Most refrigerators (excepting some odd models, perhaps) have a rubber or vinyl seal around the door, usually magnetic, that fills the gaps between the door(s) and the fridge itself. This ensures you have an airtight seal to keep the cold in and the heat out. This is called the “door gasket”.Over time, this seal becomes compressed, dirty, and/or damaged, resulting in a bad seal and therefore more energy used to keep the refrigerator at the correct temperature. Because it starts running more, you end up with higher power bills, condensation, improperly cooled food, and a shorter life for your appliance. In essence, this is a Bad Thingâ„¢.
My refrigerator has a bad seal. I first noticed this one night when getting something out and seeing that, upon shutting the door, I was still able to look into the fridge with the door closed. The corners on both the top and bottom of the main door had been compressed so much that they no longer contacted the metal of the fridge. I had wondered why it had been running so much lately — now I knew. The cold air was pouring out at both corners.
So, I headed over to RepairClinic.com, an online appliance parts supplier where I’ve ordered bits and pieces for my various appliances before. They always seem to have parts for my freaking-old machines, which I like. I looked up my refrigerator, a General Electric Model TBX18ZFC. I easily found the door gasket, but it cost $60, and at the moment, that’s something we don’t have to spend, so I had to make do with something else.
Instead, after examining the seal a good deal, I decided that some cleaning and some softening and reshaping would probably help the seal last a few more months until I could properly fix it. Here is the procedure I went through to do this:
First, a bit of a warning and warranty: You perform any and all actions at your own risk. These instructions are for educational purposes only. I am not liable for any damages to you or property as a result of attempting any of these repairs and adjustments.
These instructions apply to my model of refrigerator and may or may not work with yours; I assume you’re smart enough to read through and figure out if they would or not. Tools you will probably need:
- A 1/4″ nut driver. Preferably this would be on an electric drill or screwdriver, as there are a lot of screws holding the seal on the door and your hand/arm would get tired in a hurry if you had to do it by hand, but if you want to go ahead, be my guest.
- A 5/16″ nut driver, box wrench, or socket. This is to take the doors on and off with.
- Some place to fill with very hot water to soak the seal in. A sink works ok if it’s big enough.
- Dishwashing soap or some sort of all-purpose cleaning solution like Mr. Clean. This is not one of those applications where gasoline is a useful cleaning agent.
- Hot water — this is very important. You have to have water hot enough to get the seal to soften up after years of being cold. That being said, you shouldn’t have it so hot such that you can’t pull the seal out of the water and wash it while the rest stays in there. My hot water heater is set at 140F so it worked fine, but you may want to put hot water in your sink and add a pot or two of boiling water to get the temp up.
- Floor space to lay the door out and work on it.
- Shut off your refrigerator. This is usually accomplished by turning the temperature knob inside the fridge to “OFF” or the warmest setting. You might have to hunt for it. At the worst, pull the plug or shut off the breaker.
- Remove all items from the door(s) of the fridge. In the next few steps, we’ll be taking the door or doors off and laying them flat on the floor, so having something sitting inside of them will make them extra heavy and plus it’ll go all over the place. This is probably a good time to clean them, too, since you’ve been too lazy before now to get to it.
- It will get warmer than normal during this procedure, so make sure you don’t have anything very temperature sensitive inside. However, nothing will get warm — this procedure takes approximately 30 minutes or less.
- Take off the door or doors in question. To get the main fridge door off, I had to also remove the freezer door as it stacks on top of the fridge door. You may or may not have to do this.
- Remove any handles on the fridge door so you can lay it flat on its outside face on the floor. My handle came off by removing the top two screws, one screw hidden behind a filler panel in the middle, and a 5/16″ nut on the bottom.
- Lay the door flat on the floor on its outside face. WARNING: If you do not remove the door and lay it down, removing the screws to take the gasket off will cause the door to become warped and out of square! The same screws that hold the gasket on also screw the inside of the door to the outside!
- Pull back the gasket (might be tough to do) and find the gasket bracket with the screws in it. This bracket grabs onto a “bump” on the gasket and holds it to the door — the screws only hold the bracket onto the door (and the door together); they don’t actually go through the gasket itself.
- Examine how the bracket holds onto the gasket. This is important, because you’re going to have to put it back together, observe it while it’s already correctly done so you don’t forget how it goes when you try to reassemble.
- LOOSEN the screws. DO NOT remove them! If you remove them, you’ll really screw things up (no pun) because you’ll be taking the two halves of the door apart. My understanding is that getting these back together properly is an effort in profanity proficiency.
- Remove the gasket gently by pulling it away from the bracket. Don’t tear or stretch it more than you have to.
- Dunk the gasket into the sink or container full of very hot water. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes to heat up and loosen the gunk that you’ll have to clean up.
- Taking a sponge or rough cloth, pull a part of the gasket out of the water and, with a well-soaped implement, start scrubbing the gasket. It has a lot of grooves and niches and so forth that hold gunk and dirt and is a real pain to get into to clean it, but trust me — you want to do this correctly. Take the time. While you are cleaning it, make sure to gently pull the gasket out to stretch it — pull the magnetic side away from the bracket side so it spreads out. This will help rejuvenate the gasket so it works better when you put it back on.
- Once you have cleaned the entire gasket, let it soak for another minute or two to make sure it is of even temperature.
- Take the gasket out of the water and immediately to the fridge door while it is still warm. Lay it down on top of the bracket all the way around and then start pushing it underneath the bracket so that the “bump” of the gasket locks underneath the bracket. This is the hardest part — you may have to loosen or tighten the bracket to make it grab the seal correctly — use your judgment — just do NOT take the screws on the bracket all the way out.
- You will probably have to shift the gasket as you put it in so it is even over the entire door — when I put mine on, I found that I had stretched it too much on the top and the bottom was hanging low, so I had to tug it around. DO NOT tighten the bracket all the way until you get the gasket locked under it all the way around first. You’ll wish you hadn’t if you do, trust me.
- My gasket has an outer “lip” that has to sit flat against the metal of the door. This was tucked under after I got the gasket underneath the bracket and I had to pull the it towards the inside of the door to make that lip “flip out”. This is on the OUTSIDE of the seal rubber, not the inside where the bracket grabs the gasket.
- Tighten all screws on the brackets all the way around the door. Make sure the gasket is properly locked underneath the bracket and isn’t pinched.
- Put the doors back on, align them properly, and tighten them down. Many doors are adjustable; make sure yours swings correctly before declaring it done.
- Check your seal along all edges of the door. Fate willing, it’s better than it was. If not, you get to spend $60. Mine is significantly better, but it will only last for a few more months and then I’ll have to shell out, but that’s fine in my opinion.
These are the general steps to do a fridge such as mine. As they say, your mileage can and probably will vary depending on your model and brand. Here’s hoping you have good luck with it!