Refrigerators transfer heat from inside their compartment to the outside by continuously evaporating and condensing a refrigerant gas known as Freon in a closed system. This gas is contained within the refrigerator’s coils. However, Freon can leak from your refrigerator given the right (or wrong) circumstances.
The best DIY way to know if your refrigerator is leaking its refrigerant gas is to apply a soapy water solution to the condenser coil and evaporator coil. If the soap is bubbling up, it means that your refrigerator is leaking Freon.
What should you do if your refrigerator is leaking Freon? What are its effects on your health? Is your fridge still repairable? We will answer these questions in this article.
Note: Freon is the brand name of the refrigerant gas R-12, it has since become a generic term for different refrigerant gasses like R-22, R-134a, R-600a, and R-410a.
How to know if Freon is leaking
Freon is a relatively odorless and colorless gas, so it is hard to know if it is leaking from your refrigerator. However, your refrigerator will begin to show symptoms when it does leak.
If your fridge exhibits most of the following symptoms, then there is a high likelihood of there being a Freon leak.
Odd smells in the refrigerator are most often chalked up to spoiled food and molds. However, if your fridge is musty-smelling but the source is not apparent, then you may have a gas leak on your hands.
Okay, we know we said that Freon is relatively odorless, but it still does emit a chloroform-like odor. Check your fridge immediately if you smell this. If it occurs with the next item in this list, then it is a sure sign that your refrigerator is leaking Freon.
Another sign of a Freon leak is if there is a substantial amount of oil pooling on the floor beneath and around your refrigerator.
Do note that this oil is not the Freon itself – it is the oil that is used to lubricate the compressor that pumps the Freon to the refrigerator’s coils.
Try to find where the oil begins to leak as it will indicate where the Freon is leaking as well.
If the fridge compartment is warm
Freon is used as an agent in the heat transfer process of the fridge. If this leaks, then it will compromise the ability of your fridge to do its job.
While there are a lot more common mechanical reasons why your refrigerator is not cooling, a Freon leak should not be taken out of the equation.
A compressor that is running continuously
As you know, a refrigerator’s compressor cycles on and off to maintain a set temperature.
Since the temperature regulation capability of your fridge is being compromised by the leak, its thermostat will begin sending signals to the compressor that it is not doing a mighty fine job of cooling your refrigerator down. This will drive the compressor nuts, and it will keep on running until it achieves its goal.
Unfortunately, the refrigerator will not achieve its goal while the Freon is leaking. Apart from being a sad story for your fridge, this continuous operation will result in another sad story for your wallet:
High electricity bill
As the compressor overworks to compensates for the lost Freon, it will use more electricity and thus will increase your energy bill.
Also, this continuous operation will strain the compressor, which will make it more susceptible to a total breakdown.
How your health is affected by a Freon leak
While a Freon leak means trouble for your refrigerator, did you know that it can also affect your health negatively?
According to Healthline, a refrigerant leak may cause any of the following symptoms:
- irritation of the eyes, ears, and throat
- frostbite (liquid Freon)
- chemical burn to the skin
Most refrigerators don’t carry that much Freon in their systems, so most people will only have mild exposure to this gas. However, for people with a large refrigerator that requires more Freon to run, this could be a problem.
Warning: if you suspect that your illness is being caused by a Freon leak, go to the nearest emergency room to get treated.
Can you fix a refrigerator that is leaking Freon?
Your refrigerator is in dire straits if it is leaking Freon. However, this does not mean that all is lost – you can still have it fixed!
This process, called a refrigerant recharge, is complicated and can be dangerous when done incorrectly, and so it must be done by a professional technician.
Call the manufacturer’s customer service team to have your unit check if it is still under warranty. If not, there are a lot of third-party companies that do this service, and it usually does not cost that much.
However, if your refrigerator has been leaking Freon even after several repairs, it may be wiser if you just have the whole thing replaced.
How to detect Freon leaks
If you suspect a Freon leak, you should immediately call a technician to check on your refrigerator. To detect a leak, he/she will put a fluorescent dye in the system and then use a special lamp that detects where the dye and the Freon are leaking from.
You can recreate this on your own with no special tools – just materials you might have laying around your house. This diagnostic test is called the Soap Bubble method.
- Unplug your refrigerator, and take out the contents inside
- Mix the water and the soap and put them inside the sprayer
- Spray the soapy water on the condenser coils (at the back of the fridge) at the evaporator coils (spray it on the freezer walls)
- The leaking spot will become apparent when large bubbles form around an area
- Mark this area, and call a technician to have it fixed.
If you think you’re dealing with a refrigerator that is leaking Freon, call a professional immediately so as to limit the damage to your fridge and to your health.
- Carey, E. (2018, September 17). Refrigerant Poisoning. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/refrigerant-poisoning#symptoms
- Rosone, M. (2020, January 15). Restaurants: How do you know if your refrigerator is leaking freon? Arista. https://aristair.com/blog/restaurants-how-do-you-know-if-your-refrigerator-is-leaking-freon/
Miguel Mores worked for 5 years as a member of the product management team for a home appliance company in the Philippines. He started 101appliance to answer the most common customer questions that he has encountered during his time in the industry. He now works in the digital marketing field and manages a small online bookstore on the side.