Vending Times Minus Forty

Commercial refrigerated equipment: regular maintenance can extend life

As seen in Vending Times

In medicine, there’s a saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The same could be said for commercial refrigerated equipment. When units break down, it’s often because there hasn’t been any preventive maintenance undertaken – and the costly “cure” is emergency service after a breakdown has occurred.

It’s a vicious cycle: when parts are worn and dirty, the unit runs more frequently, causing more wear and tear on the parts. Eventually, it breaks down for good, long before it should have.

If a vending machine operator expects his or her equipment to perform reliably for many years, preventive maintenance isn’t just advisable, it’s a necessity. It also helps, before making a purchase, to look for the NSF certification mark.

Commercial refrigerated equipment is only as good as the service performed on it, and key maintenance tasks should be undertaken regularly to ensure units run efficiently and reliably. Whether you contract a third party to maintain your equipment or you do it yourself, here are some of the key things to look out for.

Clean inside and out of commercial refrigerated equipment

Regular cleaning of your cooler or freezer vending merchandiser reduces wear on the system and keeps critical parts like the compressor from breaking down. Clean not just the inside but the outside, regularly. Use separate cleaning solutions and rags for each to avoid any contamination.

Most units are self-defrosting, but if you have manual-defrost units, do not neglect regular defrosting as this can cause serious damage to compressors. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, or better yet, buy units that have automatic defrosting functionality.


When installing units, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the size of the gap to leave around and behind the units to allow air circulation in and out of the condenser compartment. Airflow is essential for the operation of a refrigeration system, and starving the unit is a sure-fire way to cause overheating.

Maintaining airflow within the units is also important, and the “pack” affects the evaporator fans. Evaporators can be located in different spots, and a badly loaded unit can block those fans, which can be as bad as a blocked condenser issue. Most units have load-limit lines marked, yet many operators will overload their units in a misguided attempt to save space. This inhibits air circulation and will cause the unit to work overtime, which can lead to irreparable damage.

For optimal operation, be sure to distribute product evenly across units. Cabinets are better able to maintain a stable temperature if they’re full rather than empty, since the thermal mass of the refrigerated or frozen products helps to maintain the interior temperature.

Energy cost savings

Another bonus of maintaining equipment is energy savings. Regular maintenance – particularly when it comes to condensers – can save between 5% and 10% on energy costs by keeping the units running at peak performance. When condenser coils are dirty, your vending coolers and freezers must work harder to maintain the temperature inside, using more energy in the process.

Even better, invest in units with low-maintenance condensers, like those we manufacture at Minus Forty. The unique spiral design eliminates the coils that can clog up with dirt and grease, and an annual inspection is all that’s required to ensure the condenser is operating at peak volume and minimizes the risk of failure.

Be sure to also check temperature settings for maximum efficiency and minimum power consumption. The ambient temperature is something to take into consideration too, so look at what the manufacturer has specified, since the motor will run continuously if it isn’t designed to operate at high ambient temperatures.

Air leaks

Worn gaskets, hinges or faulty seals are effectively like having a hole in your refrigerator unit. Gaps in the seal cause air infiltration, forcing the refrigeration unit to run longer and use more electricity. Regular cleaning and maintenance allow your equipment to work more efficiently and last longer.

Preventing these issues from developing in the first place is simpler than you think. Depending on the load and usage of your equipment, call in a qualified refrigeration merchandiser service company, or have in-house staff do the following tasks, at least twice a year and as frequently as once a month:

• Keep it clean, inside and out, with a mild soapy water solution.

• Check operation of thermostat.

• Check integrity of the insulation.

• Keep door seals clean, avoiding build-up of material between folds and at corners.

• Check for air leaks through cracks, holes and worn parts like gaskets and seals.

• Clear drain lines of debris.

• Clean condenser coils (fins), and grills to ensure they’re free of dust and debris.

• Clean fan blades and inspect the motor.

• Lubricate doors and hinges.

• Check/test digital thermostat and Smartlock temperature monitor/alarm.

• Make sure the unit hasn’t shifted closer to the wall, in order to maintain adequate clearance for air circulation to avoid overheating.

• Check the level of the equipment to give a small “fall” (tilt) toward the rear to ensure door closure and proper drainage after defrost cycles.

• Check electrical connections to avoid power outages.

When it comes to extending the life of commercial refrigerated equipment and refrigerator vending units, prevention is the best remedy. By putting some of these maintenance tips into action, you’ll have peace of mind (and a lower total cost of ownership) knowing you’ve prevented costly breakdowns.

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