How to Defrost and Maintain Your Freezer

Three frozen pizza boxes and an ice cube tray inside a freezer.
Monica Rodriguez / Getty Images
Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 day
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Defrosting and maintaining your freezer is one of those household tasks not typically considered but the upkeep is essential. Freezers tend to be overstocked with food and should be regularly checked and edited. A clean and well-maintained freezer will keep it operating soundly, save food, and lower energy bills.

How Often Should You Defrost Your Freezer?

To maintain the efficiency of a manual-defrost freezer, it should be defrosted each time it develops a quarter-inch of ice build-up on the interior walls. Many people defrost their freezers once a year, but you may find that you need to do yours more or less often depending on your usage habits.

To stretch the time between episodes of defrosting, try to minimize the time that you have the door open. Keeping a freezer inventory list on the door makes it easy to see what you have without having to dig around in the freezer.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Towels
  • Cleaning rag
  • Garden hose (optional)
  • Fan (optional)

Materials

  • All-purpose cleaner

Instructions

  1. Disconnect Freezer

    Turn the freezer off and unplug it from the wall.

  2. Remove Food

    Empty all the food from your freezer. Transfer the food to coolers or another freezer while it's is defrosting. If it's winter and the temperatures are below freezing, temporarily storing the food on an enclosed porch is another option.

  3. Remove Inserts

    Remove all drawers and ice cube trays. Place them in the sink to thaw out and wash.

  4. Remove Drain Plugs

    Locate your freezer's drain plugs (both interior and exterior), and pull them out. If the exterior drain is threaded, attach a garden hose, and divert the water to a large bucket, a floor drain, or the outdoors. If it isn't, set up a bunch of old towels on the floor to absorb the water as the ice melts.

  5. Let the Freezer Defrost

    Leave the freezer door open and allow it to defrost over the next several hours. Monitor the process, so you can add and remove towels as needed. Do not attempt to speed the process up by scraping the ice out—this could destroy your freezer.

  6. Clean Interior

    Once the freezer is defrosted, wipe down the interior with an all-purpose cleaner, and replace the plugs.​

  7. Reconnect Freezer

    Plug your freezer back in, and set the thermostat to zero.

  8. Refill Freezer

    When your freezer is back to temperature, refill it, and you're set until next time.

Tips for Defrosting a Freezer

  • Consult your freezer's manual if you are inclined to speed up the defrosting process. Begin by aiming a fan into the freezer. Set on high, it will help to push the cold air out of the freezer, so the ice melts faster. With some models, you can also place a pan of hot water in the freezer to accelerate the melting. A special scraper may also have been included with your owner's manual.
  • Take a few minutes to clean your freezer's condenser coils and inspect the door gasket.
  • Do you have some things that have been in your freezer for a long time? Find out how long different foods keep in the freezer to determine what you should toss. This is not only a cleanliness and space issue but is crucial as food kept past their frozen shelf life could be contaminated and make you sick.
  • Next time you need to replace your freezer, look for a model with a drain plug that accepts a garden hose. It'll save you from having to sop up the water. If you aren't inclined to defrost your freezer, consider purchasing a frost-free freezer as your next model. It'll keep up with the task on its own.
  • Defrosting your freezer boosts its efficiency and storage space, so set aside time to do it regularly. Late winter/early spring is often a good time to take care of this task because there tends to be less food in the freezer after a winter of eating down last year's harvest goodies.