At What Temperature Should I Keep My Freezer?

Dear Home-Ec 101:

I’ve been having issues with my refrigerator & freezer recently. It is an old (circa 1995 according to the repairguy)* side by side that came with the house when I bought it in ’08. About 2 months the thing just quit. I opened up the freezer door to get some ice cream and it was soft. Checked the thermometer I keep in there and the freezer was about 40 degrees and the fridge side about 60. I threw most everything out of the freezer side (was able to salvage a few sauces/soups by fully defrosting, boiling, and refreezing) and moved everything from the fridge into the freezer since that was about the temp of a normal fridge. After a couple days (and after the repairman was called) it decided to start working again and he could not find anything wrong with it.

Over the weekend, I happened to glance at the thermometer on the freezer side. There are two sections on it, one for subzero, and one for freezing. I have no clue what it normally says but on this particular day it was about 20 degrees and in the ‘freezing’ range. Then later that day I glanced at it again and it had moved down to just above 0 degrees and was now in the ‘subzero’ range. This morning it was back up in ‘freezing’ about 15 degrees. Everything is frozen so I’m not worried about food spoilage, I was just wondering what is the proper temp for a side by side. I’ve always thought of a ‘subzero freezer’ as one of the chest type freezer only deals but maybe I have one in my side by side? Do I need to be worried about this?

* The repairguy was very impressed that I have a “appears to be working” 16 year old refrigerator. I have an appliance home warranty so I’m waiting for the dang thing to break before I buy a new one (currently drooling over a black French door bottom freezer drawer model every time I’m at Lowes).

Signed,
Frozen Foodie

Heather says:

Ideally the best temperature for your freezer 0°F. If you are going to be freezing a few things (like you’re making  a big batch of lasagna) bump the freezer down to -10°F several hours or the day before, if possible.  The faster foods freeze, the smaller the ice crystals, the less damage to texture occurs.

I’m wondering if you didn’t happen to check the temperature in the middle of the defrost cycle? After the compressor has been cycling for a set amount of time it shuts down and the temperature of the freezer can rise during this period. That is normal. What wouldn’t be normal is if it’s not cycling back on in time. What I would do is buy a cheap thermometer and use that to check the calibration of the one in the freezer. Place the thermometer as low in the freezer as possible and only check after the door has been shut for several hours -first thing in the morning is a good time.

In lieu of that take an ice cube and set it in an obvious place -in the freezer. If the ice cube changes shape, you’ve got problems and that french door model will be fancifying your kitchen sooner than later.

According to This Old House, refrigerators still have a life expectancy of 14 – 17 years. We have a second hand refrigerator in our garage that must be over 20 years old.

While there was a big real estate boom -and subsequent crash- in the interim many people have opted to remodel their existing homes rather than buying a new home since 2001 and with a kitchen remodel usually comes new appliances. This may be why your appliance guy hasn’t seen too many older refrigerators. The conspiracy theorists like to say that appliances are now built with planned obsolescence so they’ll have to be replaced more often. I think society’s  pursuit of the cheap has made sacrifices in regards to quality.

Personally, I’m starting to squirrel away a remodel fund as our appliances are starting to edge close to that life expectancy.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

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Comments

  1. bookchick says

    The comment from the repairguy had somethign to do with the freon. Apparently if ‘freon holder’ breaks in a pre ’94 refrigerator it can no longer be fixed. Or something like that, i don’t recally exactly what he said, he just made it sound like an unusual thing that it was so old.

    “According to This Old House, refrigerators still have a life expectancy of 14 – 17 years” – so next year I get a new one right?

  2. HeatherSolos says

    @bookchick Ah yes, they changed the type of Freon used. Same thing with cars.

  3. lori.whitbey says

    My Mom, just within the past few years, had to give up her 1957 stove and refrigerator. The 14-month old new stove door exploded during its cleaning cycle. (Frigidaire offered a 10% off coupon.) Mom’s washer & dryer are from 1972 or 1973 (but they’re beginning to show their age). My 1987 Kenmore washer runs like a top. And so does the 1992 dryer from the Scratch & Dent center. We bought our house last year and all appliances are “old style,” so I expect them to last another 20 years!

  4. bookchick says

    @HeatherSolos : SO as I’m reading your response to my comment I glance up at one of the ads. It’s from Wolff and the picture is a fench door refrigerator. TOO FUNNY!!!

  5. sinea77 says

    I had no idea that freezers needed to be that cold. This is good information to have! Thanks

  6. HeatherSolos says

    @bookchick They are automated for the most part and pick up the context of the article. I have some categories blocked, so hopefully you’ll never see that horrid belly fat one. Sometimes I also sell ads directly to businesses but that’s pretty rare.

  7. HeatherSolos says

    @lori.whitbey I hate that there sometimes is such a trade off with the energy efficiency of newer appliances and the reliability of some old. I hope your appliances last you a good, long time. Congratulations on the house purchase.

  8. tnjmom1 says

    Have to agree with the comment regarding lower quality standards keep the price lower. I recently talked with a salesman at Best Buy regarding a new refrigerator and what life expectancy would be for the model I was looking at. He replied that life expectancy for the newer models was only 10 years.

  9. bookchick says

    Well the evaporator died and while the problem is repairable, the part can no longer be purchcased since the thing is so old. So the new fridge is being delivered tomorrow!

  10. HeatherSolos says

    @bookchick “so old” ? Sigh. You are adding fodder to my “planned obsolescence” theory. I’m glad you have a new fridge. What a pain though.

  11. bookchick says

    I am very excited – I have not had a working refrigerator for almost 2 weeks now. I am tired of takeout food and coolers and stopping at the gas station on my way home every night for ice.

    I’m curious to see how long this new one lasts, I bet it won’t be as long as the last one. I was hoping the old one would be repairable so I could either sell it our keep it as a spare – but at least this way my home warranty coverage picks up some of the cost.

  12. Laurel3113 says

    I recently moved into a new apartment, and there are no vegetable drawers in the bottom, in the last few months i have noticed my veggies suffer greatly and I am missing the extra shelf space. What do you recommend to use as a replacement to create more storage but more importantly extend the life of my produce. I have checked online and they do not make replacement drawers for my refrigerator, it is just made without them.

  13. JAYNE33 says

    i have a samsung fridge model # RS2533SW
    THE FREEZER SIDE ISN’T WORKING (AGAIN) WE HAD IT FIXED ABOUT 3 YEARS AGO
    AND NOW WE ARE HAVING THE SAME PROBLEM
    is there something we can do to fix it our self