The 86 Repairs Guide to Walk-In Fridges

When a walk-in fridge goes down, folks freeze. Use our guide to troubleshoot and maintain the unit to avoid unnecessary expenses on vendor dispatch.


Welcome to another 86 Repairs Guide! In this series, we provide valuable troubleshooting, preventative maintenance, and warranty information on the equipment and infrastructure found in your restaurant. We hope this information will help you and your team become more informed about repairs and maintenance (R&M)—and save you time and money along the way.

If the kitchen is the heart of the home, the walk-in fridge might be the heart of a commercial kitchen. For large-volume, large-size restaurants, the walk-in holds the lion’s share of fresh ingredients along with prepped sauces and sides.

(It might also be the only place where an industry employee can get a little peace of mind during a shift. Nothing muffles screaming and sniffles quite like the walls of a walk-in.)

When a kitchen’s walk-in fridge goes down, folks tend to freeze. So use our guide to troubleshoot issues and maintain the unit so you can avoid the expense of downtime—and the expense of replacing spoiled inventory.

Read The 86 Repairs Guide to Restaurant Refrigerators for general information about the refrigeration units found within a restaurant’s walls.

Table of Contents

What is a walk-in fridge?

The refrigerators found within restaurants are vital for keeping perishable goods at a proper temperature before they’re prepared or consumed. A walk-in fridge, also known just as a walk-in, is a large cold-side unit that offers ample food storage for commercial kitchens. 

Walk-ins are so big that people can—you guessed it—literally walk into them. Because of their large footprint, these units aren’t the best choice for restaurants without a lot of space. They also might not be necessary for low-volume locations. No need for ample storage if you aren’t moving menu items quickly.

Does the thought of a broken walk-in run a chill down your spine? Then get empowered with troubleshooting tips and a preventative maintenance plan to keep the unit operating as it should.

Numbers to know about restaurant fridges

Our latest edition of The State of Repairs found that walk-ins and reach-ins were two of the ten most common pieces of restaurant equipment in need of repair last year. These appliances accounted for 12.2% of all repair and maintenance (R&M) requests from 86 Repairs customers.

Although both pieces of equipment technically work the same, walk-in fridges are almost twice as expensive to repair: 

  • The average vendor invoice for walk-in repair was $1,000.42.
  • The average vendor invoice for reach-in repair was a comparatively low $519.09.

To keep expensive service calls at bay, invest in preventive maintenance and train your team how to troubleshoot issues. Let’s keep that food cool and your profits hot!

Preventative maintenance for walk-in fridges

If your walk-in fridge isn’t working properly, check the back of the unit for frost buildup on the evaporator (the metal box with fans) before you call a vendor.

When frost buildup is present, you likely need to defrost the unit with its thermometer. Another possibility? Your evaporator has a failed defrost component. But try defrosting the unit first to see if that helps it temp correctly. 

Why is it important to remove the buildup from the evaporator? It can cause your walk-in fridge to overexert its power and potentially wear out the motor well before the lifespan of the unit. 

A preventative maintenance program for a walk-in fridge should always be handled by a refrigeration technician. These pieces of equipment are complicated both to install and maintain, so it’s best to keep this to the professionals.

If you want help with your preventative maintenance schedule for walk-ins—or any other piece of kitchen equipment or infrastructure—86 Repairs is here to help. We take PM off your plate so it doesn’t get put on the back burner. Less stress for you and longer life for the equipment in your kitchen? It’s a win-win. 

Walk-in fridge troubleshooting tips

Unfortunately, preventative maintenance isn’t a failsafe. It might prolong the life of your equipment, but it can’t stop equipment issues altogether. So when the heat is on to keep R&M costs low, it’s troubleshooting time!

Here’s what to do when your walk-in starts to stage a walk-out:

Unit is too warm

If your walk-in won’t get as cold as it should be, it could be an issue with your electricity.

  • Toggle the breakers to the unit for at least 30 seconds.
  • Turn the breaker back on. The unit should start cooling within a few minutes.
  • If the unit doesn’t start cooling, you’ll need to dispatch a refrigeration technician to take a look.

Leak present

Leaks in a walk-in usually come from the bottom of the evaporator, where a drain line can lend itself to bacteria buildup. Yuck.

To remove buildup from the drain line,

  • Find the floor drain by tracing the drain line through the wall.
  • Use a wet vac to clean the drain. Ideally, water will flow when the clog is removed.
  • If you can’t access the pipes or if removing the clog does not resolve the leak, it’s time to call a vendor.

Frost buildup

We already mentioned frost buildup as an indicator of a walk-in issue in the Preventative Maintenance section. Follow these steps to get rid of it:

  • Look for a digital thermostat controller inside the walk-in fridge. If the digital controller is there, run its defrost cycle.
    • Use the manufacturer manual to engage the feature, if needed. The defrost feature will protect food while still melting the buildup causing issues.
  • Continue running defrost cycles until all frost buildup has melted.
  • No internal digital thermostat present? Still seeing frost? Sadly, it’s time for a vendor to take a look.

Walk-in fridge parts and warranties

Although walk-ins are relatively difficult to fix without the help of a professional, there are some parts that are pretty easy to replace on your own. Components like door latches and catches can break down over time but are simple to install with only a screwdriver.

Just make sure you have the correct parts for your unit before you replace anything! Contact the walk-in manufacturer’s parts department. If you give them your unit’s serial number, they should share the makes and models of the parts you need.

Warranty-wise, a brand-new walk-in fridge usually comes with one year of coverage. However, what’s actually covered can vary. Some manufacturers might offer separate, longer warranties on components like compressors; others might include that within the core warranty.

As with any piece of equipment or infrastructure in your kitchen, always verify the warranty status and specifications before you proceed with service.

A final note on walk-in fridges

Now that you understand more about how to maintain and troubleshoot these units and have tips for navigating replacement parts and warranties, it’s time to walk the walk(-in).

Protecting your walk-in fridge and the inventory it holds can help you save your business money from lost inventory and downtime. Make sure you aren’t walking away from those savings!

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