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Tips for Keeping Your RV Fridge Cold

Sam Leash-profile-image
Sam Leash
July 30, 2021

TL;DR: To keep your RV fridge cool in the summer heat, understanding its operation is key, whether it's a compressor or absorption fridge. Regular maintenance, proper ventilation, using accessories like fridge-cooling fans and thermometers, and defrosting when necessary can all help maintain optimal fridge temperatures. By following these tips and tricks, you can ensure your food stays fresh and safe, even during the hottest months, making your RV adventures enjoyable and worry-free.

Tips for Keeping Your RV Fridge Cold

Hitting the open road this summer will lead to plenty of RVing fun, as well as some hot temperatures. As temperatures continue to climb all across the country, sometimes reaching record-highs in certain areas, staying cool can be a challenge. If you’re struggling to keep cool in the heat, chances are that your RV fridge is struggling as well. Nothing can ruin a good vacation like a fridge full of spoiled food.

But don't panic! There are many tips and tricks you can utilize to keep your fridge plenty cold in the summer heat. Here, we'll cover some of the best advice collected from pro RVers to help keep your fridge running at maximum efficiency no matter the outside temperature.

  • Learn efficiency do's and don'ts
  • How to defrost your fridge or freezer when needed
  • Accessories that can help keep your fridge cool in the summer

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How RV Fridges Work

Before knowing how to troubleshoot and solve potential cooling problems, it’s important to first understand the ins and outs of how these fridges work. RV fridges operate completely differently from standard refrigerators. Most RV fridges run off of compression or absorption. If you are unsure which type of fridge your RV has, check the manual to be sure. Absorption and compressor fridges work completely differently from each other, so read on below to learn more about them.

Compressor Fridges

Compressor, or mechanical, fridges are more expensive but typically do a better job of keeping products cold, even in hot temperatures. These fridges work similarly to standard home fridges and run only on electrical power.

The compressor compresses gas to a higher and hotter pressure, and the hot refrigerant then enters the condenser where it cools off and and becomes a liquid. Then the cooled liquid hits the evaporator which spikes the liquid’s temperature to a boiling point, which then helps to remove the hot air from the fridge. The evaporated gases then make their way back into the compressor, and the process continues.

Absorption Fridges

Most RVs are equipped with absorption fridges. These are the fridge types that can run off of propane or electric. These fridges work by mixing ammonia (refrigerant) with water and using either propane or electrical power to go through a process that eventually the mixture until it boils. Because its boiling point is so low (-16 degrees Fahrenheit), it is able to absorb the surrounding heat inside the fridge, maintaining a cooler temperature.

Although these fridges come installed in most RVs, they can fairly pricey to replace or repair, as they are somewhat uncommon outside of the world of RVing. However, replacement parts for these fridges can be found through Camping World, Amazon (sometimes), and local RV dealership service departments.

Dos and Don’ts of RV Fridges

Now that you understand how each type of RV works, it's best to learn the dos and don'ts of RV fridges. Keep all of these simple tips and instructions in mind in order to maximize your RV fridge's efficiency and maintain the coldest temperatures.

  • Don’t use the propane setting on your fridge if the RV is unlevel.
  • Do check on the evaporator fins or coils as frequently as possible.
  • Don’t store hot food in the fridge, if possible.
  • Do check your freezer for any ice build-up on the sensors.
  • Do keep your cold food from the grocery store as cold as possible while in transit.
  • Don’t shut your fridge off while there’s food inside.
  • Do let your fridge “warm up” for 12 hours minimum before storing food inside your RV fridge.
  • Don’t open your fridge doors more than necessary (looking at you, kids!).
  • Do try to keep the side of your RV with the fridge in the shade.
  • Do adjust the fridge temperature based on the temperature outside (lower setting when it’s cold, higher setting when it’s hot).
  • Don’t overstuff your fridge with food, especially with an absorption fridge, as this style of fridge relies on air circulation to help keep food cold.
  • Do figure out where the coldest spots in your freezer are. Store your ice cream and other melt-able treats there.
  • Do consider purchasing an extra portable freezer if you travel a lot in the summer.
  • Don’t neglect the gasket around your fridge and freezer doors. Keep it clean and check it for rips and tears, and replace it when necessary to help keep the cold air in your fridge.
  • Do check the outside panel of your absorption fridge. Bugs, dirt, and debris can become stuck inside and create a fire hazard (similar to the flue tube with a hot water heater).

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Defrosting the Fridge and Freezer

Over time, many absorption fridges are prone to ice build-up on the evaporator fins in the fridge or back sensors of the freezer. If you’ve noticed that these crucial refrigerator components are frozen over, it’s time to defrost them, as it will be nearly impossible to keep food at the correct temperature with these important pieces not working properly. For this brief project, you will need a towel, a hairdryer or heat gun, a small ice scraper, and a cooler with ice.

How-to:

  1. Begin by turning off your fridge and removing all of the food. Place it in a cooler with ice to keep it cold while the defrosting process takes place.
  2. Beginning with the freezer, carefully begin to use the hairdryer or heat gun on a low setting, aimed directly at the ice. You can gently use the ice scraper to help loosen large sheets of ice. DO NOT use the ice scraper on the sensors. Start at the top of the freezer and work your way down.
  3. Use the towel to mop up any drips and and continue thawing the fridge. Large pieces of ice can be removed by hand and placed in the sink or shower to melt.
  4. Once the freezer is completely thawed on both sides, it’s time to defrost the fridge.
  5. Use the hairdryer or heat gun on a low setting to melt the evaporator fins. Do not use the ice scraper on these, as they can be easily damaged.
  6. Check the drip tray to ensure all the water has been caught and emptied. Use the towel to mop up any other water.
  7. Place food back in the fridge and freezer and turn it back on.
  8. Check the temperature setting to ensure they aren’t set to be too cold, as this can cause a recurrence of freezing.
  9. Enjoy a glass of wine, beer, or other beverage from one of your Harvest Hosts stays!
  10. Repeat this process periodically, or anytime you notice ice build-up again.

Accessories to Help

There are a few key accessories that can further help your fridge to stay cool in the heat of the summer. Check out these gadgets, and research a few options before making any purchases.

Fridge-Cooling Fan

If you read our RV refrigerator maintenance blog post, then you know that most RV fridge fans are overworked and under-powered. However, there is a simple solution to this: the Valterra fridge fan.

This tiny accessory packs a big punch in helping your fridge stay cool. It runs off of two “D” batteries that are changed monthly and doesn’t require you to wire anything additional into your fridge. That’s a win-win in our book. If you don’t love the Valterra fridge fan, there are several other companies that create similar accessory fans to help.

Thermometer pack

Purchase a pack of at least two or three fridge thermometers. These should have clips on them to hook right onto the shelves and help monitor your fridge temperature at a glance. For the most accurate readings, you will want to place at least two in the fridge, one in the back and one in the fronts, as well as one on each side of your freezer.

However, if you only have one thermometer, this should still suffice to monitor your fridge temperatures. This is one of the best ways to monitor your fridge’s performance and adjust the temperature as necessary. The refrigerator should stay under 41°F, and the freezer should stay at 0°F.

Keeping your food cold on your adventures is super important to avoid food-borne illness and prevent food spoilage. After all, food poisoning or wasted food is a sure-fire way to spoil a vacation. Follow these tips and tricks to keep your fridge running at peak performance no matter how hot your next destination is.

About Harvest Hosts
Harvest Hosts is a unique RV camping membership that offers self-contained RVers unlimited overnight stays at over 5,612 small businesses across North America with no camping fees. Boondock at farms, wineries, breweries, attractions, and other one-of-a-kind destinations throughout North America, and you’ll get peace of mind knowing that a safe place to stay is always nearby!
Sam Leash-profile-image
Sam Leash
Sam is a seasoned traveler and RVer of 4+ years. She loves adventures of all kinds and spends as much time on the road as she can. When not exploring in her RV or writing about her travels, you can find her reading a good book, cooking a delicious meal, caring for her plants, or hiking with her dogs.