When To Break Up With Your Refrigerator

The average refrigerator lasts about 12 years, but what if yours is still humming along?

A week ago, we got an email from the sweetest lady EVER (don’t even try to debate it). It began:

My husband purchased a General Electric refrigerator on May 20, 1949, 6 days after our brand new daughter, Mary, was born.  One of the features I liked about it was a “butter conditioner”.

This Model MF8F General Electric refrigerator is still running.  But there is the possibility, it could seize to function one day.

The ‘butter conditioner’ in the door is intended to keep butter at the temperature I desire.

Thus far, I don’t know where to look for a refrigerator with this feature.  I’m almost sure you can help me.

Clearly, this woman — bless her heart — should’ve replaced her refrigerator decades ago. That wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing butter conditioner, though source of such creamy deliciousness, really is just a black hole of energy.

That thing probably runs on $300-$400 worth of electricity per year, versus $50 or so of a new Energy Star refrigerator.

I’m not hating on this woman (on the contrary; I want to adopt her), as it’s hard to tell when to just break up with a “perfectly good” refrigerator.

The New York Times mused on the topic in 2008, and decided that 15-years-old is a pretty safe retirement age for your refrigerator.

What if you inherited appliances from the previous owner? If you’re like me and your home was sold to you with so-called updated appliances, you can use Energy Star’s Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator, a handy tool that lets you input the model number of your current fridge to see how much more you’re spending on energy use annually versus a new, Energy Star refrigerator.

How Long Does a Refrigerator Last?

According to research, the average refrigerator lasts about 12 years. If you think it might be time to retire your refrigerator, check out Energy Star’s Refrigerator Retirement Savings Calculator. This handy tool that lets you input the model number of your current fridge to see how much more you’re spending on energy use annually versus a new, Energy Star refrigerator. Now let’s play by the numbers.


The number of years in the average refrigerator’s lifespan, according to research. The life span reflects how long the first owner of a refrigerator used it, which doesn’t necessarily mean that it broke down.


Amount cubic feet of fresh food storage space in the average refrigerator, based on active models.


Cubic feet of average amount of freezer space, based on active models. Guess that means the average refrigerator unit is just under 22 cu. ft.


Average price of Energy Star refrigerators in 2009.


Average price of a standard refrigerator in 2009 (not much difference, eh?).


Amount of years it takes for the lower operations costs of an Energy Star refrigerator to make up, or “pay back,” for the initial sticker price difference.


Net savings (energy savings minus initial higher cost) of an Energy Star refrigerator over its expected lifetime of 12 years.

Energy Star refrigerators save $50/year over 1990s fridges

This is an outdated picture of my kitchen, but you get the idea.

I’m replacing my 15-year-old refrigerator this month with a more roomy, smarter-designed and better-looking new fridge.

Best of all, it’s an Energy Star refrigerator, which means that it uses at least 20 percent less energy than a non-Energy Star fridge. Plus, although Energy Star refrigerators generally cost more upfront, you should consider overall cost of the appliance — which includes how much energy it uses compared to other models.

Energy Star estimates that over the lifetime of your refrigerator, you will cut your energy bills by $165 versus if you used an non-Energy Star model.

So think of how much you save when you unplug the refrigerator you’re using right now? Actually, see the handy chart below.

So my fridge from the ’90s costs about $97 per year compared to an Energy Star refrigerator, which uses an average of $48, according to this chart. (And actually, my new fridge is 10 percent better than the Energy Star standards; its energy use is estimated to cost about $43 per year.)

Obviously, I have to buy the new fridge, but I’ve budgeted for that. Now, what will I do with the $50? Better question: what will do with the $600 in usage cost savings I’ll realize over the average life (12 years) of my refrigerator?

Tips for National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day

As you make more frequent trips to the grocery store to stock up on all the fixings for your Thanksgiving dinner, your refrigerator becomes fuller and fuller. Then your new bounty pushes your leftovers (which let’s face it, are meat surprise by now) farther to the back of the fridge. And before you know it, the holiday is over, and your fridge is overflowing with leftover turkey and casseroles.

Sound familiar? We thought so, which is why the timing couldn’t be better for National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day. Set your refrigerator up for success this holiday season with these tips.

Refrigerator Cleaning

  1. Empty the contents of your refrigerator, checking for expiration dates as you go. Throw away or compost any expired foods, and place the rest in a cooler while you work. Can’t find an expiration date? When in doubt, throw it out!
  2. Unplug the refrigerator so you don’t waste energy as you work. Use a gentle cleaner to wipe down shelves, doors and drawers. Warm, soapy water usually does the trick. GE recommends 1 to 2 tablespoons of baking soda to a quart of water.
  3. Rinse away any residue with warm water. Then, dry the refrigerator with a gentle cloth.

Refrigerator Organizing

Now it’s time to put all the food back in the refrigerator. If you don’t organize your refrigerator contents often, take this opportunity to put everything back in a way that makes sense. Low-humidity drawers are ideal for fruit, while higher humidity works best for vegetables. Store meats in the back.

Keep leftovers front and center of the refrigerator so you remember to eat them before they spoil. You might even consider labeling leftovers with the date in which they were prepared. Be honest with yourself. If you aren’t going to eat the leftover lasagna, get rid of it.

stack of food leftovers

Wipe down condiment bottles to remove spills and drips before returning them to the refrigerator.

Plastic bins provide a clever way to organize fridge contents and cut down on clutter. Or invest in a Lazy Susan to prevent losing bottles and jars in the back of your fridge.

Once your refrigerator is cleaned and organized, you’re one step ahead in your holiday prep. Isn’t that cool?

Photo credit: GE Appliances

What are your best tips for a clean and organized refrigerator? Share them in the comments below!



How To Move a Refrigerator

We have fielded many calls inquiring if it’s OK to put a refrigerator on its side when moving it. Certainly, the manufacturers don’t recommend it. But sometimes it’s necessary, right?

So, when you can’t transport your fridge upright, GE suggests laying your top-freezer refrigerator or bottom-freezer refrigerator on the side opposite the hinges, so the door will remain closed. If you have a side-by-side fridge, place it freezer-side down (that door is less likely to come open).

Black Stainless Steel Samsung Refrigerator

When you bring the fridge inside its new home, keep it unplugged and upright for the same amount of time it spent on its side. If the refrigerator spent more than a day on its side, let it stand for 24 hours before plugging it in.

Also, GE suggests wheeling the refrigerator on its side when using a dolly to avoid damage to the front or rear of the unit.

And please, remove all the racks and cover your beautiful Warners’ Stellian refrigerator with a moving blanket. We love appliances too much so see you damage them on accident.