Obviously, the coldest part of any refrigerator is going to be the freezer, but that’s probably not why you looked up the question, “What is the coldest part of the refrigerator?” You’re likely wondering which section of the refrigerator portion of the appliance is the chilliest, and you would be correct in assuming that different sections of the fridge vary in temperature. The coldest part of a refrigerator is, naturally, going to be the bottom since denser, cold air sinks.
This would mean that the bottom shelves and the crisper drawers are the coldest part of the refrigerator. However, there is a little bit more nuance to this, and sometimes, some parts of your refrigerator may be colder or warmer than you’d expect. This article will look at the details of the differing temperatures in parts of your fridge and how you can use this knowledge to properly store all your food items.
Why Is the Bottom Part of the Refrigerator the Coldest?
The bottom part of the refrigerator is the coldest due to simple physics. This is called convection, the tendency of hotter, less dense material to rise and cooler, denser material to sink. We see this process happen in nature with cloud formations and inside the Earth’s mantle. In the smaller microcosm of your refrigerator, this just means that cold air sinks to the bottom. It is also influenced by the fact that when you open your refrigerator door, the warmer air around you rushes inside and pushes the cold air down.
Is the Bottom Part of the Refrigerator Always the Coldest?
Remember when we said that there’s a bit more nuance to determining the coldest part of the refrigerator? Well, the bottom of the refrigerator isn’t necessarily always the coldest spot. In many refrigerators, the absolute coldest point is right where the air vent is located.
Perhaps you already knew this because you’ve had the misfortune of finding liquid items on the top shelf frozen solid. This may have happened because you placed them right next to the air vent.
Most refrigerators have their small air vent located above or to the side of the top shelf, and this is where the cold air that circulates throughout the appliance comes from. The gas that cools your refrigerator, called refrigerant, cycles through the freezer and is pushed out through the vent into the refrigerator side. This only applies to side-by-side and top-freezer refrigerators. For French door refrigerators, where the freezer is located at the bottom, the coldest air will always be on the bottom shelf and in the bottom crisper drawers, and the air vent will be located at the back near the bottom.
The cold air coming from the vent still sinks to the bottom quite fast, but putting items right next to the vent may freeze or over-chill them. It’s also a bad idea to put items directly in front of the vent because it can slow down the flow of air or cause it to back up. Read more later on how to properly organize your refrigerator!
Keep in mind that regardless of what type of refrigerator you own, the back will tend to be colder than the front.
Where Is the Warmest Part of the Refrigerator?
The warmest part of the fridge is the door. This is the part farthest out from the rest of the refrigerator that less cold air reaches. This is the ideal spot to put condiments or other items you want to cool, but not by too much. The warmest parts of the door are the middle and top-middle in a side-by-side refrigerator, the direct middle in a top-freezer refrigerator, and the top of the door in a French door refrigerator.
The Importance of Crisper Drawers
Crisper drawers will naturally be the coldest part of the refrigerator by virtue of being at the bottom, but did you know that crisper drawers actually have their own airflow and humidity controls? Perishables like fruits and vegetables need to be kept in a certain setting to make them last as long as possible.
Most refrigerators will have at least two crisper drawers, the airflow of which can be adjusted by a slider or a knob. You will want to keep your fruits in one drawer with more open airflow and your crispy vegetables in the other drawer with somewhat restricted airflow.
Fruits are notorious producers of the gas ethylene, which is responsible for ripening. Apples, peaches, bananas, and avocados are among the worst offenders. The ethylene gas will quickly spoil other fruits and vegetables, which is why they should be placed in their own drawers. By keeping the airflow open, you allow the ethylene to escape and slow down the ripening process.
To keep your vegetables nice and crispy longer, you should restrict the airflow. Vegetables need moisture to stay fresh, and by shutting the vents, you retain the moisture and prevent ethylene gas from the fruits from seeping in.
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What Temperature Should a Refrigerator Be Set At and How Do You Set It?
According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the temperature of your refrigerator should consistently be set at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The ideal temperature is between 35 and 38 degrees. This is about as cold as your refrigerator can get before it starts freezing or over-chilling your food. As for your freezer, the temperature should be set to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the FDA.
