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How to Defrost a Freezer

If there’s one thing I hate in life, it’s defrosting a freezer. Really. It’s a pain. I want to get it done as quickly as humanly possible.

A few weeks ago I opened our outdoor freezer to pull out something to eat. I had to move a bag of fish sticks, and when my hand closed on the bag, my fingers squished around mushy fish bits.

My heart dropped into my empty stomach. We have hundreds and hundreds of dollars’ worth of food in our outdoor freezer. We thought maybe the door just hadn’t been sealed tightly. Long story short, at midnight that night we were packing the freezer with dry ice because it still wasn’t staying cold.

How to Defrost a Freezer

Why Defrost the Freezer?

After reading through the manual and reading online, we realized that the freezer needed to be defrosted because the ice buildup was backing up one of the pumps. (How’s that for technical terminology?!) After defrosting the freezer, it has worked properly. I guess I just need to schedule annual maintenance on the freezer. I’ll write it on my calendar and set aside one day a year to defrost that bad boy.

Aside from making sure the freezer functions properly, getting rid all that ice will open up extra space. Space you could be using for precious commodities. Like Moose Tracks or Rocky Road. Am I right?

How To Defrost a Freezer

Please note, these instructions are based on defrosting an upright freezer.

It’s relatively easy to defrost a freezer. It’s just time consuming – taking about 2 – 3 hours for an upright freezer. I’ve found it works easiest to do it on a hot day. Seems backwards, right? You want me to put all my perishable frozen food out on a hot day?! But if you defrost your freezer when it’s warm, the ice will melt faster, getting your freezer defrosted quickly, and sending you back to your regularly scheduled life.

Get everything ready at once so you don’t have to be making several trips.

What you’ll need:

Towels
Thick blankets
Coolers
Table/Counter space
Winter gloves
A wooden or plastic spoon that you can throw away afterward
Safety goggles – optional but recommended

Set out your coolers and clear your table/counter space. TURN OFF YOUR FREEZER.

Turn the dial to off

If you don’t do this, you’ll be working up a sweat trying to get rid of the ice, and your freezer will be working up a sweat trying to keep it there. Put on your winter gloves and your goggles. (For real. This is the trick to hating this less. No cold fingers and no ice chips puncturing your eyeballs.)

Quickly place your soft frozen items in the coolers – like ice cream, popsicles, fish, etc.

Set up your equipment

When your coolers are full, place deep frozen items (like meat) on the table or counter (if you’re working inside) and cover them with thick blankets. Walk away… Don’t lift those blankets until you’re ready to put food back in the freezer!

Food set out

Place towels along the ground at the bottom of the freezer to catch the melting ice and dripping water. I say dripping, but once it gets going, it’ll be a river of water.

Once your freezer is empty, start at the top and carefully start “chipping” away at the ice. Do NOT use a metal spatula. There are coils filled with chemicals in the freezer and racks. You don’t want to accidentally bust one open.

Do NOT use a hair dryer! Yes, it’ll speed up the process, but your safety is worth an extra twenty minutes. That’s why I suggest doing this on a hot day.

Your spatula or wooden spoon will chip and crack as you pick away at the ice. Just know you’ll be throwing it away when it’s all said and done.

The top two shelves will give you the most trouble. By the time you get to the bottom, you’ll just be pushing the ice out. As the towels fill with ice and water, swap them out for fresh ones. I used four big beach towels altogether.

Since you have all the food out of the freezer, take a minute to wipe out the inside with a wet rag and clean up any sticky spills.

Wipe it out while it's empty

Dry the inside of the freezer. You just spent two hours chipping away all the ice crystals. No reason to give your freezer ammo to start a new crystal collection.

Double step it as you put all your food back in the freezer. You’ll notice this part seems to go a lot faster than it was to take it all out. Probably because it’s the light at the end of the tunnel. 🙂 This is a good time to make sure everything is organized the way you want it.

And you’re done! Pat yourself on the back. You’re amazing. And if your ice cream got a little soft in the process…grab a spoon! You deserve it. 😉

What tips do you have for defrosting a freezer?

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Ed Burch

Tuesday 29th of November 2016

Our older upright freezer has a defrost setting on the dial which starts warming the coils and racks almost immediately. I too use the coolers method of keeping things frozen while defrosting the freezer and I take advantage of it being empty in order to clean all of the interior. Once the ice has melted and I've wiped down the inside, I set up a box fan several feet away pointing directly in to the freezer which speeds up the drying process considerably. The freezer sits off to the side of the room and I can leave the fan running for the whole 20 minutes or so it takes to dry the freezer and there's no risk that anyone is going to trip over the cord. We also use cheap plastic dishpans to store the food in, which helps keep it all separated as well as letting me know how much of what I have left and makes emptying the freezer a snap. Had been using the 12 quart sized dishpans but recently found some 1 8 quart size both in red and white. I bought a couple at first to see if they'd fit in our freezer and they do with room to spare, so I'm going to buy several more in each color and put the meat items in one color and the vegetables, frozen french fries, etc in the other color. I paid less than $2.75 each for them at Walmart so buying enough was definitely not a major investment.

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Maura Snyder

Wednesday 24th of June 2015

I so need to do this! the last time our freezer was defrosted only happened because the kids left it open and we lost everything. Not so fun. should do it correctly. :)

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