How Does An RV Refrigerator Work? (3 Different Types)

Camping enthusiasts who buy an RV do so primarily because of the comfort an RV provides. The refrigerator is certainly one of them. Having an RV fridge allows you to bring food whenever you go camping. However, RV refrigerators work differently than classic home models. In this article, we’ll talk about how RV refrigerators work. So, let’s start!

How Does An RV Refrigerator Work? An RV refrigerator works by absorption and a chemical reaction between hydrogen, ammonia, and water. The cooling effect of the RV fridge is created by heating the ammonia that goes through an evaporation and condensation process. This is done by using a propane flame or a built-in electric element.

Most RV refrigerators use electricity or propane to work. However, this isn’t always the case. Three types of RV refrigerators differ from each other in the way they operate. In the next lines, find out more about each of them to decide which best suits your preferences.

How Does A Refrigerator Work In An RV?

Working Principle of RV Refrigerator

As we have already mentioned, most RV refrigerators are absorption refrigerators, which cool the device and create evaporation. Liquids and gases heat the pipes of the device for evaporation, where that cooling effect is obtained.

Heating is done with the help of a heating element or, most often, with the help of a flame. It means that the cooling process starts with activating the burner in the device.

Different Power Modes Of RV Refrigerators

Refrigerators that are an integral part of RVs can be powered by: a 12-volt battery, AC power, or propane. Most models contain a combination of these drive elements. However, most RV fridges include a combination of propane and electricity.

Working Principle Of Absorption RV Fridge

The best way to get a better and clearer picture of how evaporation can provide cooling, watch the video below. You will understand everything after you watch it.

3 Types of RV Refrigerators

There are three types of RV refrigerators for RVs: mini-fridges, battery-powered refrigerators, and dual-power refrigerators that can run on propane or electricity. Dual-power RV refrigerators are the most popular because they can be powered by electricity or propane. Let’s go through each separately.

1. Dual RV (Electricity/Propane) Refrigerator

This type of RV refrigerator can run on electricity and propane, which means that you can choose the mode of operation. That’s why this type of RV fridge is a favorite among RV owners. Its great advantage is that it can automatically use an alternative energy source when the primary one is no longer available.

This great feature allows you to power the fridge even when you can’t use electricity. The refrigerator will continue to work normally. But you must know that the device’s system will do the same when your propane supply runs out. So always make sure you have a sufficient supply of propane.

Like any other device, this type of RV refrigerator has its drawbacks. For starters, dual-power refrigerators for RVs are the most expensive option available. On the other hand, they are easily damaged when they run out of power.

If you are interested in how much propane is consumed in these fridges, be sure to read How Much Propane Does an RV Fridge Use?

Also, after only a few years of use, problems with leakage can be expected, which is not easy to eliminate due to the complex construction of the device. That’s why it is advised that if you smell propane, you should immediately turn off the device and take it to a professional for an inspection.

2. Battery-Powered RV Refrigerator

It is a type of refrigerator that uses a 12 V battery as a power source and can also be connected to electricity. When it uses a battery, it can be connected to the RV, and when you are in a camp park, you can use electricity from the park. You should also know that this type of refrigerator can contain a compressor as a basis for work.

RV refrigerators that run on batteries look like ice coolers because they are smaller. But that’s why it’s easy to find a place for it in an RV. Also, due to smaller proportions, this type of refrigerator can be connected to solar panels or windmills that produce 12v electricity.

This is an excellent option for campers who prefer to vacation in the wild rather than camp parks. In this way, they can relax and be sure that their refrigerator will be powered by natural energy. 

Also, once your RV is connected to solar panels, you no longer have to lug around a backup generator because you will never run out of power for your devices.

3. Mini RV Fridge

The mini RV fridge is suitable for those RVs that do not have enough space for normal ones. It’s small enough that it can find a place in any RV. It’s a refrigerator that people usually keep in their basement entertainment room or the kind that is taken to urban picnic spots that offer visitors an electric hookup.

The mini fridge uses a compressor and can only work if connected to electricity. Also, because of this feature, you must always be sure that it is on a level, so there is no leakage.

Therefore, it is a good choice for those owners who camp in camp parks. Not for those who prefer the wilderness or enjoy long RV drives. It is difficult to preserve fresh food if the refrigerator does not have a constant power source.

Keeping Your RV Fridge Cool

Ways to Keep RV Fridge Cool

To keep your food fresh during your RV trip, you must learn how to take care of it and set it up properly. To begin with, you need to turn on the refrigerator in your RV for at least 24 hours before you plan to put food in it. 

Then, just before inserting the food, you should check whether the device has reached the optimal temperature, which for the cooler is 3 to 5 degrees Celsius (34 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit), and for the freezer -18 degrees Celsius (0 degrees Fahrenheit). You can check the temperature with an ordinary thermometer. We suggest that you always keep a small thermometer in the RV fridge.

If you want to use the maximum performance of an RV refrigerator, there are a few tricks you can apply. Cool the food and drinks that you put in the RV fridge well at home.  When it comes to foods like meat, you can put already frozen portions in the RV freezer. 

To help your refrigerator cool better, installing a smaller fan on the back of the device is recommended. It will help the cold air to be better distributed throughout the interior. In order not to reduce the cooling effect, never put hot food such as freshly cooked pudding in the fridge!

If you want to see how to use an RV fridge, watch this YouTube video below:

For those who want to learn more, be sure to read How to Adjust Temperature on Dometic RV Refrigerator?

How Is an RV Fridge Different From a Residential Fridge?

RV refrigerators work differently than classic home refrigerators. RV fridges use liquids such as hydrogen, ammonia, and water to cool the unit. The cooling effect is achieved through chemical reactions caused by condensation and air evaporation.

That is why they are called absorption refrigerators. They do not have compressors like classic refrigerators. Refrigerators in RVs are smaller than those at home and have a volume between 6 and 14 cubic feet. But some luxury models of RV have built-in large refrigerators with a volume of 17 cubic feet.

Unlike a home refrigerator, which is constantly connected to 120 V AC power due to the operation of the compressor, RV refrigerators have the option of using an RV battery or propane as a primary or alternative energy choice.

How To Maintain Your RV Refrigerator?

RV refrigerators are a little bit different than the ones you have at home, so they should have a different approach. Below we bring you a few practical tips that will improve your experience with the RV refrigerator and extend the device’s life span.

  • Arrange the food you put in the refrigerator so that there is airflow between items
  • Defrost the device regularly
  • The refrigerator must always be level
  • The refrigerator will work better if the RV is not exposed to direct sunlight. Park in the shade! 
  • Place a mini fan inside the fridge for better circulation of cold air
  • You can speed up the cooling of food or drinks if you put ice blocks in the fridge
  • Regularly clean the vents of dust and dirt

Final Thoughts

Having a refrigerator in an RV is a great convenience that many campers love. However, RV refrigerators work differently from the classic ones in your home. RV refrigerators are known as absorption refrigerators. That means that they cool the inside of the device with the help of evaporation, not through the operation of the compressor.

They use propane, batteries, or a combination of electricity/propane to work. However, these models must be regularly maintained and properly installed. I hope this article has helped you and that you know much more about RV refrigerators than before.

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