This article will explain how an RV refrigerator works, correct temperature, how to maintain them, some basic troubleshooting tips.

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why won't my RV fridge get cold?

Tips to Enable Your RV Refrigerator to Run Efficiently:

The RV fridge is one of those appliances that is fantastic when it is working well, and it’s extremely frustrating when it’s not working well.

So, let’s start with some general things that you should know

  • RV Refrigerator Temperature

In general, the temperature should be 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Keeping your RV Level

I will also share with you ways you can boost the efficiency of your refrigerator and how to maintain the proper temperature. RV refrigerators are not very efficient. Below are things you can do to help boost their efficiency.

RV Refrigerator Basics

  • Propane

The first thing I want you to do is to turn on your propane tank. You can decide to turn on one or both.

propane tanks in RV

The second thing I will like you to do is to make sure that your battery is hooked up, and that you have your batteries charged

You can tell if your RV fridge is working or not by the check light is it on or off. If the check light comes on that means nothing is working. And when that happens, you need to turn your refrigerator off and back on.

There are a couple of reasons a check light will come on. It’s either the rig isn’t level or the power got disconnected, or you forgot to turn on your propane. So, just reset it and you should be good to go.

Another thing I would like you to remember is that when you go to a gas station and there are fumes and things like that, make sure that you turn your refrigerator off, and also turn the propane cylinders off. This is because there is an open flamer, behind the refrigerator wall and that can ignite.

Check the Seals around the Door

  • Check the seals

to make sure that they are airtight when closed. If your seals are weak, you need to replace them. When your seals are weak, the cold air will escape from the refrigerator, therefore, your refrigerator won’t get to the desired temperature.

Girl looking in a RV refrigerator

You can check your seals by grabbing a dollar bill and then closing the refrigerator together with the dollar bill. Make sure that half of the bill is closed together with the fridge and the other end showing outside. If you pull the dollar bill and there is some kind of resistance, it indicates that your seals are strong. If it is the other way around, then it means you need to replace the seals.

Set the Right Temperature

  • Set your refrigerator to the right temperature

A lot of the newer refrigerators have a display outside with which you can digitally set the temperature of the refrigerator.

With the older refrigerators, they have a thermostat on the fins inside. And when you push the thermostat up, it makes the refrigerator cooler. Make sure that your thermostat is intact, else you won’t have your refrigerator becoming cold or even working.

RV refrigerator thermostat

You can also use a thermometer together with the thermostat to set the temperature of your refrigerator to your desired temperature.

RV Refrigerators are Different from Residential Refrigerators

  • Rv Refrigerators vs Residential

With your RV refrigerators, you’re typically going to see a two-way refrigerator. This kind can run primarily off propane or electric. If you have a three-way refrigerator, it can run off the batteries.

rv refrigerator

Generally, most RV refrigerators are absorption refrigerators being it either two-way or three-way. The way this works is that it absorbs the heat out of the refrigerator space and the freezer space, and when there is heat absent, the refrigerator will become cold.

Interior of RV

You’ll also see some differences in how they operate. With a residential refrigerator, you can get it down in temperature very quickly, however, with an absorption refrigerator, you want to turn it on the night before if you’re getting ready to go on a trip. This is because they take a considerable amount of time to get down in temperature.

Do not Put Warm Food in an RV Refrigerator

  • RV refrigerators aren’t that efficient

You want to avoid putting in warm food. Because the refrigerator is then going to absorb the warmth out of the food to keep the temperature in your fridge where it needs to be.

Packing Your Food Correctly

  • The way that you put in your food inside the refrigerator can affect its efficiency

Load the fridge in such a way that you have space to allow air to get from the top to the bottom. The main part of the cooling comes from the fins, and if the fins are blocked with food, there won’t be any circulation of cold air, which tends to make your fridge inefficient. So, you do not want to jam-pack your fridge with food.

RV refrigerator with food inside

Do not block an entire shelf the refrigerator should be able to circulate air on its own.

Use an Auxiliary Fan

Another way to get more air circulation within your refrigerator is to get a small fan and then place it inside the fridge. The fan will evenly distribute the cold air inside the fridge.

