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Commercial Refrigeration

Restaurants: How Do You Know If Your Refrigerator Is Leaking Freon?

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Last Updated on January 15, 2020


how do you know if your refrigerator is leaking freon

Signs of freon leak in a refrigerator: You might have a Freon leak if you notice a chemical smell, oil on the floor, or if the motor is running continuously. You can buy a leak detection kit, do it yourself with soapy water, or hire a professional.

Read on to explore these signs of Freon leak in refrigeration equipment in more detail.

Diagnosing refrigeration issues can be complex

The first thing to keep in mind is not every problem with a fridge is a leak. There are many electrical or mechanical issues that could be the culprit.

Freon is kept within a contained, pressurized system within your fridge, so it should never “run out” or need to be topped off. If your refrigerator is leaking Freon, it is usually due to a puncture, which makes it unlikely during normal operation in a kitchen. However, it could occur if you recently attempted repairs without a professional, or defrosted or scraped ice off the freezer.

You know if your refrigerator is leaking Freon if…

Freon is mostly odorless, but if you smell a chemical odor in or around your fridge you should investigate the possibility that your refrigerator is leaking Freon.

Your fridge should not produce any smells during normal operation. Be aware that Freon is a colorless gas, so you won’t be able to see it. An odor might suggest there’s a problem, but you’ll need more concrete methods of detection to be sure (we’ll discuss those in the next section).

If your refrigerator is leaking Freon, it can cause oily residue to appear on the floor. This is not Freon, because Freon is a gas and cannot be seen, but it is byproduct of a Freon leak. This oily substance can form a distance away from the leak, so when inspecting it can help to clean the bottom of the fridge and the area around it. If you see the residue forming again it will give you a better clue where the leak is.

A refrigerator low on Freon will run continuously. If the motor is not running, a leak is not to blame. The motor will be running constantly if your refrigerator is leaking Freon. An erratic motor, a motor that doesn’t seem to cool, or a motor that stops running altogether typically means an electrical problem.

Detecting leaks

If you suspect a leak, you’ll want to call in a professional since this is a problem you won’t be able to fix on your own. Refrigerant is a chemical that can be dangerous if you’re not trained in proper handling. If you want to confirm your suspicions, you can try these DIY options until the pros get there.

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You can also purchase a leak detector tool or kit. Leak detectors are small electronic devices that can sense a range of gases known as halogens, a group that many types of Freon belong to. This is how you know if your refrigerator is leaking Freon slowly over time. Many detectors can be very precise, and even find leaks that only let out a small percentage over 10 years. Leak detectors range from 20 to 300 dollars, and you can buy one online, at auto repair shops and home improvement stores. Keep in mind that Freon is denser than air, so you will get the highest concentrations closer to the ground.

There is a do it yourself solution to see if your refrigerator is leaking Freon. You can mix ordinary dish soap with a little bit of water and spread it, or put it in a spray bottle and spray it on the tubing. As the gas escapes the leak, it will now go through a thin layer of soap, creating tiny bubbles to form. Look for continuously forming bubbles to indicate a leak. If kitchen fans or other conditions make it difficult to tell, spring for an electric leak detector (or best of all, call the professionals!).

How to prevent your refrigerator from leaking Freon

IMPORTANT: Never attempt repairs you do not know how to do yourself! Prying open, puncturing, or cutting into your fridge can break the tubing, causing a leak. Scraping ice out of the freezer is a bad idea for the same reason, if done incorrectly it could damage the fridge. A leak could also be caused if you put used a pressure gage incorrectly on the tubing, which can break the seal. This could be the cause if your refrigerator is leaking Freon.

This is why we recommend calling in the pros. The last thing you need is to cause further damage.

Here’s a tip: preventing refrigeration problems like leaks is simple: invest in regular maintenance. Cleaning and tuneups keep small issues from turning into big ones that impact your business. Find out more here: Refrigeration Preventive Maintenance Contracts: How to Find the Right One for Your Food Service Operation.

Refrigeration Preventative Maintenance Contracts

Freon and its effect on health

If your refrigerator is leaking Freon slowly, it’s not usually an immediate health hazard. Freon is not a carcinogen, but it does have a cumulative effect over time. However, there are still certain risks that a leak poses that should be addressed quickly.

For the average adult population, Freon is only dangerous in extremely high concentrations, more than a fridge could produce. But Freon can make people dizzy, and breathing it has more adverse effects for those with preexisting heart conditions. As previously stated, Freon is dense, so if your refrigerator is leaking Freon, the gas stays in higher concentrations close to the ground. This means children and pets exposed in the area will breathe more of it in and can experience symptoms.

Freon also becomes toxic when exposed to an open flame. In any kitchen, particularly a commercial one, this two circumstances are more likely to occur together than elsewhere. If you use gas stovetops in your kitchen, keep them off if your refrigerator is leaking Freon.

Freon and the environment

While it may not be a health emergency, you want to deal with it quickly if your refrigerator is leaking Freon. The reason for this is that Freon is extremely bad for the environment, and is one of the most potent pollutants. When Freon gets into the atmosphere, it eats away at the ozone layer, which protects the earth from radiation from the sun.

As a result, the US Environmental Protection Agency has phased out the manufacture and import of Freon (also known as R22) as of January 2020. Supply is dwindling and prices are rising quickly. That’s why you may find that repairs that involve replacing refrigerant may cause more than you expect.

Turn to the professionals

The safest thing you can do if you suspect your refrigerator is leaking Freon, is to get the professionals involved. A repair technician can find or determine if there is a leak, and if so handle the necessary replacements or repairs.