for the appliance.

To find and fix a leak in a modern refrigerator, in most cases, requires tearing the refrigerator apart. Doing this yourself is next to impossible, and paying a technician would soon exceed a new refrigerator’s cost.

Detecting Whether Your Refrigerator Is Leaking Freon

You can purchase a leak detection kit to check for a potential Freon look, but still, you will need a pro to ultimately fix the problem. Still, if you want to give the test a try, you can purchase a kit or tool for between $20 and $300. It’s a broad price range because some tools are much more precise than others.

The tools sense a variety of gases, called halogens, which is a group of gases that many Freon types belong to. Some are so precise they can even sense very minuscule leaks that may have been only releasing minimal amounts of Freon over a span of 10 years.

You can also attempt a DIY test using dish soap and water that you can spray on your tubing. Look carefully; if there’s a Freon leak, the gas will create bubbles where it’s escaping from the line.

If Your Refrigerator Is Leaking Freon, Do you Have the Necessary Equipment To Fix It?

If you manage to find the leak, do you have the equipment and the skills to repair the leak? Handling refrigerant is not a task to be undertaken lightly. There are federal and state laws that govern how refrigerants in household appliances must be recovered and recycled.

Recovering the remaining refrigerant in the system involves special equipment and pumps. In some states, only a licensed technician can scavenge refrigerant. Replacing the refrigerant in a repaired system requires another set of specialized tools and knowledge.

By and large, DIY homeowners are not equipped and do not have the knowledge or skills to perform these kinds of repairs. If your refrigerator is leaking freon, call the repairman.

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Should You Call A Pro Or Get A New Fridge?

If you suspect that your refrigerator has a freon leak, find a qualified appliance technician as soon as possible. Don’t expose yourself to the hazards of inhaling freon any longer than necessary. You will also save yourself money in the long run.

Unfortunately, if your refrigerator has developed a freon leak, more than likely, you are about to purchase a new refrigerator. All too often, the cost of repairing an old refrigerator doesn’t make sense.

Related Questions

Can a Freon leak harm the environment?

Freon is actually a hazardous pollutant that can eat away at the ozone layer when it gets into the atmosphere. This is the reason the US Environmental Protection Agency phased out R22 Freon in January of 2020. If you use an appliance that needs this type of Freon, you can expect to pay a hefty price for it as supplies dwindle. This higher price is yet another reason to consider replacing an older fridge if it is experiencing a Freon leak of R22. 

How do you decide whether to replace or repair your refrigerator?

With any appliance, you need to weigh the cost of the repairs against the age of your existing appliance and the cost of a new one. Typically, the rule of thumb is if the repairs cost more than 50% the price of a new appliance, replace it.So, if you call in a professional and they inform you it will cost $300 to $400 to fix the leak and replace the Freon, think about your fridge. If it’s an older fridge and you can get a new one for about $800, it might be worth it to replace it. But, if the fridge is only a few years old, and a new one with comparable features would cost you $1,200, then repairing the issue might make more sense.

Dennis Howard
Dennis Howard

Dennis is a retired firefighter with an extensive background in construction, home improvement, and remodeling. He worked in the trades part-time while serving as an active firefighter. On his retirement, he started a remodeling and home repair business, which he ran for several years.

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