How to Defrost and Clean Your Freezer

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

The introduction of freezers to homes in the late 1940s brought a significant change to food preparation and meal preparation. The downside of early freezers, and in some models today, is freezer frost or the buildup of ice on freezer walls.

Freezer frost occurs when too much moisture is introduced to the freezer environment causing ice to accumulate on the walls. The moisture is introduced through a worn door gasket, leaving the door open too long, or from the steam from foods that are too hot. 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.

Learn how to safely defrost and 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 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

  • 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

Materials

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

Instructions

Materials needed to clean and defrost a freezer

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

How to Defrost a Freezer

  1. Store Frozen Food Safely

    Gather several insulated ice chests to hold the frozen items during the defrosting process. 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.

    Tip

    Try to reduce the number of frozen goods as much as possible before defrosting a freezer. Plan to use the frozen food in meal preparation in the days or weeks before defrosting.

    Assortment of frozen food in a cooler

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  2. Safety First

    • Once the freezer is empty, if it is a stand-alone freezer, unplug the appliance.
    • If the freezer is part of a refrigerator, just open the door of the empty freezer. Try to limit the number of times you open the refrigerator door during the defrosting process to keep the temperature regulated.
    Unplugging the freezer from the outlet

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  3. Thaw and Absorb Moisture

    • Following the guidelines of the manufacturer, place bowls of hot water in the freezer or simply allow the ambient air to thaw the frosty buildup.
    • 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.
    • If wish to speed up the thawing process, add a circulating fan to the room. While you may have heard about using a hair dryer to speed thawing, do not use one if there is standing water on the kitchen or storage room floor, and keep the heat level low to prevent damage to the freezer interior.
    Letting the freezer thaw out

    The Spruce / Michelle Becker

  4. Clean and Restock

    • Once all of the frost is gone, follow the steps for cleaning the interior of the freezer.
    • Plug it back in or close the door and allow the temperature to drop for 15 to 30 minutes before restocking the food.
    • 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

How to Clean a Freezer

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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.

    Warning

    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

    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