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All refrigerators come equipped with a thermostat that allows users to change the internal temperature. Usually, this thermostat is a dial that is labeled anywhere from 1-to-4 to 1-to-7, though many modern refrigerators now use digital control panels. Since thermostats vary significantly from one refrigerator to another, you will need to consult your refrigerator’s manual or look it up online to know how to adjust it and what temperatures the different settings correspond to. To get the most accurate reading of your refrigerator’s internal temperature, you may need to invest in an appliance thermometer.
How to Organize Your Refrigerator by Cold and Warm Zones
Now that we’ve gone over where the coldest and warmest parts of the refrigerator are and how to adjust your refrigerator’s temperature setting, let’s use this knowledge to organize everything. Keep in mind that these are just rules of thumb; your household may have different refrigeration needs.
Since the door is the warmest part of the fridge, you should keep items here that are more immune to spoiling. Condiments, juices, water, salted butter (emphasis on salted), and items that have lots of preservatives can all be stored in the door.
Contrary to popular belief, eggs should not be stored in the refrigerator door, as they need to remain at a consistent temperature. By storing your eggs in the door, you expose them to more fluctuating temperatures.
The Upper Refrigerator Shelves
The upper shelves tend to have the steadiest, warmest temperature in the refrigerator and are therefore ideal for leftovers, ready-to-eat foods, and soft drinks. By storing these items on the upper shelf, you can reheat your leftovers much more quickly or scarf down that Diet Coke you’ve been eyeing without getting brain freeze — just make sure you don’t place them directly in front of the air vent!.
The Lower Refrigerator Shelves
As the lower shelves are the coldest, this is where you will want to store meats, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. You should keep these items separated from each other in bins to avoid cross-contamination. Raw meats, which are most susceptible to bacterial growth, should especially be kept separated and sealed. Some refrigerators will have a small drawer above the bottom shelf for keeping dairy products and deli meats.
The Meat Drawer
This one is a little more unique. Some of the newest refrigerators now come with an entirely separate drawer underneath the crisper drawers for meat. If your refrigerator has a meat drawer, store your meat and dairy items here, still separated by bins. Otherwise, store them on the lower shelves.
Keeping Your Fridge Efficient
If your refrigerator is not running efficiently or is facing external pressures that affect its performance, then instead of asking, “What is the coldest part of the fridge?” you may be asking, “Why is no part of the fridge cold?”
First, you must keep the temperature of the room around your refrigerator at or below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. When your refrigerator is surrounded by warm air, the compactor inside will have to work extra hard to keep the air inside cold. For every degree above the optimal room temperature, your refrigerator will use 2.5% more energy. This means that you should also avoid keeping your refrigerator next to other appliances that generate heat, such as the dishwasher.
You should also give your refrigerator ample clearance between the walls. Pushing your refrigerator directly against the wall will restrict air circulation and make it work harder to stay cool. About 1 to 3 inches of clearance will do the job.
To keep your refrigerator running coolly and efficiently, you should also clean the coils once or twice a year. The coils in the refrigerator are responsible for cooling the refrigerant gas and collecting the heat inside. When your coils are covered in dust, your refrigerator will not run at peak efficiency. You don’t want to make the mistake of turning your refrigerator thermostat lower and running up your utility bill when all you needed to do was give the coils a quick dusting.
Finally, you want to avoid opening your refrigerator too often or leaving it open for a long time. Every time you open your refrigerator, warm air from the surrounding room rushes in and warms the overall appliance. By leaving the refrigerator door open for an extended period, you risk spoiling your food, and you put unnecessary pressure on the compressor.
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We’ve covered a lot of information. Not only do you now know where the coldest part of the refrigerator is, but you also have a clear understanding of its different cold and warm zones, how the cooling system works, how to adjust your refrigerator temperature setting, and how to store your precious perishables.
Keep these points in mind:
- Cold air sinks down, so the bottom shelves and crisper drawers will be the coldest areas of the refrigerator.
- The coldest single point in a refrigerator is usually at the air vent.
- The warmest part of the refrigerator is the door.
- Crisper drawers are a lifesaver for produce, and they have their own humidity and airflow settings. Separate fruits into one drawer with the airflow vent open, and vegetables in the other drawer with the airflow restricted.
- How cold is a refrigerator? The ideal refrigerator temperature is between 35 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit, and the ideal freezer temperature is 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Items in your refrigerator should be organized into warm and cold zones.
- Take care of your refrigerator. Keep the external temperature at or below 70 degrees, leave 1 to 3 inches of space between it and the wall, don’t leave the door open for too long and clean the coils every six months to a year.