Do not Open Your Fridge Door too Many Times

I suggest that you do not open your fridge for more than 3 times a day and no longer than 2 minutes.

Opening your fridge too many times and for a longer period of time makes it hard for the refrigerator to cool down. Especially in hot climates. This is because the more the fridge door opens, the harder the refrigerator is going to try and work to get that heat out it.

defrosting RV freezer

Also, if you open your fridge for an extended period, you will start to see frost build up in the freezer. If you want to know an easy way to defrost your freezer, keep reading this article.


How to Make your RV Refrigerator more Efficient from the Outside

Before sharing these tips, I will like to address how an RV refrigerator works.

So, the way an absorption refrigerator works is that it uses chemical reaction with ammonia and hydrogen, induced with heat together with evaporation and condensation to absorb the heat from the fridge.

So, the key is having isolated heat where you need it and have the other components cool down properly making the refrigerator as efficient as possible.

Tips for keeping your RV Refrigerator Running Efficiently from the Outside

Some of the ways we can achieve this include:

Plywood blocks for leveling our RV

  • Leveling the RV

For your refrigerator to work efficiently, your RV has to be leveled. This is because, on the outer part of the fridge, there are metals with zigzag patterns.

These zigzag metals require gravity to circulate the chemicals around the refrigerator. Since there are no mechanics with an RV refrigerator, gravity is needed to pull the chemicals back to reheat them back to the refrigerator.

Leveling your RV

If you find it difficult getting your RV to the right level, I recommend you buy a couple of levels. This will enable you to level out your coach perfectly so that your refrigerator can work perfectly. You can place these levels on the outside edges or the corners of the RV.

If your RV isn’t leveled, your fridge isn’t going to work efficiently or even at all depending on how out of level you are.

  • Clean the Outside Compartment to the Refrigerator

Make sure that you clean the outside compartment of your refrigerator to enable them to cool efficiently. Bugs and dirt accumulate in this compartment preventing the components from cooling off efficiently.

Wasps tend to build a nest and spiders form webs inside the burner tube so, when you try to run it on propane, your refrigerator may not work because the burner tube is blocked.

Outside of RV

You want to remove the casing covering the burner tuber and blow up the chimney of the refrigerator using a compressor. After that, blow up the cavity to knock off any build-up of dust. This will make the refrigerator start up every time and also enable the fridge to run more efficiently.

You can also tear the whole assembly apart and then wire brush and clean it up to the best you possibly can. So to check if your burner tube is functioning properly, you want to see a nice even blue flame, this creates the heat to make the fridge work.

(Always refer to your owners manual first)

Park Your RV In the Right Direction

  • How to Park Your RV

In the list of things that help keep the heat of the outside compartment of the fridge isolated and the cooling happening where it needs to is to look at how we park our RV.

Are you parked in such a way that the outside compartment of the refrigerator pointing towards the sun? Well, this will generate a lot of heat in it making the fridge not work nearly as efficient as it should.

Camper with awning in desert

If you have a problem with parking the RV away from the sun, you could also put out the awning to shade the outside compartment of the refrigerator from the sun. Depending on which side your refrigerator is.

camper with family outside

Keep this in Mind

Also, you should know that with refrigerators, after about 90 degrees during the summertime, they won’t keep your food cold to the correct temperature.

So, you might want to consider having a block of ice or something else to manage that if you’re getting into very hot temperatures.

Can I Have a Residential Refrigerator Inside My RV?

Yes, you can have the residential refrigerator in your RV. Well, these are becoming more popular in the RV world. They are the same type of refrigerators you use at home. They plug into an electric and runs solely on electricity.

Residential Refrigerator Pros & Cons


  • They are larger

As compared to the propane electric refrigerator, the residential refrigerator is much larger. So, if you’re going full time and you want the full fridge space then I recommend you go in for the residential refrigerator. They have bigger freezers and ice makers which are some features you wouldn’t find in an absorption refrigerator.

They Stay Cool All the Time

These types of refrigerators aren’t as susceptible to the outside weather temperatures as the propane-electric is.

