How Hot Should A Fridge Compressor Get? (Find Out Now!)

Ryan Womeldorf
by Ryan Womeldorf

When your refrigerator is working the way that it should, the internal temperature will be cold enough to keep your food at a safe temperature. You may even notice warmth coming from the compressor and that is totally normal. But it is important to know just how warm your fridge’s compressor should be.

Fridge compressors can get as hot as 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Exceeding 320 degrees can damage the compressor and waste the refrigerant. The lubricant inside of the compressor can break down if it gets hotter than 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

What Does Your Refrigerator’s Compressor Do?

That cooling inside the freezer or the fridge is all a result of the evaporation of the fridge’s refrigerant that is inside of an array of coils. Evaporation means that heat is drawn from its surroundings, resulting in an endothermic process.

For evaporation to happen correctly, the refrigerant has to be pressurized so that it turns into a liquid. The liquid will then evaporate as it passes through the tiny apertures that are in the coil system. The compressor’s job is to not only create that pressure but maintain it as well.

Most compressors work through reciprocating action. Within the compressor is a piston that cycles continuously. The compressor pumps the refrigerant into the coil on its forward stroke. As the piston retracts, there is a valve that prevents that refrigerant from flowing back to its original position.

The movement of the piston – there are other compressors that have gear systems – is what generates heat. The compressor needs to have a consistent supply of lubricant to keep it from overheating due to the constant motion.

How Hot Should the Compressor Be?

The way that a compressor works, most of the heat gets generated at the discharge port of the compressor. It is completely normal for the temperature to get up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, so don’t be alarmed if the temperature gets to be that high.

It should never get higher than that, however. When the temperature gets to be 320 degrees or more, this is the point that the refrigerant starts to break down and lose effectiveness. Should the compressor’s temperature get to be more than 350 degrees, the lubricating oil that is inside of the compressor will begin a degradation process.

Measuring the Temperature of the Discharge Line

It can be difficult to measure the exact temperature of the inside of the compressor. You can get a pretty good idea of what that temperature is by measuring the discharge line’s temperature. The discharge line is generally located about 6 inches from the compressor itself.

The tubing from the discharge line at that 6-inch difference will generally be somewhere between 50 and 75 degrees lower than the internal temperature of the compressor. So, if the temperature of the discharge line is 225 degrees or less, you are in the safe temperature range.

Checking the Internal Temperature of the Compressor

Should you prefer to get the internal temperature of the compressor itself, that isn’t all that hard to do but it won’t be as easy as checking the discharge line. To begin, pull the fridge off of the wall and find the compressor’s location; this is generally near the floor somewhere.

The discharge tube will be the warm one. The other tub will hold vapor inside and it should feel cool to the touch. Make sure that you unplug your fridge and then immediately put a thermometer on the tube in order to get a reading.

Should the temperature be higher than the outlined safe temperatures from above, the most likely cause is poor ventilation. Try to keep the fridge off of the wall for a while, letting it run normally. You can then check the temperature again 24 hours later.

Checking the Compressor

There is a fairly simplistic way to check to see if the compressor is working properly. The best way to find out if something is wrong with your compressor is to pull the fridge off of the wall and listen to it closely.

When the compressor runs, you may hear a slight humming sound. This can be normal, but if the fridge is running at a higher temperature than it normally is, this is a good indication that the compressor is bad. When the compressor goes bad, it can be a fairly expensive repair. Depending on the age and use of the fridge, it may be more worthwhile to replace the fridge entirely.

What if it isn’t the Compressor?

There are plenty of other reasons why your fridge may be working improperly or not at all. While the compressor is one of the most common culprits, there are other components that can break down over time and keep your fridge from working properly.

There are steps to identify these problems as they occur and, for the most part, can be remedied fairly easily.

Look at the Condenser Coils

Without a doubt, the hardest working part of the fridge is the condenser coils. This is part of the process that takes the hot gas created by the compressor and turns it into the cool liquid that ultimately makes your refrigerator cold.

When the condenser coils aren’t working as they should, it will be difficult to keep the fridge at the proper cool temperature. Start by pulling the fridge away from the wall slightly to get a better look at the coil.

The most common reason for the condenser coils to stop working is that they are clogged up with dirt, dust, or other kinds of debris. If they are clogged up, just unplug the fridge and use your vacuum to unclog them. If they’re shot, you have to replace them entirely.

What Temperature Does the Refrigerator Need to be?

It is imperative that your refrigerator be kept at an optimal temperature. Foods can experience what is known as the “danger zone” where the temperature of the food can generate the most bacteria that is dangerous for consumption.

Ideally, your fridge should be kept at a temperature that is at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The freezer, on the other hand, should be set to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. If you think that the refrigerator is working abnormally, check on the temperatures every so often.

The best way to determine the temperature in your refrigerator or freezer is to use an appliance thermometer. These are not only far more accurate for measuring your fridge’s temperature, but they are pretty inexpensive as well.

Will Food Spoil if the Refrigerator is at 50 Degrees or More?

Food will begin the spoiling process when the temperature in the refrigerator starts to climb above 40 degrees. When food warms up to that temperature, the clock is ticking. You will have roughly two hours to either cook it or return it to proper temperatures.

Generally speaking, produce can survive in a fridge after a power outage for a couple of hours, but dairy should be watched carefully. They can begin to taste or smell sour and should be discarded immediately.

How Do I Know if my Fridge is Cold Enough without a Thermometer?

While it is definitely handy to have an appliance thermometer in your home, it isn’t necessarily something that you will find in most homes. That said, you need to be able to determine the temperature of your fridge in the event of a malfunction with any of the various components.

A good way to do this is by putting a container of water in the fridge. Let it sit for a few hours and then pull it out to examine closer. You are looking for condensation on the container. If the condensation on the outside of the container disappears in short order, the water is very cold, and the temperature of the fridge is likely okay.

Is it Worth Replacing a Compressor on a Refrigerator?

When the compressor goes bad on your fridge, there is a decision that needs to be made. If your fridge is of the basic variety, without all the bells and whistles on it, you might be better off just getting a new fridge as opposed to getting the compressor replaced.

For more modern, comprehensive fridges, the ones that have features like an ice or water dispenser, it is probably worth it to replace the compressor.

Related Guides

Ryan Womeldorf
Ryan Womeldorf

Ryan Womeldorf has more than a decade of experience writing. He loves to blog about construction, plumbing, and other home topics. Ryan also loves hockey and a lifelong Buffalo sports fan.

More by Ryan Womeldorf