How Does an RV Refrigerator Work? Benefits & How to Set-up

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A recreational vehicle, better known as RV, is a trailer or even a vehicle on its own in which living quarters for humans may be designed.

A typical RV has beds, furnace, heater, kitchen, and a bathroom.

There are other very useful appliances which can be added, including dehumidifiers and refrigerators.

RV refrigerators are specially designed refrigerators which can preserve food and ensure fresh food for the RV user anytime and anywhere.

Despite these fridges being expensive, they are a very good investment. This article describes their working and benefits.

Benefits of an RV Refrigerator

RV refrigerators have several benefits. They are specially designed to work in RVs They can store and provide fresh food to the camper anytime and anywhere. They can run on either electricity or propane. They are made of stainless steel which makes them resilient to stress due to the bumpy motion.

RVs are supposed to act as living quarters for humans. Hence, RV refrigerators are very much necessary in order to have a place to store food effectively and make RVs self-supporting.

The main benefit of RV refrigerators is that they can store food and keep it fresh in an RV. Therefore, even while traveling, campers can choose to cook and consume the food which was preserved by the refrigerator.

RV refrigerators can run on either propane or electricity. Both these power sources are easily available.

RV refrigerators have a smaller size than a normal fridge and are very compact. They can easily fit into an RV.

However, the small size actually hides a surprisingly larger interior.

Their capacity can vary according to models. This capacity is at the most 18.3 cubic feet.

RV refrigerators also come with a fastening kit that helps the user to attach the refrigerator to the RV.

RV refrigerators are made of stainless steel so that they can withstand the stress acting upon them due to constant movement and travel. This is primarily one of the reasons why they are so expensive.

Another way that these refrigerators safeguard the food inside is by the secure locking of their specially designed doors with the help of a strong door seal.

RV refrigerators can be 2-way or 3-way models. 2-way models work with AC power and propane. 3-way models work with AC power, DC power and propane.

Hence, even though RV refrigerators are expensive, they have been proven to be a good investment. They provide a resourceful way to secure food and ensure that the user can obtain fresh food anytime and anywhere.

How does an RV Refrigerator Work?

The RV refrigerator works on the principle of gas absorption. Unlike normal refrigerators, RV refrigerators do not use a compressor. The fridge first separates a mixture of ammonia and water by distillation. The ammonia obtained is evaporated with the help of hydrogen gas. Due to this, the cooling effect of the fridge is achieved.

How Does an RV Refrigerator Work

The RV refrigerator involves cycles of evaporation and condensation of a combination of gases to achieve refrigeration.

It uses the principle of gas absorption to cool its interior; hence it is called gas absorption refrigerator.

The main components of the refrigerator are the boiler, holding tank, evaporator, condenser, absorbing coil and the refrigerating space.

Firing up the refrigerator

As stated before, the refrigerator can work on electricity or propane. Based on the fuel used, an appropriate burner is present.

This burner generates enough heat so as to evaporate the chemicals present in the boiler of the refrigerator.


The boiler or the generator is a vessel that contains a mixture of liquid ammonia, liquid water and a rust inhibitor.

The rust inhibitor is used to prevent the rusting of the inside of the fridge.

The burner heats the boiler and its contents.

The process of distillation is used to separate this liquid mixture into ammonia and water. Distillation basically involves the heating of a mixture into gases and then condensing the gases separately.

When the boiling point of ammonia is reached, ammonia is converted into a gas and it rises through the percolator tube.

Due to the pressure of the ammonia gas, the water also rises up with it through the tube.

Due to gravity, water, being the heavier element, falls and flows through a lower tube.

Ammonia, meanwhile, is collected by another tube and it flows into the condenser.


The condenser is maintained at a lower temperature.

When ammonia flows through the condenser, it cools down and becomes liquid ammonia.

At this point, the process of distillation is over as the mixture of water and ammonia has now been separated.

The liquid ammonia now flows into the evaporator.


The evaporator is located in the refrigerated space of the fridge. This is where the cooling effect of the fridge is obtained.

The evaporator is a hydrogen-filled chamber.

Hydrogen is called the assistant gas as it helps in the refrigeration process.

The ammonia comes in contact with the cool hydrogen. Due to this, liquid ammonia starts expanding and evaporating once again into ammonia gas.

The liquid turns into a gas as it absorbs heat from the refrigerated space.

Due to this, the temperature in this evaporator falls and cools down.

A fan blows air onto the evaporator. The air flows over the evaporator and cools down.

The cooled air then courses around the refrigerated space and produces the cooling effect.


