Defrosting your freezer

Defrosting the freezer can save you money and protect your investment in frozen foods. Remove the ice and help your freezer run more efficiently.

Older model freezers and those without a frost-free feature will need to be defrosted from time to time. Frost can build up on the inside of the freezer and can cause a number of problems. Defrosting regularly is the simplest remedy, and can easily be done nearly any time by the home owner.

Frost on the inside of the freezer is caused by moisture that freezes to the inner surfaces of the appliance. Most of this moisture comes from warm, moist air that enters the cabinet when the door is opened. Warm air can hold more water vapor than cold air can, and as the warmer outside air is cooled to the temperature inside your freezer, moisture will condense out of the air. The process is much like the outside weather: when warm moist air is cooled, clouds and rain are the result. When warm, moist air is cooled inside your freezer cabinet, the moisture cannot be held in vapor form, and condenses on the walls, ceiling, and base of the cabinet. It freezes, and over time, builds up into a frosty layer. Moisture can also come from freezing foods that are poorly packaged. Nearly all foods contain moisture (it's what keeps many foods fresh), and poor seals on packages allow the moisture to escape into the air. It condenses and freezes, adding to the ice build-up on the inside walls of your freezer.

Frost on the inside of your freezer can cause a number of problems, and should be removed periodically. If the frost gets thick, it will decrease the amount of usable space in your freezer. If your freezer cabinet is twenty-four inches by eighteen inches by fourteen inches tall, the amount of space inside is six thousand and forty-eight cubic inches. A one inch build-up of ice on all of the interior walls will reduce the amount of usable space to four thousand, two hundred and twenty-four cubic inches. That's a reduction of nearly one-third of your space! If your freezer is like those in most families, you can ill afford to waste that much space.

Frost can also keep your freezer door from sealing properly. If frost forms around the edges of the seal, it can even damage the seal permanently. Poorly sealed doors will allow even more warm moist air to enter the cabinet and compound the problem. In addition, your freezer's motor and cooling system will have to work extra hard to compensate for the warm air continually entering the freezer. Not only will you risk accidentally thawing your food, you will also incur unnecessarily high electric bills.

A thick build-up of frost will also interfere with your usage of the freezer. The ice build-up will be uneven and create problems with storing foods in an efficient fashion. Packages are more likely to slide out unexpectedly or to tip when they should not.

Defrosting your freezer is a simple process. Begin by scheduling the task when your freezer is as empty as possible, to minimize the need to store the frozen foods elsewhere. The perishable foods in your freezer will need to be protected from thawing while you are working on the appliance. You can store them in another freezer, in a cooler with ice packs, or even outdoors if your weather is below freezing. Meats, frozen leftovers, prepared frozen foods (such as frozen pizzas or meals), and other highly perishable foods will need the most care. These foods must be prevented from thawing, as they cannot be refrozen safely. If something like this does thaw, plan to cook and use it right away or get rid of it. You can also cook meat and then refreeze the food as left-overs. Ground meat and small pieces of meat are the most susceptible to accidental thawing, so priority should be given to keeping them in the coldest area. Larger pieces of meat, such as roasts, take longer to thaw and can be stored for a short period in an environment slightly above freezing.

Frozen vegetables, pastries, breads and desserts are less delicate, and can be stored in a cooler or refrigerator if necessary. These foods can withstand partial thawing, but the quality may be diminished. Sealed staples stored in the freezer, such as flour or sugar, can be thawed and refrozen if necessary. Just be sure to protect them from moisture.

When defrosting the freezer, time is of the essence. You want to work as quickly as possible to minimize the chance of accidentally thawing foods. Turn the freezer control to the off position and prop open the door if necessary. If the control is frozen or inaccessible, you can also unplug the freezer to get it turned off. Remove all food and store in as cool of places as possible to minimize thawing.

After removing the food, you can begin removing the ice buildup. Of course, this will happen naturally over time if you simply allow the freezer to thaw on its own. The problem with this method is that it can be quite messy. The ice turns to water and often will drip on the floor. A better technique is to hasten the thaw using pots of boiling water placed on the freezer's shelves. Have sponges, rags, buckets and a mop handy to clean up the ice as it melts. You will find that you can remove chunks of ice as the freezer thaws and dispose of them in a sink or bucket to minimize the mess.

Once the ice build-up has been removed, wash the entire inside surface, including the shelves, with a damp cloth. Remove any spills or other residue. Clean up any pooled water left from the melting ice. Plug the appliance back in if necessary, and turn the freezer control to the desired setting. Close the door and allow the cabinet to begin to cool off.

When returning the food to the freezer, it is a good time to organize and make decisions about efficient use of space. Check the dates on the foods to be sure that none are past their expiration. Get rid of any foods that are freezer-burned, those that are discolored, and foods that are over one year old. Make sure all of the packages are sealed and secure. You can even put similar foods together in an area of the freezer so that you can find them later, and arrange the foods in order of age so that you will use up the oldest first.

Defrosting your freezer is an important chore that should be done regularly. By eliminating the icy build-up inside the freezer's cabinet, you will maximize the usable space in your freezer, ensure that the door seals properly, and keep the shelves level so they are easier to use. Defrosting the freezer provides a great opportunity for cleaning, organizing and sorting your frozen foods so that you are providing your family with the best quality possible.

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