All of the most terrifying stories begin with "a Florida man," and this one is no exception—earlier this month, one West Palm Beach resident woke up to a bed-rattling noise and rushed into the kitchen to find his four-month-old refrigerator in pieces. The explosion not only blew his kitchen into disarray: it rattled and cracked his ceilings, walls, and blew out windows in different areas around the home, according to this Realtor.com report.
In all seriousness, the man was lucky to be uninjured, as fridge explosions have caused dozens of deaths in the United Kingdom over the last few years. While the circumstance is rather uncommon, home cooks could be living with a faulty fridge and not be aware of it—which turn into a life-threatening situation if left unresolved over a longer period of time.
How does a refrigerator explode, anyway?
While the cause of most of these infrequent disasters can’t always be calculated, Neil Everitt, former editor of ACR News, a business-based air conditioning and refrigeration publication, says that’s what makes them so dangerous. Everitt noted a toaster or stove fire can usually be caught by a fire alarm, but refrigerator explosions happen in a matter of seconds rather than minutes, so there isn’t any time for a warning.
The problem typically begins in the compressor, which is located in the back of your fridge. The compressor functions like a car radiator, Everitt explains, absorbing all the heat in the freezer and fridge, and cooling the interior to keep your groceries at perfect storing temperatures.
More on keeping your kitchen in tip top shape:
Sometimes, the rear of the fridge can get extremely hot, as the gas that cools down the fridge returns through the compressor and becomes trapped inside. That trapped gas, stuck within the fridge's compressor, leads to a pressure build up silently—and, eventually, an explosion.
How You Can Keep Your Fridge's Compressor Running Smooth
Everitt says that you should only be concerned about maintaining your fridge at home if you are unsure if your fridge is equipped with proper safety features. Most modern models come equipped with what's known as a preventative heat shield in addition to other safety features, and you can learn more about these features by visiting your manufacturer's owners' guide.
But the quickest and easiest way to keep your fridge in tip top shape, according to Everitt, is to frequently clean your refrigerator's coils, as these parts help move gas into the compressor itself.
General Electric has published an in-depth guide to cleaning coils, taking into account where they are located on your refrigerator. You'll need to unplug the appliance and either use a duster, brush, or vacuum to suck up any dirt, dust, hair, or other debris that have ended up in the coils' grille.
Routinely dusting and cleaning this part of the appliance can help to prevent any rare conditions leading up to an explosion, but if you find yourself worried about the safety of your appliance, it's best to contact the manufacturer or the retailer you purchased it from directly for maintenance.