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3 common refrigerator problems you can easily fix yourself

Frost buildup, water leakage and over-cycling can be fixed without special tools.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When your refrigerator starts cycling too often, leaking water or growing ice on the walls, don't worry. These common fridge issues can be fixed easily, without calling a repairman, even if you don't know how a refrigerator works

You don't even need any fancy tools to make the repairs. Here's what you need to know.

Problem: It's cycling too often

A refrigerator that constantly runs is not only noisy, it can also affect your wallet. The refrigerator is already one of the most power-intensive appliance in your home, and allowing it to run more than it should can send your energy bill sky high.

Cause: One of the most common causes of a refrigerator running too much (or worse, constantly), especially if you live in an extra dusty environment or have several pets, is a buildup of debris and dust around the condenser coils.

Fix: First, cut power to the refrigerator. For most refrigerators, the condenser coils are located on the very bottom and they're typically accessed in the front or back. (Some newer models, however, have internal coils.) To access the coils, look for the grill and remove it by popping out the snaps which hold it in place (or unscrewing it where applicable). Use a vacuum cleaner to remove the brunt of the buildup. If there is a lot of leftover debris, use a brush or a wipe cloth to gently remove the remaining debris. Replace the grill and restore power to the refrigerator.

Cause: Setting the refrigerator temperature too low will not only cause your refrigerator to work overtime, it can also freeze and spoil some of your foods.

Fix: You typically want your refrigerator set to between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit (2.8 and 4.4 degrees Celsius). Place a thermometer inside a glass of water, and place the glass on the middle shelf of the refrigerator, and let it sit for at least 8 hours. Periodically adjust the temperature setting on your refrigerator to slowly bring it to the desired temperature. If this does not solve the issue, consult with a professional, as you may have a defective part, such as a condenser, thermostat sensor or fan motor.

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Problem: It's leaking water

Water puddling up under your refrigerator is never a good sign, but it is also a fairly common occurrence and can usually be resolved relatively easily. Water leakage typically comes from one of two problems.

Cause: A blocked defrost drain is one of the most common causes of water leakage. This happens when food particles or other debris clogs up the drain hose, which can lead to ice buildup and, eventually, water leaking out of the freezer and refrigerator.

Fix: First, try flushing the drain from inside the freezer with warm water, using a turkey baster or a small funnel. You can also try using a pipe cleaner or a straightened coat hanger to forcibly remove the clog. If this doesn't fix the problem you may need to manually remove the debris that is clogging the check valve at the end of the drain hose.

Pull your refrigerator out from the wall and locate the defrost drain hose in the bottom back service panel. This hose should have a rubber check valve, which helps regulate humidity and is known for catching debris and clogging. Clean the valve out with hot water and soap, and reinstall the valve.

Cause: From time to time, a clogged or frozen water supply line will cause water to puddle beneath the refrigerator. It will also affect ice production from the ice maker and slow or stop water flow from the dispenser.

Fix: First, unplug the refrigerator and locate the shut-off valve, typically underneath the sink, behind the refrigerator, or below the refrigerator in the basement. Make sure this valve is closed, and look for any leaks, kinks, or clogs in the plastic supply line.

If there is a break or tear in the line, replace the water supply line. If you see a translucent blockage, leave the refrigerator unplugged for approximately 2 hours to remove the clog. If the clog is anything but clear, consult with a professional before trying to remove the clog. Once the line has defrosted, plug the refrigerator back in and push it back to the wall.

Problem: There's ice buildup in the freezer

If the inside of your freezer looks like a winter wonderland, you've got a problem. There are a few causes for a sudden frost on the inside of your freezer, and some quick, simple fixes.

Cause: Leaving the freezer door open too long can raise the humidity level inside the freezer, resulting in frost and ice buildup.

Fix: The simple fix is to not leave the freezer door open longer than necessary, but if you open the freezer or refrigerator doors and they don't close on their own, this could be the cause of the frost. To resolve this, pull the refrigerator out from the wall and have someone lean the refrigerator back far enough for you to reach the two front pedestal feet. Screw both feet out a few turns. This will ensure the doors close on their own and that collecting water is properly draining from the freezer and refrigerator. If this does not solve the issue, you may have a malfunctioning defrost timer.

Cause: A faulty seal can also result in unwanted frost.

Fix: First, try cleaning the seal using warm water, soap, and a washcloth. Use a towel to dry the seal and the surrounding areas, and close the freezer. If this doesn't work, unplug the refrigerator, remove all frozen perishables, and place them in a cooler. Lift the edge of the gasket and use a screwdriver to remove all the screws. Align the new gasket and screw it into place. Place all the food back in the freezer and plug it back in.

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