How to defrost a freezer in five simple steps

Ever wondered how to defrost a freezer or fridge-freezer? It’s simple with this fuss-free guide

a clear freezer compartment with the door open, with a jug and a tupperware of frozen fruit within it
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Learning how to defrost a freezer is a crucial part of any home’s kitchen maintenance—and if you’re not convinced, it's useful to know that there are many benefits to completing the task.

So why do we need to defrost our freezer? Done correctly, it will help your freezer be more efficient, which in turn will help you save money. After all, if your freezer is packed with frost and ice, it’s going to have to work extra hard to ensure the contents are kept fresh and in tip-top condition, resulting in a higher electricity bill as well as risking the well-being of the appliance, too.

Defrosting your freezer is an essential task to factor into your kitchen cleaning routine, given that it's also a fantastic chance to get rid of lingering leftovers that have been lurking for too long. Now’s the perfect time to clear it all out and make more room for the freezer food you actually want. Plus, defrosting your freezer can also help you make space in your drawers for more food—if you leave big blocks of ice to build up, there will be less space for that frozen veg, leftover pasta sauce, ice cream and frozen fruit.

How often should I defrost my freezer?

There’s no definitive answer to that question and the easiest way to know if your freezer is in need of some TLC is to keep a watchful eye on the amount of ice that sits within it.

“You should defrost your freezer every time it builds up a layer of ice—typically ¼ inch thick—on the inside surfaces,” says Edward Jonkler, managing director of Remora Cleaning Ltd. How often this happens varies from freezer to freezer but typically speaking, you should only need to do it once a year, Edward advises. That said, there’s technically no such thing as doing it “too often” so if you want to incorporate it into biannual or perhaps even quarterly cleaning practices around your home (after all, planning how to clean a fridge is something we should also be doing every few months) the option is there. 

The main inconvenience of defrosting your freezer too regularly is the risk of spoiling the food within. “In the weeks leading up to defrosting your freezer try to use up as much of your food in the freezer as you can,” Edward advises. An easy way to do this is to use your blender or food processor to whizz up smoothies or sauces. “Or, try to not buy so much frozen food so that you don’t have to move too much into a cool bag or alternative freezer when defrosting.”

inside a freezer

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What causes ice to build up in my freezer?

Every time you open your freezer door, warm air floods into it. As this condenses and freezes, frost and ice gradually build up on the shelves and walls of the freezer. While of course, we want our freezer to be fairly icy, to keep our food fresh, too much ice (as mentioned) can leave it running inefficiently. 

If you can, be more intentional with how often you open your freezer door—don’t leave it open for any longer than you need to. Like organizing a kitchen or organizing a pantry, better freezer organization can help make it easier to find what you’re looking for, limiting the amount of time you need to have the door open. 

It can help organize your freezer in a similar way to how you might organize your fridge. Diana Spellman, the founder of Serenely Sorted, a home organization business, suggests, “Use baskets to help you subdivide your space effectively and allocate areas more easily to different sub-categories, such as meat, vegetables and so on. Think practically when choosing these baskets—they’ve got to fit into your freezer’s shelves and compartments.” 

If you’re still concerned about the amount of ice your freezer seems to be producing, check that the door hinges are still tight and use a screwdriver to retighten them if they’re loose. Loose hinges can result in an imperfect seal which, in turn, can lead to more warm air getting in. And of course, learning how to defrost a freezer will help to minimize ice build-up in general, too. 

How to defrost a freezer—a step-by-step guide

Working out how to defrost a freezer is incredibly simple, but it does take a little bit of time. If you can, undertake this kitchen maintenance task when you have a free morning or afternoon, to make sure you can keep an eye on your freezer and properly defrost it without any problems. 

1. Switch off your freezer

If your freezer is a separate appliance from your fridge, you should begin by switching it off at the wall. 

But what if you have a combined fridge-freezer? Can you defrost your freezer without turning off the fridge? Yes, absolutely. “If you have a fridge-freezer, you might prefer to keep the appliance switched on so as to stop food in the fridge from spoiling,” advises Edward. It’s worth noting, however, that leaving the fridge on will slow the defrosting process, and will ultimately use more electricity.

