How to defrost your fridge or freezer

December 3rd, 2015

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How to defrost your fridge or freezer

If you’ve had your fridge or freezer for a while now, there’s a chance that its interior may start to resemble Antarctica – all frost and ice, but without the fun of penguins.

800px-Iced_freezer,_defrostingsource: Piotrus at Wikimedia Commons

Here’s our guide to defrosting your fridge or freezerand removing that icy build-up so your appliance can keep running smoothly:

Note – we won’t be talking about defrosting or thawing out frozen food here. For more information on that, check out our blog post A short guide to defrosting meat.


What is causing my freezer to frost up?

Frost inside your freezer is often caused by moisture from outside air condensing and freezing, which can interfere with the proper running of your fridge. The ice can block up the fridge’s ventilation ducts or interfere with proper airflow, leaving colder or warmer sections throughout the fridge and potentially spoiling some of your food.

Your fridge may then start to compensate for these temperature fluctuations by working its compressor extra-hard and bumping up your energy bills.

Opening and shutting. Every time you open your fridge or freezer, warm, moist air from your kitchen enters and condenses. Once the fridge shuts and the temperature drops, this moisture freezes and leads to ice build-up.

Hot food in the fridge – If you put your leftovers away while they’re still warm, the temperature difference can also have a condensation effect. Plus, if the food is still steaming hot when you put it in the fridge, said steam also introduces extra moisture to the fridge’s environment.

Bad seals – If your fridge door doesn’t seal properly, warm air from your kitchen can leak into the cool fridge even when it’s closed, creating temperature fluctuations.




1. Prepare your fridge or freezer

Before you start defrosting your fridge or freezer, you’ll have to work out what to do with the contents.

Defrosting the freezer can be a good excuse to pig out on everything you’ve been meaning to get rid of in one gigantic, gluttonous feast. You could even turn it into a bit of a party!

eskysource: Lianna Henwood on Wikimedia Commons

But if you’re less inclined to such gross indulgence, stick your food in an esky or Styrofoam box with a lid while the defrosting takes place. If it looks like it will take a while, think about tossing in some cold packs or bags of ice to maintain a decent temperature.

cooler bagsource: V1ND3M14TR1X on Wikimedia Commons

Insulated cooler bags can also be handy – you can grab some of these at the supermarket or bottle shop.

Also, removing the food is a great time to take an inventory of exactly what you’ve been storing, and make a decision about whether it’s all REALLY worth keeping.

2. Remove the shelves and drawers

The emptier your fridge, the easier it will be to access its surfaces for defrosting and cleaning.

removed fridge shelvessource: Aimee Rivers on Flickr

Keep the fridge shelves and drawers in a safe place while the defrosting takes place.

3. Collect leaking water

As your fridge defrosts, you’ll experience a steady flow of melting water. Set up a shallow tray in front of your fridge, which should collect a lot of the water that runs off during defrosting.

You may also want to lay down some old newspapers or towels to collect any icy runoff that gets away from you, and have a mop handy to prevent accidents.


Use hot water

To speed up the defrosting process, try CAREFULLY filling a bowl or tray with hot or boiling water and placing it inside the fridge or freezer. The warm air and steam should encourage the ice to melt more quickly.

800px-Boiling_watersource: GRAN on Wikimedia Commons

Remember though that fridges are designed to handle cold temperatures rather than hot stuff, so it may be worth laying down a towel for the bowl to sit on, so you won’t accidentally damage the interor surfaces.

Alternatively, you can soak a cloth in hot water and give the icy surfaces a bit of a rubdown. The warm contact can be especially handy when trying to dislodge a particularly stubborn piece of ice from a hard to reach area.

4. Carefully remove ice as you go


If there are big chunks of ice clinging to your fridge or freezer interior, it’s a good idea to try and dislodge these once they’ve been softened up by thawing. This ensures they won’t drop off and damage your fridge, and should help speed up the overall defrosting process.


Using a tool along the lines of a warmed wooden spoon or plastic spatula is better than a fork, knife, scissors, or old-school icepick, as these soft, rounded tools are  far less likely to accidentally puncture the walls of your fridge or freezer (which is something you REALLY don’t want to do).


5. Give your fridge a clean

Once the frost has melted, you can take the opportunity to give your fridge a proper clean and freshen it up. You fridge will look great and smell better!

adjustable spillproof fridge shelves

Check out our range of cleaning blog posts for fridge-cleaning tips.

6. Dry it off

Once your fridge or freezer is clean, make sure there isn’t any moisture clinging to its inner surfaces before trying to plug it back in and turn it on. That should minimise the risk of any ice re-forming.

7. Get everything back to normal

If you had to move your fridge at all during the defrosting process (say, moving it way from the wall), let it sit and settle for a while before you switch it back on, so you can be confident that the refrigerant is definitely back in its proper place.

403L Fisher & Paykel Fridge E402BRXFD4

While you can put the shelves and drawers back in place straight away, wait a little while before you start returning your food and drink to its proper place. This will ensure the fridge is back at an ideal storage temperature, so your food can spend the smallest amount of time in the bacterial growth-inducing “danger zone”.

A note on chest freezers

Chest freezers are a bit different for upright fridges and freezers. Because these open from the top, rather than the front, there isn’t anywhere for the melted ice to drain away when they’re defrosting.

700L Westinghouse Chest Freezer WCM7000WC

Rather than tipping your freezer over, check to see if there’s a drain hole somewhere around the base. Just place a container in front, then unplug the drain to release the melted ice.

Consider a replacement

We don’t recommend that you buy an all-new fridge or freezer just because the old one has filled up with ice. That would be massively wasteful, especially if the old machine still has a bit of life left in it.

That said, if you find yourself needing to regularly defrost your fridge or freezer, it may be worth thinking about upgrading to a less labour-intensive model. Most new fridges and freezers are either designed to be frost free (so moisture doesn’t cling to their surfaces), or to defrost themselves, whether automatically or at your discretion. Just activate the Defrost function to eliminate ice and moisture before it starts becoming a problem.

Not only will you be left with more time to look after the rest of your home, but your appliance should hopefully run much more efficiency, paying for itself over time in energy savings!

Mark joined Appliances Online in November 2011 and has since learned more than he ever expected to know about appliances. He enjoys looking for new and unusual ways for to solve everyday problems using typical household appliances. When he’s not toiling at the desks of Appliances Online and Big Brown Box, he tries to find time to write the next big bestseller and draw satirical cartoons, but is too easily distracted by TV, music and video games. Mark’s favourite appliance is the Dyson Groom Tool, as he loves the concept of vacuuming your dog. Google+

2 responses to “How to defrost your fridge or freezer”

  1. Gail says:


    Great ideas, but what up with using the good old Blow Dryer.
    It really helps if you have only a small amount of build up.

  2. Mark Bristow says:

    Hi Gail,

    A blow dryer would certainly be handy for a light bit of defrosting, but if you did choose to try this, you’d NEED to be EXTREMELY careful. Holding an electrical appliance in your hand in close proximity to dripping water and puddles can be VERY dangerous.



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