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Does a RV Propane Fridge Need Electricity?

If you only recently purchased an RV or just bought a propane fridge, it might take a little getting used to. Your home fridges were always powered by simply plugging into a wall, which started a compressor. You might not think much about powering your home refrigerator until the power goes out or you have an issue with the power cord.

RV propane fridges are a bit different and work a bit differently. A propane fridge’s different functions are a great function especially for off the grip campers.

A RV propane fridge generally does not ‘need’ electricity, though some have the option to use electricity as backup. Propane fridges uses a unique method of producing or creating cold air. Read below for more detail.

Electric vs Propane fridge functions

A propane powered fridge has its own closed system consisting of propane, water, liquid ammonia, and hydrogen gas. 

A propane powered flame heats the water and ammonia to the boiling point in what amounts to a “generator”. This gas flows into a condensing chamber where it cools down and returns to a liquid state. This liquid flows to another chamber known as the “evaporator” where it mixes with the hydrogen gas.

This combined chemical reaction begins to pull heat from the refrigerator. This process repeats as often as needed as the refrigerator warms past the desired temperature.

So no, a propane fridge does not require electricity to run. 

Why would a propane fridge need electricity?

Some people can get a electric and propane fridge just out of convenience. Let’s first consider the major advantages and disadvantages to propane.


Mechnically Sound

A propane fridge doesn’t have moving parts. No compressors to fire up, power cords to mess with, or anything really. A propane powered fridge can last a long time if the seals within the closed system are monitored well.


A fridge without a traditional power source is pretty simply cheaper. The unit itself will likely cost you less money simply because you aren’t buying a motor or the mechanics needed to power. 


Ever tried to move a fridge by yourself. Lots of moving back and forth. A propane fridge has fewer mechanicals and can be much lighter. Remember to disconnect your propane source, though.

Off the Grid

Propane powered fridges are a terrific option if you plan to be away from power for a while. If yu want to camp in the woods or some place besides an RV park, a propane tank can run for about 11 days using a standard 20 pound propane tank. You can always go get the propane tank refilled or you can bring multiples.

Propane fridges are also a great choice in climates and areas that frequently have power issues. They can be a great advantage instead of moving all your food to a cooler or having to  keep the fridge door shut when the power is out.


A propane fridge actually can be faster. Propane can heat up that water and ammonia in a hurry. Electricity is actually fairly inefficient at heating and pushes cold air in to gradually cool down instead of removing heat. Especially in the context of a smaller RV fridge, propane can be quicker.


Needs Fuel

A propane powered fridge does indeed need propane to keep running. Be sure to have a place nearby where you can refill propane or get more tanks.


While propane should run for about 11 days on a tank, that isn’t long enough for some people. Also, if you have several visitors and will be opening the fridge frequently you might want to have a backup plan in place. The key difference here is that the propane fridge is physically burning the propane in order to maintain a cold temperature – your electric fridge at home just needs to be plugged in while the power company produces electricity.

Not the greatest around kids

Kids can open and close fridge doors for no reason. We simply suggesting putting a lock on your fridge if you have a propane fridge with young ones around. A lock will prevent unnecessary door openings.

More expensive than electrical

This does depend in part on the price of propane and electricity in your area, but propane is generally more expensive to use for a fridge. One big trade off here is that the fridge itself normally costs less, and in most cases, you probably aren’t going to use it as heavily as a standard fridge. Propane tanks tend to cost $15-$20 per refill, and your electric fridge shouldn’t cost that much per month to run.

Do I have to ignite the propane?

In most cases, no. Most new propane fridges have an automatic igniter built in that will provide the spark necessary to start the boiling process.

These are a bit unlike the average, inexpensive gas grill that require starting and stopping. They are uniquely easy to use.

In the event your fridge does require ignition, it’s usually as simple as turning a knob and pushing a button to keep the flow continuous.

Can I get a combo of electric and propane?

RV and cabin enthusiasts can definitely do this to get to the best of both worlds.A propane and electrical fridge will be more weight, but offers certain advantages that allow it to work under most any situation.


Propane fridges are a great, actually fairly simpler innovation. A propane fridge can keep food cool for days which is a big advantage for people who wish to be away from electricity. They are also fairly simple to use and setup, just requiring tanks of propane to keep running.

Propane and other gas sources have the unique ability to cool an area, like a fridge, without needing to be plugged in. This brings big advantages and some disadvantages depending on how you intend to use your fridge.

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