Can A Refrigerator Compressor Overheat: What You Need To Know

By Nick Evans •  Last Updated: 01/03/22 •  7 min read

If you’ve wondered whether a refrigerator compressor can overheat, you are in the right place.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • Can a refrigerator compressor overheat? 
  • Is it normal for a refrigerator compressor to be hot?
  • How do you know if your refrigerator compressor is bad?
  • What can cause a refrigerator to overheat?

can a refrigerator compressor overheat

The compressor is one of the most important components in a refrigerator’s ecosystem. If there is anything out of the ordinary, it is best to employ the services of a professional. This can help to prevent any damage whether to the fridge or to the surroundings. 

How do you know when there is something wrong with your fridge compressor? What are the best ways to prevent and troubleshoot when this occurs? Let’s find out.

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Can A Refrigerator Compressor Overheat?

To begin, your refrigerator’s compressor is the main cooling component – if the compressor doesn’t work, your fridge will stop cooling.

The majority of the time, it is not the compressor itself that fails. It’s actually the other refrigerator parts that function to start the compressor.

Some important components are the circuit breaker, capacitor, door seal, and the condenser coils and fan. If these parts fail, the refrigerator compressor often shifts into overdrive and overheats trying to function normally. 

A refrigerator’s cooling effect is uses a system of coils to evaporate refrigerant. This will creates an endothermic process that draws heat from the environment to cool what’s inside the fridge.

During this process, refrigerant presses into liquid form so that it can evaporate during its passage through the refrigerator coils.

The refrigerator compressor does the job of creating and maintaining this pressure, and it needs lubricant to prevent overheating during this process.

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Is It Normal For A Refrigerator Compressor To Be Hot?

While it is normal for a refrigerator to be warm on the outside beneath and behind the fridge, it is not normal for it to be hot.

If the refrigerator compressor becomes too hot, the thermostat that regulates overload will automatically turn it off to prevent damage to the appliance. 

The most common cause of refrigeration compressor breakdown is overheating. In general, overheating changes the chemical properties of the refrigerant and refrigeration oils, leading to loss of lubrication and chemical decomposition.

The loss of lubrication can cause failure in the refrigerator’s mechanisms, while chemical deposits from decomposition will plug up piping and valves, causing more damage to the refrigerator’s system.

How Do You Know If Your Refrigerator Compressor Is Bad?

If your refrigerator isn’t cooling as it should, that is a sure sign it is malfunctioning. Another problem sign is when you can hear your fridge clicking. This means the compressor is trying to start, but it can’t due to a problem with the starting components or the compressor itself. Sometimes, a malfunctioning fridge compressor can also produce a buzzing sound. These are all signs that the compressor may be starting to go.

In some cases, the refrigerator may work fine despite any strange sounds. Regardless, it is important to take it seriously when there is anything out of the ordinary.

In the worst-case scenario, an overheating and buzzing fridge compressor can cause a fire.

The fridge might stop working due to a complete system breakdown, requiring expensive repairs and tainting any food stored inside. It is best to be safe and call a professional for repairs early on before any accidents occur.

What Can Cause A Refrigerator To Overheat?

Condenser coils or fan issues

One of the primary reasons refrigerators overheat are the condenser coils or condenser fan having a build up of dirt. This makes it difficult for the condenser to diffuse heat well.

In most homes, condenser coils collect dust bunnies, dirt, grime, and fur. Condenser coils are best cleaned with a special long-handled brush or vacuum attachment for tight spaces. If the condenser coil or fan is not working, that can also cause problems.

Poor ventilation

If your refrigerator and its compressor are overheating, there is a strong likelihood that the cause is poor ventilation.

Ideally, a fridge should not have anything on top of it as this can obstruct heat distribution. Additionally, if you have numerous items on your refrigerator, such as magnets and mementos, these can also contribute to overheating.

Best case is to remove all items from the outside of the fridge. Then pull the refrigerator further from the wall to make sure it has adequate ventilation.

Temperature setting issues 

Another possible reason for overheating in refrigerators is when the temperature setting is set too cold or too hot. The optimal temperature for a refrigerator is 37°F or 3°C for best food safety. Lower temperatures mean your fridge has to work harder to keep food cool. 

Door seal issues

If the door seal has failed, your fridge will leak cold air. When this happens, the fridge has to work harder than it should to compensate for the loss in cool air. As a result, this leads to overheating.

The door seal can be checked by closing the fridge door on a piece of paper. If pulling out the paper is easy, chances are the door seal has to be replaced or adjusted. Once that is done, this will help prevent the escape of cold air and frost buildup.

Refrigerant is running out

There could also be a lack of refrigerant in the fridge. You should seek professional help for this as it can be difficult to check the refrigerant levels. Regardless, if your refrigerator is overheating, you should unplug the unit and remove all perishable food. A malfunctioning refrigerator is not food safe, nor is it safe to let it continue running while overheating.

Automatic defrost system failure

Most modern refrigerators have an automatic defrost system that works to prevent frost buildup in the fridge. This is done by heating the interior refrigerator coils to melt any frost that can obstruct the cooling process. If the automatic defrosting system is faulty, the compressor has to work harder to keep the fridge’s interior temperature low. This increases the risk of overheating. A replacement thermostat for the faulty automatic defrost system can fix this issue.

Electrical issues

If your home’s electrical system is not in good condition, this can lead to power surges and voltage spikes. In turn, those can shorten the life of your appliances.

Increased voltage above what your fridge can handle can generate heat which can damage your compressor. A certified technician can help you check for any issues with your home’s electrical system.

As with all appliance repair and replacement options, consider first the age of your refrigerator before shelling out for a compressor replacement.

If it is more than 10 years old, replacing the entire fridge will be better.

However, if the fridge is only one or two years old, its components might still be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. 


Your best bet with a malfunctioning fridge is to seek the services of a repair company, especially if you have tested all starting components and the capacitor.

Troubleshooting on your own is an excellent place to start, but if you have exhausted all options, professional help is great.

If your refrigerator compressor has gone bad, a replacement is often quite costly, and it may be worth considering getting a new refrigerator.

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