Refrigerator freon leak? Not sure if it’s freon? We’ve written a guide to help

Written by Jason Hutchinson
7 Min read
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As much as it may sound like a really cool modern sports drink, a freon leak is actually a colorless gas that is used in many older refrigerator models and some dehumidifiers. The reason a lot of the newer refrigerator models have moved away from using freon is that inhaling it does have potential adverse health effects.

At low concentrations it is not massively harmful however as the concentration gets higher can cause dizziness and can be more dangerous for people with pre-existing heart conditions. The fact that freon is denser than air means that it builds up closer to the ground. This can make it more dangerous for children and pets who are breathing at lower levels. For an in-depth look into the medical effects of freon, click here.

As well as freon having potential adverse health effects, you also don’t want it to be leaking out of your refrigerator because it is in there for a reason! The freon is needed to keep the refrigerator cool and if some of it has escaped then your refrigerator will get warmer and your food will spoil.

Just in case you somehow still weren’t convinced of the negative effects of freon, here’s one more. Freon is one of the worst pollutants for the ozone and it leaking into the atmosphere is really bad for the environment. It is so bad that the US government has actually slowly stopped the manufacturing and importing of the product.

What causes a freon leak?

The freon in refrigerators is contained within pressurized systems and a leak will not occur unless there is some kind of puncture. Due to the tubes not being exposed, it is unlikely that a puncture would occur during normal day-to-day use of the fridge.

There is a good chance that if there is a leak it is a result of some damage that has been done during some other sort of repairs, if you have done them yourself rather than have a professional do them it is possible you accidentally caused a puncture, even if you think you were super careful!

There is also a chance that a puncture could have been made when you were defrosting or scraping ice off of the refrigerator.

How do I know if my refrigerator is leaking freon?

Now that you know what freon is and why you want it in the refrigerator rather than out of it, you may be wondering how you can identify a freon leak. After all, how are you supposed to notice a colorless gas? Well don’t worry as below we have listed all of the tell-tale signs that tell you that you might have a freon leak.

Man standing beside a fridge with a freon leak

Chemical odor

Whilst it is true that freon is hard to spot because it is a colorless gas, you can spot it (or smell it in this case) with another one of your senses. During normal running, a fridge should not produce any smells so if you smell something unusual in your kitchen, it could be a sign that you have a freon leak.

More specifically, freon produces a smell that is a middle ground between a sweet smell and a chloroform-like smell. So, if you smell something similar to that description then there’s a good chance your refrigerator is leaking freon.

Motor running continuously

As we previously mentioned, freon is needed for the refrigerator to keep cool. This means that a freon leak will cause your refrigerator to warm up and it will have to work harder to keep cool. The motor powering the compressor and condenser will be running over time. If you notice that the motor is running for much longer than it normally does, this could be a sign that your refrigerator is leaking freon.

In addition to being an indicator of a freon leak, an overworked motor is also a problem for the motor as excessive use could result in it burning out eventually. Meaning you will have to replace the motor as well as repairing your freon leak.

Higher electricity bills

This will come as a direct result of the last tell-tale sign. You may not be able to notice that the motor has been running continuously just by listening to the refrigerator as it is the kind of noise that we often just get used to and ignore. However, if the motor on your refrigerator has been running continuously for an extended period of time you will probably notice an increase in your electricity bills.

Of course, an increase in your electricity bills could be a result of a multitude of issues in your home so we are not saying if you see an increase in your electricity bills that you definitely have a freon leak. However, an increase in electricity bills partnered with one of the other tell-tale signs could be further evidence pointing to a freon leak.

Warm or spoiled food and drink

As we are sure you are now tired of hearing, a leak in freon will mean that your refrigerator will struggle to cool down. Even with the poor little motor trying its hardest, the refrigerator may not reach the temperatures needed to keep food/drink cool and prevent it from spoiling.

Therefore, if you find that the contents of your refrigerator are not as cool as they used to be or they are going bad before they should, this means it is probably not reaching the temperatures it used to. One reason this could be happening is if some of the freon has escaped.

