What Happens If You Leave the Fridge Door Open?

We’ve all done it. Had our hands full and left the fridge door to close itself, only to discover it has in fact failed to do so. Or simply walked into the kitchen to find the fridge had been left open for an unidentified amount of time. 

Our first question is naturally if all of our food has gone bad, and will our fridge be okay. 

Here’s what happens if you leave the fridge door open, and what you should do when you’ve found it. 

What Happens If You Leave the Fridge Door Open?

If you leave the fridge door open, some or all of the food inside it may spoil. It will depend on the length of time the fridge has been open, the kinds of groceries you have in it, and the temperature in your kitchen. 

If the fridge door has been left open for less than 2 hours, chances are nothing will spoil, not even your perishables. 

If it has been left open for longer, but the temperature inside has remained above 4°C, most of your items should still be fine as well. However, if the temperature has dropped below 4°C, you will likely need to throw out the perishables. 

When you leave the fridge door open, you will notice condensation appearing inside. It occurs when hot air touches a cold surface, and water droplets are formed. This is a sign your fridge is having a hard time keeping the temperature low. 

Your evaporator coil may also freeze, if condensation starts forming on it. If this is the case, you will need to defrost it. 

Since your compressor needs to work overtime to compensate for the increased temperature, it may overheat. This may result in its breakdown, and will certainly run your electricity bill up a bit. 

However, you may discover that nothing happens to your fridge. All of your food may remain edible, and your fridge may very quickly get back to its regularly scheduled programming. 

Leaving the freezer door open is a slightly different matter though, so if you have a combination fridge, you will have to check your freezer drawers as well.

What Happens If the Fridge Door is Left Open for 12 Hours?

Leaving the fridge door open for 12 hours will mean you have to get rid of any perishable items. You may also need to unplug the fridge to get rid of the condensation and any ice on the evaporator coil. 

12 hours is a long time to leave the fridge open. Milk and any items that contain it will likely have spoiled, as well as fresh meat or any leftovers you have stored in the fridge. 

To be on the safe side, throw away all of your perishables, and carefully go through the rest of the items. If anything smells off, even if it is still in date, throw it out too. 

Your compressor will likely go into overdrive for the 12 hours, so you may also be looking at a visit from the repairman, and a higher electricity bill. 

What Happens If You Leave the Fridge Door Open Overnight?

Leaving the fridge door open overnight will likely mean you have to throw out all of your perishable items, like milk, eggs and fresh meat. You may also have to defrost your fridge, if too much ice has formed on the evaporator coil. 

Even if the temperature in your kitchen is not too high, you still need to be careful about the food you choose to eat, as some of it has likely gone bad. Your fruits and veggies will be fine, but anything that seems off should be thrown out. 

To make sure your fridge has time to recover, you can unplug it and defrost it. It will mean the added hassle of finding a place to store the food that is still viable, but it can be the best course of action. 

How Long Can the Fridge Be Left Open?

If the fridge has been left open for less than 2 hours, you can consider the food inside it okay. You may also be able to get away with 4, if the temperatures in the fridge haven’t dropped too much. 

If you can’t determine how long your fridge has been left open, your best bet is to get rid of anything perishable, just to be safe. This will certainly be an expense, but it’s better than risking an upset stomach. 

What to do When You Forget to Close Your Refrigerator Door? 

If you have forgotten to close the fridge door, run through the following steps as soon as you can, to prevent any long term damage. 

  • Unplug your fridge. 
  • Remove all food and check if it’s okay. 
  • Defrost your fridge manually. 
  • Wipe away any condensation. 
  • Plug the fridge back after defrosting and run it empty for a max of 6 hours. Check to make sure the temperatures are okay before putting food back in. 

You can also use this time to give your fridge a bit of a clean with a baking soda paste, to get rid of any smells and stains. 

Will Food Spoil If the Refrigerator Door is Left Open?

If the temperature in the fridge stays below 4°C, chances are no food will spoil, even if the fridge door was left ajar all night. However, the longer the door stays open, the hotter it will get in the fridge. 

To be on the safe side, you should still check each item carefully, especially focusing on anything perishable. If something smells off or you are not sure about the taste, bin it. 

What Foods Can I Save After the Fridge Door Is Left Open?

You should be able to save numerous items even if you’ve left the fridge door open. 

Most condiments should be just fine if the temperature in your fridge doesn’t go much over 10°C. 

Hard cheeses, fruit juices, butter, margarine, as well as veggies and fruits will still be fine for a long time even if the temperature reaches over 4°C. 

Give each item a sniff. If it smells off, or if it’s soggy, mushy or slimy, toss it out. 

How Long Does It Take for a Refrigerator to Get Cold After Being Left Open?

A refrigerator will need anywhere between 3 and 24 hours to get back to its original temperature. How long it takes will depend on the amount of time the door has been left open, how much food there is in the fridge, and the temperature of the kitchen.

The more food you have in the fridge, the cooler it will remain, as the warm air won’t be able to circulate as well. 

Also, if you leave the fridge door open at the height of summer, it will take longer to cool back down, as it will likely have gotten way too warm. 

Does Leaving the Fridge Door Open Damage It?

Leaving the fridge door open can damage it, especially if it’s left open for a long period of time, as the compressor will have to work overtime and may overheat. 

The warmer it gets in the fridge, the harder it will need to work to try to maintain the temperature it has been set to. The longer it needs to pull the extra weight, the higher the chances it will get damaged. 

Note that there is a vast difference in leaving the fridge door slightly ajar, and leaving it open. The more warm air can get into the fridge, the worse the potential damage will be.

Wrapping It Up 

Leaving the fridge door open may result in nothing more than a bit of stress and panic. However, it can also spoil your perishable food, and even damage your fridge, so always make sure you’ve closed it properly, especially if you are leaving the house. 

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