How to Defrost Your Freezer in 8 Simple Steps

Defrosted and clean empty freezer with door open

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins - 1 hr
  • Total Time: 1 - 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5

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. While many freezers are self-defrosting, they can still accumulate frost and should be cleaned regularly to reduce odors and sort the mystery items that have been in the freezer too long.

Keeping a freezer clean, well-maintained, and frost-free will keep it operating soundly, give you more space, save food, and lower energy bills. Learn how to safely defrost and clean your stand-alone or refrigerator's freezer.

How Often Should You Defrost Your Freezer?

Self-defrosting freezers should be cleaned at least once a year, and manual-defrost freezers should be defrosted at least once per year or if there is more than one-fourth inch of frost over a large area of the interior surface. 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.

If there has been a power outage, follow recommended guidelines for food safety. If the food has thawed before power was restored, the freezer should be emptied and cleaned before restocking.


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.

Before You Begin

Before defrosting a freezer, consult the manual provided by your manufacturer. If you don't have it readily available, almost all manuals can be found online. Some manufacturers recommend using hot water to speed up the defrosting method while others do not because refrigerant pressure could build up in the evaporator, making restarting the freezer difficult.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 fan
  • 1 microfiber cloth
  • 1 garden hose
  • 1 scraper
  • 2 insulated ice chests
  • 1 dishpan or bucket


  • 1 bottle all-purpose cleaner


How to Manually Defrost 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.

    Unplugging the freezer from the outlet

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  2. Remove Food

    Empty all the food from your freezer. There are a few options for storing food while the freezer defrosts.

    • Transfer the food to coolers or another freezer while it is defrosting. If it's winter and the temperatures are below freezing, temporarily storing the food on an enclosed porch is another option.
    • Gather several insulated ice chests to hold the frozen items during defrosting. If you don't have access to ice chests, use cardboard boxes and cover them with layers of newspaper or blankets to insulate the frozen food.


    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.

    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 also have a special scraper that came included with your owner's manual.

    Place absorbent towels in the bottom of the freezer to catch the moisture as the frost melts. If there is excessive frost, use a wooden or plastic scraper to remove large chunks of ice for disposal. Do not use a metal scraper that can harm the interior finish of the freezer.

    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.
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  1. Nutrition C for FS and A. Food and water safety during power outages and floodsFDA. Published online February 17, 2022.