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What Temperature Should a Refrigerator Be? Pros Reveal the Ideal Number That Saves You Money

Ensure your food and your dollars don't go to waste!

It’s so frustrating when you go to grab something from your refrigerator and notice that something is off: either your strawberries are suddenly frozen or maybe when you open the door and you’re not met with the usual waft of cold air, or in the worst case, it just smells bad! If your’e like us, your instinct is to check the temperature on the appliance to make sure it’s set to the right number. But, come to think of it, you have no idea what the right number should actually be! So we went straight to the refrigerator pros and asked them “what temperature should a refrigerator be?” so food doesn’t go to waste and neither do your dollars! Keep scrolling for the answers.

What temperature should a refrigerator be?

For the main compartment:

Yes, the fridge should be cold, but it shouldn’t be freezing (that’s what your freezer is for, and why it should be set to 0 degrees). Experts say the most optimal temperature for preserving food is 37 degrees Fahrenheit and should never be above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, Anastasia Lytvynova, appliance repair account manager for home service company Home Alliance suggests a lower range of 35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit.

“This temperature range is optimal for slowing bacterial growth and keeping perishable food fresh for a longer period,” she says. “If the temperature is too warm, food can spoil quickly, leading to waste and potential health risks. Conversely, if it’s too cold, certain foods might freeze, causing texture and taste changes.”

Brandon Fowler, owner of Machinist Guides, also notes that the temperature should ensure that there are no ice crystals, which can create an environment for the breeding of bacteria in raw meat.

For the produce drawers:

Instead of numbers, you’re usually working with humidity levels when it comes to the drawers that house your fresh foods like fruits and veggies. According to The Home Depot, foods that don’t emit gas or lose moisture including apple, bananas and the like should be in a low humidity setting. Your leafy greens, herbs, cucumbers, broccoli and even berries are sensitive to gas exposure, so they should be stored in a high humidity drawer.

Related: How to Make Food Last Longer: 5 Expert Tricks So Your Money Doesn’t Go to Waste

Take a look at his helpful video for more:

How do I set my refrigerator to the right temperature?

Every refrigerator is different. You might have a more high-tech unit that displays temperature and lets you adjust digitally, or be required to go inside the fridge and turn a dial to your desired setting.

“Setting temperature involves turning it to a ‘colder’ setting, turning it to a higher figure to reduce temperature,” explains Fowler. “If you are using a sliding gauge thermostat, it’s suitable to push the slider to the right, making the fridge cooler.”

The easiest and safest thing to do is consult the owner’s manual in terms of the exact practices for changing and monitoring your machine’s settings. Regardless of the temperature controls on your refrigerator, experts recommend keeping a thermometer in the fridge to get the most accurate reading.

“To set the temperature accurately, use a refrigerator thermometer placed in the middle shelf for a few hours to get an average reading,” suggests Lytvynova. “Adjust the temperature setting accordingly until it falls within the recommended range. Additionally, ensure there’s proper airflow inside the fridge by not overloading it and keeping vents unobstructed.”

Keeping your refrigerator at the right temperature

Now you know the answer to “What temperature should a refrigerator be?” but your job is not done just yet as you still have to maintain that temperature. There are some things you can do to avoid the headache of constantly having to readjust the temperature on your refrigerator. For example, Fowler suggests making sure ice is consistently available, keeping the fridge doors closed, moving frozen food to the bottom shelf and using dry ice.

Lytvynova says you should regularly clean the condenser coils to ensure proper heat dissipation, check door seals for any signs of wear or damage and replace them if necessary to maintain a tight seal, let hot food cool down before placing it in the fridge whenever possible and maintain proper ventilation around the fridge by ensuring there’s space between the appliance and the walls.

Modern stainless refrigerator-freezer with digital display

“Do not overpack the fridge or push items to the back or side walls,” advises Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly Company. “You need airflow around your food to keep everything at the right temperature.”

What are signs that a fridge is not the right temperature?

The first and often the most noticeable indicators of a refrigerator not being the right temperature are things like spoiled dairy products or being able to feel a lukewarm temperature. Experts also say you might see indicators like ice buildup in the freezer or fridge section, the fridge running continuously or making unusual noises, condensation or water droplets forming and of course a temperature reading outside of the recommended range.

Related: Home Pros’ Genius Hacks Prevent Ice Buildup in the Freezer So the Appliance Lasts Longer

How to maintain refrigerator temperature if you lose power

One of the first things we worry about when we lose power is whether it will come back before the food in our fridge and freezer starts to go bad. You should make an extra effort to really keep the fridge doors closed as much as possible to keep the cold air inside as long as you can. If the power outage is prolonged, eventually you should combine your frozen and refrigerated foods in a cooler filled with ice.

“Once power is restored, check the temperature inside the fridge and discard any perishable items that have been exposed to unsafe temperatures for an extended period,” says Lytvynova.

When is it time to replace a refrigerator?

It’s a dreaded time that eventually befalls us all — realizing it’s time to say goodbye to our refrigerator and replace it with a new one. How can you tell when it’s time to make the switch?

“Most refrigerators last around 10 to 15 years. If yours is older and requiring frequent repairs, it might be more cost-effective to replace it,” says Lytvynova. She adds that a fridge struggling to maintain the right temperature despite proper maintenance and repairs is another sign that it needs replacing.

“Food getting spoiled quickly, overheating of the motor, and buzzing noises from the fridge are signs for replacing your refrigerator,” says Fowler. “If you have used your refrigerator for more than 10 years, it’s also good to replace it.”

Related: The Best Time to Buy Home Appliances So You Can Save 40% or More: Savings Experts

Click through these stories for more fridge and freezer tips:

How to Organize a Fridge: This Lazy Susan Trick Makes It So Easy to See What’s Inside + More Genius Pro Tips

5 Tips For Organizing Your Fridge and Better Storing Your Food

Defrost Your Freezer In Half the Time Using These 10 Simple Steps

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