Have you been wondering if it’s safe to sleep near a refrigerator? Or what are the advantages of keeping a refrigerator in the traditional spot of a kitchen, garage, or bar versus in a sleeping space like a bedroom? You’re not alone in your questions!
The best spot for a refrigerator often boils down to preference—if you have an infant or sleep lightly, a noisy fridge in the bedroom is not a healthy recipe. Fortunately for fans of refrigeration, there is no evidence that a low-decibel, well-functioning fridge kept 3 feet or more from your bed significantly affects health, sleep quality, or safety.
But let’s dig a little further into issues of refrigeration to uncover the safety and health issues surrounding whether to keep a refrigerator near where you sleep, how to find quiet models, and how to maintain both the refrigerator and your sleep hygiene.
Fires and Wires
Now that we’ve got your attention, let’s discuss safely maintaining your new or existing refrigerator. For this article, let’s presume we’re talking about one of the four generally recognized main kinds of refrigerators only—not chest freezers:
- Top-mount freezers (refrigerator for fresh items on bottom)
- Bottom-mount freezers (refrigerator on top)
- French-door refrigerators (double doors with fresh foods on top, freezer-drawer on bottom)
Some other qualities of refrigerators you may evaluate are depth relative to counter, freestanding or built-in, noise level, capacity (from giant refrigerators down to compact or mini-refrigerators), energy efficiency, and style/décor.
After the usual kitchen-fire suspects—ranges and microwaves—refrigerators are a leading cause of house fires according to Consumer Reports. Besides loss of property, these catastrophic fires, sadly, often result in injuries or deaths. (Source)
For instance, a European-made bottom-freezer unit was blamed for igniting Britain’s deadliest fire in a century. The Grenfell Tower fire rapidly spread from the refrigerator to cladding in this apartment building and killed 72 people in 2017. (Source)
In 2018, the most recent year for which complete data are available, the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Incident Reporting System reflected 250 deaths and 900 injuries caused by 25,700 fires due to electrical malfunction; a subset of these numbers is caused by appliance (including refrigerator) fires. (Source)
To keep yourself and your family safe, make sure you have a working smoke detector(s) in your dwelling. The National Fire Protection Association points to NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, which requires “as a minimum that smoke alarms be installed inside every sleep room (even for existing homes) in addition to requiring them outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home.” For larger homes, additional smoke detectors are required. (Source)
If your smoke alarms are good to go, also ensure the following conditions for the refrigerator’s function and your safety:
- For wiring, make sure refrigerators and freezers are installed on a 15- to 20-amp dedicated 120-volt circuit. “This will avoid an electrical overload due to your current wiring not being capable of handling the additional power” (Source)
- In you are in the United States, be proactive and check the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission before—or soon after—you purchase a refrigerator or other product. You can also report faulty products through the CPSC’s website (Source)
As unbelievable as it sounds, refrigerators do occasionally explode. Fortunately, it is rare, but it is also unpredictable. For one man in 2018, the improbable became real when his Whirlpool blew up while he slept in a different room. (Source)
Most explosions are attributable to the gas piped through the fridge’s compressor coils; the compressor is usually located at the back of the unit.
Neil Everitt, an air-conditioning and refrigeration expert interviewed by Realtor.com, views refrigerators as one of the most dangerous appliances in a home because they give little to no warning of an impending explosion.
Keeping the coils clean is the best way to avoid a blow-up. When the refrigerator is running properly, its compressor creates “a steady, high-frequency humming noise. But if your fridge makes a choppy sound or, even worse, no noise at all, the coils could be clogged.” (Source)
Also take comfort in the fact that the newer your fridge, the higher the chance that it has a metal back and heat shield to prevent significant damage—or worse—from an improbable explosion. Older units can, however, still contain highly flammable plastic backs and may lack the self-regulating heating elements of the latest models.
Leaks: Water or Coolant
If your bedroom is carpeted, has poor airflow, or lacks the proper water supply lines/valves, you might want to nix putting a full-size refrigerator therein.
There are, however, some common causes of refrigerator leaks. Bob Vila, everybody’s go-to guru for home DIY, says to mind four foul culprits for water leaks, including the defrost drain and drain pan. (Source)
As far as coolant leaks, one expert advises that “Spotting a Freon leak can be a little difficult since it is a gas. The most common way of spotting a leak is if you smell a chemical or musty smell around your unit. You may also see a puddle near your fridge that looks very oily.” (Source)
Other tip-offs to coolant leaks are that the refrigerator is running but the contents within are warm.
