Defrosting your freezer

Defrosting your home freezer is not one of the most enjoyable chores to undertake, but it is a necessary one – and the saving grace is that you don’t have to do it that often. However, it has to be done with care and several of the “tips” passed around either don’t work or can actually damage your appliance.

The first thing to know is that if frost is constantly forming in your freezer, you likely have a bad seal on the door. Frost builds up when warm air gets into the unit and forms ice crystals. The modest cost of replacing a cracked or damaged seal will quickly be repaid in food that doesn’t have to be thrown away and in reduced energy costs – not to mention less need for defrosting.

Before defrosting, try to use up the food that is in there. If it is excessively frosted or freezer-burned – or looks like it has thawed and refrozen – throw it out as it may not be safe to eat. The food you can’t eat ahead of time can be put in a cooler with ice during the defrosting process.

To defrost, first turn off the freezer. You can unplug a chest freezer or turn off the freezer section of a fridge-freezer combination if the two parts have their own controls and separate doors. Open the freezer door and leave it open so the frost melts.

Never use a hair dryer to speed defrosting as it can electrocute you and damage the freezer. And never use metal objects to chip at or pry off pieces of ice – you can easily puncture the thin walls, destroying the entire appliance. You can lift pieces of ice out with your hands when they separate from the interior but don’t force them.

Have lots of towels, newspapers or a clean mop and bucket on hand to soak up the water that will accumulate in the freezer and inevitably drip onto the floor.

When the freezer is clear of ice, clean it. Mix a few tablespoons of dish soap or baking soda into a liter or so of water and use a cloth or non-metallic scouring pad to wipe down all the interior surfaces and shelves. This will also remove smells from the unit. Don’t forget to clean the inside and outside of the door seals as they are pleated and collect dirt. Some sites recommend applying a light coating of cooking oil to the interior of the freezer to discourage future ice build-up but the oil will eventually go rancid, even in a sub-zero environment.

Before you can put your food into your newly cleaned freezers, you need to bring it back to suitable temperature. Turn the unit back on, return it to your preferred setting and wait an hour or two for it to reach the target temperature. This ensures that your food stays frozen and that it doesn’t stick to the walls or floor of the freezer as it cools down.