How to defrost a freezer

Unless you have a frost-free model, you will need to know how to defrost your freezer to keep it working properly and stay free from mini icebergs. Here's how you do it

food neatly stacked in freezer
(Image credit: Getty)

Knowing how to defrost a freezer (safely and properly) could save you a lot of effort and even money. A freezer that is full of ice will not work efficiently – hiking up your energy bills – and will also be wasting space that you could use for food. If you are stocking up on 'healthy' food after a few weeks of overindulgence, now is the time to make sure your freezer is ready to store your next big shop.

The goal is simple: get rid of excess ice from shelves and the sides of the freezer.  However, you need to do this quickly to avoid losing any perishable food in the process, and safely so that you don't damage the freezer.

Here are our top tips and tricks for defrosting a freezer.

Alternatively, if your freezer is on its last legs and you want to upgrade to a frost-free model, take your pick of the best fridge freezers

Empty your freezer

Get all of your cool bags near the freezer (the ones you use for your supermarket shop are great). If you don't have enough a laundry basket with newspaper or rugs over for insulation will work, too.

This is the perfect opportunity to have a clear out and throw away old food with freezer burn.

Empty the contents of your freezer into your cool bags and put them in a cold place away from pets. At this time of year, they can go in the garden if the weather is dry, or a cold garage/outbuilding.

How to defrost a freezer

There are a few ways to do the job. When the weather is warm, you will want a faster method that allows you to get food back in the freezer as soon as possible if you don't have an alternative place to keep it from defrosting. 

Before you start, prepare the area around the freezer for the melted ice. Place old towels and newspaper on and under the freezer. If you have a shallow tray you can put this at the front to catch water.

Then use one of the following methods.

1. Unplug and wait

This method is often the manufacturer's recommended way. Unplug the freezer and open the doors. Wait for the ice to melt. 

You can remove large lumps of loose ice by hand (you might want to wear rubber gloves) as the freezer defrosts. Empty the tray of water as it fills and replace the towels as needed. 

Once all the ice is melted, use another old towel or paper towels to wipe down the remaining water. Then plug the freezer back in and let it cool sufficiently before refilling.

The pro of this method is that it doesn't risk damage to the freezer in the way that hacking ice off will. However, it can take a few hours to work and if you have a lot of food to keep cool, you would be best taking it to a neighbour or relative's house if they have room in their freezer.

2. Bowls of hot water

Pouring hot water directly onto the shelves and sides of your freezer risks damage, but you can use steam to help the ice in your freezer melt. To do this, again unplug the freezer so it is off. Then fill a few pans or bowls with boiled water and place them on the freezer shelves. Shut the freezer door.

Leave this for 20 minutes to half an hour. When the steam stops rising from the bowls remove them and clean up any melted ice. You may need to repeat this method several times before all the ice is melted, but it gets progressively more effective as you get rid of the thicker frozen patches. 

Once all of the ice is gone, wipe down excess water with a towel before turning the freezer back on.

3. Fans or hairdryers

While effective, this method is quite hands on, slightly dangerous and does use a lot of extra energy. We recommend it for when you need to do the job quickly and have sockets positioned in a way that allows you to do it safely.

Unplug the freezer and open the door. Aim a fan heater at the freezer but be careful to place this out of reach of any water than might run off in the defrosting process to  avoid electrocution. Do not operate the fan with wet hands.

You can also use a hairdryer and aim it at the affected areas of the freezer. We do not recommend this method unless you have a hairdryer with a very long cord which allows you to plug it in far away from the melting ice. Again, be very careful and do not use the hairdryer when your hands are wet.

4. Rubbing alcohol

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.

5. Scraping the ice

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 of 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.