May it be a busy day or a senior moment, there will be instances where you’ll accidentally leave your refrigerator door open for an extended period of time. It happens to the best of us. After you stop cussing yourself for your carelessness, you stop and think about the two questions in your head: (1) what will happen to the food stored inside and (2) what will be the long-term effect to your fridge?
The most straight forward answer to this is: the refrigerator’s compartments will get warmer when you leave it open for too long. The side effects of a warmer effects will vary depending on other factors like the time elapsed, the setting in use, and the ambient temperature.
In this article, I am going to give you a few scenarios on what might happen to your refrigerator if you forgot to close the door for a long period of time. We will also discuss how a refrigerator operates to help us understand better.
- How a refrigerator works
- What will happen when the refrigerator door is left open?
- Will food spoil if the refrigerator door is left open?
- What to do when you forget to close your refrigerator door
How a refrigerator works
Refrigerators work by continuously evaporating and condensing a refrigerant gas to produce a cooling effect inside the compartment. They do this with help of a compressor that pumps the refrigerant gas to the refrigerator’s coils.
To maintain the temperature inside the fridge, the refrigerator’s thermostat tells the compressor to either stop or start when it gets too cold or too warm. This is why you hear your refrigerator roaring back to life after a few moments of it being silent.
So, how does leaving the refrigerator door open affect this operation?
What will happen when the refrigerator door is left open?
The outcome will not be uniform for everyone; it will depend on factors such as:
- How big is the opening of the door?
- How long was it left open?
- What was the ambient temperature during that time?
While the outcome may not be set in stone, these may be the scenarios that you will encounter when you forget to close your refrigerator’s door:
Your refrigerator will “sweat”
Condensation happens when hot air touches a cold surface. When the refrigerator door is left open, it will introduce hot air inside the cold fridge; this will eventually form into water droplets that will make your fridge look like it’s sweating.
A sweating refrigerator means that it is having trouble maintaining its temperature. You should wipe down this sweat as it can contribute to the thick frost in your freezer and can also cause frost to appear in your fridge compartment.
The evaporator coil may be frozen over
This is a by-product of the sweating. When the condensation touches the extremely cold evaporator coils, it will develop into the thick frost that you will have to defrost.
Your refrigerator may overheat
Because the thermostat is continuously getting a “it’s still hot” signal, it will keep telling the compressor to keep working. This will make the compressor overheat, which can cause some adverse effects later on.
Expect a higher electricity bill
Since the compressor is working harder than it should be, you should expect a higher electricity bill afterwards. Bummer right?
Oh, and this problem is worse if your have a no frost model. As you may know, no frost refrigerators have a heating element tucked in their freezers that melt away frost from time to time.
When the frost starts to build up, the heating elements will have to turn on more frequently, which makes it consume more electricity.
Will food spoil if the refrigerator door is left open?
Your fridge temperature should be kept at 2–3°C to keep spoilage at bay. Also, if it rises above 4°C, the bacterium Listeria (which causes foodborne illnesses) will have more chances to develop.
Leaving your refrigerator door open will make your fridge struggle to maintain this temperature, and the likely outcome is that your food items will get warm. Are they still safe though?
According to the USDA, if the door is left open for less than 4 hours, the food is generally safe to eat. However, the answer for this isn’t as clear-cut as always; it will depend on the type of the food in the fridge.
Milk, eggs, and food that contain either of the two are the most likely to spoil. Vegetables and fruit may lower in quality but otherwise edible. Meat in the freezer are more complicated though. Rely on your instinct!
Warning: throw out any food that seems a little funky to you. Better safe than sorry!
What to do when you forget to close your refrigerator door
If you accidentally left your refrigerator door open, do this immediately to prevent long-term damage to your fridge.
- Unplug your refrigerator
- Remove and check food for viability
- Manually defrost your fridge – even for no frost models.
- Wipe away the condensation inside the fridge
- After defrosting, plug the refrigerator back in and run at max for 6 hours without anything inside
- Check the temperature and return the food inside if the temperature is satisfactory
Forgetting to close the refrigerator door will cause a great deal of anxiety to anyone.
Luckily, if the time elapsed is limited, the damage to the refrigerator is limited as well. Take this as a learning experience!