How Does a Refrigerator Work?


Quick Answer

The cooling process in a refrigerator is accomplished through a cooling agent known as a refrigerant, which circulates through the refrigerator via a series of coils. There, it changes between two forms: liquid and gas. As the refrigerant evaporates, it absorbs the heat, which is then released into the external environment, thus cooling off the air contained in the refrigerator.

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Full Answer

A typical refrigerator features five components that are at the core of the cooling process, including a compressor, an expansion valve, two sets of heat-exchanging pipes and the refrigerant. The compressor serves to compress the ammonia gas, which heats up as it’s pressurized. The heat-exchanging pipes at the back of the refrigerator allow the gas to dissipate its heat, whereby it gets condensed into a liquid form. The liquid form of ammonia then travels through one end of the expansion valve, and exits the other in the gas form. At that point in the process, the temperature drops to -27 F. The compressor sucks up the gas, and the cooling process starts again.

Older refrigerators use Freon as a refrigerant. Freon is the brand name for the chlorofluorocarbon gas, also known as CFC. Due to its harmful effect on the environment, it is no longer used. As of 2014, refrigerators use tetrafluoroethane, also known as HFC-134a, which turns into liquid form at -15.9 F. Refrigerators maintain the desired temperature by shutting off and engaging the compressor whenever the thermocouple detects optimal or suboptimal temperature in the refrigerator.

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