How to Make an RV Refrigerator Colder (15 Tips)

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RV refrigerators, especially absorption models, can struggle to stay cold enough to protect your perishable food items.

But there are some tips you can use to optimize your fridge’s performance and improve its cooling.

Below we show you how to make an RV refrigerator colder to help keep your food fresh on even the hottest days.

How to Make an RV Refrigerator Colder

1. Positioning the RV

One of the fundamental ways to ensure your RV fridge operates at its peak efficiency is by positioning the RV correctly.

  • Park Level: If you have an absorption-style fridge, it’s important to level the RV when you park. An uneven camper can disrupt the natural flow of the ammonia and water solution within the absorption refrigerator, hindering its cooling capability. A level RV ensures that the refrigerator’s internal mechanisms, especially in absorption fridges, work optimally, maintaining the desired temperature.
  • Avoid Direct Sunlight: Whenever possible, try to park your RV so that the fridge side is not exposed to direct sunlight. Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight can increase the temperature of the refrigerator’s external vents and walls, making it harder for the unit to dissipate heat and cool down efficiently. Finding a shaded spot or using an awning can significantly affect the refrigerator’s performance.

2. Ventilation

Proper airflow is essential for any refrigerator, especially for an RV unit. The external vents play a pivotal role in this. They allow the heat generated by the fridge to escape, ensuring the unit doesn’t overheat. Regularly inspect these vents and ensure they are free from obstructions like dirt or other debris. A clean vent promotes better airflow, which helps maintain a colder temperature inside the refrigerator.

3. Temperature Monitoring

Consistently monitoring the internal temperature of your RV fridge is vital. Using a thermometer, you can closely monitor the temperature, ensuring it remains within the desired range.

Remember, an RV fridge operates most efficiently between 35 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Regular monitoring can alert you to any fluctuations, allowing you to take corrective measures in time.

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4. Avoid Overloading

While it might be tempting to load up the fridge before hitting the road, overloading can be counterproductive. An overloaded fridge restricts proper airflow, making it harder for the unit to maintain a cold temperature. It’s essential to leave enough space for air to circulate freely, ensuring that every corner of the fridge remains cold.

Tip: Check out our guide on how to pack an RV fridge for important packing tips.

5. Use of Fans

Fans can be a game-changer when it comes to improving the efficiency of an RV fridge. Whether it’s an evaporator fan inside the unit or an exhaust fan, they help circulate air more effectively.

This enhanced airflow aids in dissipating heat faster, ensuring the refrigerator and freezer compartments get colder quicker. For absorption fridges, consider installing a refrigerator vent fan or a cooling fan to boost efficiency.

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6. Defrost the Refrigerator

Ice buildup in the freezer compartment is common in many RV fridges. This ice can act as an insulator, preventing the fridge from cooling efficiently. Defrosting the unit according to the manufacturer’s recommendations ensures excessive ice doesn’t accumulate, allowing the unit to cool more effectively.

Did you know…
You should defrost your fridge once the layer of ice reaches a 1/8th inch (3mm) thickness.

So, if you notice a layer of ice, it’s time to defrost the refrigerator. If applicable, you can use your refrigerator’s auto-defrost option or manually defrost it, which is a simple process.

  1. Turn off the unit and remove all the contents.
  2. Allow the ice to melt naturally, or fill ice trays with hot water and place them in the freezer compartment to speed up the process.
  3. Once defrosted, wipe down the interior to remove any residual water, turn the refrigerator back on, and allow it to reach the desired temperature before restocking.

Important: Never use a heating appliance in an attempt to defrost a fridge, as it can cause damage to the unit.

7. Optimal Settings

The ambient temperature outside your RV can vary significantly, especially when traveling through different climates. Adjusting the refrigerator settings based on the outside temperature can help maintain the desired temperature inside. In hot weather, you might need to set the thermostat a bit colder, while on cooler days, a milder setting might suffice.

Tip: Try adjusting the thermostat to a colder setting and observe if there’s a change in the internal temperature. If there’s no change, the thermostat might be faulty and may need replacement.

8. Limit Opening the Door

Frequently opening the refrigerator door allows the cold air to escape and, subsequently, warm air to enter. This makes the unit work harder to bring the temperature back down. By minimizing the number of times you open the door, you can retain more cold air inside, ensuring your food remains cold and fresh.

