It's not cool when the fridge coils get dusty


September 24, 1994|By ROB KASPER

Every so often I screw up my courage and pull the fridge out from the wall.

This is the first step in a multi-step process referred to either as routine refrigerator maintenance or severe dust-ball neurosis.

Cleaning the dust off the coils on the back and bottom of the refrigerator makes me feel good. There is some benefit to ridding your fridge coils of dust. The wise men of refrigeration say that when dirt gets on the coils, the machine works harder to cool its interior.

Because I am a big fan of a cool fridge, especially one that keeps those beverages frosty, I am willing to do what I can to keep the machine running smoothly. Experts advise that at least twice a year I should use either a clean paint brush or a hand-held vacuum cleaner to dust off the fridge coils.

Theoretically, after you dust the coils your fridge will run more efficiently and your electricity bill will drop. This might be true, but my family is largely unfamiliar with the phenomenon of an electricity bill getting smaller.

Any savings that might be notched up by cleaning the fridge coils are quickly wiped out by our family's practice of burning all light bulbs at all times. My best hope for savings is that the wheel in our electric meter will one day burn out, a victim of fatigue.

The other night, for example, in the middle of a cold rain, one of the kids wanted to turn on his bedroom air conditioner. He said he didn't want to wake up in the middle of the night and be "hot and sweaty."

I agreed to let him turn on the air conditioner. I will agree to almost anything to get a kid to go to sleep. Later, the air conditioner was turned off, but only after it had racked up major "units" on the electricity bill.

The main reason I am compelled to clean refrigerator coils is the same reason most people are compelled to clean anything. Namely, parental guilt.

I was raised in a family that prided itself on keeping its refrigerator coils clean.

When I was a tender youth my dad taught me how to get behind, or maybe it was underneath, the family fridge and attack coil dust. Once the coils were cleaned -- usually on Saturday morning -- they were supposed to be admired by other family members. My mother, an avowed enemy of dust balls, was usually the only family member who expressed appreciation for the cleaning job. But the belief in clean coils seeped into our subconscious.

A few years ago when one of my younger brothers was visiting and helping me fix things around the house, he spotted dust on my fridge coils. "You really ought to keep that clean," he told me. "It will lower your electricity bills." My dad had told me virtually the same thing a few years earlier when he, too, had caught me with my coils dusty.

As is true with cleaning the coils -- and with many of my beliefs -- from time to time I backslide.

By the time I get around to pulling the fridge out from the wall, there is usually plenty of evidence of neglect.

Besides dust, I am greeted by pencils, toys and "important papers" that had been put atop the refrigerator for safe keeping.

I have learned that just as an archaeologist sifts the soil for clues of ancient civilizations, a behind-the-fridge explorer can examine debris to determine when cleaning equipment last visited the site.

Say, for example, you find a toy wrestler that once was your child's favorite toy. You simply remember that the kid was 6 years old when he was fond of the toy. Then you remember that he is now 9 years old. This means it has been three years since you cleaned behind the fridge. While often accurate, this "toy dating" practice can also be embarrassing.

While down in the nether regions of the refrigerator, I check the condensate tray. This tray catches water given off when the fridge defrosts itself. It is not a pretty sight. The condensate tray literature warns that neglected trays have been known to grow molds, which can make breathing difficult for kitchen dwellers.

Whenever I read this mold story, I regard it as an attempt to scare me into washing the grungy tray with soap and water. It always works. Molds scare me.

Finally, after I have dusted the coils and guarded against tray mold, I check behind the fridge for any signs of visitors.

Mice, I am told, sometimes take up residence behind a fridge. I wouldn't know about that. But I do know that if you use bacon rind as bait in your trap, the mice don't have a chance.

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