How to Defrost a Freezer

How to Defrost a Freezer Manually and Safely

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Fridge maintenance is part of good housekeeping in ensuring it functions optimally. Part of this is taking care of the frost that grows along the freezer walls. In particular, you can find frost-free refrigerators. However, frost-free freezers are not the best, especially due to freezer burn and increasing the electricity bill due to more energy required for the fan.

Accordingly, the process of defrosting will remain a key part of ordinary housekeeping. Ideally, defrosting is important in reclaiming space in your freezer. As such, most freezers come with defrosting settings, but the melting process might not be adequate to keep the cooler space fresh. Therefore, this how-to-defrost-a-freezer guide will help you defrost your domestic fridge-freezer combo and larger upright/chest freezers.

Freezer Defrosting Process

The easiest approach to defrosting a freezer is switching off your appliance and leaving the ice to melt slowly. This approach is useful whenever you have an alternative freezer to store your food.

Besides this easy approach, you can also use a manual approach to defrost freezers, which is relatively faster. Every step in this guide will provide details for what you need to make the entire process a success.

Step 1: Preparation

This initial step might sound basic and easy, but it's vital to a successful defrosting that will retain the integrity of your frozen food and appliance. Before we even highlight the preparation steps, the whole exercise of defrosting requires one to plan ahead. As such, here are the preparation steps to take before removing ice:

1. Turn off or unplug your freezer.

As is the norm while handling electricals, you should ensure your freezer is switched off to avoid any interactions with water from melting ice. In most cases, your refrigerated food will be good for a few hours as long as the door is closed. Switching off your appliance before removing any food will help remove any stuck food easily.

Alternatively, some freezers come with a switch for turning off the freezer function without unplugging. However, complete unplugging is always best to ensure no electrical connection. Additionally, secure the plug cable to avoid any contact with water. The long route to unplugging can be turning your freezer's circuit breaker off, but this approach might turn off other non-related connections.

2. Remove everything from your freezer.

You can transfer frozen food that is still good for consumption to coolers, a neighbor's freezer, or a simple fridge-freezer. Notably, removing ice takes some time, even using the quickest means. Also, discard any expired food or leftovers you will not eat.

3. Remove freezer drawers and shelves.

Soak them in hot water with soap. Then, considering that some shelves might be delicate, if they are still iced, you can wait until the ice melts to take them out.

4. Place some old towels. 

As part of being prepared, you need to lay some old towels on the floor or the base of the freezer. You can also choose to catch the melted water by using a towel in the freezer. This technique will help you deal with the dripping water from your defrosted appliance without causing a mess. Moreover, you can have baking trays above the arranged towels to catch the excess water.

5. Prepping the drainage.

For freezers with drainage in the bottom shelf, make sure its drainage hose drains into a bucket or a low basin before removing the drain plug. To encourage water flow towards the draining outlet, you can lift the freezer's front feet using shims or folded hard paper.

Step 2: Removing the Frost Layer

Leaving your freezer door open and waiting for the ice to melt is the best approach to defrosting. However, let's say you need your freezer operational soonest; you can manually remove the frost layer. Then, under the second step, you can remove the remaining shelves once the ice starts to defrost. Here are the different approaches you can use to remove the frost manually:

  • You can blow hot air into your freezer using a portable hair dryer. First, however, ensure that you follow the safety precautions while using the hair dryer. For instance, ensure that the dryer's cord is away from water and ice. Also, ensure you keep your blow dryer away from the sides of the freezer, coils and any plastic construction to prevent the warm air from causing damage.
  • You can also use a wet and dry vacuum cleaner in light of blow-drying. Ideally, the smallest nozzle works best with vacuum cleaners for the blow setting. Large chunks of ice will melt faster using this technique while also reducing the risk of electrocution.
  • Use pans and bowls of hot water. You can also use hot boiling water in containers to defrost a freezer. Leave your steaming water inside your freezer, close the door and let the ice melt. However, to avoid damaging your shelves, you can place a thick towel under the hot containers to leave the steam to its job. This approach can be used to loosen the ice, similar to the blow dryer's concept for easy removal with a spatula.
  • You can also use a hot cloth with rubbing alcohol to defrost your freezer. Simply put a rag or towel in hot water, then pour rubbing alcohol on it to use for loosening ice. This trick mostly applies to removing thin frost layers.
  • Once the ice begins to melt and loosen, you can scrape. Use a wooden spoon or a plastic spatula to avoid puncturing the freezer wall or the gas line. Scrapping works best with a thin layer of ice. Alternatively, you can solely scrape using a hot metal spatula if the ice buildup is thin. However, don't use any other sharp object like a knife or ice pick for safety's sake.


