How to defrost a freezer: a 5-step guide to thaw ice and remove frost fast

Knowing how to defrost a freezer is an essential part of maintaining your appliance, and can also save you money

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(Image credit: Future)

Knowing how to defrost a freezer is very important to the longevity and efficiency of your fridge freezer. Too much ice means less space for food, the freezer door not shutting properly, and, ultimately, higher bills. 

So how to get rid of excess ice from shelves and the sides of the freezer? Here are our top tips. If this is a regular problem, it might be that you need to upgrade to a frost-free model, so take your pick of the best fridge freezers at the best prices.

If you can't fork out hundreds of dollars for new white goods – all is not lost. By understanding how to defrost a freezer quickly, you can salvage any food that was at risk of spoiling and eliminate frost, all without mopping up any puddles on your kitchen floor.

How to defrost a freezer

You will need:

1. A cool bag / a laundry basket filled with newspaper
2. Old towels
3. A shallow tray
4. Boiling water (from a faucet or your best kettle)
5. Your hair dryer or a fan heater (both optional)
6. Rubbing alcohol – we tend to bulk buy it from Amazon (opens in new tab)
7. Rubber gloves
8. A couple of small bowls
9. Wooden/plastic scraper (an old kitchen spatula or car ice scraper like this from SubZero (opens in new tab) will do
10. An old rag or cloth, we like MR. SIGA microfiber cleaning cloths (opens in new tab)

1. Empty your freezer into freezer bags (or the fridge)

Get all of your cool bags near the freezer (the ones you use for your supermarket shop are great). Or move food to your refrigerator temporarily. Failing that, a laundry basket with newspaper or rugs over for insulation will work, too. 

During the warmer months, putting the bags out on a (secure) porch, unheated conservatory shed or shady patio will help stop the food from thawing out. If you have a lot of food, perhaps you can borrow space in a neighbor's or friend's freezer for a few hours?

2. Start to defrost the freezer with this speedy trick

First put down old towels and newspaper on the floor next to the freezer. If you have a shallow tray you can put this at the front to catch water, too. Unplug the freezer, open the doors, and use a plastic spatula to carefully remove larger, looser lumps of ice. 

That done, half-fill shallow dishes with boiling water and put them on each freezer shelf. Be ready to empty the dishes as they fill with melted ice. 

Not moving fast enough for you? Plug in a hairdryer or fan heater, ensuring the plug is distant from any melted ice, and keeping both well clear of any water (and outside of the freezer itself), aim the hot air at the freezer shelves. This will speed up the defrosting noticeably. Do not operate the fan or hairdryer with wet hands.

3. Use rubbing alcohol to defrost a freezer quickly

If your freezer only has a thin layer of ice then you can get rid of it with rubbing alcohol (which you can find cheaply on Amazon) (opens in new tab). Wearing rubber gloves (e.g: Marigolds (opens in new tab)), take a cloth and soak with rubbing alcohol.

Dab at the shelves and sides of the freezer until the ice has gone. This is a good method for people who can defrost their freezer every couple of weeks before ice builds up too much.

4. Scraping off ice as you go defrosts the freezer more quickly

The most hands-on way to defrost a freezer is to scrape the melting ice. You will combine this with method one or two as it works best when the ice is already melting.

Unplug the freezer and leave it for a while (with or without hot steamy bowls of water to help). After half an hour or so, take a wooden or plastic scraper (an old kitchen spatula will do or alternatively a cheap car ice scraper like this from SubZero (opens in new tab)) and start scraping the ice off. Don't hack at it as you could damage the shelves, or even puncture the body of the freezer. 

With a bit of elbow grease, chunks will start to come off. You can assist the process by dabbing stubborn bits with a warm, damp cloth. If your rags have gone running, stock up on some MR. SIGA microfiber cleaning cloths (opens in new tab) which you're bound to use another time.

5. Defrosting the freezer: the best way is the longest

Sorry, but all the speedy tricks notwithstanding, the best way to defrost a freezer remains to empty, unplug, and leave it to its own devices for at least 24 hours. It's not ideal if you have nowhere to put your frozen produce in the meantime, although you can prepare for defrosting by buying a portable freezer (that you'll also be able to take with you on picnics and camping trips). 

If you've got a car, check out the AstroAI 12 Volt Car Refrigerator on Amazon (opens in new tab). Available in 15l and 22l capacities, you can take this on all of your staycations (which means cheap cold beer without the out-of-town prices too.)

Why should you defrost a freezer?

Aside from the benefit of being able to audit the contents of your freezer a lot better (because it's not compacted by ice), one expert says this chore could save you a few dollars by reducing your utility bills.

'If ice builds up in your freezer, it needs to work harder and will use more electricity to keep your food frozen,' says Rhiannon Philps, personal finance expert, NerdWallet (opens in new tab).

'Defrosting your freezer regularly helps it to work more effectively as it needs to use less energy to maintain the right temperature.'

My freezer smells: what do I do? 

Freezers generally shouldn't smell because odors don't tend to linger at those temperatures. However, if something smelly spilled in the freezer before it was properly frozen, or if the freezer wasn't shut properly and food had gone off in it, it is possible that your freezer will have an unpleasant whiff.

The most important thing is to defrost it, thoroughly clean it, and then refrost it empty, with a cup of baking soda or activated charcoal (available via Amazon) (opens in new tab) inside. This should clear any smells within a day. For more detailed instructions on how to clean a freezer and cleaning with baking soda, check out our guides.

And, by knowing how to organize a freezer like a pro, you can reduce the risk of things being knocked over and damaged.

Christina joined the Real Homes team as a digital writer in June 2021. Prior to this, she worked for Good Homes magazine and home interest events including the Ideal Home Show and Grand Designs Live. She lives close to Epping Forest and is spoiled for choice with lush green spaces, but loves her own English garden that adjoins her ground-floor maisonette, complete with a floral melange of roses, lavender, jasmine, and an apple tree.


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