Freon, also known as R-22, is the type of refrigerant that is common in refrigerators manufactured before 1995. If you have a Freon leak, it will be causing your refrigerator not to cool as efficiently as it used to.
However, there are other causes of a refrigerator not cooling that should be investigated before trying to repair a Freon leak. By following our guide below, you will learn about Freon, why it is best to contact a trained technician, how to fix a Freon leak with a cold-weather seal, and how to add Freon if you opt for the DIY approach.
What is Freon?
Freon is a synthetic chemical refrigerant that can very effectively transfer heat. Freon’s chemical structure means it has a particularly high boiling point, which allows it to absorb heat as a liquid and then turn into a gas. The refrigerator’s condenser then turns the gas back into a liquid.
The name Freon was given to the refrigerant, also known as R-22, by DuPont. It is typically an odorless, non-flammable gas used in older refrigerators to keep things cool.
Does my refrigerator use Freon?
In the 1970s, researchers discovered that Freon was harmful to the ozone layer. As a result of rising concerns over global warming, Freon has been gradually phased out in many countries, with the US and Canada banning the manufacture and importation of Freon from the start of January 2020.
However, most refrigerator manufacturers stopped using Freon in 1994. Freon was mostly replaced by the more environmentally-friendly R-134a (Tetrafluoroethane). If your refrigerator was made before 1995, it most likely uses Freon.
Where can I buy Freon?
Traditionally, Freon has been available from appliance repair shops and auto parts stores.
With Freon being phased out, it can be difficult to find. In fact, most areas require a special permit or EPA certification that you are a trained technician to purchase Freon.
Before attempting to repair a Freon leak, make sure a Freon leak is what is wrong with the refrigerator (see leak detection instructions and symptoms below).
If your refrigerator is not cooling, before searching for a Freon leak or committing to the repair, check the following components:
- Condenser coils are clean of debris
- Refrigerator vents are not blocked
- The thermostat and other cooling components are not defective
- The condenser and evaporator fans are working properly
Symptoms of a Freon Leak
If your refrigerator is leaking Freon, the first consideration should be your safety. Fortunately, Freon is not flammable, and accidentally inhaling the gas by itself is not fatal.
However, if Freon leaks into an open flame, it can create a deadly gas. Freon exposure can also cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and shortness of breath.
While Freon is odorless, a leak will typically cause a musty or freshly-cut grass smell. A Freon leak also usually causes an oily substance to accumulate on the floor by the refrigerator.
Another symptom is that the refrigerator motor is constantly running, as the refrigerator motor works overtime to try and reduce the temperature because of the deteriorating amount of refrigerant. The motor working overtime leads to more expensive electricity bills and will eventually cause the motor to fail if the problem is not fixed.
Of course, the first symptom you will likely notice is that the refrigerator is not cooling properly.
Detecting a Freon Leak
A variety of leak detectors can be purchased from appliance repair shops, auto parts stores, or online.
However, a Freon leak can be detected using soap and water. Soap and water should be combined in a spray bottle and then sprayed onto the piping. If there is a leak, the Freon will cause the soap and water mixture to bubble, which shows you where the leak is.
While other refrigerator repairs can be conducted by following instructions from online articles, in this case, if you have not been trained in repairing compressors and refrigerant leaks, it is best to call a trained professional. In many places, it is a legal requirement to have a license to perform a Freon leak repair.
Repairing a Freon Leak
Aside from the legal requirements, and depending on where the leak is located, the time, expertise, and equipment needed to repair a leak likely makes calling a trained professional or buying a new refrigerator the better option.
If you want a temporary fix for the issue, you can use cold weather epoxy seal to patch the leak. However, the patch will usually fail in a year’s time. If using sealant to patch the leak, the system must be recharged with refrigerant after the leak has been sealed, which depending on where you live, will likely require a licensed technician.
Follow the sealant instructions, such as sanding and cleaning the area before applying the patch.
How to Add Freon
If you have the equipment and know-how, Freon can be added to a refrigerator by following these steps.
- Add a saddle valve. The saddle valve should be installed on the large copper pipe that comes out of the compressor. The valve is used to puncture the copper pipe to give access to the line for adding the new refrigerant later.
- Remove the air from the system. Air is removed from the system by using a special vacuum pump. This is usually available for hire from tool rental or appliance repair stores.
- Add Freon to the system by placing a hose onto the saddle valve that you installed earlier.
- Add PAG oil. To help lubricate the compressor, a few tablespoons of PAG oil should be added with the refrigerant. The amount of PAG oil to add depends on the refrigerator, so refer to the refrigerator’s manual to find out how much to add.
It is best to contact a trained refrigerant and compressor repair technician to repair a Freon leak or add Freon to the refrigerator. However, if you can detect where the leak is, perhaps using soap and water, cold weather sealants can be used to temporarily patch the leak.