Has your refrigerator started making a loud humming sound? Perhaps the appliance has begun chattering or buzzing. Are you hearing a grinding noise coming from the fridge? If your refrigerator is making a lot more noise than it used to, the appliance is trying to tell you something. If you understand its language, you can respond by troubleshooting a potential problem and replacing the right part to keep the refrigerator running efficiently. In this article, Repair Clinic will help you to decode what the refrigerator is trying to tell you when it buzzes, chatters, clunks, or hums.
Noise can be an early indication that a component is failing
A refrigerator that has started to become noticeably noisier can be an early indication that a component is beginning to fail. To help correctly diagnose the problem, you should first take care of a simple problem that can result in noisy operation.
First, confirm the refrigerator is level
Your first step is to confirm the refrigerator is level. An unlevel refrigerator can vibrate and make a rattling noise every time the compressor cycles on. Place a level on top of the appliance (on the frame itself, not on top of the door) and check to see if the bubble is squarely in the middle of the two indicator lines. Does the refrigerator seem to be leaning to the left? Then you should extend the left side leveling leg to correct. If the refrigerator is leaning to the right, extend the right side leveling leg. This will often involve removing the base grille from the appliance to properly access the leveling legs. You may then need to loosen a locking nut before unthreading the appropriate leveling leg to extend or retract it as necessary. Once you’ve confirmed the refrigerator is level, tighten the locking nut, if applicable, to hold the leg in place and reinstall the base grille if required.
Commonly heard refrigerator noises and what they likely mean
Once you’ve confirmed the refrigerator is level, you should try to locate where the noise is coming from and what that noise sounds like. Specific noises coming from specific places can help you identify your refrigerator’s problem:
- Grinding or chattering sound when the dispenser is in use – If the noise only occurs when the dispenser is in use, the ice auger motor, the component that rotates the auger to push the ice forward, could be failing. The auger motor will make a grinding or chattering sound as the motor bearings begin to fail. Eventually, the motor can stop working altogether, so it’s a good idea to replace the motor if it becomes noisy.
- Grinding or clunking noise when the dispenser is in use – For some models, the dispenser door will be opened by a solenoid to dispense the ice. This solenoid can make a pronounced clunking sound as it ages. If the dispenser door is opened by a motor, you may hear that dreaded grinding sound again if the motor bearings are failing. Both of these parts can usually be replaced independently to fix an aging dispenser.
- Grinding sound coming from the ice maker – The ice maker motor will also make a grinding sound as it ages. Does the noise get louder when the ice maker is cycling (depositing ice in the ice bucket)? Then it’s likely the ice maker is beginning to fail and you will probably want to consider replacing it.
- Buzzing sound coming from behind the refrigerator – If the home’s water pressure is low or water is not reaching the refrigerator’s water inlet valve, you will hear a buzzing sound coming from behind the appliance. You should first determine if your home has sufficient water pressure. A refrigerator water inlet valve requires 20 to 120 psi of pressure for the valve to work appropriately. Next, you should inspect the valve itself for obstructions or faulty solenoid coils (which can be tested with a multimeter).
- Grinding or chattering noise coming from inside the refrigerator – Is there a grinding or chattering noise coming from inside the refrigerator? The bearings inside the evaporator fan motor may be wearing out. Also, if not properly seated, the evaporator fan motor’s fan blade could be striking the housing as it spins.
- Grinding or chattering noise coming from behind the refrigerator – If you’re hearing that grinding or chattering sound coming from behind the refrigerator, the condenser fan motor’s bearings are likely wearing out or the fan blade may be loose and striking the housing.
- Rattling or loud humming coming from outside the refrigerator – A rattling or loud humming sound that is coming from outside the appliance is likely coming from the compressor which can become increasingly noisy as it ages, although this component can function effectively for a considerable time after it becomes noisy.
Next steps to fix a noisy refrigerator
If you consider yourself a confident do-it-yourselfer, many of these parts creating noise in your refrigerator are relatively easy to replace, provided you have a set of common household tools and a little patience.
How to replace an evaporator fan motor and its fan blade
The evaporator fan motor and its fan blade are normally located at the back of the freezer compartment behind one or more panels, although some models will mount the evaporator assembly behind a rear panel in the refrigerator compartment. You will usually have to remove the shelving and drawers from the compartment (and, potentially, the icemaker assembly) in order to uninstall the rear panel or panels. An evaporator fan blade can be simply pulled off the motor shaft and a new one slid on. The motor itself is usually secured to a bracket with two screws and will have two power wires attached or a wire connector. Unthread the screws and detach the wires to remove the old motor; attach the wires to the terminals on the new motor, or reconnect the wire connector, and rethread the mounting screws to secure the motor to the bracket.
Replacing a condenser fan motor or fan blade
The condenser fan motor and accompanying fan blade can usually be found near the bottom of the refrigerator behind a cardboard or metal access panel attached to the lower rear of the appliance. You’ll need to pull the refrigerator away from the wall to reach the panel. You may need to detach a water supply line before you can uninstall the access panel (be sure to close the water supply valve before doing this!). As with the evaporator fan motor, the condenser fan motor will likely be secured to a bracket with mounting screws and will be powered through two separate wires or a wire connector.
Accessing the refrigerator’s water inlet valve
The refrigerator’s water inlet valve is also normally located near the bottom of the appliance behind the lower access panel. After detaching the incoming water supply line, you will need to unthread the screws securing the old component, then disconnect the wire connectors and release the outgoing water lines from the valve. You may have to remove a locking clip before depressing the retaining ring to release a line. Insert the lines into the new inlet valve, connect the wire connectors, then thread the screws to mount the valve to the bracket or to the frame of the refrigerator. Reinstall the access panel and secure the incoming water supply line to the valve. Be aware that you should replace a restricted water inlet valve with a new valve instead of attempting to clean out an obstruction since the damage caused by the initial restriction puts the part at a greater risk for failure in the future.
Rely on a professional technician to inspect and replace a compressor
What about the refrigerator’s compressor? That repair is not recommended for a do-it-yourselfer. You should have a professional technician inspect and replace the compressor if necessary.
Repair Clinic recommends using only genuine OEM refrigerator parts
When replacing a refrigerator’s ice maker or ice auger motor, dispenser solenoid, evaporator fan motor, condenser fan blade, or water inlet valve, your repair will be much more successful if you use a genuine OEM replacement part. Genuine manufacturer parts, such as those from KitchenAid, GE, Kenmore, LG, Samsung, Frigidaire, Maytag, or Whirlpool, are designed to work with specific refrigerator models and can last longer than generic parts. To find the right part for your repair, enter the full model number of the refrigerator in the Repair Clinic search bar to see a complete list of compatible parts.