A woman looking in her fridge, it’s on eco-mode
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Chill smarter, not harder

What Is Eco-Mode on a Refrigerator or Freezer — And Should You Use It?

Kimberly Hutchings
March 5, 2024

Whether you're a homeowner or renter, odds are, you have a refrigerator.

In fact, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), as of 2020, 34 percent of American homes have two or more of them! And 33 percent own a separate freezer.

Next to HVAC and water heating expenses, refrigeration holds the next largest piece of the pie when it comes to home energy consumption and totals roughly 7.9 percent of our annual electricity expenses.

Knowing how to use your refrigerator and freezer efficiently ensures you spend your energy wisely. And one of the ways you can do that? Eco-mode!

A relatively new feature to the refrigeration scene, eco-mode often flies under the energy-saving radar, but when used correctly, it can offer significant savings!

Keep reading to learn more about what eco-mode does for your refrigerator and freezer and how and when you should use it.

What Is Eco-Mode on a Fridge or Freezer?

First things first, what exactly is eco-mode?

Eco-mode is a setting that dials back the energy your fridge or freezer uses to maintain its temperature. According to This Is Money, it's a setting that can save homeowners as much as 15 percent on the annual cost of operations — nearly $21 each year for the average American home!

While the specifics of how these eco settings work may vary slightly from model to model, generally, energy saving is accomplished through a combination of the following four functions:

Temperature Management

In eco-mode, your refrigerator or freezer will often make minor temperature adjustments to increase energy efficiency.

Temperatures may be slightly raised compared to what you would typically set, making it easier for your appliance to maintain coolness while ensuring a food-safe environment.

Optimizing Defrosting Routines

Automatic defrost cycles help your fridge and freezer minimize ice buildup over time (too much frost leads to inefficiencies!). In eco-mode, the frequency and duration of these automatic defrost cycles are typically reduced to help cut back on energy consumption.

Enhanced Compressor Control

The compressor is a central component in the everyday operations of your fridge or freezer. It controls the flow of refrigerant, the substance responsible for chilling the inside of your appliance.

When your fridge or freezer enters eco-mode, the compressor begins to run on a lower power setting, often cycling on and off less frequently, helping to reduce energy consumption while still maintaining coolness.

Cutting Back on Lighting and Display Features

The final piece of the eco-mode puzzle doesn't actually have to do with refrigeration!

Many refrigerators and freezers now have LED lights or display screens that illuminate controls and the contents inside. In eco-mode, these lights are often dimmed or turned off entirely to help conserve energy.

When Should You Use Eco-Mode?

Now that we understand the ins and outs of eco-mode, the next question you're likely asking is, 'When should I use it?'

In short, it depends. There are a few scenarios where eco-mode will be most beneficial. Primarily, it comes down to how frequently you use your appliance.

For the fridge or freezer you're using often (we're talking multiple times daily), you'll want to use eco-mode when you're away for the weekend or other extended periods.

If you have a secondary fridge, like one in your garage, used less frequently, eco-mode may be a good option to keep on all the time!

As a general rule of thumb, remember that the reduced power settings of eco-mode make it harder for your appliance to get back to its cool temperature when you open the door and let warm air in. If your family goes in and out of the fridge throughout the day, there may be more effective options than eco-mode for you to consider!

Tips To Maximize Your Fridge Efficiency

Whether you're using eco-mode or not, you'll want to note the following energy-saving tips!

Use smart plugs to disconnect for a few hours each day!

Did you know your fridge is an excellent candidate for a smart plug? It's true!

USDA guidelines specify that food in your fridge can stay safe for up to four hours when the door remains closed and food in your freezer for as long as 48! Setting your appliances up with smart plugs is a great way to schedule some downtime and reduce energy use for a few hours each day. Bonus points if you're able to do so during peak hours!

Set your temperatures with efficiency in mind.

While eco-mode typically raises your fridge or freezer's internal temperature by a few degrees, ensuring you set your regular temperatures efficiently is important, too.

According to the US Department of Energy, the optimal temperature is 35-38° F for a fridge and 0° F for a freezer.

If your appliance isn't equipped with an internal thermometer, consider investing in one so you can keep tabs and quickly make adjustments when needed!

Remember to clean your condenser coils.

Keeping your fridge or freezer clean isn't just about wiping away crumbs and spills; it's also about cleaning the outside of your appliance — and by that, we mean the condenser coils!

Typically located at the bottom or back of your appliance, condenser coils get covered with dust and debris over time, making it harder to cool the refrigerant needed for your fridge or freezer to work!

To clean them (we recommend doing so around every six months), unplug your fridge or freezer and use a vacuum with a narrow attachment to suck away any easily accessible dust. Then follow it up with a feather duster to get in all the nooks and crannies! Once you're done, vacuum up any remaining debris, plug your appliance back in, and you're done — easy!

Consider where you place your appliances.

Our final fridge and freezer energy-saving tip is all about placement.

In other words, where you put your appliance matters! Avoid placing your fridge or freezer beside ovens or large windows where they may be exposed to external heat, and try to leave at least one inch of space around each side of the appliance so that air can flow easily between walls and countertops!

Eco-mode might not be an option you use every day for your fridge or freezer, but in the right scenarios, it can help you save money and energy! Paired with the tips above, you'll be well on your way to maximizing efficiency in no time, so you can feel cool as a cucumber when those energy bills come in at the end of the month.

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