How to Clean Out Your Freezer in 6 Easy Steps

Closeup of an open freezer door

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 20 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 1 - 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5

We are often cleaning out our refrigerators, but what about freezers? Over time, those leftovers and bags of french fries pile up to create quite the mess, and not to mention, freezers need defrosting, too. While many freezers are self-defrosting, they can still accumulate frost and should be cleaned regularly to reduce odors and sort mystery items that were in the freezer for too long.

Learn how to safely clean your stand-alone or refrigerator's freezer.

How Often to Defrost and Clean Your Freezer

Self-defrosting freezers should be cleaned at least once a year. Manual-defrost freezers should be defrosted and cleaned at least once per year or if there is more than one-fourth inch of frost over a large area of the interior surface. Freezer frost reduces storage space and increases operating costs. 

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.

Before You Begin

Before cleaning 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

  • 3 to 4 absorbent towels
  • 1 microfiber cloth
  • 1 heat-proof bowl
  • 1 wooden or plastic scraper
  • 1 to 3 insulated ice chests
  • 1 dishpan or bucket


  • 1 box of baking soda
  • 1 bottle of distilled white vinegar
  • 1 container of activated charcoal
  • 1 to 5 bowls of hot water


Materials needed to clean and defrost a freezer

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

How to Properly Clean a Freezer

  1. Remove Food and Store

    Remove everything from the freezer and keep it cool while you work in ice chests. 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. This is also a great time to take stock of what you have and get rid of items that are past their prime.

    Assortment of frozen food in a cooler

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  2. Mix a Cleaning Solution

    Mix one tablespoon of baking soda per quart of warm water in a dishpan or bucket.

    Mixing a freezer cleaning solution in a bowl

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  3. Clean and Dry the Freezer Interior

    • With the freezer empty and frost-free, use a microfiber cloth dipped in the baking soda solution to wipe down every interior surface.
    • Be sure to clean the seal around the door and inspect for any damage. It may need to be replaced.
    • Rinse out the cloth often as soil and food particles are transferred.
    • Dry the interior of the freezer with a clean microfiber towel.
    Cleaning and drying the freezer interior

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  4. Clean the Exterior

    Use the same baking soda mixture to wipe down the outside of the freezer to remove dust and smudges.

    Cleaning the freezer exterior

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  5. Tackle Odors

    If food has thawed and spoiled in the freezer, odors will remain. To remove them:

    • Unplug the freezer and dispose of the food.
    • Clean the freezer interior with the baking soda and water mixture or a mixture of one cup of distilled white vinegar per gallon of water.
    • If the odor remains, place some activated charcoal in an open container in the freezer and close the door for several days. Repeat with fresh charcoal if the odor persists.


    If the spoiled food has leaked liquid into the insulation of the freezer, it may be impossible to remove the odor. Contact the manufacturer for any possible solutions.

    Bowl of activated charcoal in the freezer

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  6. Clean and Restock

    You're ready to add your food back into the freezer. If the food has frost on the packaging, wipe it off with a damp cloth and dry the package before placing it back in the freezer. These items should be used as soon as possible although freezer burn may have already occurred.

    Cleaning off frozen containers before restocking

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Tips to Keep Your Freezer Clean and Frost-Free Longer

  • Place the freezer in a cool, dry, ventilated space.
  • If the freezer has exposed coils, it should be placed at least two inches from the wall.
  • Do not place hot or warm foods directly into the freezer. Chill them in the refrigerator first.
  • Maintain the storage temperature at 0°F or lower.
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. What to do if the freezer stops. University of Georgia Extension