How Does a Propane Refrigerator Work? A Complete Guide

How Does a Propane Refrigerator Work

Unlike electric refrigerators, which use coolants to maintain a low internal temperature, propane refrigerators rely on chemical reactions. The process is quite simple—a propane tank feeds a flame, which heats the ammonia and water to a gaseous state.

Read through to learn more about how a propane refrigerator works. 

Does a Propane Refrigerator Need Electricity?

 No, a propane refrigerator does not need electricity. All propane refrigerator brands run without electric power. However, some brands have electric power options, but you won’t need electricity to run them. 

You’ll only need an electric power source in a propane refrigerator when you want lights switched on when opening the refrigerator’s door. Fortunately, some models have a self-generating electric power that lights up a LED when you open the door. This refrigerator can light up the LED on its own through a rechargeable battery and thermocouple setup.

On Recreational Vehicles (RVs), the propane fridge can start running after you start the vehicle with batteries. However, the fridge won’t run if the batteries are empty or disconnected. Therefore, you should at least have a 10.5-volt battery on your RV. 

How Long Will a 20 LB Propane Tank Run a Refrigerator?

How Long Will a 20 LB Propane Tank Run a Refrigerator? How Long Will a 20 LB Propane Tank Run a Refrigerator?

The propane tank can last much longer, depending on the materials inside the fridge, the outside temperature, and how often you use the refrigerator.

Factors That Determine the Efficiency of a Propane Fridge

The following conditions will affect the efficiency of your propane fridge. 

  • Air temperature
  • Surrounding airflow
  • Items inside the fridge 
  • The fridge’s setup


Efficiency – How to Increase It

After knowing the factors that affect the efficiency of propane fridges, you may want to know how to increase their efficiency. Follow the tips below to increase the efficiency of your propane refrigerator.

  • Ensure the fridge is completely level. The cooling mechanism of the propane fridge relies on gravity; therefore, any slight misalignment will alter its efficiency.
  • Don’t put too many items on the fridge, so it doesn’t have space left. There should be enough space left to encourage efficient airflow.
  • Switch your propane fridge on the night before. This process helps the fridge lower the starting temperature, making it ready for daily use.
  • If you forgot to put the fridge on the night before, don’t worry; put a tray of ice inside when turning it on. 
  •  You should always keep your propane fridge’s door shut. Open it only when you need to.
  • Before starting your trip, power your propane fridge using electricity and switch to propane later.
  •  Add a few mini fans to your propane fridge setup to improve cold airflow into the fridge. The fridge doesn’t have a mechanism to encourage airflow. 

Propane Refrigerator vs. Electric: Is a Propane Fridge Better Than Electric?

  Propane Refrigerator Electric Refrigerator
Performance Has good performance. Still, it lags behind the electric fridge Has better performance
Efficiency  Is less efficient than electric fridges More efficiency
Convenience  Is less convenient Is more convenient 
Safety  Safe, though leakages can cause CO poisoning. Safer, though, can cause electric shock when mishandled
Flexibility  Limited options More flexible options
Power source  Solely relies on propane  It has several power options; electricity and a generator

Propane vs. electric refrigerators is such a debatable topic. Propane refrigerators have a thumbs up in maintenance—they have a lower maintenance cost than electric refrigerators. Also, as they have no moving parts, these refrigerators last longer than electric refrigerators. On the other hand, electric refrigerators are better than propane fridges in performance, safety, and flexibility.   

Learn more about propane vs. electric refrigerators below. 


Electric refrigerators have better performance than propane fridges. Unlike the propane fridge that relies on fluctuating air temperature, the electric fridge doesn’t. They use a direct current (DC) to control the internal temperature.


Electric refrigerators are more efficient than propane fridges. The electric fridge depends on direct current, which is more reliable and efficient than propane used to power propane fridges. However, a propane fridge is more efficient in energy consumption—a 20 lb propane tank can run the fridge for about 11 days


Electric refrigerators are more convenient than propane fridges. It is more convenient to start up and run an electric fridge in a power outage than it is to run a propane fridge. Also, you don’t have to worry about turning the gas on and off when using an electric fridge—you only need to plug it in, and you’re good to go. 

In addition, electric refrigerators have several power options—you can use an electric outlet or a generator. On the other hand, the propane fridge has only one power source; the propane tank. You won’t use your propane fridge if you run out of propane. 


Electric refrigerators are more flexible than propane fridges. With an electric fridge, you can use a power outlet or a generator to power the fridge. On the other hand, unfortunately, you can only rely on propane to power your fridge.



Propane is a flammable natural gas that can be toxic and highly explosive. Mishandling of it can result in explosions, causing damage. On the other hand, while electricity can also cause shock, fire outbreaks, or component damage, it is much safer than propane. Thus, in terms of safety, electric refrigerators are much preferred over propane fridges.


How Cold Does a Propane Fridge Get?

A propane fridge can go to as low as -5 degrees. However, its desired temperature depends on the heating elements you put in the fridge. The fridge cools more if the heating element is hotter. 

Note that the propane freezer at the top of your fridge initiates the cooling process. However, it is more challenging to regulate the freezer’s temperature. The freezer will maintain the desired temperature the heating element communicates.

For instance, if the refrigerator compartment’s desired temperature is 34 to 36 degrees, the freezer compartment will maintain a temperature range of -5 degrees and 10 degrees. However, if the temperature of your propane fridge sits from 38 to 40 degrees, the freezer temperature shifts to a 5 to 10 degrees temperature range. 

How Does a Propane Refrigerator Work in a Camper

While home refrigerators use a compressor to lower the internal temperature, camper’s propane refrigerators use an absorption mechanism to keep the temperature low. 

A propane flame heats water and ammonia solutions to their boiling points in a camper propane refrigerator. The vapor then moves to the condenser, returning to a liquid state. The liquid ammonia combines with hydrogen gas in the evaporator to produce a gaseous component and becomes a gas again. It then rapidly evaporates, cooling down the fridge.

Are Propane Refrigerators Safe

Yes, propane refrigerators are safe for use, especially for people within off-grid zones. With the flame enclosed in a stainless steel burner box and well-equipped with a thermocouple, it is safe to use the propane fridge—the thermocouple shuts the propane completely when the flame goes out. 

However, running a propane fridge can be dangerous in poorly ventilated areas. It emits carbon monoxide that may be poisonous if emitted in a poorly ventilated place. Therefore, when using this fridge, ensure you open your camper vents or leave a window open to let the gas escape. 

Check your propane fridge to determine how wide your windows or vents should be open. This provision varies depending on the fridge model and the camper you use. On average, you need at least 12 square inches of open space, especially adjacent to the exhaust source. Ensure you have many other open spots to protect yourself from asphyxiation and Carbon Monoxide poisoning

In addition, always have a carbon monoxide (CO) detector installed in your unit. This detector will alert you if the propane fridge isn’t working correctly. It also warns you if there is any gas leakage. If you notice a fault somewhere, service it immediately or unplug it. 

Why Are Propane Refrigerators So Expensive?

Propane refrigerators are more expensive than electric refrigerators. A propane fridge has a better value for cash than an electric fridge. Also, propane fridges have lower maintenance costs, lower fuel consumption, and longer lifespan. 

Below, we illustrate why propane fridges are so expensive.

  • You’ll learn that propane refrigerators have no moving parts. Thus, it won’t have many mechanical or technical wear and failures. Thus, it would work perfectly for an extended period with minimum maintenance requirements. 
  • Besides, propane fridges are more efficient in fuel consumption. The advanced technology used to make propane fridges makes it possible for the unit to run on less fuel and have lower emissions. This feature will help save you money in the long term. 
  • In addition, propane fridges have a better lifespan than electric fridges. While different parts have different lifespans, propane ones last longer than average. 
  • Propane is locally produced in the US. Therefore, a propane refrigerator’s running cost is lower than an electric fridge’s. This feature means that the overall running cost of the propane fridge will be much lower. 

Best RV Propane Refrigerators for Camping

The best RV propane refrigerators for camping are as follows.

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