Our 15-year-old fridge: still chugging along
Fridges are hardworking appliances. They work day and night, all year long—even when we’re on vacation. But did you know there are three easy ways to help your fridge run more efficiently?
In this article, I’ll tell you how we’ve saved over $40 a month in energy and food costs—just by doing three easy things.
Three easy fridge hacks
I discovered these three ‘hacks’ when trying to diagnose some issues our fridge was having: the compressor sounded like it was straining, and our food kept spoiling.
I neither wanted to buy a new fridge nor keep throwing out food! So I got to work and did some research… and realized we were using our fridge all wrong.
These three hacks not only saved us money on energy and food—they also gave our fridge a new lease on life. It’s a win for our wallets and the environment!
And the best part of all? These hacks are easy and nearly free to implement. You could tackle them today and start saving money instantly!
1. Clean your fridge’s backside and underbelly
Blech—I was almost too embrarassed to post these!
It’s easy to forget that our fridge’s hidden areas need cleaning (it’s shocking to see how dirty these areas can get!)
Why should I clean my fridge?
Fridges collect dust and debris over time. That icky, dusty coating holds in heat and clogs moving parts. This not only uses more energy, but shortens the lifespan of your fridge.
How do I clean my fridge?
- Pull your fridge away from the wall.
- Unplug it.
- Locate the back panel.
- Vacuum up the dust on the panel and the floor, then remove the panel.
- Vacuum the inside of the panel.
- Use a stiff brush (like a paintbrush) to brush off all the dust you can get to.
- Vacuum up the fallen dust.
- Bonus points: Use a wet rag to wipe off even more dust.
- Replace the panel.
- Plug in your fridge, then push it back into place.
- Locate the front grill and clean it as well.
- Repeat steps 1–11 annually.
Results from cleaning our fridge
Our fridge immediately sounded better—like a smooth-running, quiet jet engine. It ran so well that we had to turn up the fridge thermostat to keep our food from freezing!
Since electricity’s relatively cheap in BC, the energy savings weren’t huge (maybe $3–$4 less per month). But it still felt good to reduce our energy usage and help extend the life of our fridge.
So where did the bulk of our $40 per month savings come from? Read on to find out!
2. Use a fridge thermometer
Disclosure: The product recommendation(s) in this post include Amazon links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases—at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products which I truly believe in, and encourage you to find free or second-hand options when possible.
I used to assume that our fridge’s built-in thermostat was accurate. Since the markings on the dial make it look like ‘4’ is the recommended setting, that’s what I set it at.
If the lettuce froze, I’d turn the temperature up. If the cheese went moldy, I’d turn it down. After a while, I started to realize the built-in thermostat wasn’t accurate. (According to Consumer Reports, that’s the case for most fridges.)
It was time to bring in some outside help…
Why use a fridge thermometer?
To keep food from spoiling, the optimal fridge temperature is between 1–4°C (35–40°F). If you go below this range, you’ll freeze your food. Go higher, and your food will spoil faster than expected.
To accurately monitor your fridge’s temperature, you’ll need a good fridge thermometer. We bought this one, and I now know the exact temperature inside our fridge.
I chose this particular thermometer because the food-safe temperature range is very clearly marked. This makes it quick and easy to see if our fridge temperature needs adjustment.
Additionally, the following points made this thermometer an obvious choice:
- It’s very easy to read.
- It’s affordable.
- It has good reviews.
- It looks good—the graphics are very well designed.
- It can be used for freezers as well.
- It’s analogue—no need for batteries.
- It can be hung from a shelf or sit flat.
How to use a fridge thermometer
Put it in an easily-visible spot in your fridge, give it a couple of hours, then check the temperature.
(But do keep in mind that cold air sinks and warm air rises. If you place your thermometer on the top shelf, aim for the high end of the food safe temperature range. If you place your thermometer on the bottom shelf, aim for the low end of the food safe temperature range.)
Results from using a fridge thermometer
Our fridge is now always within a food-safe temperature range and our food stays fresh noticeably longer.
- Boxed salads used to last no more than 2–3 days. Now they can last a week or more.
- Cheese and other dairy items used to always spoil long before the best-before dates. Now they easily last up to and even beyond the expiry date.
- Produce and leftovers often wilted, went moldy, or tasted off within a couple of days. Now they stay fresh and tasty for days longer.
Not having to throw out all that spoiled food has saved us, conservatively, $10 per week or $40 per month. That’s an excellent ROI on that little thermometer in just one month!
But we’re not done yet—there’s still one more hack to fully optimize your fridge use…
3. Use your fridge’s zones
Did you know that storing the right food in the right place makes a huge difference? It makes sense now that I know it, but I never realized that fridges have ‘zones’.
Read on to optimize your food placement:
Why use fridge zones?
Fridges have different zones due to basic physics: hot air rises and cool air sinks. Additionally:
- The back of the fridge and the area right under the cooling element are cooler.
- The vegetable drawers are slightly warmer, despite being at the bottom of the fridge. This is because they’re somewhat sealed, so cool air can’t circulate into them as easily.
- The front of the fridge is warmer because it’s farther from the cooling element. It also gets more exposure to the warm air in the kitchen.
- The door is the warmest zone for the same reasons.
- The back of the bottom shelf is the coolest spot. Some items may freeze here if the temperature fluctuates—so keep your delicate fruits and veggies away from this zone.
How to use fridge zones
Use your handy fridge thermometer to get to know your fridge’s zones, then read this article to learn which foods to put where.
Results from using our fridge’s zones
- We now know not to put delicate items at the back of the bottom shelf (no more frozen lettuce!)
- If we won’t need a food item for a few days, I can help it stay fresh longer by placing it in one of the cooler zones.
- Bonus: I can control the speed I defrost meats and other frozen foods at. (If I want to defrost something more quickly, I’ll put it on the top shelf. If I’m not in a rush, I’ll put it on the bottom shelf.)
Bonus tip: Get creative
(This is just a bonus tip because it doesn’t directly relate to your fridge. But I’ve included it because it can help you save a massive amount of food from being wasted.)
There are lots of ways to get creative with your food so you can use every last bit!
Why get creative?
Getting creative allows us to use up more of our food by:
- Repurposing leftovers. (We love changing up leftover rice and meat by turning it into a yummy fried rice.)
- Rethinking what’s edible and what’s not. (Why not use carrot peelings in your next veggie stock, or throw those beet greens in a salad?)
- Salvaging cooking mistakes by changing the dish or adding a different ingredient. (Add sugar to balance sourness, or puree overcooked veggies into a soup.)
- Preparing overripe or stale foods in different, delicious ways. (Use mushy berries in smoothies, turn stale bread into breadcrumbs.)
How to get creative
Here are some excellent resources to get you started:
Results from getting creative
- 90% of the food we send to compost is truly waste (excess fat trimmed from meat; bones that have been boiled for broths; fruit rinds and pits).
- That reduces the amount of food we compost each week to one or two 10 oz/300 g salad boxes! (Yes—I’m that frugal eco weirdo who reuses the boxes that our salad comes in. They’re the perfect size for storing our compostables in the freezer until it’s garbage day.)
Summing it up
These 3 easy hacks could save you $40 a month on wasted energy and food:
- Clean your fridge’s backside and underbelly.
- Use a fridge thermometer.
- Use your fridge’s temperature zones.
Plus one bonus tip: Get creative to use up every last bit of the food you bring home.
Got fridge hacks?
Do you have energy or food-saving tips to share? Let’s learn from each other—share in the comments below!
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