RV Refrigerators: How Do They Work?

While you’re on the road in your RV, you may wonder if you’ll have access to all the comforts of home. The question of how to keep your food cool and fresh while traveling is often asked. Though it might seem complicated, how exactly do RV refrigerators work?

An RV refrigerator normally works by evaporating and condensing the air inside through gases and chemical reactions. This refrigerator is called an absorption refrigerator and uses the following gases or liquids:

  • Ammonia
  • Hydrogen gas
  • Water

Despite the fact that most RV refrigerators run on propane or electric power, that doesn’t mean they all do. Do you still have questions? Not a problem.

We will explain how RV refrigerators work and what kind you should choose for your particular RV in the following sections.

How RV Refrigerators Work

How RV Refrigerators Work

Compressors keep the air cool in refrigerators in your home. The term absorption refrigerator is often used to describe RV refrigerators.

In an absorption refrigerator, gases and liquids are heated using absorption.

Heat is transferred from the inside of the refrigerator to the outside through gases and liquids traveling through tubes and inside the casing of the refrigerator, creating evaporation, which pulls heat from the inside of the fridge.

Refrigerators continue to cool as evaporation continues.

Refrigerators use either flames or heating elements to heat liquids and gases.

Power is needed to keep a refrigerator running.

RV Fridge Power Sources

There are three types of power sources for RV refrigerators:

  • AC (alternating current) electricity
  • The propane gas
  • 12-volt battery

You will most likely be able to run your RV refrigerator with a combination of these methods. You can choose a dual-fuel fridge with electricity and propane or a dual-fuel fridge with propane and batteries.

RV Refrigerator Types

RV refrigerators typically come in three types:

  • Dual Electricity/Propane Refrigerator
  • Battery Powered Refrigerator
  • Mini-Fridge

What is the most popular RV fridge? 

There is no doubt that the dual system electricity/propane RV refrigerator is the most popular.

1. Dual Electricity/Propane Refrigerator

Your RV must have a propane tank installed in order for this refrigerator to work. When your propane tank runs low, you will need to refill it.

When you disconnect an electrical power source from these refrigerators, the “Auto” mode automatically switches from electricity to propane.

You just need to fill up your propane tank to take advantage of this.

Having this refrigerator is a great idea for RV owners, and it requires very little thought on their part. You should keep the following in mind when purchasing a dual refrigerator:

  • Buying or repairing them can be expensive
  • It must remain level to function properly.
  • Once it ages, it becomes prone to leaks

Propane-powered refrigerators have a tendency to leak in the pipes that connect the propane tank to the refrigerator.

There can be leaks in these pipes that are hidden and hard to locate. You should get it checked out immediately if you smell propane.

RVs are most commonly fitted with dual electricity/propane fridges.

You might want to consider the following options for your RV:

  • SMETA Electric Propane Absorption Refrigerator. These are 3.5 cubic feet and 6.1 cubic feet, respectively. Runs on 12V, 110V, and Gas LPG.
  • Smad Gas Electric Refrigerator 2 door – 6.1 cubic feet, quiet, reversible door. Runs on 110V and propane.
  • Norcold N410.3UR RV Refrigerator – 4.5 cubic feet, auto-changeover, flip-up bottom shelf.

The amount of propane you will need to operate one of these types of refrigerators is around 1.5 gallons per day if you do not have electric power available.

The cost of these RV refrigerators is also the highest.

2. Battery-Powered Refrigerator

Battery-Powered Refrigerator

A 12-volt battery can be used to power battery-powered RV refrigerators.

If you’re camping or at home, you can also choose an RV refrigerator that’s powered by batteries or electrical power.

Your RV’s existing battery can be used to power these refrigerators. Refrigerators of this type can also be compressor refrigerators, unlike RVs that use absorption refrigerators.

Due to the fact that it is powered by a 12-volt battery, these refrigerators tend to be on the small side, so they don’t use a lot of your battery power. There is a good chance that these coolers will look like traditional ice coolers.

Here are a few of the best battery-powered refrigerators:

  • Alpicool C15 Portable Refrigerator – holds 16 quarts, has temperature memory functionality, and protects batteries in three different ways
  • AstroAI Portable Freezer and Refrigerator – holds 58 quarts, cools quickly, has three levels of battery protection
  • Costway 53-Quart Fridge – Featuring a high-quality compressor and a 3-level battery protection system

Your RV can also be powered by portable solar panels or a small windmill for the 12-volt battery that powers the refrigerator.

RV Fridge Power Sources

Boondocking, or RV camping outside a traditional campground, is one way to get off the beaten path for some campers.

Rather than carrying around a spare generator, portable solar panels may be an effective alternative. These allow you to power your refrigerator without draining your RV’s battery.

3. Mini-Fridge

They are exactly the type of refrigerators you would use to store drinks in a college dorm room or garage. Electricity is the only source of power for these small devices.

Therefore, you won’t be able to keep your food cool if you’re on the road for a long time and don’t have an electric connection.

This is a compressor refrigerator, so you must keep it level. Compressor refrigerators need to be level to prevent gas from pooling in one part and causing damage.

Here are a few excellent mini-fridges:

  • RCA RFR322-B 3.2 Cubic foot mini fridge – Made of stainless steel, has large capacity, and reversible door
  • Black and Decker BCRK17B Compact Refrigerator – Innovative space-saving design with a reversible door, and leveling legs.

If you travel a lot with your RV, this may not be the refrigerator for you.

It’s a disadvantage that your items can’t stay cool while you drive. This might be a good option if you have a permanent hookup.

Some Useful tips for your RV refrigerator

The planning and installation of an RV refrigerator is a bit different from that of a kitchen refrigerator.

In order to extend the life of your fridge, there are a few tips you can follow.

Consider the following:

  • Make sure your refrigerator is on several hours before you intend to use it
  • Make the refrigerator cooler by putting an ice block in it
  • Level the refrigerator
  • An RV refrigerator fan that runs on batteries might be a good investment
  • Maintain a clean and dust-free refrigerator vent
  • Make sure the outside vent of your RV is shaded
  • Pack foods loosely so that air can flow between them
  • Maintain a regular defrosting schedule

It is possible to extend the life of your refrigerator by taking preventive measures like the ones listed above.

Fridges are great because they don’t require much thought. By plugging it in, you can cool the area where you store your food.

Although RV refrigerators require some thought, for the most part, they are as reliable as any full-size refrigerator in your kitchen.

By doing your research, you can be sure that you’re purchasing a piece of equipment that’s suitable for your travels. Have a great time RVing!



Hey there! I'm Shawn. We were traveling full-time in our travel trailer with our 7 kids. We had to learn a lot to make that lifestyle work, and we wanted to pass some of that experience to you! Our goal is to help save you time, frustration, and money!

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Hey there! I'm Shawn. We were traveling full-time in our travel trailer with our 7 kids. We had to learn a lot to make that lifestyle work, and we wanted to pass some of that experience to you! Our goal is to help save you time, frustration, and money!

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