Refrigerators are not immune to damage. More often than not, they break down due to owner negligence rather than mishaps and accidents, and more often than not, you can avoid that breakdown by simply taking care of your fridge the right way.

Making sure your fridge is intact is especially important if you have to leave your home for a lengthy amount of time. With most appliances, it’s a simple matter of switching them off and unplugging them so that they conserve power and don’t cause a short circuit. But is that the case with refrigerators? Should you just turn them off when you’re traveling or is there more to it?

In this article, we will go over the option of keeping your refrigerator off and unplugged for long periods of time. We will also focus on different types of refrigerator damage, as well as keeping the fridge running during short absences. 

Can Unplugging Damage the Refrigerator?

Most experts will usually give you a whole list of things that can damage your refrigerator. The most common issues are:

  • Improper free running/settling
  • Overstuffing the appliance
  • Deterioration with age
  • Frayed cables or wires
  • Compressor motor problems
  • Refrigerant leaking everywhere

So, what about switching the fridge on and off, or unplugging it and plugging it in again? Well, if you do it sporadically, your refrigerator should be just fine. However, if you perform those actions in quick succession, you are likely to cause an electrical problem. The same might happen if you unplug or plug the appliance incorrectly.

Types of Refrigerator Damage

Very broadly speaking, there are three types of damage that you (or anyone else) can cause to your appliance:

  • Mechanical
  • Electrical
  • Physical

In terms of severity, physical damage is probably the ‘safest’ of the three. After all, you are only breaking or denting the outer shell of the appliance. In other words, you’re affecting the outside appearance. The refrigerator should continue to perform well despite being dented and scratched.

Mechanical damage is a bit more serious because it usually affects the compressor. Without the compressor, your fridge will not work to its full capacity. Since it is responsible for keeping everything cool inside of your appliance, if there is something wrong with the compressor, you will immediately spot the signs. One of them is spoiled food, but you’ll also want to be on the lookout for bad noises, overheating, relay problems, or the compressor simply switching on and off.

Finally, electrical damage is the most serious problem. If, by any chance, your appliance’s electrical parts — the circuitry, the cables, etc. — get damaged in any way, the fridge will simply not perform as it should. In other words, it won’t refrigerate any food and unless you check it on time, that same food will spoil and leave a foul smell in your appliance.

What to Do Before Turning Off a Refrigerator

Depending on how long you plan to be away from home, you will need to approach this issue in different ways. Let’s first go over short absences. After all, anything can happen to an appliance while you are away, even if it’s for a day and a half.

Gone for Less Than Four Weeks

Let’s say you want to take a two-week vacation or need to spend four or five days out of town due to work. Clearly, you will want your appliances running smoothly after you return. In that case, there really is no need to unplug your refrigerator. However, you will have to take some extra steps.

First and foremost, turn off the ice maker. And while you’re at it, turn off the water supply to the refrigerator. Next, make sure to take out all of the perishables and freeze what you can in the freezer. Perishable food, when it goes off, will inevitably produce a nasty odor and mold will start to grow.

In terms of temperature, leave it at the normal settings if you happen to have some food left inside. However, if you clear out your fridge completely, feel free to go for a warmer setting. That way you will save some energy.

If you want to maintain a cool temperature within the fridge and it’s less than half-full, you will want to add plastic gallon jugs of water. Cold or frozen water helps the fridge maintain cold temperatures even when the compressor is off. But remember not to fill the bottles up all the way, as water expands when it freezes. You can also achieve the same effect with the right set of ice packs.

Finally, if your fridge has a water dispenser, run about 3‒4 glasses from it after you return. By doing that, you will get rid of foul or stale water and receive fresh liquid that’s ready to drink.

Gone for More than Four Weeks

Going away for more than a month will definitely require you to unplug your refrigerator. Even some of the most long-lasting foods will start to go bad after that period. Some of the steps are similar to the ones described above. For instance, you will also have to switch off the ice maker and the water supply to the fridge, plus you’ll have to remove all of the food, both perishable and long-lasting.

Once you’ve done all that, turn the temperature control to Off, then do the same with the circuit breaker. If you’re not sure how to do that with your particular model, check the Owner’s Manual that came with it. Alternatively, look for the PDF of the manual online. All brands provide them for their customers for free.

Next, you will have to clean your fridge, and the best way to do it is to use a baking soda solution. Wipe the whole fridge dry once you’re done and then place an open box of baking soda inside (two cups of unused, dry coffee grounds will also do the trick). This type of cleaning will make sure that no roaches or other pests swarm your appliance, and you will not have to endure any residual foul smells.

Finally, make sure that you leave all of the refrigerator doors open. This might sound counterintuitive, and it would be if the fridge were actually running, but when it’s off, it’s actually best to keep it open and well-aired. That way, no mold or mildew will form and any odor that might have stuck around will evaporate within hours.


As you can see, turning off a refrigerator is not exactly simple, but it’s far from complicated. If you do it right, you won’t have to worry about your appliance breaking down while you’re away. What’s more, you might even end up extending its lifespan and help it function better than ever. All it takes is a little patience and using the proper approach.

Write A Comment