Oily residue on the floor

One of the byproducts of a freon leak is an oily residue that can form on the floor close to where the leak is. This residue is not actually freon but rather just a byproduct of the leak. So if you do spot an unexplained oily residue on the floor near a sink this could be a sign that you have a freon leak, you can actually use the location of this residue to help you locate the leak.

Unexplained illness

The final sign that you may have a freon leak is if you or one of the members of your household are experiencing one of the adverse health effects associated with the inhaling of freon. If you are feeling any of these symptoms, the best thing to do is go to a medical professional for a diagnosis, however, it could be a result of a freon leak so you should check out your refrigerator and any other appliances in your household that contain freon.

How can I test for a freon leak?

If one or more than one of these tell-tale signs applies to you and your refrigerator you may be wondering how you can know for sure if your radiator is leaking freon. There are two ways you can test for a freon leak.

The first way is to purchase a leak detector kit. These are kits that can sense a range of halogen gases (freon is a halogen gas). The kits can be bought for anything in the range of 20 to 300 dollars from a home improvement store, an auto repair store, or, like everything these days, online. As we mentioned earlier, freon is heavier than air and as a result of this, it will accumulate close to the ground. Therefore, this is the best place to test for it as it will be found in higher concentrations here.

The second method for testing for freon is more of a DIY solution and will not cost you as much money. This solution involves mixing some standard dish soap with some water and spraying or spreading it over the freon tubes. This way if there is any gas escaping from a puncture in any of the tubes, it will have to pass through a thin layer of soap first.

This will create small bubbles that you can look out for. If it is too hard to tell if there is any gas escaping, or you believe some other conditions may be at play it would be best for you to spend the money on the leak detector kit so that you can know for sure.

How do I fix a freon leak?

Unfortunately, there is no DIY cheap solution for this. Freon is a dangerous chemical if it is not handled correctly and therefore if you do have a freon leak you will need to bring in a professional to repair or replace the freon tubes.

How can I prevent a freon leak?

You may have gone through this article and come to the conclusion that your refrigerator is not leaking freon, and that’s great news! But you may still be wondering how you can reduce the chances of you ever getting a freon leak in the future. Equally, you may have gone through this article and decided that you did have a freon leak, and you are in the process of having it repaired or have just had it repaired, and want to know how you can avoid having to do so again.

As we stated, punctures are not really something that will happen just through the normal usage of the refrigerator. Therefore, the best way to avoid puncturing your freon tubes is to not carry out any repairs that you are not certain you know how to do, as when you are blindly messing about with your refrigerator there is a high chance you will damage something else, like the freon tubes.

Final thoughts

After reading this article you should now know the negative effects of your refrigerator leaking freon. Therefore, if you do notice one or more of the tell-tale signs we have listed then it is important that you get it checked out immediately. Whether that be by going to a professional or using one of our solutions to decide whether you have a leak or not.

If you do decide that you have a freon leak, please do not try to address the issue yourself as this can be dangerous. The best thing to do is get a professional to do it for you as your safety is worth more than the money it will cost you.

How much does it cost to repair a freon leak on a refrigerator?

If your refrigerator is leaking freon, you should seek professional help to repair it rather than find a DIY solution. Repairing a refrigerant leak costs around the range of 200 to 300 dollars. However, given the phasing out of the use of freon, it could cost more.

How long does freon stay in the air after a leak?

After a leak, freon will stay in the air for approximately the same amount of time it takes for the atmosphere in a room to turn over. Therefore, it can depend on the ventilation and airflow in the room. You can decrease the amount of time it will take by increasing ventilation and airflow.

Will unplugging the fridge stop a freon leak?

Unplugging a refrigerator will not completely stop a freon leak however it will slow the leak. This is because the freon can still escape from the punctured area, however, it will not escape as quickly as the freon will not be circulating. Therefore, if you suspect a leak you should unplug the refrigerator.

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