Whatever the case, coolant leaks can be very dangerous and must be fixed right away—generally by a refrigeration professional.
Radiation exists along a measurable spectrum (the electromagnetic spectrum), from very high-energy (also called high-frequency) radiation to very low-energy (low-frequency) radiation. X-rays and gamma rays are high-energy radiation and they, along with ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, are called ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation is the most troubling type of radiation with regard to its deleterious effects on human health.
Humans receive a background radiation dose simply by living in proximity to the sun—with citizens living above sea level in mountainous locations from Denver to Lima, Peru, receiving more yearly radiation than those, say, sitting at or below sea level in Norfolk, Virginia, or Miami or even Shanghai.
Radiation also ensues from ground composition, building materials, air travel, mammograms, and dental radiographs, as well as nuclear disasters occurring at Fukushima Daiichi or Chernobyl.
For comparison, it takes a dose of 10,000 millisieverts (mSv) of radiation exposure to kill a person within weeks. (Source)
The average chest x-ray results in 0.1 mSv exposure to the patient.
“Extremely low frequency (ELF) radiation is at the low-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum and is a type of non-ionizing radiation.
Non-ionizing radiation has enough energy to move atoms around or make them vibrate, but not enough to directly damage DNA.” (Source)
Any electric device, from refrigerators to coffeemakers and computer monitors (when on), is a source of ELF radiation.
According to the American Cancer Society, how much electromagnetic radiation you are exposed to depends on the strength of the electromagnetic field (EMF), your distance from the source of the field, and the duration you are exposed.
The highest exposure occurs when the person is very close to a source putting out a strong field and stays there for an extended period.
Surrounding appliances, the EMFs are measurable as follows (Source):
|From 1 foot away (in milliGauss, mG)
|From 3 feet away (in mG)
So, as you can see, refrigerators have much smaller electromagnetic fields and, so, carry much less risk than other household appliances.
That said, to ensure peace of mind as much as safety in your sleeping space, it is advisable to keep the refrigerator—especially if it is a full-size refrigerator as opposed to a compact or mini-fridge—3 feet or more away from your bed.
And if you are pregnant, you might like to decrease risk even further by keeping the fridge out of the bedroom altogether. These precautions will also help with maintaining quiet (which we’ll talk about shortly).
Child Entrapment or Injury
Although 2020 might not feel terribly safe, it is safer in one respect: Child entrapment in refrigerators or freezers.
A sad history stretches out behind the latch-style refrigerators of yesteryear, such that in 1956, the United States passed the Refrigerator Safety Act to prevent children from being trapped inside of refrigerators and suffocating.
This fact is why we have magnetic closures for most refrigerators today, so anyone trapped inside can push the door back open again. (Source)
Sadly, chest-style standalone freezers can STILL figure in child death due to entrapment and subsequent suffocation.
If you do keep a refrigerator out of the way in a bedroom, garage, or downstairs, please take steps to ensure young children do not play around and never inside the compartment.
Likewise, never let a child play in or around a chest freezer, whether plugged in and indoors or outside.
Some higher-end modern fridges even have child locks or door-ajar alerts along with icemakers and touchscreens.
Optimally, most people prefer a quiet bedroom or one with a noise machine to establish a steady state of relaxing, low-decibel white noise.
A refrigerator with dropping ice and compressor noises might or might not fit the bill. But how do you know how loud a refrigerator is likely to be?
Decibel Skeptic takes us on an icy tour of the quietest models and how to evaluate them, suggesting that “ . . . it can be worthwhile to look at the sound levels on the specification sheet of a refrigerator [if decibels are reported by the maker] in order to make comparisons more conclusive.
Sound level of a refrigerator is measured in decibels (dB).” According to the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, for modern refrigerator-freezers, the noise output is typically between 40 and 43 decibels. (Source)
“Anything less than 40 dB is regarded a quiet model, since this is the library’s average noise level.” (Source)
Unfortunately, some companies—like GE—have chosen not to measure or report decibel levels on their refrigerators or freezers. (Source)
Companies that do report decibels—at least for some models—include Tacklife (MPBFR321), whose compact 3.2 cu. ft. fridge with freezer reports a 37-dB level (Source) and Smad (HC-767WE), whose I20.7 cu. ft. French door unit lists 45 dB as its noise level. (Source)
So, why is it important to have a quiet bedroom?
