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How Do Camping Fridges Work?

You might be wondering how exactly do camping fridges work. We’re here to explain it all to you.

After all, not all glampers lounge around at fancy glamping resorts or snuggle up in a king-sized bed in a canvas bell tent. Some glampers enjoy the glamping life on the road in a luxurious RV – and with that RV comes a refrigerator.

While it may keep your goodies and beverages ice cold, the way these appliances work is anything but ordinary. In fact, they work, ironically enough, through heat. That’s right, heat.

The basics of the RV and camper RV refrigerator.

Back of RV Refrigerator with Coils
How do camping fridges work? Ammonia is evaporated and it pulls heat out of the refrigerator.

These fridges aren’t like the ones in your home. They work and function entirely differently, although they serve the same purpose; to keep the food and drinks ice cold.

However, your camping fridge might not be working correctly or keeping your food as cold, and you’re wondering why.

It’s because a camping fridge cools by absorption. The refrigerator has a low-pressure chamber that heats up by either gas or electricity, which then evaporates a refrigerant that draws the heat out of the fridge’s interior. In these RV refrigerators, the refrigerant is usually ammonia, a safe and readily available liquid.

As the refrigerant rises in the chamber, it cools, turning back into a liquid, and descends in the chamber. At that point, it evaporates again, and the cycle continues.

Because this operates in this manner, the refrigerator uses less energy but cools only around 30°F below the ambient temperature.

Powered by both electric and propane.

Most RV fridges use either 12V DC, 110V AC, or liquid propane (LP). Typically, a switch allows you to select which power source you want. It’s a very energy-efficient way to keep your good chilled.

You might be thinking about using electricity to save on your LP. Not a bad idea, but keep in mind that the LP it uses is minimal. From personal experience, I’ve run the refrigerator on LP for just over a month before the 20lb tank ran dry. Of course, that’s not using propane for anything but the fridge, but that should give you an idea of how efficient they are.

Beware, absorption refrigerators take time to cool down.

One of the downsides of these fridges is that they take quite a while to cool down and achieve a reasonable temperature for your food and drinks.

You can help speed up the process by placing ice packs in your freezer and fridge to cool it down. After that, the evaporation process takes over and does the job.

A good practice is to power up your fridge either with propane or electricity the day before your excursion. The time it takes to cool down varies based on the outdoor temperature, but generally, it can take 8 to 24 hours to reach a usable temperature.

One final pro-tip.

With its shelves, drawers, and even a bit of space in the door, you might be tempted to cram all of your food and drinks into your camping fridge.

I recommend against doing that. Here’s why.

As we discussed, these fridges work by removing heat from the cooling compartment. The more snacks and other stuff you have in there, the harder it has to work – and it’s already reasonably inefficient.

So, remember this. The fridge is for the food; the cooler is for the cokes. Put your drinks in a standard cooler for your weekend trip, and they’ll stay cool throughout the entire adventure. This will give you more space and help keep the refrigerator icy cold on a hot day.

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