How Long Does It Take a Fridge To Get Cold

If you just purchased a new refrigerator, you may be wondering how long it takes a fridge to get cold. Or perhaps a thunderstorm has knocked out power to your home and you are worried about the food you have stored in your fridge and freezer. Either way, knowing how long it takes for a refrigerator to cool can help you figure out what to do with the food that needs to stay cold until the appliance cools to the correct temperature. 

In this article, we will explore a wealth of information surrounding the cooling process of the refrigerator. While this knowledge may seem trivial, the reality is that buying groceries today is expensive, and knowing these facts may just help you keep more money in your wallet. 

How Long Does It Take For a Fridge to Cool Down?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that food stored in the fridge be cooled to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The average full-sized refrigerator can take up to 12 hours to reach cooling temperature. 

With that said, cooling times vary greatly from fridge to fridge. Brand, type, and size all play a role in how long it takes for a refrigerator to cool down. For example, a mini fridge may only take 4 hours to reach optimal temps, but other fridges might take as long as 24 hours. 

Factors Affecting Fridge Cooling Time

There are a number of factors that impact how long it takes for a refrigerator to get cold. Let’s take a closer look at each of them. 

Refrigerator Size and Capacity

While not a hard and fast rule, generally, the bigger the refrigerator, the longer it takes for it to cool down. It stands to reason that a larger unit will take longer to cool when you consider the overall surface area that needs to cool as well as the internal air capacity that also needs to reach the required temperature. 

However, there are other considerations including the power of the cooling system, the ambient room temperature and the age of the appliance and so on. So let’s dig deeper into each of these factors. 

Ambient Fridge and Room Temperature

It may seem strange to talk about the ambient temperature of the fridge affecting the cooling time. But if you think of it like this…imagine an empty fridge with the door open in Arizona on a hot spring day, versus an empty fridge with the door open in Minnesota during winter. 

If you were to close the door on both fridges and plug them in, which one would reach the desired cooling temperature first? Well, the one in Minnesota obviously as its starting temperature was probably already around zero. The fridge insulation, the body of the fridge, and the air contained within it, once the door was closed, would vary depending on the local environment temperature. 

Apply the same principle to the ambient temperature of the room you store your fridge in. Whether that’s in the garage, the kitchen or wherever, it will influence the time it takes to reach the optimal refrigeration temperature. 

Age of Appliance

As with most appliances, the newer the unit, the more efficient it will be. An older refrigerator will not cool as quickly as a new one, but this isn’t the only consideration. The condition of the appliance also plays a role in its ability to cool. For example, if the door seals are cracked or worn, the fridge will not be able to sustain an even temperature. Dusty or grimy coils on the back can also impede the refrigerator’s ability to cool adequately. 

Empty or Full

A full fridge is a cool fridge. A full fridge has less work keeping the inside cool because the food and drink help convey the coolness. Empty space in a fridge gives warm air a chance to circulate, so try keeping your fridge well-stocked to help it work more efficiently. 

However, an empty fridge will reach its optimum refrigeration temperature faster than a fridge recently loaded with food items purchased from your grocery store. This is due to the grocery items having a higher temperature than the FDA-recommended cooling temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This means the fridge not only has to cool the air inside the fridge but also needs to cool the dense materials contained within the groceries too. 

How to Cool Your Fridge Faster

There are several things you can do to help your fridge cool down faster. Whether this is the first time plugging it in or the unit needs to cool back off after a power outage, these tips can help speed up the process. 

  • Don’t open the door. Every time you open the door, you allow warm air to enter, which makes your fridge work harder to cool it back off. 
  • Regularly clean the coils. Dirty coils make a fridge work harder to cool. Ideally, you should clean the coils at least once every six months. 
  • Plug in the fridge correctly. It may sound silly, but there is a right way and a wrong way to plug in a fridge. First, the appliance should be plugged into its own outlet. No other appliances should be plugged in with it. Second, you should never plug a refrigerator into a surge protector or extension cord. This is a fire hazard. Finally, make sure the outlet you plug it into is rated for the right voltage to accommodate the refrigerator’s electrical needs. 
  • Keep a couple of inches between the fridge and the wall. The coils on the back of your fridge are designed to disperse warm air. If the fridge is too close to the wall, the coils cannot get rid of the warm air adequately, which can cause the appliance to work harder to cool. 
  • Keep the room cool. While your fridge is cooling, you should turn the AC on to help it. Alternatively, if you are keeping your fridge in the garage or some other non-climate-controlled area, run a fan or make sure it is insulated well to help it stay cool. 
  • Put ice in the fridge compartment. You can help your fridge cool faster by placing a bag or block of ice inside. Try not to keep the door open too long when you put the ice in and check the ice periodically as it will begin to melt. 

How to Tell If Your Fridge is Cold Enough

Many modern refrigerators have digital thermometers that tell you what the temperature is inside the fridge and freezer compartments. This makes it easy to know when your fridge is ready for safe food storage. 

If your fridge does not have a built-in thermometer, though, you can purchase a refrigerator thermometer online. This is especially a good idea if you are cooling a new fridge for the first time. Once your fridge has reached an optimal temperature, the thermometer comes in handy to monitor the temp inside as fluctuations in the temperature can indicate a problem with the appliance. 

How Long to Wait Before Storing Food in a New Fridge

Ideally, you should wait until your new fridge reaches 40 degrees Fahrenheit before putting any food inside. This will ensure it can keep your food fresh and safe to eat. 

If you cannot wait that long, most manufacturers recommend waiting at least two hours before placing food inside a fridge that has been plugged in for the first time. If you don’t allow your new fridge to cool down enough, it may not preserve your food adequately and you could end up throwing things away that have gone bad. 

What To Do If Your Fridge is Not Getting Cold

If your refrigerator is not getting cold, it could be malfunctioning, or if it is a newly installed fridge, it might not be installed properly. If, at any time, you are unsure about the operation or maintenance of your refrigerator, you should schedule an appointment with a professional to check things out. 

Proper Fridge Placement and Ventilation

Remember, proper placement and ventilation is the key to ensuring your fridge can cool efficiently. If you feel your fridge isn’t cooling well enough, try lowering the room’s temperature by turning on the AC and making sure the unit is far enough from the wall to allow good ventilation. If the appliance still does not cool well, schedule that appointment with a handyman. 

Knowing how long it takes for a refrigerator to cool down is solid knowledge to have, especially if you have just purchased a new appliance. The FDA recommends that refrigerators cool to 40 degrees Fahrenheit to safely store food and keep it fresh. Whether this is the first time you are plugging your new fridge in or the unit is recovering from a power outage, knowing the information above will ensure the unit is working well and can preserve your food efficiently.

You may also be interested to read Why Your LG Freezer is Not Freezing | How To Fix It

Appliance Service Technician | Website | + posts

Andy has over 8 years of experience working on residential household appliances, performing diagnostics, and repairs across most major brands. He graduated from the Denver Institute of Technology, is NASTeC certified, and has worked for Mr. Appliance. Andy has contributed to features on major publications including Better Home & Gardens, Family Handyman, and