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A Simple Guide to RV Refrigerators

RV refrigerators are a critical appliance for most campers. The refrigerator makes it possible to maintain a reliable supply of fresh food at the RV park or at a far-off boondocking campsite. With basic maintenance, refrigerators can last for a very long time. Models from the 1970’s are still running on the original models without any issues. Take care of your refrigerator and it will keep your meat, produce and perishables cold and ready for consumption.


The 3-Way Refrigerator


The 3-way is an RV standard and it offers the ultimate in flexibility. A 3-way runs off electricity while connected to shore power and off propane gas while boondocking. These are extremely valuable for RV owners who alternate between off-grid campsites and parks with hookups. They are also surprisingly efficient in many cases and can run for a few weeks or even longer than a month on a single tank of gas.


The only downside to the 3-way fridge is the lack of a compressor. The models typically require a longer period of time to cool and they do not distribute cold air evenly. This is due to the absorption cooling design that makes it possible to run off gas, AC or DC power. The sacrifice is minimal as they continue cooling food and even offer a small freezer compartment. Most users will plug into power at home for several days in advance of a camping trip. This allows the fridge to cool down completely before hitting the road and making the switch to gas or shore power at a different campsite.


All Electric Models


Not all RV’s come with the common 3-way refrigerator. New models are especially likely to offer an option for the electric only design and many owners choose to replace older 3-way units with electric only models. Why replace the flexible 3-way with an electric only model? Some RV campers do not boondock and spend the majority of their time anchored comfortably in parks with hookups. Full-time hookups mean it’s a good idea to switch out the 3-way and install a compressor model refrigerator.


Electric compressor refrigeration is the same style used in most households. The electric models are efficient and often come with a larger dedicated freezer compartment. They have excellent temperature controls and distribute cold air evenly across the entire unit. The nice thing about residential style models is the cost savings as well. The 3-way design is specialized and more expensive.


All electric models come in a variety of sizes ranging from dorm room minifridges to full size double door kitchen models. Finding the right fit for a replacement is often possible but modifications may be required if the electric model does not come standard. RV remodels are also great candidates for a replacement electric refrigerator in the case that the user primarily plans on camping while attached to shore power.


Basic Maintenance and Cleaning


Keeping a clean RV refrigerator is not much different than a household model. The major difference lies in the fact that an RV model is not always running. You must prepare for periods of stagnation followed by periods of normal use. While in use, maintain a regular cleaning schedule and rotate out old foods that are turning bad. Pull out everything and perform a simple wipe-down every couple of weeks for a spotless and clean fridge.


When you shut down the refrigerator, remove all contents from the interior. This includes condiments that have a long shelf life. Just pull everything out and move the contents to your household unit or donate to a friend. Do a full cleaning and leave the unit open to melt out the ice from the freezer. Wipe away the moisture and add a small cup of baking soda to an interior shelf before closing the unit for long term storage. Leaving moisture in the unit will create a foul smell in the future.


Basic maintenance for a 3-way fridge is a matter of checking the pilot light to ensure gas is activated when in use and simply monitoring the temperature to ensure the unit is functioning. On an electric model, pull the unit out several times each year and vacuum the compressor as well. Dust buildup can create issues down the road and a quick cleaning of the compressor exterior is easy and worth the effort.


One option to consider for the 3-way fridge is an aftermarket fridge fan. This will help to circulate the air internally and will ensure the unit is cooling properly on all levels. Otherwise, keep it clean and make sure the gas is connected with the pilot light engaged.