Built-in fridge door lock
Built-in fridge door lock

Also, be sure you lock your fridge before you travel. If your fridge model doesn’t feature a built-in lock, check out our quick guide on how to keep an RV fridge door closed while driving for some helpful DIY ideas.

9. Check Seals

The door seal, also known as a gasket, helps to retain the cold air inside the refrigerator. Over time, the seal can wear out, become damaged, or lose its elasticity, allowing cold air to escape. If you notice gaps or tears in the seal or if the door doesn’t close tightly, it might be time to replace the seal.

A tight-sealing door ensures that the cold air remains trapped inside, helping the refrigerator maintain the desired temperature.

10. Cool Down Hot Foods

Placing hot foods directly into the refrigerator can raise the internal temperature, making the unit work harder to cool down. It’s advisable to let hot foods reach room temperature before storing them in the fridge. This not only helps maintain a consistent temperature but also ensures your food remains fresh for longer.

11. Regular Maintenance

Maintenance guide from the owner's manual of a Dometic DM Series absorption fridge.
Maintenance guide from the owner’s manual of a Dometic DM Series absorption fridge.

Like any other appliance, your RV fridge requires regular maintenance. Periodically inspect and clean the refrigerator’s components, which could include the heating element, gas burner, condenser fan, and other parts.

Of course, the maintenance you perform will depend on the type of fridge you have, so consult your owner’s manual for the recommended maintenance and care steps.

Regular maintenance ensures that the fridge operates efficiently and prolongs its life.

12. Clean the Coils

The condenser coils play a pivotal role in dissipating the heat generated by the refrigerator. Over time, these coils can become dirty or clogged, affecting their ability to release heat effectively. The refrigerator might struggle to cool down if the coils are covered in dust or debris. Regularly inspect the coils and clean them if necessary.

13. Turn On the Fridge A Day Before Leaving

Before hitting the road, it’s a good practice to turn on the refrigerator at least 24 hours in advance. This gives the unit ample time to reach the desired temperature, ensuring your food and beverages remain cold during your trip.

14. Insulate the Fridge Area

If you have the room, try insulating the exterior wall behind the refrigerator with foam board. Outside heat, especially if the sun hits that wall, will enter the RV and raise the ambient temperature around the fridge.

Only do this if you have ample room and won’t block airflow.

Tip: If your fridge is on the patio side, extend your awning to shade the fridge wall.

15. Upgrade Your Fridge

If your fridge doesn’t cool down effectively despite following all the above tips, it might be time to consider an upgrade. Modern RV fridges come with advanced features and technologies that offer better cooling efficiency.

If you’re not ready to upgrade your fridge just yet, check out our RV fridge troubleshooting guide if you are still having issues getting it to cool down.


What Temperature Should an RV Refrigerator Be?

An RV refrigerator should ideally maintain a temperature between 35 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 3 degrees Celsius) for the refrigerator compartment. The freezer compartment should be at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius).

It’s a good practice to use a refrigerator thermometer to monitor the internal temperature consistently, ensuring it remains within the recommended range.

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Why Do RV Refrigerators Take So Long to Cool?

RV refrigerators, especially those using absorption technology, operate differently from residential refrigerators. Here are a few reasons why they might take longer to cool:

  • Absorption Process: Unlike residential fridges that use compressors, many RV refrigerators work on an absorption process. This method is generally slower in cooling compared to compressor-based systems.
  • Initial Cool Down: If the refrigerator has been off for an extended period, it can take several hours, sometimes up to 24 hours, to reach the desired temperature. This is especially true if the fridge was exposed to high ambient temperatures before being turned on.
  • Air Circulation: Proper airflow is crucial for efficient cooling. Overloading the refrigerator or placing hot items inside can restrict airflow, causing the unit to take longer to cool.
  • External Temperatures: The efficiency of an RV refrigerator can be influenced by external temperatures. On particularly hot days, the unit might take longer to cool down.
  • Maintenance Issues: Factors like dirty coils, a malfunctioning thermostat, or issues with the burner can also affect the cooling efficiency of the refrigerator.

Understanding these factors can help RV owners take proactive measures, ensuring their refrigerator cools efficiently and maintains the desired temperature.

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