What is Freon?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Freon™ is a family of products developed by the DuPont company in 1928. Through the 1980s, Freon™ was used in a wide variety of applications, until growing evidence suggested that it was contributing to damage in the ozone layer which protects the Earth. In response, alternatives to the products were developed, and several governments have launched initiatives to help people replace products which contain Freon™ so that the products can be safely sequestered.

Freon™ was once a common refrigerant for household appliances.
Freon™ was once a common refrigerant for household appliances.

These products were originally developed for use in refrigeration. They are part of a family of chemicals known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Prior to the production of Freon™, a variety of toxic substances including ammonia were used in refrigeration, causing illness when leaks occurred. Freon™ was viewed as a safe refrigerant because it is nontoxic, noncorrosive, nonflammable, and nonreactive. In the 1930s, use of the chemical in refrigeration systems began to rise dramatically, with manufacturers viewing the products as safer and easier to work with.

Freon™ was once used as an aerosol propellant.
Freon™ was once used as an aerosol propellant.

In addition to being used as a refrigerant in refrigerators and freezers, Freon™ was also used in air conditioning systems, firefighting systems, and as an aerosol propellant. The widespread production and use of Freon™ led to an accumulation of the chemical in the environment. Eventually, people began to realize that the ozone layer above the Earth was starting to degrade, and CFCs were suspected of being involved, leading to calls to ban the use and additional production of these chemicals.

Atmospheric chlorine derived from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) converts ozone to oxygen molecules.
Atmospheric chlorine derived from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) converts ozone to oxygen molecules.

DuPont and other chemical companies have developed alternatives to Freon™ which are safe for use as refrigerants. However, a high volume of the chemical is still present, and still causing damage to the ozone layer. Old appliances often contain Freon™, which can make them costly to repair if they start to break down. Disposing of old appliances must also be done with care to reduce the risk of allowing the coolant to leak out.

People who are not sure about whether their cooling systems contain Freon™ or not can contact a refrigeration professional to ask to have the system evaluated. If the system does contain Freon™, there may be a variety of ways for dealing with the issue, ranging from using the system until it fails and then replacing it to retrofitting the system so that it can use an alternative to Freon™ as a coolant.

Freon™ leaks are not an immediate risk to human health, except in cases where the coolant leaks out in large quantities. At room temperature, it often reaches a gaseous state, and inhaling the gas can lead to suffocation, because it displaces the oxygen in the air. An HVAC specialist can clean up the leak and address the underlying cause so that it does not occur again.

Continuing advances in refrigeration technology have produced safe alternative refrigerants and efficient machines that require a fraction of the refrigerant chemicals used by older units.
Continuing advances in refrigeration technology have produced safe alternative refrigerants and efficient machines that require a fraction of the refrigerant chemicals used by older units.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments

anon994056

We had a refrigerator problem with the freezer on the bottom not working. Had the repair man here twice, new compressor. The carbon monozide detector kept going off while he was here and for another couple hours after he left. Did the freon do this? Also now my refrigerator doesn't work at all nothing. After a few hours it stopped going off the carbon detector. Is this freon leak dangerous and now I have no fridge at all.

anon348750

There was just an explosion in Maryland caused from an open can of freon being left inside of a truck. The truck exploded. The man escaped but was transported to the hospital. Scary stuff.

anon336648

No Dehumidifiers contain Freon or refrigerant.

anon293862

There is a liquid leaking from the back of the refrigerator that dries into a white powder on the floor. What is it? Do I need a new fridge? There is no odor and the food remains cold. Thanks for your help.

malik23

@ scrow3: Hey, you should have a technician check that out. Then call the Consumer Protection Agency like the other guy did!

malik23

@anon271068: Sounds like you have a major situation on your hands. You should get that checked out as soon as possible.

malik23

Wow, This article makes it sound like Freon had an effect on the ozone really quickly. According to wikipedia, it took almost fifty years for Freon to be banned. Now, this stuff is scary in its gaseous state!

anon271068

I have a 2009 Frigidaire freezer upright and it contaminates the food with a nasty chemical odor that will make you sick if you dare to eat it. The smell makes people shriek when they smell the food.

I intend to pursue the matter with the Consumer Protection Agency after I have a technician check it out and say he has no clue other than the materials used in construction of the unit (it still stays cold at 0 degrees, so likely it is not a coolant leak).

anon171494

What other products use freon? I have been told it is also found in dehumidifiers. Is that true?

scrow3

is no one going to answer with out being paid. but i got a hole in the freezer part of my mini refrigerator. how worried should i be?

anon75968

How does freon work in a fridge?

anon71627

Is freon is emitted into the atmosphere when we use a refrigerator or air conditioner?

anon50850

@jrjones get that fridge to a fixman or something. Seriously, don't drink that stuff.

anon44044

What causes Freon leaks in a refrigerator?

Marty

jrjones

We have a strong chemical smell coming from our refrigerator. It started in the freezer and has migrated into the refrigerator part too although it is not as strong in the fridge part. It's gotten strong enough to fill the kitchen when you open the freezer door. It also ruins the taste of the ice and the ice water. After you drink some, that taste stays with you a little while. Do you think this is a dangerous situation? What might it be? What can I do about it?

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register: