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How to Use Your Dometic RV Fridge

One of the benefits of having an RV is ditching the cooler. Having a Dometic RV fridge allows you to stop digging through wet melting ice to find your food. However, you will have to learn how to use it properly. Let’s dive into how to use your Dometic RV fridge. 

What Is a Dometic RV Fridge? 

A Dometic RV fridge is a common refrigerator found in many mobile applications including RVs and boats. Designed by Dometic, a trusted outdoor brand based in Sweden and with US headquarters in Elkhart, Indiana. Dometic’s models are popular due to their overall functionality, as well as their range of sizes and styles. Depending on the Dometic refrigerator you choose, it might run on AC electricity and LP gas, DC, or all three.

How Does a Dometic RV Fridge Work? 

Some Dometic RV refrigerators work by using an absorption process, while others are compressor-driven.

If you have an absorption refrigerator, propane or electrical heat boils a mixture of ammonia and water, causing the ammonia vapor to rise throughout the coil system. As it condenses into a liquid, it works its way to the evaporator as a hydrogen bypass reduces the pressure. The result is a cooling effect. 

DOMETIC | RM8500 – Absorption Refrigerator for RV & Motorhomes

If you have a compressor fridge, a refrigerant vapor is compressed to reach a higher temperature. It is then cooled in a condenser and turned into a liquid. The liquid undergoes a low-pressure evaporation process which draws heat out of the refrigerator, making it cool. The cycle then repeats to keep the fridge at its set temperature.

For a more detailed explanation of how RV fridges work, read How Does an RV Refrigerator Work? It’s Pretty Cool!

How to Use Your Dometic RV Fridge

Learning how to use a Dometic RV fridge sounds complicated, but there’s nothing to fear. As long as your unit is functioning correctly, it’s no different than using any other fridge. Just remember to keep the door closed and make sure it’s latched to keep the cold air inside.

Setting the Temperature

Setting your Dometic RV fridge temperature will likely come down to a bit of trial and error. RVers often need to adjust the settings based on external temperatures and conditions. Changing your settings is as simple as the push of a button. If you find it isn’t as cool as you’d like, it’s easy to turn up the cooling settings. If the contents of your refrigerator are freezing, simply turn the settings down.

Dometic’s absorption fridges will be much more susceptible to exterior temperature conditions than a DC compressor model.

DOMETIC| How To Operate Your DMC4101 Refrigerator

Operating on Shore Power

Your absorption Dometic RV fridge should function on either propane or shore power. When hooked up to shore power, your fridge will work just as well as when running off propane. To utilize your Dometic RV fridge on electricity, be sure you have it set to either “automatic” or “DC.” Otherwise, it’ll default to propane use. 

Battery Power Operation

Some Dometic absorbtion fridges are what are called 3 way and will function on battery power as well. They use a DC heating element just like the AC one but it runs off your batteries. These fridges are not very efficient on electricity however and will drain your batteries very quickly so its important to have a battery charger or alternator running.

A Dometic DC compressor fridge will only run on 12-volt DC power from your RV batteries.. These fridges will not run on propane. However, if you are plugged into shore power, the converter will keep your refrigerator running. This type of fridge is very efficient on electricity compared to an absorption model and will run for an extended time on battery power alone, which is beneficial if you use solar panels to power your RV.

Operating on Propane

For the Dometic Absorption fridges the ability to operate on propane is one of their top features. Many fridges will run for months on a single tank to propane which makes them ideal for off grid use. There is usually a propane selection option for the fridge that will force propane operation or if in auto the fridge will select propane when shore power is lost.

While many do leave their propane RV fridge running while traveling, manufacturers don’t recommend this for transportation safety rules. Unless you travel in hot conditions for long periods, your contents will likely remain at a safe temperature without this. The refrigerator seals tightly, helping the unit maintain its temperature for brief periods without being actively cooled. 

If you choose to operate your Dometic RV fridge on propane while traveling, there are a few safety tips to keep in mind. It’s illegal to leave propane tanks open while traveling through many tunnels. There are usually signs letting you know that you need to pull over and close your propane tanks.

