Difference Between Refrigeration and Air Conditioning

Main Difference – Refrigeration vs. Air Conditioning

Air conditioners and refrigerators are devices used to keep a space at a colder temperature than its surroundings. The main difference between refrigeration and air conditioning is that refrigeration, in general, refers to any process where thermal energy is taken away from a place and transferred to a place with a higher temperature. Air conditioning is a type of refrigeration where thermal energy is taken away from the air (typically in a room or a vehicle) in order to keep the air cooler. 

What is Refrigeration

Refrigeration refers to processes that take thermal energy away from a place and gives off that energy to a place with a higher temperature. Naturally, thermal energy flows from a place with a higher temperature to a place with a lower temperature. Therefore, refrigeration runs against the natural heat flow and so it requires work to be done. Refrigerator is a name that we use for devices that are used to keep food at low temperatures. A refrigerator consists of a fluid called refrigerant which gets expanded and compressed in a cycle:

  1. When refrigerant enters the compressor, the refrigerant is compressed adiabatically. This raises the temperature of the refrigerant.
  2. Then, the hot refrigerant is sent into the condenser under high pressure, which is typically a tube outside the refrigerator. Here, the temperature of the refrigerant is higher than the temperature of the surroundings. So, the refrigerant gives off heat to the surroundings and gets condensed into a liquid. If you touch the tubes at the back of a refrigerator, it feels hot because you are feeling the heat given out by the condenser.
  3. Next, the refrigerant goes through an expansion valve, where the pressure of the refrigerant is lowered. The refrigerant expands here, evaporating and cooling down.
  4. The refrigerant now enters the evaporator, which is a set of tubes inside the refrigerator. At this stage, the refrigerant is at a temperature lower than the temperature of the air inside the refrigerator. Now, the refrigerant draws in heat from inside the refrigerator. This is how heat is removed from inside a refrigerator.

Once the refrigerant goes through the evaporator, it is sent again into the compressor… and the cycle continues repeatedly.

Difference Between Refrigeration and Air Conditioning - Refrigeration

Parts of the refrigeration cycle

What is Air Conditioning

Air conditioning is a type of refrigeration where thermal energy is taken away from the air in a large space such as a room or a vehicle. Air conditioners are fitted into rooms so that they cool the air inside them. Air conditioners also reduce humidity in rooms, because the water vapour in the room can condense around the colder parts of the air conditioner. The condensed water can be then drained off.

Air conditioners work in the same way as refrigerators. The primary difference between an air conditioner and a refrigerator is that air conditioners are not only concerned with maintaining the temperature of the air; they also help to regulate humidity and filte the air. Air conditioners also consist of fans in order to circulate air, so that the hot air comes into contact with the evaporator at a faster rate.

Difference Between Refrigeration and Air Conditioning - Air_conditioners

Air conditioners fitted to a building.

Difference Between Refrigeration and Air Conditioning


Refrigeration is a process where thermal energy is transferred from a place with lower temperature to a place with  higher temperature using energy, against he natural flow of heat.

Air conditioning is a type of refrigeration which is used to cool large volumes inhabited by people.


Refrigeration is concerned only with regulating the temperature of a volume of air.

Air conditioning is concerned with not only maintaining the temperature of a volume of air, but also maintaining he humidity and purity.


Young, H. D., & Freedman, R. A. (2012). Sears and Zemansky’s university physics: with modern physics. Addison-Wesley.

Image Courtesy:

“en::Image:Refrigeration.jpg with JPEG artifacts removed by a four-line Python program…” by Keenan Pepper (Originally from ; description page is/was .) [], via

“Air Conditioners – Abstract” by zeevveez (Own work) [], via 

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