Everything in the refrigerator is freezing and you have no idea why.  It’s not like it’s not staying cold.  

It’s just staying too cold.  Like way too cold.

Gallons of milk are frozen solid.  Vegetables are covered in frost and look like they just came out of the freezer. Cartons of fruit juice are rock hard.

What could be causing this issue when everything in your fridge looks like it could have been located outside in the winter during a blizzard?  Below are some possible issues that may be the reason for this icy problem.

Let’s investigate and find the source of your cold dilemma.

The Thermostat Is Set Too High

This is an easy one and should be the first thing checked.  If your thermostat is set too high, your fridge will naturally run colder than you probably need.

The reason this is a common problem is because it is easy for people to forget how often they may adjust their thermostat.

Think of it this way: perhaps you normally keep the thermostat set at the normal setting (somewhere in the middle) but then a big holiday comes up and you have lots of people over for dinner or a party.  Now the refrigerator is a lot fuller than it normally is.  Of course, this is where you would crank up the temperature on the old thermostat to make sure all that fresh food and leftovers remained cold.

Then the holiday passed and the refrigerator is now far from being as full as it was.  But the thermostat remains set at the higher setting.

If you forgot to lower the thermostat back down, it’s perfectly understandable.  It’s not like a lot of people put lowering their thermostat on the TO DO list after a holiday.

Of course, this is just an example of how easy it is to inadvertently set the thermostat too high.  Hopefully, this is the quick solution you’ll find.

refrigerator thermostat dial
Check if your thermostat control is not set in the coldest setting

The Thermostat Needs some Testing and Possible Replacement

Now you may be saying, “Yep, I lowered the thermostat and everything is still freezing.  Now what.”

Let’s start with what you might be dealing with now.

The basic concept of the thermostat is active temperature control.  When the refrigerator gets too warm, the thermostat should kick the compressor on to start the cooling process again.  When it gets too cold, just the opposite: it secures the compressor and lets the temperature in the fridge sit for a while.

It’s a constant process.  But if you’ve already ensured the thermostat is not set at freezing levels, then the thermostat needs to be checked for a fault. This involves finding your wiring diagram (probably in the compressor compartment) and hooking up a digital multimeter to test the electrical function of the thermostat. 

This is where it gets a bit tricky.  If you’re comfortable with wiring diagrams and a digital multimeter, you should be okay.  However, if you don’t like playing with that kind of stuff (or if the wiring diagram is just confusing to you), then it may be time to call a technician.

The basics though are this: once the digital multimeter is hooked up correctly, following the wiring diagram, the multimeter needs to be cycled through, checking the readings from the “Off” position to the coldest setting.  The owners manual and wiring diagram will tell you what readings you should be seeing.

In the “Off” position, the multimeter should display O.L (or open circuit).  As the multimeter is rotated from “Off” it should read “0.00”.  If the multimeter reads “0.00” in the “Off” position or if it never switches from O.L. to “0.00” then you have a unit that needs replacing.

However, if it passes this test but everything is still freezing, then you have a problem with the temperature sensing bulb.  Which still requires replacing the unit.

Long story short, you will more than likely have to replace it.  Whether you attempt it yourself or bring in a technician is ultimately your call.

The Refrigerator Door Gasket is Bad

Before replacing the thermostat, especially if it passed the electrical test, there are a couple of things you can check before replacing that unit completely.

This is where inspecting the gasket around the refrigerator door comes in.

Go to your refrigerator and open the door.  On the inside of the door, you should see a gasket that runs all the way around the exterior of the door.  This is what seals the door when shut.

The seal’s only job is to act as a natural barrier between the outside world of the kitchen and the inside world of the fridge.  If it is damaged or loose or warped in any way, it will fail to seal properly.

Visually check the door seal gasket for damage and do a paper test

Now, this may not sound like that big of a deal at first.  However, if the door does not form an adequate enough seal with the main body of the refrigerator, the interior environment of the fridge becomes compromised.

Essentially, a bad seal can cause the fridge to constantly run because the seal is allowing the fridge to run as if the door were wide open.

Wide open is a bit dramatic.  A modern refrigerator will essentially cycle off if the door is open for too long But if the door is shut and the seal is bad, there is just enough of a compromise that the refrigerator will not shut off, even though it’s losing cold air through the bad seal.

If the refrigerator is consistently losing air through the seal, it will continue to run and run.  Eventually, everything will start to freeze.  This is especially true when the refrigerator has been closed for an extended period of time, like overnight.

You can inspect the seal visually, looking for:

  • Tears.  Check the corners, taking careful note on the hinge side where that part of the gasket receives the most work every time the door is opened and closed.
  • Build-up of dirt or grime in places. This is often true at the bottom of the fridge.  Say someone dropped a jar of jelly and it shattered right at the bottom of the fridge.  It gets cleaned up but maybe someone missed wiping clean the bottom of the door where the gasket is.  Now the jelly that splashed has dried on the gasket, causing build up and possibly a bad seal.
  • Areas where the gasket isn’t moving in a straight line.  You’ll notice this quickly because it’ll look like a wavy road is parts.

If the gasket looks good, you can check for a proper seal by placing a thin sheet of paper in the door.  If the paper can be easily pulled out with the door closed, you’re not getting a proper seal.

Clean the Evaporator Coils

This is basic maintenance that can easily be done, following the instructions in your owner’s manual.

The evaporator coils are located in the rear of the refrigerator.  On older models, they’re exposed and very easy to see, but on more modern models, they’re enclosed.  Be assured, they’re there.

Anyway, the coils allow for circulation of the refrigerator coolant during operation.  If they are dirty or dusty, they’ll have to work harder to keep the refrigerator cold.  This can lead to unexpected freezing in the refrigerator itself.

Conclusion

Nobody likes dealing with refrigerator problems, especially when it’s doing the job of the freezer.  

If your refrigerator is freezing everything, though, try those tips and hopefully you’ll be able to stop the freezing and return it to normal operating conditions.