Back to Basics: Defrosting The Freezer

I got some great feedback on the The Back to Basics series that ran a few weeks ago. We looked at simple, easy, and cost-saving homemaking skills like making bread, jams, and pantry items, starting a garden, and creating simple cards and pillows.

Since there’s a lot more basics we can cover, I’ve decided to continue the “Back to Basics” series on an occasional basis. If there is something you’d like to see in this series that falls into the basics category (simple, frugal and, well, basic) please let me know. I’d love to highlight reader requests!

In fact, today’s “basic” topic is the result of a reader asking how I defrost my freezer when I mentioned that I like to use menu planning in April and May to use up the previous year’s produce so I can defrost the freezer before starting to add new produce.

But before showing how to defrost a freezer, I should maybe start with why to defrost. Although to be honest, I hate to defrost. Really. So much so that when our old freezer died a number of years ago I was determined to get a frost-free one so I wouldn’t have to deal with defrosting.

However, after some research and talking with an appliance man I learned that for long-term storage (and some things last for a year or more…), frost-free freezers are not recommended. The fan that runs to keep the frost away causes serious freezer burn. Not to mention the added electrical costs from a fan running most of the time.

Added electrical costs, more damage to the food, plus the increase cost up front of frost-free freezers? Great. I (reluctantly) bit the bullet and we bought another freezer that grows frost.

The frost that accumulates not only takes away room, it also makes the freezer less efficient, so they do need to be defrosted regularly. I think the recommendation is yearly, but to be honest (remember I hate this job…) I only do it every couple of years because the ice is not too thick after a year.

At least that’s what I tell myself.

I try to pick a warm day to defrost because there’s no getting around the fact that you will get cold standing in front of a freezer and scraping ice. Of course it can be done on a cool day, but it will be more pleasant on a warm day.

The first thing to do is to unplug the freezer. If the plug is hard to reach and your freezer is too heavy to move you can turn the breaker off that runs the freezer, but be aware of other things that may go off as well.

We went a day without our main phone. Good thing for cell phones.

Then start finding places for the food that is in the freezer (even my best planning doesn’t use all the food in the freezer- we had jam left, some frozen fruit, and I didn’t get to it before I started adding new strawberries). My 18-cubic foot freezer took about 6 hours to defrost, so sticking things in coolers was sufficient for the things I wanted to keep frozen. Bread items I just let defrost and refreeze- I don’t notice a problem with doing this.

Here’s the before picture of the empty freezer. Notice how the ice has accumulated more on the top than the bottom. I’m not sure why- maybe it has something to do with the way warmer air floats upwards?

I didn’t think the full picture showed the amount of frost adequately, so in this picture it’s easier to see that the top shelves have pretty thick layers- about 3 inches at the thickest.

Now this is just something I learned this year: most freezers have a hose underneath and a plug in the bottom shelf. Once the ice is melting and the water accumulates in the bottom, unplug the hole and the water will run out of the hose.

Hopefully into a container.

I put a number of old towels on the floor and large roasting pans on the shelves to catch ice chunks and water as it melts.

And yes, I did eventually put a shallow pan down with the hose in it to catch the water when it defrosted more- this picture was at the beginning of the process.

I then leave and just let it start melting. I check on it occasionally, dumping water out of the containers and replacing towels as needed. But mostly I let it work on it’s own.

I’ve used a hair dryer in the past to try to speed up the process, but it just takes more of my time and I’m not sure it went any faster.

As the shelves defrost, I help the process along by using a putty knife to scrape the loosened ice off in chunks.

In order not to have to deal with as much water, I throw the ice into the yard (or nearby sink) to melt.

There’s no getting around the amount of water you’ll be dealing with towards the end so be sure to have a lot of towels ready.

I wasn’t very impressed with the hose, though. The angle is such that it’s hard to put it in a container and the water tends to run back down the hose wetting the ground. Hmmm. Maybe I was OK all these years not knowing it was there.

Live and learn.

After about six hours (not a lot of hands-on time, though), the freezer was completely defrosted.

Use a towel to wipe down all the surfaces before turning the freezer back on. We don’t want a surface of ice to form right away…not after all this work.

I usually wait at least an hour before reloading the freezer with the food from the coolers. The food should still be mostly frozen, so an hour is usually sufficient. The freezer might not be cool enough for things like ice cream, though, so give these things a few more hours.

Hopefully there’s room in your over-the-fridge freezer. If not, it’s always a good excuse for ice cream sundaes.

But really, who needs excuses for ice cream sundaes? Not I.

Any other tips for defrosting that you use and like?






  1. says

    Those are some great tips. I’m not sure about your freezer. I think it’s a frost-free one…but it came with the apartment, so we didn’t have a choice in the appliance. You’re so awesome…I love this “Back to Basics” series…Keep ’em coming!!!

    Love and hugs from Oregon, Heather :)

  2. Jenelle says

    We have a chest freezer that we keep in the garage. Sometimes it’s a pain going out there to get things but the defrosting part is easy. Just tip the thing over and get the hose out to spray it down and melt the ice. :)

    I love the back to the basics series too. These are great.

  3. Anonymous says

    What a coincidence! I just defrosted my freezer last week. And it was the perfect opportunity to incorporate your previous (great) tip of posting (on the outside of the freezer) what is inside.

  4. Always Nesting says

    I wish I’d know the difference when we purchased our last freezer :( We have a frost free and yes, do get freezer burn all the time. I wondered why the shelf life wasn’t very long for my food. Now I know.

    Great tips!

  5. Mary W says

    Another idea for a basic is yogert. Easy and thrifty to make at home and when drained it can be a substitute for sour cream or cream cheese (depending on how much whey you drain). A tablespoon mixed with 3/4 cup of milk is a substitute for buttermilk.

  6. Cena says

    I’ve been needing to defrost badly, so you spurred me on. I did it today, and it’s beautiful. I also know what’s in there. Thank you for posting, I’ve been reading around your blog.

  7. The Tidy Brown Wren says

    Sometimes, if I’m in a hurry to defrost my small chest freezer, I’ll sponge down the walls with warm water from a bucket. I then am able to scrape the sides with an old plastic scraper and sop up the water and ice in the bottom of the freezer with a sponge. It takes me a total of 1/2 hour hands on time and then I’m done with it.

  8. says

    I did this a couple of weeks ago in preparation for my monstrous freezer cooking session. When I saw your pictures, I thought you had flown to GA just to take a picture of my freezer! It was just as bad. Ours is in the garage, so we just roll it out in the driveway and use a hose to defrost it. Takes about 45 minutes. Glad you are doing some more back to basics — great ideas.

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