Maintenance & Care \ Refrigerators \ Refrigerator Air Vents: What to Do if Blocked

Refrigerator Air Vents: What to Do if Blocked

Did you know your fridge air vent can get blocked? This guide shows you what an air vent is, how it can get blocked and how to fix it.
Although there are many types and models of refrigerators on the market today, there is one thing that is common for all of them – both the freezer and the fridge need to maintain a proper temperature.
The way that a refrigerator maintains a cool temperature throughout is with stable airflow between the fridge and the freezer compartment. That’s typically because many refrigerators (especially the more budget ones) only cool one compartment – which is, of course, the freezer, and they use the extremely cold freezer air to cool the not-as-cold fridge section.
As you may suspect, a refrigerator’s air vents play a big role in this…

What Do the Vents Do?

Before getting into air vent blockage and troubleshooting various airflow issues with refrigerators, let’s see how these vents work. Why are they so important?
As mentioned, in many refrigerators, the entire fridge compartment is cooled by the freezer, located above or below it (depending on the fridge model). Using the vents, the cold air is sent from the freezer and into the refrigerator compartment. Then, using the refrigerator return air vent, the air is sent back to the freezer.
This airflow is ongoing. It’s the circulation of the cold air that helps keep things properly cooled and dry.
However, if some of the vents are blocked, the airflow will change. This can cause various inconsistencies in overall refrigerator cooling. If there’s a single vent icing up, the entire “environment” inside the fridge is subject to change. There are many issues to consider here.
fridge air vent diagram

The Issues of Blocked Vents

A changed environment inside a refrigerator can cause temperature inconsistencies throughout the appliance. The cooling in the fridge compartment may get impacted and it might start freezing up.
Moisture build-up is also a common consequence of vent blockage. This is because cooling also dries the air. When the airflow is disrupted due to ice blockage on fridge vents, moisture can build up. This is never a good thing for refrigerator maintenance.
After that, there could be temperature issues and inconsistencies. The temperature can fluctuate in both compartments, leading to spoiled food, ice, and so on.
There’s also a risk of things freezing throughout the fridge. Anything placed too close to the vents, blocked or otherwise, might freeze. If airflow disruption occurs as a result of blocked vents, the airflow itself becomes pretty unpredictable. The food/beverage items that are in the path of the disrupted airflow may start freezing.

How Do Vents End Up Blocked?

Apart from an unknown vent malfunction, usually it’s because someone put an item in front of the vent and blocked off the airflow. Yes, this typically occurs inside the fridge. This is why it’s so important to know where the vents in your fridge are.
Usually, the vents are placed so that they don’t pose a lot of risk for airflow obstruction. That means that there shouldn’t be a vent at the bottom part of a shelf, where any item can just block it. Typically, the vents are placed at a high point of a fridge shelf. Still, putting a tall item in front of the vet will block it. As a rule of thumb, don’t put tall items (like tall bottles) at the back.
It’s also essential that you avoid over-packing the refrigerator. If you really stuff it, not only are the vents likely going to be blocked, but the airflow is also likely going to end up disrupted. This can lead to things freezing in certain parts of the fridge. Alternatively, a near-empty refrigerator may have perfect airflow, but that also means that your fridge could become colder than it’s set at. Without any items to absorb the cold, the temperature will drop. With that said, you can look up a guide on how to organize your fridge if you want to get it right.

Vents Icing Up

Although the vents are often blocked by accident, the issue might lie elsewhere for you. It might be that there is an ice blockage on the vent in the fridge compartment side, which is an indication of a deeper problem.
Most refrigerators have a defrost system that helps you avoid freezing where it’s not wanted. However, a problem may occur with the defrost system, which can lead to the vents in your fridge icing up. This will gradually obstruct airflow within the appliance, and could eventually bring things to a halt.
Typically, this is a result of the drain line stopping up, causing water to form ice near the vent or the air diffuser. The only way to fix this is to get a service centre to repair your defrosting system or replace it with a new one.

