A Chili Chore. Tips for Defrosting the Freezer

Tips for Defrosting the Freezer

If you open your freezer and it looks like a miniature snowboarding hill, with ramps and valleys of ice and frost, you might want to consider defrosting. Or you can wait until you go on a mini-vacation like my family did and come back to find it had defrosted itself all over the basement carpet (funny how that happens when one of the kids, who shall remain nameless, forgets to close the door all of the way). This last option might get rid of your frosted mounds, but it is a ridiculously messy and expensive way to go about the project.

Before Defrosting

Defrosting a freezer, especially an upright full-sized freezer, shouldn’t be done on a whim. It is a time-consuming project that requires a little planning and prep work.

Use the food. Defrosting a freezer is so much easier when it is as empty as possible. The process can take many hours, requiring coolers or supplemental freezers to store the food while you melt away your ice palace.

Read the manual. Newer models of freezers might be designed to have auto-defrost, which should make your need to defrost minimal. However, the way these freezers work is that they periodically slowly raise the temperature in the freezer so that ice melts. This can contribute to freezer burn on your food.

Assess your freezer doors. Freezers that tend to get a lot of frost build-up also tend to have door seals that leak. If you are aware of this before you start defrosting, you can check your manual for how to repair these (if possible).

Steps to Defrosting the Freezer

This job never seems to be finished fast enough, but investing some patience and elbow grease will help keep your freezer in working order and have enough ice-free space to keep the Thanksgiving turkey freezer-burn free for months.

  • Unplug the freezer. It is a waste of electrical energy and money to keep it running while you have the door propped open and is a safety precaution against the onslaught of dripping water that might invade your space.
  • Remove any food, check for expiration dates, freezer-burn fiascos, or mystery meats and get rid of those things. Store the food you intend to keep in a secondary freezer or large coolers filled with ice (be sure to resupply the ice regularly to keep the temperatures consistent).
  • Protect the floor by placing a large plastic shower liner or several plastic leaf bags beneath the freezer. Our unintentional defrosting left us with a section of ruined carpet – you just can’t get the smell of melted Sherbet and venison residue out of Berber carpet.
  • Place several bath towels on the floor on top of the plastic to absorb dripping water. Use paint trays or cake pans to catch melting water if you have large amounts of ice in your freezer.
  • Place a plastic bowl (metal sticks more easily to ice) in the bottom shelf to catch drips.
  • Bunch up rags or old bath towels on the bottom shelf to help absorb the moisture. Depending upon the severity of the frost, you might need to change these throughout the process.
  • Be patient and let the dripping begin.

Speeding up the Defrost Process

Defrosting a freezer is about as fun as watching paint dry. Patience is really the best option, but if you are determined to take a shortcut, be aware of the following issues with common shorter routes.

The old scrape and pry method – Using a butter knife and grill spatula to pry chunks of ice from the freezer wall might speed up the process, but you will risk scraping and denting the very walls and floors you need to remain smooth and sealed. If you’re determined to help things along, use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, as well as a lot of careful maneuvering.

The fan method – Take one part sound idea and one part makes me feel like I’m doing something, and you get this method. Not very easy to do with a chest freezer, this method works best with an upright door freezer where the circulating air from the fan has the best chance of reaching the target. It won’t make the process dramatically faster, but it can make a small difference.

The helpful hairdryer method – You’re standing in a puddle of freezer water, blow dryer on “high”, and you’ve just become the poster child for electrical dangers in the home. This method is also not recommended by freezer manufacturers.

After you’ve finally wiped away the last drips and evidence of your snowboarding trail, don’t forget to wipe down the inside of the freezer with a mild cleaner. I use a solution of baking soda and warm water, rinsing it clean with a damp cloth. Plug the freezer back in and wait until it has reached freezing temperatures before replacing the food. And you’re ready to go stock up on those Thanksgiving turkeys!

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