How to Defrost a Freezer—Plus Why and How Often

image of a frozen landscape

Removing ice from the walls of your freezer reclaims freezer space and helps it run more efficiently. If it’s starting to look like the arctic tundra in there, follow these steps for defrosting the freezer quickly and easily.

Complete Some Prep Work

Before you remove any ice, prepare the freezer:

  • First, check to see if your freezer has a self-defrost feature that is currently broken. If it does, schedule freezer repair service so you don’t have to defrost it manually. Most newer units have this feature.
  • Remove all items from the freezer, including food and ice trays. (If it’s a fridge-freezer combo, remove items from the fridge section too.) Store everything in a cooler or a second freezer while you work. If you’re short on cooler space, plan ahead by eating a significant portion of the food in the weeks leading up to this chore.
  • Unplug the appliance and open the freezer door. Pile towels inside and beneath the freezer.

Manually Defrost the Freezer

The simplest method of defrosting the freezer is just unplugging it and letting the ice melt naturally. As long as your frozen food is stored somewhere cold, there’s no need to hurry. Simply prop open the freezer door, and let the ice melt overnight while your towels soak up the water.

In the morning, move remaining chunks of ice to the kitchen sink to finish melting. Dry everything off with clean towels, and you’re done! You may want to take this opportunity to clean the freezer and organize items (tips below) before you plug the freezer back in and put the food back inside.

Do you need to defrost the freezer faster? Find out how in the FAQs below.

Frequently Asked Questions about Defrosting a Freezer

How often do you need to defrost a freezer?

Most freezers without a self-defrost feature need to be manually defrosted once a year. Some freezers will produce lots of ice buildup and need more frequent defrosting. Regardless, perform this chore every time a quarter-inch of ice has accumulated.

How long does it take to defrost a freezer?

It will take at least two hours if you let the ice melt naturally. If the ice is extremely thick, it could take as long as 24 hours.

How do you defrost your freezer fast?

Place a pot of boiling water in the freezer on top of some towels or a trivet. The steam will loosen thick chunks of ice more quickly. Reheat the water every 15 minutes to keep the momentum going.

Is defrosting a freezer with a hair dryer okay?

Sure! Just do it safely. Aim a hair dryer at the ice, and avoid electric shock by making sure dripping water doesn’t contact the hair dryer.

Should I chip the ice out of my freezer?

If you need to scrape away melting ice, use a plastic spatula. Don’t pick at the ice with a knife or other sharp object because this could poke a hole through the freezer wall or puncture the refrigerant hold.

What if freezer ice builds up very frequently?

If your freezer needs to be defrosted three or four times a year, there could be a problem with the thermostat, door seal, drain, vent, or another component. Contact your local Mr. Appliance® to have your freezer restored to normal function.

What to Do with Food When You’re Defrosting the Freezer

While you wait for the ice to melt, assess your stockpile of frozen food, and decide what to keep. Take items out of the cooler or extra freezer one at a time to protect the food from thawing. Discard anything mysterious or past its expiration date. Even when frozen, food can still go bad or get freezer burn. If you find yourself throwing out a lot of damaged goods, check out our tips for preventing freezer burn.

As you load items back into your freezer, avoid overstuffing the space. The appliance needs space to circulate cold air, which keeps things adequately frozen and reduces ice buildup. Your freezer also operates more efficiently when not overstuffed.

Take This Chance to Clean the Freezer

Once the freezer is devoid of ice, give it a quick cleaning with a soapy washcloth. Wipe down the door seals to ensure the freezer closes tightly to support efficient operation. Rinse and dry the interior thoroughly before plugging the freezer back in and restocking it. This is also the perfect time to clean out your fridge, so you have a spotless refrigerator-freezer combo.

Count on Mr. Appliance for Freezer Repairs

A well-maintained freezer is an efficient one, which means convenience and lower energy bills for you. Whether your freezer is overly frosty or it’s making an annoying noise, our appliance experts are equipped to fix the problem. Call your local Mr. Appliance to talk through the details, or schedule service online.