Vent Malfunction

If more than one vent malfunctions, you know that the problem probably lies elsewhere. After all, what are the chances of multiple vents malfunctioning simultaneously just like that? If there is a problem with a single vent in your fridge, for example, if the upper fridge vent ended up clogged up or the lower fridge vent is frozen, chances are that the issue is with the vent itself.
Unfortunately, you can’t do much here on your own, unless you are a refrigerator service technician. Once again, you will have to get the vent repaired or, more likely, replaced.

Other Refrigerator Issues

There is a whole lot that can go wrong with a refrigerator. In that light, we’ve rounded up a few common fridge issues.
  • Dirty / old gasket seal – If your fridge is an older model, the gaskets may be dried out and dirty, twisted, or torn. This can result in an improper seal, further leading to moisture, freezing, and energy wastage.
  • Dusty compressor coils – After a while, the coils at the back of the fridge can end up covered in dust. Don’t forget to clean them once in a while.
  • Thermostat issues – The thermostat controls the temperature. Make sure that it’s working properly.

Refrigerator Air Vents

Blocked or faulty vents and improper airflow are both related and common with many refrigerators. Follow this guide and, if you aren’t sure about what you’re doing, you might want to have the fridge serviced.
If you have a Whirlpool®, Maytag®, Amana®, KitchenAid® or JennAir® fridge, and the service looks inevitable, the key is to put it in the hands of reliable and reputable experts, like The Appliance Pros.
Need help maintaining your refrigerator? Get quality service beyond the manufacturer's warranty from certified technicians. Learn more.
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11 Responses

  1. Joao abreu says:

    Your advice was very helpful. Thanks

    1. Moderator says:

      Glad to have been able to help.
      Have a great day!

  2. Susan says:

    Will it help to defrost the vent from the inside of the refrigerator until a service person gets out?

    1. Moderator says:

      Hello Susan, We are so sorry for the issues you have experienced with your Refrigerator. We understand that it is disappointing to have an appliance fail to meet your expectations and we sincerely apologize for this. We would like to help you. Please call us at 1-800-807-6777 (M-T 8AM-6PM, W-F 9AM-6PM EST) with the model and serial number of your appliance so we can assist you.
      Sincerely, Whirlpool Customer Care Team

    2. Travis Gilbert says:

      No I am trying to find out the route of the fan air on a Amana 20 energy saver refrigerator .
      There is a vent under neath the rack going from the fri and the freezer and one real useless vent on back wall of frig

  3. Dion Reyes says:

    Thanks for the advice my problem is 2 of the 5 vents are filled with styrofoam it looks like they were never cut out. I think I should cut them out can you confirm? Thanks

    1. Moderator says:

      Hi Dion,

      Would you by chance have the model number of your unit so one of our product experts can look into this to confirm? Looking forward to hearing from you – Whirlpool Customer Care Team

  4. stephen grecny says:

    I have a Samsung standard refrigerator model number rt18m6213www. I would like to know how to remove the front Grill vent cover to get debris that has fallen in there. The opening is about 12 in long and 1 in wide with a plastic Grill over it to stop large debris from falling in but it doesn’t stop small debris

    1. Moderator says:

      Hi Stephen,

      Unfortunately, Appliance Answers only pertains to Whirlpool branded products, so we do not have any information on how to fix Samsung products. You will want to reach out to someone from Samsung for further assistance. I apologize for any inconvenience. Have a great day – Whirlpool Customer Care Team

  5. chris says:

    Ny (good) wife cleaned out the refrigrator (whirlpool) without turning it off—she had door open on side by side refer for some hours. Since, the lower vent for recirculating air has frozen up, and the freezer itself is freezing with lots of frost. We have now emptied and turned if off, unplugged, and are thinking to re-start it after some hours, after drying and cleaning inside. Is this advisable procedure?

    1. Moderator says:

      Hi Chris, to better assist you, can you please reply with the model number of your fridge? We look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, Whirlpool Customer Care Team

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