The ABC of Defrosting a Freezer: What You Need to Know may earn commission when you buy something through the links or banners on this page.

Having a fridge and freezer are amazing modern conveniences. We get to buy food in advance, save it later, and preserve it so it doesn’t go bad.

The only problem with the freezer is that frost can build up inside and start to make the inside of your freezer look like the deep tundra. Not exactly the magical, modern convenience you want in your kitchen, right?

If that’s the current state of your freezer, here’s your essential go-to guide to defrosting.

Why is there frost in the freezer?

That’s a great question. Your freezer stays cold all of the time, but that doesn’t mean it stays at the same temperature 24/7. In fact, the temp fluctuates depending on several factors.

Every time you open the freezer door, you let in warm air. When this happens, the warm air condenses and becomes water. This water then freezes in the freezer, and that’s why you have frost inside.

Another cause of frost is if the door doesn’t close all the way, or isn’t sealed properly. This can lead to a teeny-tiny, yet constant stream of warm air into the freezer, giving you a frosty arctic.

People have been defrosting their freezers for decades. Now, newer models have an automatic defrosting feature. Sometimes, this is called “frost-free” or “no frost.”

But even these models can end up with frosty interiors. So, whether you have a bright and shiny new unit, or something a bit on the older side (without all the bells and whistles), you probably need to defrost your freezer sooner or later.

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How often should you defrost your fridge?

This all depends on how much frost builds up in the freezer. A good rule of thumb is when the frost measures a quarter-inch on the freezer walls.

Another good rule of thumb is to defrost once a year.

5 very good reasons to defrost your freezer

Defrosting sounds like a very inconvenient ordeal, and maybe an unnecessary one. After all, who cares if there’s frost in the freezer? But there are actually some pretty decent reasons to bite the bullet the defrost.

#1 You have more freezer space

If there’s a lot of ice and frost buildup, it’s probably taking up some precious freezer space – space you can use for all your favorite frozen pizzas.

#2 You save money

When your freezer isn’t full of frost, it actually works much more efficiently. This is a simple, yet smart way to save on your utility bills month after month.

#3 You unclog drains

Before warm air transforms into water, this condensation can collect on refrigerator coils and flow into drainage lines. Should these lines freeze, your fridge will be a leaky fridge. Yet another kitchen hassle you can get rid of when you defrost.

#4 You get rid of odors

Have you ever taken something out of the freezer, defrosted it, eaten it and tasted “freezer”. The truth is, even though cold temperatures prevent bacteria from thriving, some actually hang out in freezing temperatures.

When you defrost, you also get to clean the inside and wipe out the bacteria, too.

#5 You keep your food colder

The whole point of having a freezer is to keep your food cold. When you keep the frost and ice out, you allow the freezing temperatures to stay in – exactly what you want for your food.

How to defrost a fridge the right way

Defrosting isn’t difficult, but it can take a good couple of hours. Follow these tips to make the whole process smooth sailing:

  • Turn off the freezer and unplug the unit
  • Take all the food out of the freezer. Whatever is still good to eat should be kept in a cooler with some ice packs to keep it cold. This is also a great time to go through your frozen wares and decide what’s still good, what you can toss and what you can make for dinner tonight.
  • Take out all drawers and trays and let them thaw in the kitchen sink
  • Pull out the freezer drain plugs and direct the water into a large bucket
  • Leave the freezer door open and allow it to thaw out
  • Blow a fan toward the freezer to drive the cold air out and the warm air in. This speeds up the process.
  • Be on hand with towels to sop up the melting water. It’s probably a good idea to keep the floor covered with an old towel to prevent slips and falls, too.
  • Wipe the freezer clean with all-purpose sprays to kill off any bacteria and freshen things up a bit.
  • Make sure the freezer is completely dry
  • Replace the freezer drain plugs
  • Plug in the unit
  • Adjust the thermostat to 0°F
  • Once your freezer is back to freezing (0°F), you can put your food back inside.
  • Voila! You’ve just defrosted your freezer.

Health risks related to defrosting a fridge

Defrosting your freezer is a good idea for so many reasons. But there are some health risks involved and it’s worth noting them here.

The USDA says that frozen food should keep indefinitely when it’s kept at 0°F. However, as we’ve seen, the freezer may not always maintain that temperature.

So, it’s possible that bacteria could have started growing in food even if it’s in the freezer. If your freezer has lots of frost, it means warm air sneaks in from time to time.

So, when analyzing your frozen goods, never take risks. Consider checking out the USDA guidelines for food safety and freezing. And as always, when in doubt, throw it out.

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Here are some general rules for freezing food:

  • Commercially frozen vegetables: Up to a year
  • Commercially frozen fruits: Up to a year
  • Nuts: Up to two years
  • Frozen meat: between 2 to 8 months, depending on the type and cut
  • Frozen poultry: between 4 months and 1 year, depending on the type and cut
  • Frozen seafood: between 2 to 6 months, depending on the type
  • Butter: Up to 9 months
  • Ice-cream: Up to 2 months if you haven’t opened it, but lets be real: who keeps ice-cream in the freezer for more than 2 months?

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