The ammonia and hydrogen mixture flows into the absorption coils. These coils contain liquid water.

The ammonia gas condenses and mixes with the water while the hydrogen does not. This then flows back into the boiler.

This mixture is again heated and goes through the entire process described above.

How to run an RV refrigerator on propane?

RV refrigerators can be run on propane only if the RV supports propane use. If so, the first step is to level the RV properly. Then, fill the RV’s propane tank with propane. Connect the RV’s battery to the refrigerator and then switch it on. Allow 24 hours for the fridge to cool properly.

As mentioned before, RV refrigerators can be run on either propane or electricity.

Propane is a hydrocarbon widely used as a fuel. A propane refrigerator uses a propane flame and a propane burner to heat the ammonia in the boiler.

Major advantage propane has over electricity is that it can be used during travel.

Electricity is available in most camping grounds and RV parks. The RV can be hooked up with this electricity supply and its appliances can be run.

Electricity is also available during travel, mainly from the RV’s battery, causing the battery to deplete easily. Solar panels can be opted for running the fridge, but they are expensive.

Propane, on the other hand, is cheap. An estimated monthly expenditure over propane will be around $5. One unit of energy is one dollar less when propane is used rather than electricity.

Also, propane is a more energy efficient solution.

The operation of a propane run refrigerator is described below.

Firstly, the refrigerator must be leveled properly, that is, raising the RV tire by tire so that the fridge can reach a level where it can operate comfortably.

Switch the RV to work under propane. Fill the propane tank with the required amount of propane.

Make sure the refrigerator is also hooked up with the RV battery. It needs a little bit of DC power from the battery to start.

Switch the refrigerator on.

Temperature can be set according to preference.

Finally, allow up to 24 hours for the refrigerator to cool and take in its operation.

Here is a quick video to help you with it –

Things to keep in mind before buying an RV refrigerator

Some things to keep in mind while looking for that perfect RV refrigerator are its size, capacity, model, brand, fuel used, price, warranty and any special features offered.

Here are some things which have to kept in mind when buying a refrigerator for an RV.


The space available in the RV for the fridge is an important consideration. It must be made sure that the RV refrigerator can fit into the RV and must not take up all the space in the RV.


RV refrigerators can be of the 2-way model or the 3-way model.

2-way models work with AC power and propane. 3-way models work with AC power, DC power and propane.

Based on the power availability, the appropriate model can be chosen.

Some models also have the auto feature, which makes it run on electricity when it is available and then use propane on all other times.


Again, based on the user’s preferences, propane or electric fridges can be chosen.


A rough estimate of the amount of food needed and the gap between grocery shopping can be calculated before choosing a suitable capacity.

The fridge must be able to hold the required amount of food within itself.

Sometimes, portable standing refrigerators and freezer boxes can be set up along with the main refrigerator when the food storage exceeds the capacity of the refrigerator.

Special Features

The list of RV refrigerators can be narrowed down by looking for some special features like defrosting technology, ice cabinet and so on.

Price and Warranty

Finally, the price of the refrigerator and warranty offered also has to be considered.

RV refrigerators are quite an investment. This is because their design is sturdy. They made of stainless steel and they have superior quality door seals.

However, if used properly, RV refrigerators can prove to be quite an asset as well.

What is the right way to position an RV refrigerator?

The right way to position an RV refrigerator is by leveling the RV to a height where the RV can function normally. Leveling is the process of raising the RV tire by tire. Any hydraulic or automatic levelers can be used for the leveling process. Wooden leveling blocks can also be used for RV leveling.

RV refrigerators are subject to lots of movement due to the perpetual moving of the vehicle. In order for the refrigerator to work properly, it must be leveled properly.

Leveling is the process of raising the vehicle tire by tire using the rig until the refrigerator can function properly.
We know that gravity plays a major role in the refrigeration process.

The distillation process relies on gravity to separate ammonia with water. Also, the flow of ammonia in the evaporator coils happens due to gravity.

Moreover, if the refrigerator tilts in an abnormal position for more than 30 minutes, its cooling unit may get damaged.

Any hydraulic or automatic levelers can be used for the leveling process. Wooden leveling blocks can also be used for this purpose.

Here is a video on more tips and tricks for the leveling the RV –


RV refrigerators are specially designed fridges which can work in RVs.

Since the refrigerator uses the principle of gas absorption, it is also known as gas absorption refrigerator.

Some things to keep in mind while looking for that perfect RV refrigerator are its size, capacity, model, brand, fuel used, price, warranty and any special features offered.

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