How to Defrost Your Freezer

Icy Freezer

Icy Freezer

This post is sponsored by Appliances Online, the UK’s premier supplier of fridge freezers.

I took my own advice to sort out my freezer to make room for holiday cooking, and realized that my stand-alone freezer needed defrosting. Defrosting means turning off the freezer to melt the layer of ice that has formed inside.

When Should You Defrost Your Freezer?

Once your freezer has a quarter-inch or 6 millimeters of ice on the walls, shelves or coils, it is wasting electricity and should be defrosted.

Freezer ice comes from moisture in the air that enters when the door is open. If you open your freezer frequently or the seal is poor, you will need to defrost it more often. No-frost freezers have a costly mechanism that draws out the moisture from the air and keeps ice from building up. But this uses more electricity and food dries out faster. Almost every freezer on top of a refrigerator is no-frost, so these instructions are for a stand-alone freezer. If you buy a stand-alone freezer, compare costs carefully and be sure to get the kind you want.

Before You Defrost

Plan to defrost your freezer when it is relatively empty. The hardest part is emptying it out and finding a place for the frozen food. In this post I explain how to sort out food.

Put the frozen food in a cooler, the freezer above your refrigerator, the neighbor’s freezer, or the refrigerator. If your food is safely frozen elsewhere, you can take the time to let the ice melt on its own.

Steps for Defrosting the Freezer

  1. Gather equipment. You may need:  Old newspaper, two small buckets, water,  a shallow bowl, a stack of clean cloths, all-purpose cleaner, and your freezer manual. Optional: Ice scraper or plastic spatula.
  2. Unplug the freezer. Lay newspaper on the floor in front of the freezer, pushing it underneath to catch crumbs and water. Look for a spout that drains melted ice into a shallow bowl. In some models,  defrosted ice drips into lower drawers.
  3. Start cleaning. You will never have a better opportunity to clean your freezer than when it is already empty, wet, and making a mess on your floor. While you are waiting for the ice to melt, wash drawers and other removable parts in a utility sink, bathtub, outside, or on the floor.
  4. Put a few drops of all-purpose cleaner in a bucket and add a cup or two of water. Your freezer isn’t that dirty, and you just want to cut  grease from fingerprints and splashes. If you use too much cleaner you’ll have a hard time rinsing it off.
  5. Wet the rag in the cleaning water and wipe all the surfaces of the drawers and parts. If you have access to a faucet with a sprayer attachment, spray off the soapy water and check that the drawers are clean. Let them drain off. Save the soapy water for the inside of the freezer.
  6. Check for ice on the inside of the freezer.You don’t have to fight the ice with a pick or spatula unless there is a lot of ice and you are in a hurry to put back your food. If you do, avoid scratching the finish and try and defrost more often.
  7. Once the ice has melted, examine the inside of the freezer. Some parts may never touch food and do not need to be cleaned. Just wipe those with a dry cloth. Use a rag soaked with soapy water for all other inside surfaces and crevices. (See shortcut below.)
  8. Wipe the gasket (rubber seal on the inside of the door) and the flat surface where the gasket touches the door on all four sides. Keeping these clean ensures that the freezer seals properly. If there is a small leak, a layer of petroleum jelly between the freezer and the gasket can help coax the gasket into the proper position. Gaskets need to be replaced occasionally.
  9. Rinse off the soap, using a clean, wet cloth.
  10. Dry the freezer and parts with a clean cloth. If your freezer is not dry, you will end up with a new layer of ice right away. If you can, let the freezer air dry for an hour with the door open.
  11. Plug in the freezer. Newer freezer models have a warning light if the freezer gets too warm. This will turn on when you plug in the freezer. Once the warning light goes off, the freezer has reached the correct temperature it’s safe to begin replacing the food. Check that the thermostat is set correctly.
  12. Finishing touches. Replace drawers and parts. Wipe off the top, back, sides and front of the freezer with a clean, damp cloth. Take special care with coils and fans. Discard the newspaper. Since your freezer is empty and light, move it and clean underneath. You’re done!

Summary: You have gone over all of the dirty inside surfaces three times: Once with a wet, mildly soapy rag, once with a wet rag, and finally with a dry cloth.

Shortcut:Once your freezer is wet, most of the dirt will come off easily. Skip the soap and wipe the whole thing with a dry cloth, replacing it as it gets wet and dirty. Pay careful attention to the gasket (#8 above).

Please share tips, comments and questions.

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  1. Please be thoughtful about the “all-purpose cleaner” you use in your freezer. You may want to consider baking soda in water, or just a few drops of dishwashing liquid in water(not detergent for dishwashing machines).
    I moved into an apartment in which someone had cleaned the entire refrigerator with a pine-scented cleaner. It took several weeks of re-cleaning and keeping items in heavy plastic bags before I was able to put in items without having them absorb the smell and taste.