9 Things You Didn’t Know About…Running Your Fridge
How often do any of us really think about our refrigerator? Once a marvel of the modern age, the one appliance above all that revolutionized the way we buy and store food, today it’s pretty much taken for granted, humming ever more quietly than even its forebears did, a hulking yet forgotten presence in the corner of the kitchen.
Buried beneath crayon drawings, report cards and miscellaneous snapshots magnetized to its door, it works … and works, and works, and works. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Today’s refrigerators even work better than ever: those sold today under the federal government’s Energy Star program are upwards of 75 percent more efficient than the old (often avocado-colored) models bought a generation ago.
Still, knowing how to run your fridge right means saving money — both in terms of saving on electricity, and in terms of keeping your food fresh.
Nasty bacteria, the kind that can make you sick, can grow rapidly in the so-called “danger zone” between 40˚F and 140˚F. Thus, the food safety experts at the USDA say the temperature in your fridge should be less than 40˚F.
But … your fridge guzzles the most electricity in your home (after your AC), almost 14 percent on average. The colder you run your fridge, the more energy it uses. So if you want to save on your electric bills (but don’t want your leftovers to spoil), you should keep your fridge between 35˚F and 40˚F.
Some fancy fridges have a digital display that shows their internal temperature. If yours doesn’t, you can pick up a perfectly good fridge thermometer for $10 or less. Check it regularly — but especially when the seasons change. The setting that keeps your fridge cold enough in winter may not work as the mercury climbs outside, so adjust the thermostat accordingly.
Your freezer should be set between 0˚F and 5˚F.
A packed freezer runs most efficiently (just don’t block the vent). As for your fridge, it runs best when it’s almost full, about 70–80 percent. Going on vacation? Fill empty containers with water and stick them in your fridge.
How else to keep your fridge from sucking up more juice? Clean the coils! (Ugh, you knew I was going to say that, right?) Yeah, it’s true: dirty coils make the fridge work harder. The good news is that it’s only a once- or twice-a-year job … unless you have pets that shed, then it’s every three months.
Here’s a neat trick: take a dollar bill and close your fridge door on it. If you can pull the bill out, your door isn’t closing tight enough (and you’re wasting energy). Try cleaning the gasket with soapy water.
Generally speaking, fresh veggies (particularly leafy ones) like higher humidity, while most fruits (such as citrus) keep better when the air is drier. (Think about it: your grocery store probably mists its lettuce, but not its oranges.) That’s why many refrigerators have separate crisper drawers with humidity controls. Storing your fruits in one (set to lower humidity, vents open) and your veggies in the other (set to higher humidity, vents closed) will keep fresh produce fresher, longer.
You may think you’re saving money by keeping an old fridge around in the basement or garage and stocking it with groceries you picked up on sale, but older refrigerators are often half as efficient as newer models (or worse). The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that second refrigerators cost owners $420–$750 over the lifetime of the fridge. That’s a lot of ice cream.
From boiling an egg to cooking rice, check out all our “things you didn’t know” articles!