Your quick guide to defrosting the freezer

Ready to get rid of all that ‘ice ice baby’? For the same reason our parents nagged us to tidy our rooms, and why Marie Kondo told everyone to throw away anything that no longer ‘sparks joy’ – maintaining a clutter-free environment inside your freezer prevents ice from building up, along with other problems that inevitably come with it, like costly electricity bills. In this guide, we look at everything you need to know to effectively defrost your freezer.

Why is my freezer frosting up?

Unless you have a frost-free freezer, you’ll need to manually defrost your appliance every once in a while. Ice can build up for different reasons, here are a few common ones:

  • Opening the door: Whenever you reach for your frozen veggies, warm air enters the freezer and condenses or turns into water. Frost then starts to appear when the moisture freezes.
  • A broken seal: A bad seal lets warm air from the kitchen flow into the freezer, causing temperatures to fluctuate.
  • Hot food that hasn’t been cooled down: The difference between the temperature inside the freezer and the temperature of tomorrow night’s lasagna can create condensation if the meal hasn’t cooled down enough.

How often do I need to defrost my freezer?

How often do I need to defrost my freezer

Freezers should generally be defrosted at least once a year. But you should start defrosting once the ice build-up becomes noticeable, especially when it becomes more than ¼ inch thick. Don’t wait until you’re unable to fit more than a couple of items in the freezer, or the door stops shutting properly.

Reduced capacity, increased energy usage and other effects of ice build-up typically start once the frost begins to form. Plus, attacking the problem earlier can minimise the damage as well as save your future self, hours of work. Don’t forget to check your owner’s manual for instructions.

What happens if I don’t defrost my freezer?

Defrosting your freezer allows you to utilise every inch of space, so you’re not wasting prime real estate to mini mountains of ice and having to kick out that emergency pint of Ben & Jerry’s. An overly frosty freezer could also prevent the door from closing properly, as well as force the appliance to use more electricity than usual to cool the same amount of food (or even less, depending on the amount of ice build-up), resulting in higher running costs (i.e. a nasty increase to your power bills).

A clear out can also get rid of bad smells and other nasties. Freezers can’t actually kill bacteria, whether it’s on your food or the interior of the unit. Low temperatures only pause the growth of microbes. Some types of bacteria can also cause food poisoning, even when dormant.

How long will it take to defrost my freezer?

This will depend on the size of your freezer, how thick the frost build-up is, and the air temperature inside your home. Depending on the size of the job, it can take anywhere between 20-30 minutes to several hours for a small freezer or chest freezer. For a stand-up freezer, allow up to six hours, to a full day to defrost.

Do I have to unplug the freezer to defrost it?

What happens if I don't defrost my freezer

The simple answer is, yes. You can’t defrost a freezer without turning it off because the last thing you’ll want is a cold chill when you’re trying to let the ice melt. Leaving the freezer on while the door is open is also a quick way to drive up your electricity bill because it means welcoming in warm air and causing the temperature to fluctuate. When this happens, the freezer has to use more power to operate since the compressor has to now work harder to bring the temperature back to normal.

The difference between frost-free and regular freezers

Frost-free freezers typically contain heating elements that automatically warm up coils inside the freezer, switching on and off throughout the day to prevent ice build-up. This allows you to leave the freezer to just do its thing, while freezers without a self-defrosting function require owners to defrost manually.

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How do I defrost the freezer in a refrigerator?

Unless the freezer compartment can be controlled separately, you will have to switch the fridge off and store the contents along with the items from the freezer to avoid spoilage.

How long can I leave food outside?

The golden rule is that food is generally safe for two hours once taken out of the fridge or freezer and placed at room temperature. It’s widely advised that foods such as meat, poultry, seafood and ready-to-eat perishables should be thrown out after this period, unless they can be re-chilled during that two-hour period. Keep in mind that certain types of bacteria won’t always alter the smell, taste or appearance of your food, but can still be harmful and cause food poisoning. Some of these types of bacteria include salmonella, listeria and specific strains of E-coli.

It’s worth checking to see if the frozen food is still hard and solid when you put it back in the freezer. Also, make sure to check you haven’t accidentally made any rips or holes in the packaging.

How long can I leave food outside

6 tips for defrosting your freezer

1. Store food properly to stop food spoiling

Prepare a place to store whatever is currently in the freezer, like an ice cooler or chest freezer. The process can take some time, potentially a few hours, so leaving frozen food on the kitchen bench won’t be an option. Plus, you’ll be leaving the door open the whole time.

2. Don’t use a hair dryer to warm up your freezer

Be careful if you’ve got a hair dryer as part of your plan of attack. Using it to melt ice is like trying to warm water inside a filled sink or bathtub. You’re essentially working with a giant compartment of water and the obvious risks of having an electrical appliance nearby still apply.

3. Scrape or break down the ice

Your freezer may seem hard on the outside, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get hurt. Opt for a plastic or wooden spatula to gently dig or scrape the ice out.

4. Keep a bucket or towel handy

Use a bucket, pan or even a baking tray to catch any ice or liquid spills, especially if there’s a decent size build-up. If it’s a small job, you can just chuck an absorbent towel down to soak everything up.

5. Clean the freezer after defrosting

Do a final wipe down with soap and water once you’ve finished defrosting the freezer. This means cleaning both inside the compartment, as well as the door. Wait until everything is completely dry before switching the unit back on.

6. Apply rubbing alcohol and a hot cloth

Another way to defrost a freezer is by soaking a towel or cloth in hot water, pouring rubbing alcohol onto the material, and leaving it on the ice to soften. Once the frost starts melting, you can then begin to gently hack or wipe away the icy bits.

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Picture credits: Jirawin Yiamyart/, Teerasak Ladnongkhun/, Ahanov Michael/, Hedgehog94/

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