How to Defrost a Freezer


We expect our freezers to be cold and keep our food frozen.  But if your freezer is starting to look like the Arctic tundra, aka ice or frost has begun to accumulate on the shelves or sides of your freezer, it’s time for a manual defrost.  This is more common with older models, but can happen with newer frost-free models too.  Not sure how to defrost your freezer?  No problem.  Today we’ll walk you through how to do just that.

What causes ice/frost buildup?

Ice or frost buildup is caused by excess moisture in your freezer.  But how did it get there?  Most of the time this moisture finds its way into your freezer because the door isn’t sealing properly.

That being said, ice buildup can also be caused by a blocked vent, leaving the door open too long or opening it too frequently, forgetting to clean your condenser coils, or even just not having enough in your freezer.  We talked about this a bit more in depth in a previous post, which you can find here.

As the ice builds up, it forces your refrigerator to work harder and use more energy.  If your freezer regularly frosts you’ll want to manually defrost at least once a year or if more than 1/4″ of ice builds up.

How to Defrost

To defrost your freezer you’re going to need a few things:

  • towels – you’ll need more than one
  • coolers & bags of ice (unless you have another refrigerator/freezer)
  • a bucket or pan
  •  a clean sponge
  • *optional items:
    • a plastic scraper, spoon, or spatula
    • vinegar or baking soda

And finally, time.  Before you start defrosting your freezer, be sure you set aside a few hours so you can keep an eye on it as the ice starts to melt.

Step 1: Empty the fridge


Remove all the food in your freezer AND your refrigerator.  If you have another fridge or have access to one (ie: ask your neighbor, family, friends, etc) transfer all of your food over.  If not, you’ll want to put everything in your refrigerator and freezer into coolers with bags of ice (you can leave the ice right in the bags to prevent everything from getting wet).

If you can, try to keep the items from your freezer and refrigerator separate coolers and keep them packed tight.  You can insulate the food by opening up a blanket or towel in the bottom of the cooler and wrapping everything  up before closing it once it’s full.


Step 2: Turn off and unplug

Turn off your refrigerator and carefully pull the appliance away from the wall to unplug it (find someone to help if you can’t move it on your own).

Step 3: Lay out towels & remove any shelves

Layout towels on the floor around the refrigerator and remove any shelves or bins in the freezer if possible and set them aside.  You’ll also want to place a towel in the bottom of your freezer to absorb any water that may pool as the ice melts.

Step 4: Find the Drain Pan, Tube, or Plug

On some models you may have a drain pan, tube, or plug.  If you do have a drain plug and tube, you’ll want to remove the plug and feed the tube into a pan or bowl to catch any water.  If you have a drain pan, you’ll have to empty it every so often.

Step 5: Leave the doors open & wait

And now we wait.  To speed up the process there are a few things you can try.  The first is to place a fan in front of the freezer to increase air circulation.  This can be a little tricky to do if you have a freezer on top or bottom model.

The second thing you can try is one of the oldest tips around.  Boil a pot of water on the stove.  If the pot will fit in your freezer, place a trivet, pot holder, or hot pad on the shelf and set the pot on top of it, if not transfer it to a large bowl and do the same.  Shut the freezer door.  The steam from the pot will help to start melt the ice.  After 15 minutes check inside the freezer and reheat the water if necessary.

You can also try to remove the ice once it has started to melt with a plastic ice scraper (designed for freezers) or a plastic spoon or spatula.  Be very careful not to scratch or puncture the interior of the freezer and never use anything sharp.

Step 6: Clean it up


Once the ice has finally all melted, take a few minutes to really clean up the inside of the freezer and refrigerator.  A great way to clean your refrigerator naturally is to mix 1 quart of warm water with either a tablespoon of baking soda OR a cup of vinegar (do not use both).

With a sponge or rag wipe the interior  and any shelves or bins down with your cleaning solution, then wipe again with water.  Be sure to thoroughly dry everything, otherwise you’ll have to go through this whole process all over again.

Step 7: Plug it in and fill

If you removed the drain plug, be sure to replace it and put any shelves back into the freezer/fridge.  Then plug the appliance back in and set the temperature controls to the recommended temperature.

Wait about 30 minutes for it to start to cool down again, then start putting your food back in it.  If anything has thawed or started to spoil, you’ll unfortunately want to throw it away.  This is also a great time to get rid of any old or expired items that may have been lingering in your refrigerator.

Make sure that your freezer is full enough to keep it from freezing up again.  If you need to fill space, you can store frozen jugs of water or simply use newspaper to fill any empty bins or shelves.

We hope you found this post helpful!  If you have any additional tips, questions, or just want to leave us a comment please feel free.  Don’t forget to like and share this with a friend and of course to visit our website for any of your appliance part needs.

Written by: Sarah Walker

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