How To Replace Refrigerator Air Diffuser

By Todd Fratzel on Appliances

Kenmore Elite Thermistor and Air DiffuserReplacing An Air Diffuser

Recently our Kenmore Elite side-by-side refrigerator was warm while our freezer was nice and cold. I diagnosed the problem as a defective refrigerator air diffuser. After doing some research I was confident that the air diffuser and possibly the thermistor were broken and needed to be replaced. I ordered both pieces from Sears PartsDirect and they were delivered today.

In this article I’ll explain how easy it is to replace a refrigerator air diffuser and thermistor.

Steps To Replace Air Diffuser

  1. Kenmore Elite Wire Chase Cover ScrewRemove Wire / Component Covers – In order to remove the air diffuser you’ll need to remove three different covers. You’ll need to remove one cover in the freezer where the air diffuser connects between the freezer and refrigerator section. You’ll need to remove two covers in the refrigerator compartment; the wire chase cover is easily removed by taking out one screw (see photo), and you’ll also need to remove the air diffuser cover by taking out one screw (see photo).
  2. Kenmore Elite Air Diffuser CoverReplace Thermistor – I recommend you replace the thermistor at the same time you replace the air diffuser. If you look close at the adjacent photo you’ll see a black wire (that’s the thermistor wire). Disconnect it at the wire connector (white plastic piece on left of photo) and replace it with a new thermistor. The thermistor is taped to the inside of the air diffuser cover near those three “holes” just below the drill in the photo.
  3. Disconnect & Remove Air Diffuser – Now you need to disconnect and remove the old air diffuser. The air diffuser is located in the refrigerator compartment, however, you’ll need to remove a cover in the freezer section in order to release the locking tabs on the air diffuser so you can free it on the refrigerator side. Once you release the locking tabs you can just pull the air diffuser free from the refrigerator.Kenmore Elite Diffuser freezer
  4. Kenmore Elite Air DiffuserConnect New Air Diffuser – Now you simply connect the new air diffuser in the same way you dis-connected the old one. Once you’ve connected the new diffuser I recommend that you test it. This is very easy to do. Before you install the diffuser in the refrigerator wall, sit it on the top shelf. Next turn the temperature up to 45 degrees. Let it set for a couple minutes, the air diffuser should close to prevent cold air from the freezer from traveling past the diffuser into the refrigerator. Now turn the refrigerator down to 35 degrees and wait again. The diffuser should open (if the warm inside the fridge). Once you’ve successfully tested it you can install it back into the hole until the locking tabs lock it into place.
  5. Re-connect Covers –  Finally re-connect the three covers from Step 1.

Refrigerator Repaired

That’s all there is to this simple repair. The parts cost me $65 with shipping. I figure I saved myself at least $200 if not more for this simple DIY repair. Most all appliances have detailed parts diagrams available online. You can also buy most any part online for appliances if you can diagnose your problem. So next time your appliance quits working, try doing some online research and repairing it yourself.

About the author

Todd Fratzel

I'm full time builder for a large construction company in New Hampshire. I run their design-build division that specializes in custom homes, commercial design-build projects and sub-divisions. I'm also a licensed civil and structural engineer with extensive experience in civil and structural design and home construction. My hope is that I can share my experience in the home construction, home improvement and home renovation profession with other builders and home owners. I'm also the author of Tool Box Buzz and Today's Green Construction. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, suggestions or you'd like to inquire about advertising on this site.

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34 Comments

  1. Heidi says:

    Such a great way to learn how to fix something that can seem so complex. I just love your articles. They really make taking care of your refrigerator problems yourself (and not having to call in a repairman!) a reality. Thanks.

  2. Dave says:

    This is exactly what is wrong with our fridge. With your cool web page, I’m going to try and do the repair myself. Thank you!

  3. Microwave repair says:

    Thanks for this step-by-step guide, with matching diagrams. It can surely save me some hundred dollars or more for repair.

  4. Joe says:

    Before read read this article, I monkeyed with the air diffuser. I stuck a little wooden wedge and the refriger is now cold.

    I did clean the dust off the the bottow coils front and back and unstopped the the freezer defrost drained hole that was frozen up. It is working now but I do not know for how long.

    My question is Which one goes bad most, the thermistor or the diffuser? In other words, why change both?

    • Todd says:

      Joe – I think it’s typially the diffuser. Frankly I didn’t want to wait to find out which one and the cost wasn’t that great.

  5. John says:

    Yes, this is a common problem on our Kenmore side by side. It seems to be caused by frost build up in the diffuser, sometimes caused by blocking of the air input on the bottom left of the refrigerator compartment, above the bottom drawers. The ice build up must break the motor or linkage the opens and closes the air vanes. It is an easy fix. I just did it for the third time myself, on top of one time by the repairman.

  6. Ray says:

    Thanks for the instructions. Being a curious cuss, I carefully dismantled the diffuser from ours to see what went wrong. Inside, the plastic tab that moves the louver had broken off. (The tab looks quite undersized.) I super-glued the tab back on (reinforced with a piece of toothpick), reassembled, and it’s working fine.

    Saved $75, a bit of space in the landfill, and a few days waiting for the replacement part.

  7. Eric Ronning says:

    I had the same symptoms, so I removed the diffuser. No better.

    I went back to the freezer side, and found that the evaporator fan had gone out. That appears to be easy to replace also, but I’m making sure that is the only problem.

