Whether you think it might be time to replace your fridge, you just bought a new fridge, or you purchased a new house and have no clue about the condition of the refrigerator you inherited, you’re probably wondering how long refrigerators last.

Our refrigerators play a crucial role in our everyday lives, but you probably spend more time thinking about the contents inside than the appliance itself. And as a major appliance that we don’t need to replace for several years, it’s easy to forget that we’ll have to one day. 

Plus, doing so is expensive: the average fridge costs anywhere from $300 to $12,000, not including shipping and installation.

Before you shell out major bucks, this article will cover:

  • How long a refrigerator should last
  • How to tell how old your refrigerator is
  • Signs your refrigerator is dying
  • Tips to lengthen refrigerator lifespan 
  • Repairing vs replacing your fridge

With this knowledge, you’ll be able to squeeze the most life possible out of your fridge and replace it at the right time. Knowing when to replace your refrigerator will protect your food from spoiling on the fateful day your current appliance stops working and ensure you don’t have to go without food storage for any length of time. 

How Long Does a Refrigerator Last on Average?

According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, refrigerators last 9-13 years on average. The United States Department of Energy estimates a 12-year average, which falls within that range. However, refrigerator life expectancy varies by model, and it could last longer if properly cared for.

As a result, it’s more effective to keep a watchful eye on the condition of your refrigerator.

“How Old Is My Fridge?”

The remaining life expectancy of a refrigerator is impacted by how old it is, but you may not know this information. You can find out how old your fridge is by checking its serial number. 

You should be able to locate the serial number on the inside top or bottom corner of your fridge, on the front frame, or inside the storage drawer panel. The serial number will include the date of manufacture. If you can’t tell which numbers and letters are the manufacture date, you can look up what they mean on the manufacturer’s website.

Signs Your Refrigerator Is Dying

If your refrigerator is nearing 12-years old or you’re not sure how to tell if a fridge is working, look for these signs your fridge is about to die.

  • The outside of the fridge is hot to the touch. The outside of your fridge should never be warm to the touch unless there is a clear explanation—like it’s right next to a heated stove. The fridge’s motor does heat up when it’s working, but you shouldn’t be able to feel it.
  • Your food goes bad quickly. If your food is going bad faster than usual, your fridge could be malfunctioning. Start by checking the expiration date on your foods’ packaging or the average expiration dates for food items on this chart provided by foodsafety.gov. You will also want to ensure that your fridge is set to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less. If it is and it isn’t reaching that temperature or food is still going bad, your fridge could be too old or malfunctioning. 
  • There is condensation on or in your fridge. If you spot condensation on the inside or outside of your fridge, it could be because a part of the fridge’s cooling system has stopped working or the door gaskets are in poor shape. Both of these can cause the motor to overwork as it tries to compensate for the problem.
  • Your fridge buzzes loudly all the time. It’s normal for fridge motors to make noise now and then, but your motor could be overworking if your fridge has started making louder sounds than usual or the sounds never stop. Strange sounds you have never heard before also indicate a problem worth having checked out by a professional.
  • There is excessive frost in the freezer or fridge. If your food is suffering from major frostbite or the insides of your fridge or freezer have developed an abnormal layer of frost, your fridge may be struggling to maintain its internal temperature. Make sure it’s not set to the coldest setting, and if it continues, have a professional take a look.
  • Your fridge coils are too hot. Refrigerators release the heat they generate through coils located under or on the back of the fridge. These coils should never reach more than 300 degrees Fahrenheit, or it could signify that your motor isn’t working correctly. 

    To test your fridge’s coils, place your hand near them without touching them (make sure you are careful, and never do anything you feel like is outside of your comfort zone when it comes to home projects). If they radiate excessive heat, your fridge motor could be going bad.
  • Your electric bill increases. The same way a spike in your water bill can indicate a potential leak, a spike in your electric bill could mean an old appliance needs replacing. You can get an energy-usage monitor to test how much energy your fridge is using.

If your fridge is exhibiting one or more of these signs, it may be time to replace it. 

Tips to Lengthen Refrigerator Lifespan

Regular upkeep is key to making your fridge last longer, but what does fridge maintenance look like? Here are some best practices for keeping your fridge in tip-top shape. 

And remember, if you don’t feel comfortable with doing any of these yourself, hire a professional, and use this information as a starting point for figuring out what services you need.

  • Keep door gaskets clean and moisturized. The door gasket on your fridge is the door lining that creates a secure seal when your fridge is closed, preventing hot air from getting in and cold air from getting out. Wipe door gaskets down occasionally to prevent build-up from affecting the door’s ability to seal properly. Want to go the extra mile? You can also rub a small amount of petroleum jelly on the gaskets to moisturize them and keep them from prematurely cracking as they age. 
  • Keep fridge and freezer vents clear. There are vents inside your fridge and freezer that circulate cold air. They are usually located on the walls or ceiling. When you restock your groceries, make sure food isn’t blocking these vents so that they can circulate air properly.
  • Clean condenser coils every 6 months. As mentioned above, your refrigerator’s condenser coils help keep the fridge cool by releasing heat. When dirt builds up on the coils, heat can’t escape well and can result in other problems. Cleaning your coils twice a year will help keep them working correctly. 

    To clean your coils, unplug the fridge first and wait until they cool down. Then, you can dust them or vacuum them with a vacuum attachment. If you can’t find them at first, they may be located behind a plate or grate.
  • Clean your water filter every 6 months. If you have a water dispenser and filter, keeping your filter clean will ensure your water stays clean and your dispenser stays in good condition. You can clean your water filter on the same day you clean your condenser coils since you should do both every 6 months. 
  • Give your fridge room to breathe. Refrigerators need airflow to function efficiently, so try not to close yours in. Leaving a couple of inches between it and the wall and cabinets could help lengthen its lifespan. Your exact model may even have spacing recommendations in its manual. It’s also not recommended to stack anything on top of your fridge.  

The longer a fridge is left malfunctioning, the more damage it will sustain. If during everyday use you notice one of the following, get your fridge examined by a professional as soon as possible:

  • Unusual sounds
  • Water on the floor
  • Inexplicable spills on the inside
  • Ice maker or water dispenser not working

Should You Repair or Replace Your Fridge?

If your fridge is over 10-years old or experiencing several signs of dying, it’s probably easier to replace it than fix it. While refrigerators are expensive, you don’t want to keep putting money into an approaching dead end. 

While deciding whether to repair or replace, consider the following:

  • If the fridge or its parts are under warranty
  • Age of your fridge vs the average lifespan of a refrigerator
  • The cost of replacing vs repairing

If the quoted repairs for your fridge are half of the cost of the new fridge you would buy or more, you’re better off replacing it.

A New Fridge Comes With Some Pros

You might be worried about the price if it’s officially time to replace your old fridge. But you should know that there are pros to owning a new fridge. 

Not only is it exciting to own a modern appliance, but modern refrigerators are more energy-efficient. While purchasing an energy-efficient fridge is a great investment, any fridge you buy that’s newer than your old one will be more efficient. This is because of ever-improving federal standards and technologies. 

Furthermore, energy-efficient appliances put a dent in your bills. So, if your refrigerator won’t last much longer, there are savings to look forward to.