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How to defrost a freezer

Whether you’re moving home or having a deep clean, here’s what to do.

Updated

putting bowl of hot water into fridge to defrost

Need to know how to defrost a freezer? You’ll find several different methods to choose from in this guide.

Before you start, check the freezer manual for dos and don’ts. Some appliances have defrosting settings and all kinds of other handy features to help you out. Lost the manual? You can often download a new one from the brand’s website.

You will need:

  • Old towels
  • Washing up bowl
  • Sponge
  • Spatula
  • Washing up liquid
  • Hot water

How to defrost a freezer easily

Find a place to store your frozen food while you work. Remember, some food can’t be refrozen after it’s been defrosted. Raw meat, for example, will need to be cooked or kept frozen.

  1. Remove the contents

    Take everything out of your freezer. You may well be surprised by what you find lurking in the back. (Fish fingers have a habit of escaping their box and hiding behind other meals.) Use this as an opportunity to bin any out-of-date food, or any food that you’re just not going to eat (we’re looking at you, three-year-old leftovers).

  2. Prepare the freezer for defrosting

    Turn off your freezer and unplug it from the mains. Secure the plug off the floor. You don’t want to risk it or the cord coming into contact with water as the ice melts. Prop the freezer door wide open. This will help to defrost the freezer quicker. Remove the freezer shelves and drawers and pop them in the sink to soak with some hot water and washing up liquid.

    Finally, if you have a drainage hose, make sure it’s actually draining into something, like a tray or a bucket.

    Tip: If the shelves are iced in place, just wait until the ice starts to melt and then take them out.

  3. Grab some old towels

    If there’s a lot of ice build up, there’s going to be a lot of water to deal with.  Even a thin layer of frost can result in a surprising amount of water. So arrange old towels on the floor around the base of the freezer. Put another towel inside the freezer, along the bottom.

  4. Let the ice melt

    Wring the towels out when they’re wet and replace them with dry towels if you need to. If any chunks of ice fall off, dispose of them quickly before they stick to the freezer.

  5. Clean the freezer

    Once the ice is gone and the wet towels cleared away, it’s time to clean the freezer. It’s best to avoid disinfectants like bleach. Instead, just use a regular multipurpose spray, or washing up liquid and warm water. Give the shelves a good clean in the sink. You’ll find plenty of advice in our guide to cleaning fridge freezers.

    Tip: Don’t forget to clean the door seal. An old toothbrush is handy for this, just don’t scrub too hard.

  6. Dry the freezer

    It’s really important to dry the inside of the freezer thoroughly once you’ve finished cleaning it. Otherwise, that water is just going to turn back to ice when you turn the freezer back on (which kind of defeats the purpose of the whole exercise). Use a tea towel or other cloth to dry with.

  7. Bring your freezer back down to the right temperature

    Replace the shelves and turn the freezer back on. It’s best to wait until it’s ice cold again before you put any fresh food in it. This can take a few hours.

    Do check that the food you’re putting back in is still frozen. If you find any meat or fish that has started to defrost, cook it or throw it. Don’t try refreezing it or you could be in for a nasty dose of food poisoning! However, most defrosted raw meat can be cooked and then refrozen.

    If you’ve got a fridge-freezer, you might find these fridge organisation tips handy.

Now that you know how to defrost a freezer, you’ll soon be able to refill it. So why not check out our guide to freezing leftovers?

How concerned are you about disinfecting while cleaning?

How to defrost a freezer quickly

The safest way to defrost a freezer is to turn it off and wait for the ice to defrost naturally. If you really can’t wait that long, you can use a hairdryer or another method, but do take care!

As above, make sure that you turn the freezer off and pull the plug out from the wall before you start work.

Defrosting with a steam cleaner

If you have a handheld steam cleaner, you could try using it to defrost your freezer fast. Direct the steam at the ice, keeping it away from any mechanisms. (Wear rubber gloves and take care not to scald yourself in the process.) The ice should melt pretty quickly, so you’ll need plenty of old towels to catch the drips. To hurry it along, alternate steaming with scraping, see below.

