Thursday, September 12, 2013

How to troubleshoot and fix a weak refrigerator door seal

Note: Despite the title, this is post is more about how to avoid replacing a refrigerator door seal. 

Very few refrigerators made currently will fit the odd-size space in our cabinetry where our 10-year-old Kenmore Elite refrigerator sits. Thus I'm highly motivated to keep the current refrigerator running.

Last weekend, it dawned on us that the door to the main refrigerator section wasn't closing very firmly. One a few occasions, it had even drifted open.

I began troubleshooting, and it was bad news.

The paper test: Close the door with a piece of paper (or a dollar bill) inserted at least an  inche into the closure. If the paper pulls out easily, the seal isn't tight enough. (Our freezer compartment passed; the main compartment seal failed.)

The temperature test: I used an inexpensive refrigeration thermometer (which I usually keep in the freezer compartment) to test the main compartment. It was running a bit too warm, so I used the controls to dial it back to nearly the maximum cold setting for the main compartment. It had already been set quite cold (5 out of 7) so I realized I'd need to take further action to keep the colder air in.

It was time to study up on repairs.

Replacing the gasket/seal: Hoping to get the seal repaired and this whole episode over with, I called two repair companies. But they said replacing the gasket would be more than $300, and they suggested that I simply get a new refrigerator since the existing one was more than 10 years old. But they also gave me some suggestions, which I'll cover later. (I also read some descriptions of how to replace the seal yourself, which I would never consider trying unless I were desperate for material for a humor column. Baby powder and hair dryers were involved.)

My online research yielded an odd assortment of ideas, some of which I tried and which resulted in  moderate success.

Level the refrigerator. One fellow told the story of taking his refrigerator (with a weak door seal) to his brother's shop to have the gasket replaced, only to discovered that it closed firmly at the shop. IT turned out that the refrigerator had been tilting slightly forward at the original location. They took it home and used shims to adjust it so that it tilted very slightly back. I haven't tried adjusting the feet or shimming my refrigerator yet — but read on.

Remove everything from your refrigerator door and see if that improves the door closure. Bingo! In our case, it did — dramatically. (Of course, this limits the usefulness of the refrigerator; we ended up putting lightweight items, such as breads, in the door and putting large, heavy bottles of liquids in the main shelves.)

Tighten the hinge screws. One website suggested that if you want to improve the door's ability to deal with a heavy load, you might consult the manual for the refrigerator and try locating and tightening the door-hinge screws, which can loosen over time. I've put that on my "maybe" list. After reading the directions, I'm not so sure I want to go there.

Apply Vaseline to the gasket. I'm not sure exactly how or why this works, but the repair company I called suggested that after thoroughly cleaning the rubber gasket with soap and water, and drying it, I lightly coated the flat face of the gasket on the hinge side of the door with Vaseline. Some of the websites made this same suggestion. I tried it, and it certainly didn't hurt.

The combination of applying Vaseline, decreasing the door's load, and adjusting the setting for the main compartment seems to have worked quite well. Meanwhile, I'm watching for an appliance sale at Sears.


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