Newer bedroom refrigerators, if properly maintained, are unlikely to rise to the level of damaging your hearing through prolonged noise.
However, “From about 40 decibels—a little louder than a quiet office—we start to see mood disruption,” according to Erica Walker, a health researcher and the director of the Community Noise Lab at the Boston University School of Public Health. (Source)
Furthermore, sleep can make us more vulnerable to the negative effects of noise.
Studies done by researchers from the Institute of Aerospace Medicine at the German Aerospace Center indicated that sound-pressure levels just above 33 decibels can disrupt sleep cycles, which can lead to impaired thinking and possibly other mood or health woes.
Early stage research is also beginning to establish causation—not just a correlation—between dementia and noise pollution.
In a multi-year study of more than 5,000 older adults in Chicago, after other factors of socioeconomics, sex, race, age, education, etc. were accounted for, “study participants living with 10 decibels more noise near their residences during the daytime had 36% higher odds of having mild cognitive impairment and 30% higher odds of having Alzheimer’s disease.” (Source)
We usually cannot control factors like motorcycles, sirens, persistently loud next-door dogs, or hard-partying neighbors. But inside your home, obviously you can make decisions about what noise level and other risks you are willing to accommodate.
Blenders, mixers, clothes washers and dryers, and dishwashers tend to be louder than refrigerators, however.
View your refrigerator’s noise level relative to that of other appliances on the Consumer Reports chart here. (Source)
According to Decibel Skeptic, there are several new models of refrigerator regarded as the quietest!
Here are the quietest models by type (all links are to Amazon):
- Built-in bottom freezer: Liebherr HC1030 (under 38 decibels)
- French door, counter-depth: Thor Kitchen HRF3601F (40 dB)
- Top-freezer (fresh food on bottom): Tacklife HVSFR700 (<41dB)
- Side-by-side unit: Frigidaire FFSS2615TS (47 to 51 dB)
- Compact, mini-fridge: SMAD DSX-40B2U (completely silent, about 0.01 dB)
Drawbacks of Having a Bedroom Refrigerator
Although the term “refrigerator” has been around since about 1803, the process of refrigeration, and hauling or storing ice and snow, has been perfected over millennia, all over the globe, from ancient China, Greece, and Rome and others to indigenous peoples and the American frontier.(Source)
Over these centuries of development, the refrigerator itself has moved from outside the dwelling to inside, such that most families could eventually afford one, and they no longer required latches or keys—or ice delivery—as the 20th century wore on.
Have people’s eating habits changed owing to the proximity of ready refrigeration that is both in-home and portable to tailgate parties, campgrounds, and more?
And, moreover, in the bedroom, can the mere sight or proximity of a refrigerator drive overeating or frequent snacks you might otherwise not intend?
Sleeping disorders and eating disorders
An estimated 10% of adults experience parasomnia, or sleep disorders causing abnormal behaviors—and of that population, “About 1 percent, mostly women, raid the refrigerator.” (Source)
The consequences of [sleepwalking] night-time refrigerator runs include immediate dangers such as black eyes, cuts, sprains, and the like but also can extend to mental anguish, depression, and other psychological distress.
These folks may seek out sugary or high-calorie snacks as often as 5 times a night and might not remember having done so.
What if you don’t have a “sleepwalking” issue? If you are among the many people struggling with overeating or an eating disorder such as binge-eating disorder (BED), first, please know you are important and help is available.
BED is the most common eating disorder in the United States today.
According to a Healthline report, BED is now categorized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a psychiatric disorder. (Source)
If you feel you have this disorder—signaled by reoccurring episodes of quickly eating large amounts of food despite not being hungry and to the point of discomfort—you might need intervention.
Medical intervention might involve meeting with a doctor or registered dietitian, counseling, meal planning, not sleeping or working—even in an already stressful pandemic—near your refrigerator, stress-reduction techniques or exercise such as mindfulness or yoga, and taking your eating more slowly and less distractedly. (Source)
There are many factors to consider when you have the idea of keeping or relocating a refrigerator to your bedroom.
They range from noise level to radiation exposure to logistics (e.g., does your bedroom have adequate water supply lines and airflow to counter the heat of a refrigerator or will a leak ruin carpeting?) to the psychological considerations of whether you want the “temptation” of a refrigerator near where you sleep.
Only you can decide what works for you, but please take all the aforementioned under consideration and we’re sure you’ll discover a way to put your best fridge forward!