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How to Defrost a Refrigerator


Do you know how to defrost a refrigerator? Today, most refrigerators are frost-free and do not require defrosting. However, many people may still have old models that require defrosting from time to time. Many people maintain an old model out in the garage to store drinks or extra groceries. Dorm style refrigerators are not often frost-free. If you’ve never defrosted a refrigerator before, it can seem intimidating when you have so much fluffy white icy buildup that you can’t even close the freezer door.

There Are Benefits to Manual-Defrost Freezers

Though many consumers today prefer the ease of an automatic defrost refrigerator model, the manual-defrost models are actually cheaper to run.  A manual-defrost model consumes 35-40% less energy than comparable auto-defrost models . . .as long as they are defrosted when necessary.  As ice begins to build up, they begin to consume more energy.

How Often Should I Defrost My Freezer?

If you have a manual-defrost freezer, you will need to defrost it at least once per year.  You should defrost it anytime there is ice buildup of more than ¼-inch.  Frost build-up in the freezer increases the cost of running it, as it requires more energy to run the motor.  It can also create gaps in the door seal, which allows the cold air to escape and warm air to enter.  It can also damage the seals.

Set the Refrigerator to Defrost Mode

Check the temperature dial on the refrigerator. Most models have a defrost setting. This setting will allow the main portion of the refrigerator to maintain a steady temperature, but will lower the temperature of the freezer so that the ice will start to melt. Some refrigerators will have separate dials for the freezer and refrigerator sections. If there are two dials, make sure you adjust the correct one. No one wants their perishables to spoil every time they defrost the refrigerator. If you have a rare model without a defrost mode, you will have to put your perishables in another refrigerator or in a cooler on ice and turn the refrigerator completely off.

Wait a Few Hours

In a few hours, the ice should start to noticeably melt. This is the time to make sure you capture water if it melts so that you don’t create a huge mess. Most refrigerators have a slide out pan under the freezer compartment. If the ice builds up too much, you may not be able to slide the pan out until some of the buildup melts. Make sure you empty the pan frequently at this point if it will slide out. If it won’t, see if it will slide out a little and tip it so that water will drain into another container. If you can’t do that, make sure you have plenty of towels around to soak up the water as it spills.

Remove the Large Ice Pieces

As they loosen, remove the larger ice pieces and put them in the sink to finish melting. Once they start to separate from the sides of the freezer compartment, you can usually pry the ice loose in large sheets.

Do not use sharp objects to chip or remove ice from the freezer.  The action is dangerous and it can also damage gaskets and seals, or worse can pierce the freezer releasing refrigerant chemicals rendering the freezer inoperable.  Instead, use an object like an ice scraper that you would use on a car windshield.

Reset the Temperature Dial

When all ice is removed, wash surfaces with soap and water. Dry thoroughly. Reset the temperature dial to the desired temperature and close the door. When the appliance is back up to temperature, your food can be placed inside.


“How Do I Manually Defrost a Refrigerator?.” Energy Star. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2010. <>.

“Energy Series: What About Refrigerators and Freezers?.” University of Vermont Cooperative Extension. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2014. <>.

“General Freezing Information.” National Center for Home Food Preservation. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2014. <>.


Cool Facts

The manual-defrost freezer uses 30-40% less energy than comparable auto-defrost models.

The freezer will fail to function optimally if ice builds up more than ¼”.

Using a knife to chip ice from the freezer could pierce the freezer making it inoperable.

Frost build up in the freezer drives the cost of running the appliance up.

Expert Opinion

Quote: “Accumulated freezer frost reduces storage space and increases operating costs. Defrosting should be scheduled when the food inventory is relatively low and when defrosting can be completed within one to two hours.”

SourceCare of Freezer   National Center for Home Food Preservation


Quote: “Make sure your refrigerator door seals are airtight. Test them by closing the door over a piece of paper or a dollar bill so it is half in and half out of the refrigerator. If you can pull the paper or bill out easily, the latch may need adjustment, the seal may need replacing, or you might consider buying a new unit.”

Source: Energy Savers Tips: Refrigerators   Us Department of Energy

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