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Defrosting a Frost Free Freezer

How to defrost a frost-free fridge freezer and save yourself a repair bill

Why would anybody want to know how to defrost a frost-free fridge freezer? Because it is cheaper than calling in somebody to repair it or throwing it away.

Twice I have rescued my own fridge-freezer from being expensively repaired or declared not worth repairing and so helped save making a big negative impact on the environment and my own financial situation. This tip could save you money and help the planet.

Freezers don't just freeze food, they also reduce the temperature of the air inside, which causes the water vapour in the air to condense as ice crystal, just like a night frost. The air in your kitchen is likely to be warm and moist, carrying a lot of water vapour, when this air is cooled it can't hold that water any longer and it has to come out as either dew or frost. Old fashioned freezers didn't tackle this problem, they got frosted up and you had to defrost them periodically in order to see what food you had, to reclaim wasted space taken up by frost deposits and great big chunks of ice and to increase the efficiency (reduce the running costs) of the appliance. Also by removing frost and so making the freezer do less work it would be likely to last longer.

Defrosting a conventional freezer is simple, you switch it off or unplug it, ideally without moving it and you let warm air into it to thaw out the ice and possibly hurry things on a little bit by bashing the ice and breaking it up. There's no easy way to do this, it is inevitable that you will get wet and dirty and make puddles on the floor, it's best to resign yourself to this before you start so it doesn't dawn on you later making you frustrated. Defrosting a freezer isn't meant to be fun but it needs doing. Wear clothes you won't mind getting dirty and having to change out of and wash. You can buy products which will deice your freezer for you, just like the aerosol deicers sold for frosty windscreens, but you have to use a lot and they don't work as quickly as you'd really like and they make puddles of colder-than-ice water. I find it's simpler and quicker to get in there with a wooden spatula and a steak mallet, bash and chisel the stuff off, retrieve the the chunks, splash boiling water on recalcitrant bits and keep swabbing out the water. The job is done when the there is no ice left and you have removed all traces of water leaving the interior clean and dry.

It is best to defrost your freezer when you haven't got a lot of food in it. It helps to plan a couple of weeks ahead, eat your way through the contents, reducing both the bulk and the value of food you will have to keep frozen in alternative ways. A freezer is a big insulated box, with the door shut or lid closed it stays cold for a long time, if you don't open the door if you have a power failure you probably don't need to worry about the food inside getting warm for at least a full day, possibly as much as two days. But when you are defrosting a freezer you have to take the food out to let the interior get warm. But there is another insulated box not far away - your fridge.

If you do your defrosting just before your regular grocery shopping you will probably find plenty of room for the contents of both the fridge and the freezer in your fridge. Again keeping the door closed will help slow down the warming up. You have probably already noticed that it takes a long time to thaw out a frozen chicken if you leave it in the fridge, several days. That's great isn't it? Frozen food thaws slower in a fridge than out of it and in warming up it keeps your milk chilled in the fridge compartment of your fridge-freezer. If you have the room you can also consider buying ice, big bags of ice cubes to wrap around the freezer contents while you keep them in the fridge. This adds to the thermal mass at safe freezer temperatures. If the ice melts a bit it is no great tragedy, it will almost certainly remain in largely separate chunks that only need a bit of gentle encouragement to separate once you have put them back in your defrosted freezer. For all the warning vaguely frightening but never explained messages about not freezing food once thawed I really don't think you need to worry about re-frozen ice cubes.

Always avoid moving any fridge or freezer. Nothing kills more fridges, freezers and dehumidifiers than moving them and then switching them back on again. If you have to move any refrigeration device you need to leave it to settle for several hours before switching it on, whether for the first time or any time it is moved. Fridges and freezers are a bit like babies, delivery day is by far the most dangerous day of their life.

Why would you need to defrost a frost-free freezer? Because they do sometimes get frosted up! This is especially common if the door gets left open for long periods without being noticed, then shut again, thereby trapping lots of moist air in the freezer, which can only come out as frost. The problem is that if their defrosting cycles don't manage to cure their problems they get frosted up at the back, out of sight. If your freezer seems to be struggling to keep things frozen but is otherwise working normally you should consider defrosting it before concluding it is broken.

I have found the best way to defrost my not quite frost free fridge-freezer is to empty the freezer compartment contents into the fridge and switch it off overnight, leaving the fridge door shut and the freezer door open. By stacking all the frozen food together as tightly as possible, ideally wrapped in something to help insulate them (such as newspapers) they stay cold for a long time. In the morning I get in my scruffy clothes and wipe up the puddles caused by the visible frost in the freezer and any puddles formed underneath the appliance. However this is only half the story. To ensure all the frosting has been removed from the hidden parts of the appliance I get my hair dryer and blast warm air into all appropriate crevices from inside the appliance and from behind it. However electricity and water don't mix very well so be sure to do what you can to ensure that you don't melt any ice to drip inside of your hairdryer, especially if you are lying on your back in a bit of a puddle at the time. I used a plastic chopstick to probe the crevices to detect the presence of ice, after a night exposed to room temperature there shouldn't be any totally frozen solid lumps but there may be some loose lumps which you can feel by poking them. Naturally at all times avoid poking anything so rigorously that you risk damaging the appliance.

Keep on blasting short blasts from the hairdryer into the vents inside the freezer and then leaving it alone for an hour or so until you see no more evidence of any more water coming out either inside, behind or underneath the appliance. Then when everything is dry and you have cleaned all the fittings you can switch it back on. Transfer any still solidly frozen food back into the freezer once it appears to be colder than the fridge. If any food has begun to thaw leave it in the fridge and eat it up as if it was fresh. Anything that has been out of the freezer for several hours should be used within weeks rather than months even if it seems hard frozen. If you have things that have to stay frozen you need to transfer them to another freezer: home cryonics requires a back-up plan.

A couple of weeks ago I thought my fridge freezer was not worth repairing, it turns out there was nothing wrong with it that a good thorough defrosting couldn't cure. I feel quite pleased with myself for saving the expense of buying a replacement or getting a refrigeration engineer in at some extortionate hourly rate to exchange some component that wasn't broken.

Update

A year on and it's still doing fine. I think the likely cause of the problem was the freezer door being accidentally left open for several hours on a hot humid day, trapping lots of humid air inside, too much for the normal automatic defrost cycle to cope with. With no more such accidents the appliance has continued to work efficiently with no attention required except adjusting the setting down in winter (to avoid frozen salad) and back up in summer (to avoid softening ice cream).



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