It’s also worth noting that choosing a cooler day to defrost your freezer could be wise—higher temperatures are more likely to have a negative defrosting impact on the food you’re removing.

2. Prepare the space surrounding your freezer

As the ice melts, there’s a high chance that the floor surrounding your freezer is about to get wet. Before getting started, it's a good idea to turn off all electrics around the freezer, and lay down something to soak up any water

“Determine where the drain plugs are and then pull them out,” says Edward. “If possible, attach a garden hose to the exterior drain plug and direct the water outside.” If this isn’t possible, keep the surrounding floor space protected by covering it with old towels, tea towels, or newspaper to soak up any water. 

3. Remove the contents of your freezer

Have cool bags at the ready to place frozen food into, limiting the negative impact that time out of the freezer will have on them. Diana’s tip to put your food into baskets comes into play here. “Lifting one basket out rather than a range of packets and boxes is a lot easier,” she notes.

Additionally, take out any parts of the freezer that are removable (such as shelves or detachable drawers) and place them in the sink to thaw. Now’s the perfect opportunity to give them a good clean and make sure they can be returned to your freezer in sparkling condition.

bread inside a freezer

(Image credit: Getty Images)

4. Wait for the ice to melt

This is the time to begin the actual process of defrosting your freezer. It will naturally begin to defrost now that the door is open and it has been unplugged.

There are a range of hacks suggested for speeding up the ice-melting process, but many of them—such as spritzing your freezer interior with a de-icer or using a hairdryer to heat things—are largely inadvisable due to safety hazards. Additionally, if you imagine that scraping ice out with a knife will speed the process up, think again—this risks causing serious damage to your freezer, with a sharp blade potentially able to puncture the walls. 

Edward suggests you should ideally leave the freezer door open and allow the freezer to defrost for around 24 hours, changing the towels or floor covers as required throughout. If you’re in a hurry, though, you could consider using a plastic spatula to gently help to remove the ice rather than scratch it off.

5. Get the freezer ready for use again

Once it’s fully defrosted, it’s time to get cleaning—a freezer is difficult to clean when icy, so take the opportunity to do it now.

A diluted mixture of bicarbonate of soda and water applied with a sponge should do the trick. Tough-to-remove marks can be tackled with a spritz of white vinegar, wiped away with water. If there are any questionable smells inside your freezer, a bowl of bicarbonate of soda can also be left in there for a few hours to soak up unwanted odors. And if you have some bicarbonate of soda left over, why not use it to clean some other kitchen appliances—it's a key part of our guide to how to clean a washing machine and our guide to how to clean copper

With your freezer now fully defrosted and clean, give it a quick dry with some kitchen towel before reinserting the drain plugs. Switch the freezer back on at the wall and replace your food, giving thought to creating a food organization system if you don’t already have one. 

Can you defrost a freezer with hot water?

You definitely can and this is a great method to try if you want to defrost a freezer a bit faster than the above method, allowing you to tackle other chores while you wait for the hot water to work its magic. 

Simply boil some water in a pan, place it on an empty shelf inside your freezer (ideally on top of a trivet or similar) and leave it, with the freezer door left open. If you haven’t already, cover the surrounding floor with towels to absorb any water. 

After about 30 minutes, the hot water should have melted a significant quantity of the icy build-up—leaving you free to carefully tackle any leftovers with a soft scraper. If there’s still a lot of ice, simply reheat the water and start the process again. 

With thanks to Edward Jonkler, managing director of Remora Cleaning Ltd, and Diana Spellman, founder of Serenely Sorted, for their time and expertise.

Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne is a contributor to woman&home and a writer whose interests span everything from homes and interiors, to pop-culture, travel, business and self-development. A former digital editor, her freelance journalism has featured across a wide range of print and online titles, including Digital Spy, Grazia, Family Tree and more. She also previously edited the website KBB Ark, which focused on high-end interiors, decor and home improvements. When she's not writing, she loves reading (and has the groaning bookshelves to prove it...), dreaming up new décor ideas for her flat and devouring Netflix's latest true-crime series with her husband. You can find her on Twitter: @katie_b123.