water dripping/leaking inside a Whirlpool fridge, DIY solution


(I don't expect any replys to this post --just writing this for DIY posterity.)
I thought I'd share my adventure today with a Whirlpool fridge that's been dripping water inside the main compartment for quite a while. Sometimes the water would pool on top of various containers and turn to ice. I don't have the model handy but would guess this is probably a fairly generic problem. It's a 2004 model.
Earlier I got temporary relief by the very inconvenient process of emptying the fridge, unplugging it, letting it thaw out for a day, draining out all the water, plugging it back in and restoring the food to it. I did this in the winter since I could put the food in our cold garage to minimize spoilage.
Today I wanted to get more to the bottom of the problem. I first looked at the owners manual which provided some really 6th-grade info but one useful thing it did suggest was to vacuum the condenser coils near the bottom. We have a cat and the coils were loaded with hair. The owner's manual talks as if this were an easy job but one can only really access the first "fold" of these coils. They zig and zag back about 18". You will have no luck tipping the fridge back to get access underneath because there is a (mostly) solid piece of sheet metal there.
I called the Whirlpool number in the manual thinking I could ask how to get the bottom sheet off and access the coils, and more about what really might be wrong. They were of little help. They will basically just read you parts of the owners manual you have just read. They have no "tech support". Rather, their function is to determine your warranty status and then connect you with the closest appliance service center. But if you think you can get do-it-yourself advice from one of these places you have another thing coming. I can't blame them.
Anyway I ended up running an air hose into the house and blasting the coils out with my compressor at 140 psi. It was fun and worked well! It scared the hell out of the cat.
A second thing I wanted to investigate was ice build-up near the back ceiling of the main compartment where there are some air ducts linking both the freezer and main compartment. There is a styrofoam-lined duct piece that looked like it could be removed but the tabs holding it in place were way too thick to pry aside. The secret was to pull a bit on the outer skin of the duct. An old-fashion electronics chip puller worked great for this. You need a flat strip of metal with a very shallow right angle hook at the end. After that, I took my heat gun and melted all of the ice around the area (taking great care not to apply too much heat which can easily melt or warp the surrounding plastic).
Then I wanted to investigate the other side of the vents in the freezer side. In fact, after I got the food out I could see that this area was completely sealed by ice --right where it looks like there was a designed gap for air flow. FIRST MAKE SURE THE POWER IS DISCONNECTED IF NOT ALREADY, JUST TO BE SAFE. There is a panel at the rear of the freezer compartment that is held in by two hex head screws. I removed the screws and then also realized I would have to remove the ice maker. That was easy -- held in only by three hex head screws, not counting a modular signal plug and what looks like a grounding clip. (We never use the ice maker and don't have a water line for it anyway. Later I chose to not reinstall it to take advantage of the extra freezer space.) At this point the back panel might not want to come out --held in by ice at the base. I used a heat gun again to melt all this out. Took a while. To expedite the process I used a toothpick to get under the ice and pry it out. You may have a better idea for a pry tool, just don't use anything metal. Don't force anything. Some of these parts are really cheap. When the back panel does come out it does so by the top tipping forward. Then I saw all sorts of ice build up near the vents and about a 1/2" thick spreading horizontally near the base. I melted it out with the heat gun. Underneath all this ice was the big discovery: Some sort of drain plugged up with ice. I believe this is the drain that the defrost cycle uses. If it clogs the water takes the next available route, namely thru the vents connecting the freezer compartment with the main compartment and down on your food. The plugged drain line runs to the back bottom right side of the fridge and into a cheap plastic long drain pan.
But how to unfreeze the water in this mostly inaccessible drain line? I wondered how far the blockage traveled so removed the back bottom panel (cheap cardboard), took a electricians fish tape (aka wire puller) and slid it up the drain line. Judging by how far I slid it up, there was roughly 4" of blockage. So how to remove this without waiting a day or so? Heat gun and evacuating with an eyedropper? No, takes too long. Hot wire? No, that would melt plastic. Hot water in a syringe? Close, but that was taking too much time as well. I finally had the idea of using one of those motorized dental Water Piks filled with hot water. It worked almost immediately. In fact I probably should have used that in place of the heat gun for the other tasks as well. It would have been more messy but much faster. If you don't have a Water Pik use a toy squirt gun. Hot water is much better at melting ice than hot air.
Anyway, our fridge has been humming along just fine for a few days now and no more dripping water. Hope this saves you a service call.
--zeb
PS. I haven't addressed how this problem developed in the first place: I will admit to putting in large kettles of hot soup which probably isn't smart. We don't have air conditioning. We do have humid summers. We also tend to really use up all available space which limits the amount of cold air that can circulate. Also, as I mentioned the coils were pretty congested with cat hair.
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On Tue, 22 Dec 2009 08:05:58 -0800, zeb7k wrote:

I once thought about doing that with ours - the coils are packed pretty tight.
In the end I used a bit of compressor hose duct-taped to the normal vacuum cleaner hose and just sucked it out - makes a lot less mess! :-)
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On Dec 22, 11:05 am, snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

I have one of those that does that about once a year as well. I use a 10' piece of 1/4" drip irrigation hose, a pan of hot water, and my mouth. I suck the hose full of hot water and then "blow" it into the drain in the back of the freezer.
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

<snip>
Yep, you discovered the very same problem that plagued Amana refrigerators made in the late 1990s-early 2000s. Whirlpool owns the Amana brand, so this doesn't surprise me at all.
Due to poor design, the drain lines have a tendency to clog with ice. Eventually the melted water from successive defrost cycles backs up onto the freezer compartment floor and overflows into the main fridge compartment. What efforts are involved in getting at the drain line to thaw it depends on various models.
I had an Amana fridge with this problem. Amana's "solution" was to install a block of styrofoam at the bottom of the freezer compartment that was supposed to keep the drain line warm enough that it wouldn't freeze. Didn't work. Amana told angry owners that that was all they would do.
Some people removed the plastic drain line and replaced it with wider-diameter copper lineA. Some people had a small heater installed near the top of the drain line. Myself - well, after four years of every few months having to empty the freezer compartment, remove the freezer door and floor, thaw the drain, then replace everything again until the next time, I gave up and bought a Kenmore. I'll never buy an Amana fridge again. Guess I'll put Whirlpool on my <s>hit list, too.
If you google the archives for this group back to around 1998-2000, you'll find a lot of posts on the subject.
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Sounds like you did an excellent job,and got the refrigerator repaired. Having repaired a bunch of fridge, I do things differently. Not necessarily any better or worse, just differently.
Hope the cat calmed down, later.
--
Christopher A. Young
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

I'd wonder if just thawing it for a few days would have done the job easier.
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Who's got a few days? Most folks keep food in the fridge. Even a couple days thaw, he'd still had the dusty condensor, and the clogged drain.
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Christopher A. Young
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...snip...
In the back of my fridge there is a defroster wire that heats up occasionally. I put a few wraps on 14 gauge wire around the defroster wire and dangled the end down the drain tube.
Now, when the defrost cycle runs, it also melts any ice that may be in the drain tube.
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