Scraping the ice off

It’s easier than you might think to puncture the wall of the freezer. Not only will that invalidate your warranty, it’ll also stop the freezer from working. So be really careful if you decide to scrape the ice off.

Use a blunt instrument, like a spatula. Never use a knife or other sharp implement to scrape at the ice. Direct the spatula parallel to the wall of the freezer rather than stabbing at the ice with it.

Defrosting a freezer with hot water

You may have read that you can defrost a freezer quickly by putting a bowl of very hot water in the bottom of it. The steam can indeed help to melt the ice. However, hot water actually freezes quite quickly. So if you do try this, make sure you keep an eye on it and replace the water every few minutes, otherwise the steam could cool to ice and make the problem worse.

You’ll also want to put a tea towel underneath the bowl, as direct heat could damage the shelf.

To speed things up, you could place a bowl of hot water on each shelf.

Using hot cloths to defrost your freezer

Fill a bowl with very hot water. Soak a cloth in the water and (wearing rubber gloves) hold it against the ice to help it to melt. Wring it out, scrape at the ice and repeat. You might need to refill the water several times, as the ice will cool the cloth.

Don’t pour hot water onto the ice. This could damage the freezer and the water could actually end up freezing over the ice, making the problem worse.

Defrosting a freezer with a hairdryer

Water and electricity are not a good combination, so we don’t recommend you try this. If you’ve made your mind up to take the risk anyway, make sure that you keep the hairdryer, cord and plug well away from the ice and water. Don’t set the hairdryer down on the floor at any point as it could easily get wet.

Gently heat the ice with the hairdryer using the medium heat setting. Make sure you keep the heat away from the cooling mechanism.

Hold the hairdryer so it’s directing the heat at the back of the ice where it joins to the freezer wall, rather than the front. You’re trying to dislodge the ice, rather than melt the whole thing.

To help any large chunks dislodge from the sides of the freezer, you might want to scrape at them with a spatula or other blunt utensil.

Using a vacuum cleaner instead of a hairdryer

Some vacuum cleaners let you detach the hose attachment at the base and reattach it to the exhaust, so the machine blows out warm air. However, it’s really not a good idea to try defrosting a freezer in this way, as you could easily damage your vacuum cleaner or electrocute yourself.

How to defrost a freezer quickly with alcohol

If you’ve only got a thin layer of ice to deal with, rather than large chunks, you could try defrosting it with rubbing alcohol. Soak a cloth in the hot water first, then pour a small amount of the alcohol onto it. Rub the ice with the cloth,

Your defrosting questions answered

How can I keep the food frozen?

If you’re planning to defrost a freezer fast, you can probably get away with just keeping the food in a cool box with some ice blocks while you work. If you’re going with the easier, slower defrosting option, or moving house, why not see if a friend or neighbour has space in their freezer that you could ‘borrow’ for a couple of days?

How long does it take to defrost a freezer?

It depends what method you choose. If there’s a lot of ice and you want to completely defrost the freezer, it could take several hours. We recommend allowing a full day, just in case. If there isn’t much ice though, it might only take a couple of hours ,

What is the quickest way to defrost a freezer?

Need to know how to defrost a freezer quickly? If you’re focusing on hands-on time, the best option is to just let the ice melt naturally. That involves minimal effort. If, however, you want to get it done in the shortest amount of time, your best option is probably a handheld steam cleaner or hairdryer. Both options can be dangerous, so do scroll up the page to see our safety precautions.

Is there a spray to defrost freezers?

You can indeed buy a spray to defrost freezers. They do smell pretty strong however, and are a bit pricey when you consider that you can do the job for free. There are a few brands to choose from and reviews are pretty mixed, so you might want to read up on them before you buy.

How often should I defrost my freezer?

Most freezers will only need defrosting occasionally. (Just try not to leave the door ajar...) It’s a good idea to get into the habit of cleaning and organising your fridge-freezer regularly though. You might find our kitchen cleaning checklist helpful.

Originally published