How to Use Your Motorhome Refrigerator

Author: Your RV Good Guide   Date Posted: 3 May 2024


New to the motorhoming world and unsure how to get the best out of your RV fridge? We’ve got you covered with this helpful guide to everything you need to know about how to use your motorhome fridge, including:


How are RV fridges different from regular fridges?

When you're on the road, your RV fridge needs to tackle challenges that your kitchen fridge never will. RV fridges are designed for the moving environment of a motorhome or campervan, with features that cater to fluctuating power sources and uneven terrains.

Unlike regular fridges, which rely on constant mains electricity, campervan fridges can switch between power sources like a 12v battery, mains, and even gas, ensuring your food stays chilled whether you're parked up or cruising down the open road.


Different types of fridges at RV Super Centre

At RV Super Centre, we understand that every traveller's needs are unique. That's why we offer a variety of RV and campervan fridge types to suit different lifestyles and preferences.


Absorption fridges (3-way fridges) 

Absorption, or 3-way fridges, are the chameleons of the RV fridge world, able to switch between gas, 240v mains, and 12v battery power.

Because these units can operate on LPG gas, it makes highly efficient and ideal for remote locations without electricity. When connected to 240v mains power, they provide reliable cooling without draining your vehicle's battery. On the move, they can switch to 12v (or 24v) battery power, drawing energy from your motorhome’s house battery to maintain cooling.

They're ideal for travellers who venture off-grid but still want the convenience of switching to electricity when available. Just remember, they need to be level to operate optimally and require good ventilation to ensure safety and efficiency.


Compressor fridges 

Compressor fridges are known for their robust cooling capabilities, thanks to a compressor that functions much like the one in your household fridge.

These units are particularly adept at maintaining a consistent and reliable cooling environment, even in extreme temperatures, making them suitable for a wide range of climates. They primarily run on your vehicle's 12v (or 24v) battery system when driving and can switch to 240v mains power at a campsite, providing flexibility and efficiency.

The compressor technology allows these fridges to operate effectively on uneven surfaces, making them a great companion for off-road adventures. While they are more energy-intensive than absorption fridges, modern models are designed with energy efficiency in mind, ensuring your food stays cold without excessive power consumption.


Portable fridges 

For those who prioritise flexibility and convenience, portable fridges are the ideal choice.

These compact, lightweight units can be easily moved in and out of your vehicle, perfect for picnics, day trips, or additional cooling space. Powered by 12v or 24v batteries, they can keep your essentials cool without the need for constant mains power. Some models also offer the option to connect to 240v mains for extended use.

Portable fridges come with various power-saving features and cooling technologies, ensuring efficiency and convenience wherever you choose to set up camp.

Thermo-electric fridges 

Thermo-electric fridges utilise the ‘Peltier effect’, where an electric current transfers heat from the inside to the outside of the unit, cooling the interior. These fridges are ideal for travellers seeking a simple, lightweight solution for keeping beverages and snacks cool. While they may not provide the cooling strength of compressor or absorption fridges, thermo-electric models are perfect for less demanding cooling needs, offering a convenient and portable option for short trips or as a secondary fridge.

READ MORE: Choosing the right fridge for your motorhome


How to prepare your RV fridge for long trips

Heading off on a road trip in your motorhome or campervan requires some preparation, including making sure your fridge is ready to keep your food fresh and drinks cold throughout your adventure. Here are some essential tips to prepare your RV fridge for the journey ahead:

  • Pre-cooling: To help make sure your fridge is ready for action, it's a good idea to pre-cool it. Switch on your RV fridge a few hours or even the night before you plan to leave, allowing it to reach the optimal temperature. This step is particularly important if your fridge has been off for a while, as it ensures a more efficient cooling process once you start loading it with food and drinks.
  • Secure items: The movement of travel can cause items inside your motorhome fridge to shift, which might lead to spills or damage. To prevent this, secure items within your fridge using fridge bars or tension rods, which can be adjusted to fit and hold items in place. Additionally, consider using containers with secure lids for liquids and loose food items to further minimise the risk of spills.
  • Levelling your motorhome: For those with absorption / 3-way fridges, it’s important to make sure your RV is level once you’re parked up. This is because absorption fridges rely on a gravity-fed chemical reaction to cool efficiently, which works best when the unit is level. Before settling in at your campsite, use levellers to ensure your motorhome is as level as possible, optimising your fridge's performance and efficiency.
  • Ventilation: Ensure the external vents of your RV fridge are clear from obstructions. Proper ventilation is crucial for the efficiency of your RV fridge, especially for absorption and compressor models, as it helps to dissipate heat effectively.
  • Battery and power check: Before hitting the road, ensure your motorhome's battery is fully charged, especially if you'll be relying on it to power your fridge during travel. For longer trips, plan your route with stops where you can connect to mains power, or consider using solar panels to keep your batteries charged.
  • Temperature settings: Adjust the temperature settings of your RV fridge according to the load and external temperatures. A fuller fridge may require a cooler setting to maintain the desired temperature, especially in warmer climates.


Finding power sources for your motorhome fridge

Keeping your fridge running efficiently during your travels means understanding the best power sources for different situations. Here's how to ensure your motorhome fridge stays powered up, no matter where you are:

  • 12v DC: While you're on the move, the 12v DC power from your motorhome's house battery is the most convenient source to keep your fridge running. It's a seamless solution that ensures your fridge continues to cool without interruption. Your house battery can be charged in several ways:

Alternator: Many motorhomes are designed so that the alternator charges the house battery while you drive, similar to how it charges the starter battery.

Solar panels: Installing solar panels on your motorhome can provide a sustainable charging source for your house battery, especially useful when parked in remote locations.

Mains hookup: When connected to 240v mains at a campsite, you can also charge your house battery, ensuring it's topped up for times when you're off-grid.

Dedicated battery charger: When plugged into an external power source, a dedicated battery charger can efficiently charge your house battery.

  • 240v mains: Once you've reached a campground and are settled in, switching your fridge to 240v AC power is a wise choice. This allows you to conserve your motorhome's battery for other uses and ensures your fridge runs on a stable power source. Before connecting to the campground's power, it's important to inspect your power cord and any connections for wear or damage to ensure a safe and secure power supply.
  • Gas (LPG): For those with absorption fridges, LPG gas becomes an invaluable power source, especially in remote locations where electrical power sources are scarce. Before relying on gas, ensure that your motorhome's gas supply is turned on and that all connections are secure and leak-free. Regular maintenance checks on your gas system can provide peace of mind and uninterrupted fridge operation.

Each power source has its advantages, depending on your location and the facilities available. By understanding how to optimally use each one, you can ensure your RV fridge remains functional, keeping your provisions fresh throughout your journey.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about RV fridges


Making sure the temperature is right on your RV fridge

Maintaining the correct temperature in your campervan fridge is essential for keeping your food fresh and your drinks chilled, all while optimising power use.

Here's how to ensure your fridge temperature is just right:

  • Thermostat settings: Most motorhome fridges come with a thermostat that allows you to adjust the cooling intensity. Start by setting your fridge to a mid-range temperature and then adjust based on your cooling needs and outside temperatures. If your fridge seems to be working too hard or not cooling enough, tweak the settings until you find the perfect balance. Remember, the goal is to keep your fridge efficient without overburdening your power supply. It might take a bit of experimentation to find the optimal setting that keeps your perishables fresh while conserving energy.
  • Dual-zone fridges: For those with dual-zone fridges, you have the advantage of setting different temperatures for each compartment. This feature is handy for storing a variety of items, allowing you to keep some foods chilled and others frozen, or to store sensitive items like dairy or fresh produce at their ideal temperatures. Familiarise yourself with your RV fridge's control panel to make the most of this feature. By customising each zone's temperature, you can ensure that all your stored items remain at their best quality for longer periods, enhancing your overall travel experience.


Top tips for loading up the refrigerator in your motorhome

Packing your motorhome's fridge efficiently can make a big difference in how well it cools and how much you can fit inside. Here are some tips to help you load your fridge effectively:

  • Food placement: Think about how you arrange items in your fridge. To minimise the loss of cold air and improve cooling efficiency, place items you use most often at the front. This way, you won't have to search through your fridge, letting out precious cold air. Reserve the back of the fridge for items that don't need to be accessed as frequently.
  • Use containers: Containers are your best friends when it comes to keeping your fridge organised and preventing spills. They can help you categorise your items, making it easier to grab what you need without disturbing everything else. Transparent containers allow you to see contents at a glance, while bins or baskets can be used to group similar items together, such as condiments, dairy products, or small snack packets.
  • Maximising Space: To make the most of your fridge's interior, consider how you can use the space vertically. Stacking items or using slim, vertical organisers can help you fit more in. Be mindful of air circulation, though; overcrowding can impede the flow of cold air and lead to uneven cooling.
  • Ventilation: Ensure there's enough space around items for air to circulate. A well-ventilated fridge is a more efficient fridge. Avoid packing items too tightly together.
  • Pre-cool items: Whenever possible, put only pre-cooled items into the fridge. Adding room-temperature or warm items forces your fridge to work harder, which can affect its overall efficiency and the temperature of already-cooled items.


How to clean your RV’s fridge

Keeping your RV's fridge clean is important for maintaining its efficiency and extending its lifespan. Here are some key steps to ensure your fridge remains in top condition:

  • Vent inspection: The ventilation system plays a crucial role in your fridge's ability to cool efficiently, especially in absorption models. Make it a routine to inspect and clean the external ventilation grills and areas. Remove any dust, cobwebs, or debris that might obstruct airflow. This simple step can significantly impact the cooling efficiency of your fridge.
  • Defrosting: For fridges that aren't frost-free, regular defrosting is necessary to prevent ice buildup. Excessive frost can reduce the cooling area inside your fridge and make it work harder than it needs to, leading to increased energy consumption. Turn off or unplug the fridge, remove all items, and allow the ice to melt naturally. To speed up the process, you can place a pan of hot water inside the fridge, but avoid using sharp objects to chip away at the ice, as this can damage the fridge.
  • Coil cleaning: In compressor fridges, the coils at the back or bottom of the unit play a vital role in the heat exchange process. Dust and grime on these coils can hinder their efficiency, causing your fridge to work harder and use more energy. Annually, or as needed, use a coil brush or a vacuum with a brush attachment to gently clean the coils, being careful not to bend or damage them.
  • Interior cleaning: Empty your RV fridge and use a mild cleaning solution of water and baking soda to wipe down the interior surfaces, including shelves and bins. This not only keeps your fridge smelling fresh but also prevents the growth of bacteria and mould. Rinse with a damp cloth and dry thoroughly before restocking.
  • Door seals: Check the door seals for any food residue that might prevent a tight seal and clean them with a soft cloth and mild detergent. A good seal is essential for maintaining the internal temperature and efficiency of your fridge.
  • Odour prevention: To keep your fridge smelling fresh, consider using natural odour absorbers like an open box of baking soda, activated charcoal, or freshly ground coffee. Replace these every few months for continuous odour control.

READ MORE: Upgrading your motorhome fridge: When is the right time?


Find the right fridge for your motorhome with RV Super Centre 

Looking to upgrade or install a new fridge in your motorhome? Check out the wide range of fridges at your local RV Super Centre. Our team of experts is on hand to offer advice on the best fridge for your needs and lifestyle, ensuring you make the perfect choice. Plus, we can also take care of the installation, so you can hit the road with one less thing to worry about.

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