It’s also a good idea to ensure your fridge is off while fueling. Fueling stations are already prone to fires and there is an open flame in the back of an absorption refrigerator. Thankfully, opening and closing your propane tanks is easy.

Defrosting Your Fridge

It isn’t uncommon for a Dometic absorption fridge to need defrosting. If you start to notice a layer of ice build-up at the back of your freezer or refrigerator, it’s time to defrost. Ice build-up can reduce the efficiency of your unit. 

First, remove your contents and place them in a cooler or alternative cooling source. The process shouldn’t take too long, and you’ll soon be able to put your contents back in the fridge. Next, turn off your refrigerator. You can use a hairdryer on low heat to melt the ice build-up. Place a towel under the ice to avoid an annoying mess. 

absorption fridge fin defrost

Avoid using any tools to scrape off the ice. You don’t want to risk damaging your Dometic RV fridge. Being patient can save you headaches down the road. 

How to Pack Your Dometic RV Fridge

The efficiency of your fridge depends on how you pack your contents. Your fridge relies on airflow to consistently cool your food. Give your food room to breathe instead of packing your items in tightly. It may mean more trips to the grocery store, but that’s better than food that has reached unsafe temperatures due to lack of cold air circulation.

Items located higher on the fridge shelves will remain the coldest. Items on the door shelves experience the most temperature change. Condiments are great items to put on the door shelves as they’re not as sensitive to temperature changes. 

12V RV refrigerator

Dometic RV Fridge Maintenance

Your Dometic RV fridge doesn’t require a lot of work. The most important maintenance is preventative. Be sure to keep the inside clean, defrost it often, and not overpack it. 

You can do a few extra things to increase the longevity of your unit. Routinely check the seals to ensure the cooled air is remaining inside the fridge. If a seal appears to be failing, replacing them can save you lost food later.

For absorption fridges once a year, it can be good to open up the outside compartment and clean up the gas and exhaust system. If debris gathers in this area, it can reduce efficiency and cause your unit to work harder. Because there is an open flame in this area its important to keep this area clean to prevent a fire.

Pro Tip: If you’re having trouble with your RV refrigerator, and you can’t seem to pinpoint the problem, read this: RV Fridge Not Getting Cold? Try These Troubleshooting Tricks


Having a Dometic RV fridge allows versatility in your RVing adventures. Having access to safely cooled food is essential regardless of whether you’re at a full hookup site or miles from civilization. What are some of your best tips for keeping your RV fridge running efficiently?

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Dave Mckenna

Thursday 14th of October 2021

RE: "It’s also a good idea to ensure your fridge is off while fueling. Fueling stations are already prone to fires and there is an open flame in the back of an absorption refrigerator. Thankfully, opening and closing your propane tanks is easy." Just to be clear, closing your propane tanks is not enough to prevent fires at fueling stations. Fires can be triggered by both the open flame, and the spark that is generated when the refrigerator begins a cooling cycle. Manually switching off your refrigerator, your water heater, and space heater will prevent these appliances from producing the spark that can start a fire at fueling stations.

Jim Ryan

Friday 4th of June 2021

Great article, especially if you have a Dometic unit. What about the the other popular unit Norcold. Is there anything different that we need to know or is everything basically the same?

Marc Stauffer

Friday 4th of June 2021

Our Dometic Absobtion fridge does not have an adjustable thermostat in the compartment. Instead, there is a very small knob with a standard screwdriver slot on the circuit board in the back that allows for temp adjustment. The original circuit board failed after a couple of years an so we installed an aftermarket board and the adjustment capability came with it. - M

Jack McGonegal

Friday 4th of June 2021

We’re taking our Phaeton up to southern Michigan/northern Indiana in late August to get our horrible Atwood electric levelers replaced by Quadra Bigfoot hydraulic levelers, then down to JC Refrigeration in Shipshewana to have our Norcold time bomb converted to a residential AC fridge, and finally over to Truma in Elkhart to replace our Suburban water heater with an AquaGo system. I’ve been dropping your name with these guys, so hopefully you’ll get some credit. ?

Mortons on the Move

Wednesday 9th of June 2021

That's great! Enjoy the upgrades! :)