How to defrost a freezer? Ah, this is a domestic challenge that many of us face at home. Whether you live alone or with your own brood, defrosting is part of regular housekeeping. It is the only way to keep your precious freezer clean and functional.

Of course, you can always buy a freezer with an automatic defrost function. But that type is more expensive and consumes more electricity. If you are stuck with a normal freezer, you have to do the defrosting manually. There are many reasons ice builds up inside your freezer, but the fact remains you cannot leave it there. Doing so will ruin your appliance.

Defrosting a freezer is a chore that is not as cool as it sounds, especially if you don’t have the skills. But don’t fret, as this guide will help you face this challenge. With time and practice, you can soon entertain a guest in your home and proudly proclaim that you know how to defrost a freezer. Congrats! Now on to the guide.

What Is Defrosting A Freezer?

Before you learn how to defrost a freezer, you must first know how frost appears inside your freezer. Time for some cool freezer facts!

How Does A Freezer Work?

Consumer-level freezers are sold as separate units or installed inside refrigerators, which is the case in most American households. Whichever type it is, most freezers work the same way.

The cool secret lies in the substance called refrigerant. This chemical substance absorbs the heat inside the container (where you store your food), causing the temperature to drop to freezing degrees. The early refrigerants were flourocarbons/ hydroflourocarbons, but they have been phased out since the 20th century due to its harmful effects to the ozone layer. Modern refrigerants use more eco-friendly chemicals.

spring coil

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Have you seen the coils behind the refrigerator? Inside is the refrigerant working its wonders. It begins as a vapor under low pressure then enters the compressor which squeezes its particles, causing it to increase its pressure and temperature.

This excited refrigerant continues its journey to the condenser coils where it loses its heat but keeps its high pressure. At this stage, the condensed vapor becomes a liquid. This high-pressure liquid enters a small tube, where it drops its pressure suddenly and returns to its gas form. This vapor absorbs the heat, causing the temperature inside to drop, freezing the food inside. The refrigerant then repeats its cycle.

What Is Frost And What Causes It To Form?


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Unfortunately, refrigeration is not a closed and foolproof system. The temperature inside is not tightly controlled, so fluctuations happen which causes frost to form.

Frost is the “ice” that builds up on the freezer walls and door. In a perfectly controlled environment, these would be ice-free. But each time the freezer door is opened, factors are introduced that affect the system and require users to learn how to defrost a freezer.

Air is obviously warmer outside the freezer. When you open the freezer doors, warm air seeps into the freezer. Because warm air contains more moisture,  it condenses when it hits the coils. The condensed water then freezes due to the temperature inside, resulting in frost.

This ice is not toxic as it is formed from water vapor in the air. However, it is not advisable to eat as food smell can seep into it. The crystalline texture is also different, so it does not feel good in the mouth. Some frost forms like ice shavings, while the rest become solid lumps of ice.

What About Auto Defrost?

Freezers with auto defrost options have fans that keep the warm air and moisture away. (Though this function takes a lot of electricity and makes the appliance more expensive).

This is why you should not open your freezer door wide like you would a window. It is also important to close the door tightly so no air will get inside. Only use the freezer when necessary; take out everything you need in one go.

Why You Should Defrost Your Freezer

One more thing before we learn how to defrost a freezer: a quick science lesson.

Why Do We Freeze Food?

Freezing food keeps it from becoming spoiled or rotten. Low temperature inhibits the growth of bacteria, molds, and fungus. Freezing also slows down the actions of enzymes, which causes food to undergo chemical transformation. Thus, the food keeps its quality and freshness.

This knowledge is an ancient one, as our ancestors made pre-electricity freezers–or cold storage boxes–using ice or snow from the mountains. Using the aforementioned principle of cold-warm air movement, our ancestors kept the warm air from reaching the food by insulating it with ice, which also helps drop the temperature.

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This ancient freezer was done by digging a hole in the ground or using a big earthenware pot. Then the food was placed inside and the container covered with hay, grass, or straw. Then ice taken from the mountains or snowfall was placed on top. The insulation kept the inside temperature low while keeping the warm air out at the same time.

What Happens If We Don’t Remove The Frost?

Woman opening a refrigerator

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Those huge slabs of ice are a nuisance in a lot of ways.

One, frost takes up space in your freezer that can otherwise be used for food. It also makes it harder to close the freezer doors, which will worsen the situation.

Second, it keeps your freezer from working properly. The frost affects the flow of the refrigerant in the coils (attached to the freezer walls). If this happens, despite the presence of ice, the freezer will actually not cool at all. If this continues unabated, the coils and the entire freezer is at risk of breaking down.

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Last, having a malfunctioning freezer will defeat the purpose of using a freezer. The food will not cool down. They are also at risk of contamination. The air inside will become warm and stale, thus turning your freezer into a virtual compost pit.

How To Defrost A Freezer

young woman wearing rubber gloves cleaning fridge

Image via: Free​​pik

Defrosting a freezer isn’t as daunting as it sound to be. Yes, it will take time and effort and it can get messy. But mastering this basic domestic skill will ensure that your precious freezer will keep working and not get frozen for life.

Learn how to defrost a freezer in these easy steps:

  • Empty the contents of the freezer.
  • Unplug the freezer.
  • Keep the freezer door open until the ice melts.
  • Catch the meltwater using a drain system or hose.
  • Wipe the freezer dry.
  • Keep the door open for a few more minutes.
  • Put the food back in.
  • Plug the freezer back in.
  • List Element

Other Tips

  • When emptying the contents, it is advisable to cook or eat them ASAP, as returning them to the freezer will affect their quality.
  • For the food you need to return, you can place them in the fridge or an ice-box to keep them fresh while the freezer defrosts.
  • Before you unplug the freezer, don’t forget to turn the switch off.
  • Some freezers have temperature regulator. Don’t turn it off completely; instead gradual lower the temperature using the dial.
  • If you can, move the freezer away from the socket to keep it away from any spills.
  • When you leave the freezer door open, use a wedge to stop the door from closing again.
  • To hasten the thawing process, you can put a bowl or a pot of hot water inside the freezer then close the door. Don’t use boiling water!
  • If there is a big buildup, you can use a wooden spatula or ceramic knife to chisel the frost. Don’t use metal as it will stick to the cold walls and scratch the interior.
  • For thin frost layers, you can use a hairdryer to melt the ice.
  • Place old towels at the base of the freezer in case the meltwater spills out and floods your floor.
  • If your freezer does not have a catch drain, you can use rags or sponges to soak up the meltwater. You can also use a hose and pump.
  • Gently wipe the sides of the freezer to remove any excess moisture before turning the power back on.
  • Melting the ice takes time, so do other stuff instead of waiting for the ice to melt.
  • Keep the door open for a few minutes after drying so the stale air will come out.
  • The meltwater is not toxic, so you can collect it and use it for other stuff like cleaning or washing.
  • Defrost only if the ice is already 1/4 inch thick.
  • If you can, time your defrost a few days before your food’s expiration date. It is always nice to start “fresh” after every defrost.


3D refrigerator

Image via: Fr​​eepik

Defrosting a freezer is not hard, but it takes patience and skill so it is important to keep your cool, so to speak. As mentioned, learning how to defrost a freezer is a valuable survival skill, at least when it comes to keeping your food fresh and your home clean and maintained.

Happy defrosting!

Last update on 2021-09-27 at 10:27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API