These refrigerators are great if you are going to be hooked up to electricity at a campground all the time, but if you want to go off-grid, the cons of the refrigerator Include:

  • They Run on Only AC Power

The residential refrigerator only runs on AC power. Since your RV batteries work on DC power, you would have to have an inverter to convert it to AC. However, that conversion is less efficient, and so, your batteries are going to drain quickly.

To continue to operate them off-grid, you are going to need to have a solar array or a generator that you run frequently to keep your system charged.

So, if you do not have those systems in place, the residential refrigerator isn’t the best option for you, if you will want to do a whole lot of boondocking.

  • They Reject the Heat They Create Inside the RV

This is another con of the residential refrigerator. So, if you are in hot weather conditions, your RV AC system is going to have to work just that much harder to cool down the RV.

  • They are Heavy

These refrigerators tend to be heavier, and so you will have to consider that when you’re looking at your gross vehicle weight rating and how heavy you are.

How Often Should I Defrost my RV Refrigerator and what’s the best way to do that?

RV refrigerators offer a lot of versatility, there is one aspect that of daily use that a lot less convenient than we’d like to think, and that’s defrosting.

RV refrigerators are not frost-free, so, the freezer is going to build up frost, and when you put in food in there, the moisture from the food is going to make it worse.

The fridge, however, has fins which are auto defrost, so there is no need to worry about frost in the fridge. Although we have had frost build up in ours from time to time.

However, with the freezers, overtime will start building up frost up against the back wall.

Most of the time you get the urge to chip away at it. Well, you do not want to do that. Do not use a knife or a metal spatula to defrost the freezer because it is going to damage the back of the rig.

One simple and convenient way to get rid of the frost is to use a hairdryer on medium heat and slowly melt the ice. Be sure to place a large towel on the bottom to catch the water as it melts.  Do not worry about the ice falling off, the towel will protect it. You might have to wring out the towel a few times or just have a backup towel.

rv freezer

How to Maintain and Clean an RV Refrigerator

Here are a few tips to help you maintain and clean your RV Refrigerator:

  • Once a Month

Empty the fridge, get a warm bowl of water with mild dish soap and wipe it down with a soft rag.  I try to do this the day before I go to the grocery shopping.

cleaning rv refrigerator

Storing Your RV

If your not full-time RVers, that means you will have to find a way to store your RV when not in use. When storing your rig, always be sure to leave the doors of your refrigerator open. Otherwise, mildew, mold, and smile can get in the refrigerator and cause them to smell.

You can avoid the struggle of trying to get rid of the bad smell, by just leaving the doors open a bit after you’ve cleaned out the refrigerator and it is not in use.

A simple way to do this is to place a towel on the door of the refrigerator and then close it. This will create space to allow air to go in to prevent any form of mildew growth or smell.

Leave an open box of baking soda in your refrigerator when in storage

Can I Travel with My RV Refrigerator turned On?

The answer is yes. However, running with your propane left on can be hazardous. This is because if you get yourself in a situation such as a blown tire or a collision and the schedule 80 pipe gets broken, it could lead to a fire outbreak.

RV broke down on the road

The schedule 80 pipe is what connects your propane tank to your refrigerator, stove, water heater, and furnace.

So, I advise you to turn off your propane tank and fridge when traveling on the road.

Why does my RV refrigerator smell funny?

Besides the growth of mildew causing your RV refrigerator to smell funny as discussed above, another reason your refrigerator may smell funny is due to an ammonia leakage.

Bad smelling rv refrigerator

The leakage is caused as a result of the piping in the outside compartment being burst and once that happens, the only way you can get rid of the funny ammonia smell is to get yourself a new cooling unit.

What is the Correct Temperature to Run My RV Refrigerator?

  • Approximately 35 – 40 degrees Fahrenheit

Generally, the US Food and Drugs Administration suggest that you keep your refrigerator at or below 4 degree Celsius or 40 degrees Fahrenheit anything higher than this, will cause your food to spoil quickly.

RV refrigerator thermostat

Hopefully, this information will help you to troubleshoot any problem you might have with your RV refrigerator.

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