How to Maximize Efficiency of Your RV Refrigerator

Regardless if your RV refrigerator is powered by propane or electric, they need to operate at maximum efficiency to keep your food cold and from spoiling. Here’s how we maximize efficiency of your RV refrigerator with some great RV maintenance tips.

RV Refrigerators come in many sizes and styles depending on whether you have a motorhome, fifth wheel, camper trailer, truck camper or caravan. They are powered either by propane or electricity. Regardless, they need to be monitored to insure proper refrigeration and freezing.

RV Refrigerator How to Maximize
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The most important factor is to keep your fridge at a constant and consistent cold temperature. You don’t want your refrigerator freezing and/or your freezer dripping.

So, your refrigerator setting should be between 32-42 degrees Fahrenheit. Your freezer temperature should range from 0 degrees to 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

Be aware that your RV refrigerator’s temperature is also affected by outside air environment. You may need to play around with the settings; especially if you relocate to different climates or temperature zones often.

The best way to know the exact temperature inside your refrigerator is by keeping a refrigerator thermometer inside. We’ve experienced our own refrigerator’s sensor readings being off a degree or two so a thermometer just gives us piece of mind that our food is okay to consume.


Consider the orientation of your RV 

If you’re in a hot and sunny climate, consider parking your RV that places your RV’s refrigerator side opposite of the afternoon sun. This will help lessen the work your refrigerator’s compressor has to do. And, it will help keep the sun from beating on the backside of your refrigerator.

Also, we recommend extending your awning if your refrigerator is on the same side to help shade from the hot sun. (Note: Never leave your awning out unattended!)

When you’re making a reservation at a campground or RV park, pay particular attention to how the campground sites are laid out according to compass direction. Choose a site that places your refrigerator side opposite the afternoon sun.

In other words, you’ll want to choose a campsite that places your refrigerator side to the east if you can help it.

Keep your RV level

To insure safe and proper operation of your RV refrigerator, particularly propane powered, it’s important that your motorhome, fifth wheel or travel trailer be as level as possible.

Even though our Class C motorhome’s 12volt refrigerator isn’t as level-sensitive, we still use a small level  since we don’t have an auto-leveling system.

Another easy way to tell if you’re level is by simply opening the refrigerator door. If your refrigerator door swings or slams shut without you guiding it, you’re RV is not level. Another tell-tale sign is to look at the liquids in the jars. If they’re off kilter, so is your RV.

Boondocking Shopping Plastic Bags

Don’t jam-pack your RV refrigerator

We all tend to over-pack our refrigerators when heading out for a lengthy trip. However, over-packing disallows constant cold air flow and circulation. This not only makes the fridge work harder but will cause your food to spoil because the cold air is not circulating around the food or containers.

We’ve found that our RV refrigerator benefits greatly by having a battery-powered refrigerator fan placed on one of the interior shelves to help keep the air circulating.

Also, it would be prudent to shop more frequently and keeping smaller amounts of food in your RV’s refrigerator. In the long run, you’ll enjoy fresher food and throwing away less. This is especially true for smaller propane-powered RV refrigerators that may be marginal performers to begin with.

Oh, and by keeping lesser amounts of food in your fridge allots you a little room for leftovers…and an extra bottle of wine!

RV Refrigerator Tips Door

Keep the door closed

How many times have we opened the refrigerator just to figure out what to grab for a snack. It’s a no-brainer that each time you open the refrigerator, you’re letting all that cold air escape. Then, your refrigerator needs to literally start all over again to produce the necessary temperatures to keep your food from spoiling.

So, before you open that door, know exactly what you want to take out and do it quickly. Oh, and make certain your refrigerator door clicks shut. If something inside prevents it from ‘clicking’ shut, it’s going to allow a whole lot of cold air to escape.

RV Refrigerator Maintenance-3

Monitor your refrigerator’s temperature

Your RV’s refridgerator has mulitple settings to maintain the desired temperature. You may need to adjust the temperature based on season, geographic location or amount of food in the refridgerator. Find what setting works best for you and stick with it.

RV Refrigerator Thermometer

Many RVs have a digital display on the outside of the refrigerator door that is a good gauge to keeping your fridge at a safe temperature.

For those that don’t have this luxury, use an after-market temperature monitor. This system is battery powered and accurate. It also lets you know the inside temperature without opening the door.

RV Refrigerator Temperature Monitor

For something less sophisticated use an old fashioned Refrigerator/Freezer Thermometer because gauges sometimes fib a little. Mount it in the back of the refrigerator and check it every time you open the door.

All three methods will let you know if your food is kept at a safe temperature.

