How to defrost a freezer

Knowing how to defrost a freezer and clean your fridge is a must-do job – plus, we'll tell you how often you need to do it

how to defrost a freezer
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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, 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 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. 

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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 the fridge temporarily. Failing that, a laundry basket with newspaper or rugs over for insulation will work, too. At this time of year, putting the bags out into a (secure) porch, unheated conservatory, shed or shady patio, will help stop the food thawing out. If you have a lot of food, perhaps you can borrow space in a neighbour'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. Wearing rubber gloves, 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 a car ice scraper) 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.

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). 

My freezer smells: what do I do? 

Freezers generally shouldn't smell because odours 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 inside. This should clear any smells within a day. 

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Anna Cottrell
Anna Cottrell

Anna is Consumer Editor across Future's home brands. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening.