10 tips for defrosting your freezer

10 tips for defrosting your freezer

Wondering what causes freezers to ice up? We have causes and solutions!

Key tips to remember

  • Don’t overstuff the freezer; maintain space for airflow
  • Minimize time spent with the freezer door open
  • Inspect the gasket seal around the freezer door for damage
  • Maintain a freezer temperature of zero degrees Fahrenheit
  • Do a manual defrost if you must

Why is my freezer frosting up, and what causes a freezer to ice up anyway? If you have questions like these, we have answers. If you’re wondering about the sudden or gradual buildup of freezer icing (not the kind of icing you were looking forward to), we’ve got some helpful tips. You can find out not only how to eliminate extra freezer ice but also how to keep frost-in-freezer problems from happening in the first place. 

If you’re dealing with an ice-form-in-freezer issue, you’re getting more ice than you bargained for, and things are getting a little cramped. However, there are many ways to sort this out, and you probably won’t even need to buy a new appliance. Read on for our causes and solutions. Meanwhile, if you’re having the opposite problem, read our post on what to do when your freezer’s not freezing, and check out our guide to home appliances.

How it happens

Your freezer’s evaporator coils are very cold. When you allow warm, humid air into the freezer and the temperature is just right, the moisture in this air can freeze almost instantly. This can happen in layers that build up on the interior of the freezer and the frozen foods it contains. At certain levels, it can block coils and even airflow, both of which can impede the freezer’s ability to work effectively, sometimes causing a breakdown.

Common causes

There are several potential causes for frost buildup that can result in excessive freezer ice and require maintenance to correct. Some of the most common causes are:

  • Open door: Just about everyone is guilty of leaving the freezer door open, at least occasionally. This easy mistake is a great way to let cold air out and humid air in.
  • Bad seal: The seal around your freezer door is a gasket that can wear out over time, acquiring cracks and kinks or even gradual dirt buildup that can make it less effective.
  • Bad timer: Defrost timers cycle throughout the day between cooling and defrost settings to keep frost from forming automatically. If the timer goes bad, this functionality will end.
  • Bad thermostat: The thermostat regulates the temperature of the coils during the auto-defrost cycle. If the thermostat malfunctions, freezer icing is likely to occur.
  • Bad heater: The heater works with the timer and thermostat to contribute to the auto-defrost cycle in modern freezers. If the heater isn’t working, ice will accumulate. 


Due to dehydration, ice can form on your food, resulting in freezer burn. While you can usually still eat foods with freezer burn, it’s a considerably less pleasant experience. The potential for a significant impact on the flavor, texture and even scent of frozen foods once you bring them back to the temperature you enjoy eating them makes it a good idea to avoid freezer-burned food. Aside from these food-based consequences, ice buildup is bad for your freezer because it impedes its ability to function optimally and can damage coils.

10 tips for eliminating and preventing freezer ice buildup 


1.     Store food correctly

Keep your freezer set at zero degrees Fahrenheit. Use freezer-safe containers or bags, and minimize air pockets to save space and preserve freshness. Make sure food is dry and cool before adding it to the freezer. Never add hot foods. Wipe off wet surfaces before freezing.

2.     Close the door

Avoiding freezer burn begins with making sure you keep your freezer door closed as often as possible, taking care that it shuts completely every time you close it. Try to minimize your freezer time by consolidating openings to minimize the humid air you’ll inevitably let in.

3.     Sort out the seal

Inspect the gasket seal that surrounds the perimeter of the freezer door for any signs of damage. If you can detect a leak of cold air or notice a break in the seal, you will need to replace it. If the seal seems functioning but could use a good cleaning, now’s the time.

4.     Sort out the sensor

Another component of the modern freezer’s auto-defrost feature is the sensor that detects any frost as it first begins to accumulate, which in turn heats the coils and melts away the frost before it can build up. However, it’s possible this sensor isn’t working, and you need a new one.

5.     Sort out the ice maker

If frost buildup keeps troubling you, and your ice maker is built into the freezer door, it’s possible that a chunk of ice has been lodged in the chute and is allowing warm, humid air to enter the freezer and become unwanted frost. Inspect the ice maker to make sure it’s clear.

6.     Sort out the stock

Go ahead and get all Goldilocks on this one. Find the amount of food that’s “just right” to stock your freezer — too much or too little won’t cut it. A general rule to keep in mind is to keep the freezer about three-quarters full. You want to be stocked but maintain airflow between walls and food.

7.     Do the research

If you determine that you must replace your refrigerator-freezer combo or stand-alone freezer, look closely at your many options. Compare your family’s needs with features, designs and reviews. Consider what professional reviewers think at sites like Consumer Reports and Wirecutter

8.     Do the maintenance

Read your freezer’s user manual, and find it online if you lost it. Follow its recommendations for settings and use. Consult its troubleshooting guide for help with problems. Keep your freezer clean, and get over that habit of standing there with the door open! Ask for help if you need it.

9.     Get organized

Don’t just randomly throw all sorts of food into your freezer. Consolidate categories that make sense based on how often you use various items. Group them together so it’s easier and faster to find what you need when you open the freezer door, allowing less of that humid air inside.

10.  Defrost manually

If things get polar and your freezer is becoming an igloo, wait until you’re low on frozen food and do a manual defrost. Put any remaining food in a cooler, place towels around the freezer, and prop open the door so it stays open until everything melts. Then clean inside and restock.

Don’t forget your fridge

Take additional steps to keep up your freezer and your refrigerator by reviewing our refrigerator maintenance guide and our post on familiarizing yourself with refrigerator maintenance 101. Both articles are packed with good ideas for getting the most out of your combination freezer and refrigerator, one of the most heavily used and relied-upon appliances in your home — and one you’ll want to get as much use out of as possible. While you’re at it, consider a home warranty from Cinch if you’d like to prevent expensive repair-bill surprises.

The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.

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