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Step 3: Cleaning the Freezer

The process of cleaning begins once all ice has melted. Under this step, avoid using disinfectants and bleach to avoid adverse effects on your freezer. Instead, you can use a normal wash liquid or multipurpose spray.

The best technique for cleaning your freezer is baking soda and hot soapy water. You can add one tablespoon of baking soda to four cups of water. Simply dip a sponge into this solution and use it to wipe your freezer. Do this rinsing until your freezer is clean. Don't forget to wipe the door/lid and door seal as part of the clean-up.

For the removable parts, wash them using water with soap. Ensure you soak them before scrubbing them using a dishcloth. Also, make sure that your shelves come to room temperature before soaking in warm water to avoid glass cracking due to the rapid temperature change. Using soap and baking soda in this step will ensure that your freezer is deodorized and freshened.

Step 4: Drying the Freezer

After a thorough cleaning, ensure you dry the interior of your freezer before turning it back on. Without drying, your freezer will grow some frost after switching it back on. After wiping using a dry towel, you can let your freezer further air dry for about 15 minutes by leaving its door open.

Alongside drying the inside of a freezer, you should also wipe the removable shelves with a dry towel. Thorough drying of the freezer and its removable parts ensures that frost doesn't start to accumulate once your freezer is back on.

Step 5: Plugging your Freezer Back on

After putting back the freezer shelves, switch it back on and close the door. Please note, before reloading your food back to the freezer, we recommend waiting until your freezer is ice cold. You can wait for about an hour as your freezer comes back down to its right cooling temperature. However, within this time, your freezer might not be cool enough for your favorite ice cream, meaning you can give it more time to cool.

On the part of the food, ensure that it's still frozen before you put it back in your clean freezer. In case you find any defrosted fish or meat, throw it or cook it. Refreezing in such cases might lead to food poisoning. The only way to refreeze defrosted raw meat is by freezing it after cooking.

Step 6: Restock your Freezer

After your freezer's temperature comes back down, you can go ahead and put back your frozen food. This last process might sound unnecessary but might be easily forgotten. The cleaning process might be so satisfying that one is carried away, forgetting there is food to be stored.

However, avoid putting back defrosted food since its thawed water will turn back to ice once put back. Overall, every highlighted step will help defrost a freezer effectively for reduced energy bills and increased functionality.

Frequently Asked Questions on Defrosting a Freezer

1. How long can defrosting a freezer take?

Time taken to defrost your freezer successfully is relative to the process you choose. If you let the ice melt naturally, it might take longer than removing the ice manually. Also, the thicker the ice, the longer you will spend defrosting.

2. How often do you need to defrost a freezer?

Repeat the defrosting process a few times a year to avoid a thick ice build-up. You can do this using the self-defrost settings or manual process for the older freezers. There is no dictated number of times to defrost a freezer. Most importantly, follow through with our process of how-to-defrost-a-freezer for safe and optimal outcomes.

Notably, frost in your freezer reduces efficiency while increasing electricity consumption. Therefore, the less frost, the better for a freezer.

3. How do you defrost your freezer fast?

You can use any recommended approach that raises the temperature within the freezer. As such, hot temperature from steam or hot towels causes ice to melt fast, helping defrost your freezer quickly. 

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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