  8. Ms. Curious says:

    Thanks for the info. I tried to troubleshoot my refrigerator that had the same problem and assumed that it was the fan until I ran across your site. After reading your post, everything pointed to the diffuser. We have a local appliance store here in Atlanta and though the price was higher for the part, by the time I would have paid tax and shipping to order it online it was about the same price. I installed it myself in about 30 minutes and the air started flowing into the refrigerator side almost instantly!! I don’t want to put the appliance repairmen out of business but they will never get my business as long as there are websites like this. Thanks!!

  9. Amy says:

    Thank you very much for the information.

    I have a Kenmore Elite side-by-side with the same issue – my freezer is fine but my fridge side is not cold and I’m fairly certain it’s the same issue.

    Question: How do I remove the cover from the freezer section? Do you just pull it out or are there screws that I don’t see near the cover in the freezer?

    Also, this might be a silly question, but was refrigerator on the entire time during the replacement?

    • Todd says:

      If memory serves me correct the cover has some “snap” tabs so I had to squeeze the sides in to release the tabs.

      I turned the power off to the refrigerator to replace the parts.

      Good luck. Please consider signing up for my FREE Newsletter.

      • Amy says:

        I have an additional question: Did you have to remove the styrofoam around the diffuser to take that out? I noticed that when I remove the cover in the refrigerator side, there are styrofoam around the diffuser and tape…so do I need to take the styrofoam out?

        Thanks for your help!

  10. Bryan says:

    thanks it really helped for progress on my own! :D

  11. paco says:

    Hi there, well same problem whith my Kenmore,what I do before take further actions, its to defrost both sides, turn it off, open the doors and let it defrost for a couple hours, after that on the refrigerator side start cooling good, but after a couple of days
    does not cool enough, is it the termistor or the diffuser, or maybe both.
    thanks a lot.

    • Todd says:

      Hard to say……a bad thermistor will cause the appliance to go into defrost mode……that can warm up both sides….a bad diffuser will close the door between the freezer and refrigerator …………this keeps the freezer cold while the refrigerator side gets warm.

      • paco says:

        ok Todd I understand that, but in lower side of the refrigerator where the air flows back to the freezer I can see ice, and fruits freezing, and in the uper side where the diffuser is located its warm an almost nothing of cool air coming from the freeser, should I go for the diffuser or thermistor…or both.
        Tx

  12. David says:

    I have a Kenmore coldspot side by side. The refrigerator side keeps freezing everything.I replaced the air difusser and the thermistor but it is still 25-28 degrees.
    There is no problem on the freezer side.
    Could it be the control panel? The settings on both the freezer and frig are on 3. Any ideas would help.

  13. rod says:

    todd-what is ur taughts on this problem-when the freezer door is open-cold air blows into the refrigerator side but when the freezer door is closed-cold air stops blowing into the refrigerator side- i have a kenmore elite side by side refrigerator.

  14. Larry says:

    Wow, somebody gave me they side by side elite frig,this was great idea.. minds had the same problem.. but I fix it by putting a hair clip in my vent..lol. thanks for the price for the part 65 dollars is a good saving..

  15. Reggie says:

    I believe that I am having a problem with my diffuser. The symptoms are the refrigerator was warm and the freezer side is keeping things frozen but the ice is melting. So I pulled the diffuser out and put a zip-tie in it to keep it open. The refrigerator is cool but now I get no ice at all. Any help would be great!!!

    • Todd Fratzel says:

      Reggie – Typically if the diffuser is bad you can see it’s either completely shut or open. It may be that, but it could also be a thermistor. Two options, repair man or trial and error with a few parts. Good luck.

  16. Roy Grinnell says:

    Kudos to Todd! I too have had this problem recently with my Kenmore Coldspot fridge, but I successfully fixed it with this info. It’s not the Elite model with digital temperature controls in degrees, but rather the standard model with electronic controls from 1 to 7, model 106.56544400.

    My freezer was nice and cold, but the fridge wouldn’t cool adequately. A repair man came out and said he thought the problem was an iced-up vent between the two compartments down by the Meat bin, and defrosted it. He said if that didn’t work it was probably a bad air diffuser.

    His work didn’t really get the fridge cooling well enough, so I searched and found this series of posts. I ordered the parts online from Sears (by phone would have been fine too), getting both a temperature sensor (thermistor) along with the air diffuser. I replaced the parts in the fridge and now the fridge seems to be working fine.

    Note that there are actually TWO temperature sensors (thermistors) in the fridge, one plugged into the air diffuser and the sensor sitting over in the freezer section just below the air duct to the air diffuser (see the picture above in Step 3, Freezer side – it’s the black wire), and one in the fridge section plugged into the harness before the air diffuser and sitting behind the air diffuser cover and noted in the picture in Step 4. They seem to be identical, and Sears says they are the same part. I replaced only the first one since I had only one new one and that’s the harder one to access. Also note that you must remove the ice maker to be able to remove the top air duct and cover inside the freezer section. Since my ice maker is broken, it’s not going back in.

  17. Barbara Johnson says:

    Todd, I have a 2014 Kenmore (not Elite) Coldspot fridge Model 106.51133210, with the same issues. Refrigerator side continually freezes food. So much ruined food I have tossed out! Turning temp down often causes freezer to stop making ice. I found your page while researching a fair price to sell the fridge. Inside my model, however, there is no wire chase, but there is a similar housing cover in the top right corner called “Clear Flow Air Filtration”. Do you have instructions for this particular model, for this particular problem? Thank you!

  18. Chuck Miller says:

    We have a 2009 Kenmore side by side Refrigerator. the refer will not cool below 58% and the diffuser is plugged with ice from the freezer side and there is no air flow into the Refer. The water dispenser also stopped working. I have bought a Diffuser and a new thermostat do you think that will fix the problem?

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