How to Defrost and Maintain Your Freezer

Defrosted and clean empty freezer with door open

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 2 hrs
  • Total Time: 12 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Defrosting and maintaining your freezer is one of those household tasks that you probably don't think about often, but its upkeep is essential. Freezers tend to be overstocked with food and should be regularly checked and edited. Keeping a freezer clean, well-maintained, and frost-free will keep it operating soundly, give you more space, save food, and lower energy bills.

How Often Should You Defrost Your Freezer?

To maintain the efficiency of a manual-defrost freezer, You should defrost it 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 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 you have the door open. Keeping a freezer inventory list on the door makes it easy to see what you have without digging around in the freezer.


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.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

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


  • All-purpose cleaner


Steps for Manually Defrosting a Freezer

Materials and tools to defrost freezer

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  1. Disconnect Freezer

    Turn the freezer off and unplug it from the wall. If the freezer is part of your refrigerator, it will also cut off the power to the fridge. A fridge can maintain food cold for four hours if the door remains closed.

    However, if you have a lot of ice buildup, it may take 12 hours to defrost. So, plan on moving your food items to another fridge or a spot at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Freezer unplugged from wall outlet

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  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.


    Do you have some things that have been in your freezer for a long time? Regularly checking your food is excellent for cleanliness and space issues. It is also crucial since food kept past its frozen shelf life could be spoiled by freezer burn or make you sick. Find out how long different foods keep in the freezer to determine what you should toss.

    Packaged food stored in freezer closeup

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  3. Remove Inserts

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

    Freezer inserts removed by hand

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  4. Remove Drain Plugs

    Locate your freezer's drain plugs (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. Set up a bunch of old towels on the floor to absorb the water from the melting ice.

    Freezer's drain plugs pulled and removed by hand

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  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.

    Consult your freezer's manual if you are inclined to speed up the defrosting process. Optionally, you can aim a fan into the freezer. A fan set on high will help 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. You may have also have a special scraper that came included with your owner's manual.

    Empty freezer with door left open to defrost

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  6. Clean Interior

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

    Freezer interior wiped down with blue cloth and all purpose cleaner

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  7. Reconnect Freezer

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

    Freezer thermostat reset after replugging

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  8. Refill Freezer

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

    Cleaned and defrosted freezer filled with packaged frozen food

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

Tips for Freezer Maintenance

  • While waiting for your freezer to defrost, take a few minutes to clean your freezer's condenser coils. Since you need to pull the plug and move it away from the wall, you might as well get a vacuum cleaner to remove all the dirt and dust that accumulates over time.
  • Clean and inspect the freezer door gasket, the seal responsible for keeping the freezer cool. Make sure the gasket has no tears, cracks, or holes. Most appliance experts recommend using a baking soda solution for cleaning; it's made with one tablespoon of baking soda and one quart of warm water. It will clean away mold, mildew, dust, and collected food debris.
  • Defrosting your freezer boosts its efficiency and storage space, so set aside time to do it regularly. Late winter or 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. Since you're likely emptying your entire fridge, you might as well clean the fridge part too.
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nutrition C for FS and A. Food and water safety during power outages and floodsFDA. Published online February 17, 2022.