Inspect, clean and maintain your refrigerator’s exterior access compartment

Propane-powered refrigerators may require a little extra maintenance. There’s usually an access panel that can be easily removed for inspection, cleaning and maintenance. It’s important to clean the exterior vents frequently.

RV Refrigerator Maintenance - Exterior Panel

However, keep water away from the access panel. When washing your RV exterior, never force water up into the vent as it will cause water intrusion onto the electrical components and propane lines.

Keep bees and bugs from gaining access to the outside chamber by using screens. Never board up or block the access panel as the refrigerator components need ventilation to operate correctly.

Also, an RV tech  recommended keeping a dog flea collar in the exterior access compartment as it supposedly keeps spiders, bees, wasps and mud daubers from making nests. We kept one in our former Cyclone Toy Hauler’s refrigerator access compartment and it seemed to work because we didn’t have little nasty creepy crawlies in there.

RV Refrigerator Propane Access Panel
Photo contributed by Adventurous Way

Check to make sure the drain hose and drain pan are in good condition and not clogged. Inspect the propane burner area for excessive soot and spider webs at least twice a year.

Also, keep the area clear of debris and spider webs. It’s really important to do this when you bring your RV out of winterization or storage.

And consider installing an small 12 volt fan in the access compartment to help draw heat away from your refrigerator’s rear electrical components through the exterior vent.

If you have an electric-powered residential refrigerator, it’s a good idea to pull the appliance out once a year to inspect and vacuum the backside coils. Also, remove the bottom access cover to vacuum, clean and inspect underneath the refrigerator.

RV Refrigerator Maintenance-2

Check the door seals

One of the biggest culprits in cold temperature loss in your refrigerator is the door seals. It’s been said that if you put a dollar bill between the door and the seal and close the door, the dollar bill should not slide out easily.

If it slides out, then your seals are not doing their job. Since most RV refrigerators are proprietary, I would get the OEM replacement seals from your refrigerator manufacturer.

Or, you could just call an RV tech with the year, make and model and have them order it for you and install it. Either way, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to replace the seals than buy a whole new refrigerator.

Defrosting RV Refrigerator

Defrost your freezer regularly

We recommend that you defrost your RV refrigerator’s freezer portion on a regular basis. Heavy frost build up is an indicator of leaking door seals as mentioned above.

Before defrosting or doing anything with water around electrical appliances, we highly suggest turning off your refrigerator and unplugging it from the electrical outlet. You will need to lay out several towels to collect the water when the ice melts.

You’ll want to remove all the contents from your freezer and store them in a cooler or put them all in the kitchen sink with a couple towels to cover them from the exposed warmer air.

When de-icing, never use sharp objects to chip away any ice build up. Instead, use a simple low-power heat gun or hair dryer to aid in melting the ice. However, never hold the heat gun in one spot for long periods of time or too close to the interior walls as they are made of plastic. The heat could melt or warp the side walls, so be careful.

If you have neither, you can do what our parent’s or grandparents did. Simply place a pot of very hot water on a trivet inside the freezer and close the freezer door. This will allow the ice to melt naturally.

Oh, and consider to defrosting your RV refrigerator before getting your next round of groceries.

Clean your refrigerator regularly

RV Refrigerator Tips Cleaning

And lastly, with any refrigerator, you’ll need to clean the inside at least twice a year. I usually do this when I’m defrosting the freezer.

Remove all contents and place in a cooler or in your galley or kitchen sink. Remove all shelves and drawers and wash in hot soapy water. Use a damp cloth and wipe down all interior surfaces.

If your residential refrigerator has a water filter system, it’s a good time to replace your water filter and clean out or replace the water line. They tend to acquire calcium buildup and slime which affect not only the taste of your water and ice but also hinder proper operation of your water and ice maker systems.

Monitor Propane and Batteries

Closely monitor the energy source your RV refrigerator is operating on. If your refrigerator operates on propane, we highly recommend installing a propane tank level indicator.

This handy gadget will insure you’ll never run out of propane by alerting you via Bluetooth of your propane levels. It makes it difficult to restart the refrigerator if you do run out. Oh, and if your propane refrigerator doesn’t automatically switch to electric your food will spoil.

We also recommend installing a reliable battery monitor to ensure you have enough battery voltage to operate your motorhome or towable RV’s refrigerator. Low voltage could lead to the refrigerator shutting down and causing food to spoil.

RV Refrigerator Supplies Buying Guide

Before we close this article, we wanted to share with you our cool buying guide for your RV refrigerator. Some of these recommendations may already have been included above. And others are just great tools to use to minimize headaches while maximizing refrigerator usage.

So, that’s a wrap! We hope these RV refrigerator maintenance tips will help improve or maximize its’ efficiency. Following these recommendations will help ensure you’ll have ice cold snacks and food for your next RV trip or camping trip.

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