Brittle fridge
May 6, 2013 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Why did all the plastic parts in my fridge turn brittle and start cracking after only 3 years?

We bought a Kenmore fridge 5 years ago, and within 3 years all of the plastics (bins, drawer guides, shelf supports, door shelves), even though we treated it fairly gently, started getting brittle and cracking. Of course, there is only a 1-year warranty on it. It has now gotten to the point that so many of the plastic parts are broken that we are seriously considering replacing the thing (in addition to the self-destructing plastics the door is starting to sag and the freezer and fridge seals don't seal properly).

So, my questions are: why did this happen? Is there anything I can do to stop this from happening? Is this a common problem with all fridge plastics? If we replace the fridge, which makes do you recommend?
posted by fimbulvetr to Technology (9 answers total)
Might be a manufacturing flaw - have you checked for recalls?

Has anything changed - where it is, how the house is heated or cooled or used? Not sure those factors could be significant enough to affect it, I'd go with recall/design flaw.

Here's an older one, but a place to start.
posted by tilde at 12:42 PM on May 6, 2013

Most plastics will get brittle over time, although 3 years seems entirely too short a period for something like a fridge. This process is often sped-up when there are large swings in temperature - have you lost power and had the fridge warm to room temp many times since you've had it?

My guess is just cheap plastic. You may be able to contact Kenmore to see if you can get replacement parts. The sagging door is probably an easy fix by adjusting the hinge alignment. As for the seals, that may be part of the door alignment, or could be related to degraded plastics as well. I believe door seals are relatively easy to replace if you wanted to go that route.
posted by trivia genius at 12:45 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are no recalls on our fridge, and nothing has changed in the house or how the fridge is used. No power losses either that I can remember since we bought the fridge. I personally suspect cheap plastic as well, but I have never seen a fridge fall apart so quickly -- heck, the one at my cottage is 70 years old and perfectly fine, and my parents have a 20-year-old fridge that is still mostly intact.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:51 PM on May 6, 2013

Our Frigidaire is also starting to have this issue, at a little over 2 years old. I think it does have something to do with what trivia genius is saying about swings in temperature (we live in an area that does have relatively wide temperature extremes) and also humidity. Since our fridge is pretty much bottom-of-the-line, I don't think it regulates and maintains temperature and humidity as well as a higher-quality model, and the plastic probably is not made to last.

I've looked into replacements for the parts that are cracking (like the lining around the glass shelves), but frankly, it would cost almost as much to keep fixing this thing than it would to just buy a better quality fridge. So we plan to just keep this thing going for as cheaply as possible (duct tape is involved) for as long as possible, then move up to a fridge with more longevity.

(I should note that the ancient warhorse of a fridge that this one replaced did its job for probably 30 years, despite being a cheap model, but it did have metal shelves and seemingly sturdier plastic. I guess they really don't make 'em like they used to.)
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 12:54 PM on May 6, 2013

This is probably not the problem, but are you using harsh cleansers or bleach? The seal on my fridge started decomposing soon after a well-meaning friend scrubbed mine clean. I don't know what they used to clean it (and I doubt it was even anything particularly caustic), but it hasn't been the same since.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 1:31 PM on May 6, 2013

No harsh cleaners -- just soap and water. The problem with the seals are that they are hardening.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:35 PM on May 6, 2013

This would be par for the course if you had an ozone generator or used a lot of chlorine bleach.

Exposure to chloroform makes many plastics brittle:
...An example of ESC is Polycarbonate (PC) and chloroform. PC is normally tough, but when loaded in the presence of chloroform, it can suffer brittle failure at very low load levels. Unfortunately most chemical resistance charts do not give data on ESC, and this can result in some nominally resistant plastics failing rapidly under very low loads.
Most clear hard plastics in fridges are polycarbonates.
posted by jamjam at 2:29 PM on May 6, 2013

Please use baking soda to clean refrigerators. It is effective and non-toxic. My current Whirlpool fridge is 18yo, and the ubiquitous plastic is ok so far. Fingers crossed. Alas, the same cannot be said for the 18yo Frigidaire range. The control buttons are fragile and very difficult to replace. It took time, investigation, and $26.00 to get a new button for the timer!
posted by Cranberry at 2:32 PM on May 6, 2013

No ozone generator, bleach is banned in our home, and cleaners are never used in the fridge. Actually, it only rarely gets cleaned. The worst hit plastic is the white plastic, like that used for crisper drawer guides. The plastic that lines the fridge is fine, just all the removable bits that go into it.

Any suggestions for good brands of fridges to buy?
posted by fimbulvetr at 5:56 PM on May 6, 2013

« Older Help me put a name/price to this designer wind...   |   What is this called Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.