The Right Way to Defrost Your Freezer, a Task You Should Be Tackling Twice Per Year


  1. On This Page

    • Why This Task Is Important

    • Defrosting Steps

    • Cleaning Tips

After a busy workday, reaching into the freezer for a last-minute meal is an easy solution. Pans of lasagna, batches of beans, and hearty goulash all freeze beautifully, and are a real boon when you're pressed for time or options. But what if the solution to tonight's dinner is blanketed in frost or buried in ice? Then it's time to defrost your freezer (and clean) your freezer—and maybe rustle up some grilled cheese sandwiches, instead.

Related: The Right Way to Use Your Crisper Drawer

Why You Need to Defrost Your Freezer

Defrosting your freezer has many advantages. "While you want to prevent freezer frost from building up in the first place, defrosting your freezer is important for freeing up valuable storage space, eliminating unpleasant odors, and helping your appliance run more efficiently," says Trent Jacobi, executive director of product management for refrigeration, GE Appliances.

Failing to defrost your freezer could cause appliance trouble if frost or ice cover interior air vents and temperature sensors, "which in turn makes your freezer work even harder to function properly," explains Bree Lemmen, Whirlpool kitchen brand manager. What's more, those frost patches hog up space that could be used to store your hoard of spring rhubarb, peak-season summer produce, or snack-ready cookie dough.

Defrosting a freezer isn't quick—it can take anywhere from two to 24 hours—but you don't need to mind it while it's in progress (and you don't need to do it very often).

How Often You Should Defrost Your Freezer

Defrost your freezer at least once a year, says Lemmen—but Jacobi makes the case for an even shorter window. "A good rule of thumb is to defrost it as soon as the frost buildup becomes a 1/4-inch thick or greater or every six months," he says.

High humidity in the kitchen or frequent freezer use can also impact that timetable. Upright freezers may need to be defrosted more frequently than chest iterations, simply because they accumulate more buildup.

Auto-Frost Freezers

Are you exempt from defrosting your freezer if your appliance has an automatic-defrost feature? Typically, yes, but there can be exceptions to the rule. "While it's not necessary to manually defrost appliances that have built-in defrost capabilities, like Whirlpool's AutoDefrost, you may occasionally need to manually defrost if you notice a lot of frost buildup or before you move, for example," says Lemmen.

Related: How to Organize Your Refrigerator and Maximize Your Food Storage Space in 5 Easy Steps

modern fridge and freezer in kitchen
modern fridge and freezer in kitchen

Carlina Teteris / GETTY IMAGES

How to Defrost a Freezer

Lemmen and Jacobi suggest following these easy steps to defrost your freezer. It's also important to check your appliance manual for tips or instructions specific to your model, they say.

  1. Turn the temperature control setting to off and unplug the appliance.

  2. Remove the food and stow it in a cooler or insulated bags. (Alternatively use corrugated cardboard boxes with towels and newspapers for insulation.). Remove the drain plug (if your model has a drain plug).

  3. The drain hose, located behind the grille, carries defrosted water from the unit to a pan that collects the water. Sponge up any excess water from the freezer bottom. "If your freezer does not have a drainage hose to help with removing water, be sure to prep the surrounding area with towels or plastic liners where the ice will melt," says Lemmen.

  4. Leaving the freezer door open, let the ice melt on its own. To speed up the process, place a fan near the freezer, which increases air circulation, or place pans of hot water on the freezer's bottom, removing large pieces of frost as they come loose.

  5. Once melted, mop up the excess water. Mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda with 4 cups of hot water and use this solution to wipe down the inside of the freezer. Dry with a damp cloth.

  6. Replace the drain cap (if your model has one), return the drain tube to its position, and replace the grille.

  7. Plug the freezer in, and return the temperature control to the normal position. Before putting food back in the freezer, rinse off each item and pat dry with a towel to prevent future frost buildup.

Related: 9 Ingredients You Didn't Know You Could Store in Your Freezer—Including Eggs and Leftover Wine

How to Clean a Freezer

You rely on your freezer to supply everything from frozen pizza to ice cream and it probably plays an integral role in your day-to-day meal planning. Deep cleaning it at least twice a year is a smart move to keep it and its contents in tip-top form. Read through our freezer cleaning guide to learn how to thoroughly tackle this task—or refer to Jacobi's quick method, below, for more routine maintenance.

  1. Unplug the appliance. "There's no need to worry about the food in your fridge, as long as you keep the door shut," says Jacobi. "According to the FDA, your refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours without power if it is unopened."

  2. Empty your freezer, and move its contents to a cooler. Throw out any expired food (including that mystery bread from who knows when).

  3. Remove detachable drawers, shelves, and components. Bring them to room temperature before washing to avoid cracking. Wash with soap and water and allow to dry.

  4. Wipe down the interior, spray with a mixture of vinegar and water, and wipe clean; repeat if necessary.

  5. Put the detachable shelves and drawers back; once the freezer is dry, wipe off any moisture from the food and return and organize the contents. "A tidy freezer can help you find what you need quickly, so you can avoid keeping the freezer open for too long and help preserve its efficiency," says Jacobi.

  6. Plug in the refrigerator and turn your appliance back on.

Now you have a sparkling clean, well-organized freezer—perhaps those grilled-cheese sandwiches can wait.