How to Save Energy By Unplugging Your Fridge

How to Save Energy By Unplugging Your Fridge

What Happens When You Unplug a Refrigerator?

When you unplug a refrigerator, the internal temperature will start rising steadily. Food will slowly lose its coldness and start spoiling. Here’s what happens:

  • Milk and other dairy will be unsafe to drink within 4-6 hours without refrigeration. Bacteria like Listeria and Salmonella can multiply rapidly at temperatures above 40°F.

  • Meat, poultry, fish and other proteins will start rotting after about 2 hours without cold storage. Toxins from bacterial growth can cause food poisoning.

  • Produce like fruits and vegetables will wilt and go bad faster without a chilled environment. Enzymes in plants accelerate ripening and decomposition at higher temperatures.

  • Frozen foods will thaw and need to be cooked soon to avoid spoilage. Ice cream will melt into a sugary pool. Frozen meat may last a day or two thanks to the low freezing point.

So in summary, unplugging your fridge for more than a few hours causes unsafe food spoilage and potential health hazards.

Why Unplugging Your Fridge Won’t Save Much Energy

While your fridge won’t actively use electricity when unplugged, keeping it off for long won’t provide much energy savings:

  • When you plug the fridge back in, it will draw a surge of power to restart and cool down to temperature. This can cancel out any savings from having it unplugged.

  • Food waste from spoilage leads to higher grocery bills and more energy used to produce and transport replacement food.

  • Fridges are designed to be on 24/7. Cycling them on and off strains the compressor and other components, shortening lifespan. This means you’ll have to replace it sooner.

  • Newer fridges only use about $50 of electricity per year. Unplugging it for 10% of the time would thus save $5 annually – not worth the hassle and risks.

So frequent and long fridge unplugging provides little energy saving benefit in most cases.

Health Risks of Unplugging Your Fridge

Consuming spoiled, bacteria-laden food from an unplugged fridge can cause severe illness:

  • Salmonella – Stomach cramps, fever, diarrhea. From poultry, eggs, dairy.

  • E. coli – Bloody diarrhea, vomiting. From raw meat, unwashed produce.

  • Listeria – Fever, muscle aches, nausea. From deli meats, smoked seafood, dairy, produce.

  • Botulism – Blurred vision, paralysis, breathing difficulties. From canned goods, garlic, herbs.

For infants, elderly, pregnant women and those with weak immune systems, foodborne bacteria can be life-threatening. Unplugging your fridge extensively raises the risks of contracting these illnesses.

Better Ways to Save Energy in Your Home

If you want to reduce your home energy use, try these effective strategies instead of unplugging your fridge:

  • Replace incandescent light bulbs with LEDs. They use 90% less energy.

  • Insulate your attic, walls, water heater and pipes to prevent heat loss.

  • Caulk and weatherstrip windows and doors to reduce air leaks.

  • Take shorter showers and wash clothes in cold water to cut water heating.

  • Set your thermostat a few degrees higher/lower when heating/cooling.

  • Run full loads in the dishwasher and washing machine. Air dry dishes instead of heated drying.

  • Unplug devices when not in use to eliminate phantom load.

These conservation steps will cumulatively create much bigger energy savings than sporadically unplugging your refrigerator.


Unplugging your fridge for extended periods leads to food spoilage, health risks, and higher costs without significant energy savings. Instead, practice smarter energy habits like using efficient lighting, adding insulation, taking shorter showers, and minimizing phantom load. Your fridge needs to stay plugged in 24/7 to safely store food and minimize strain on its compressor. Make sure to maintain it well for a long service life. With the right usage and conservation tactics, you can reduce home energy waste without compromising your refrigerator’s operation.