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How to Clean a Freezer

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Preparing to Clean a Freezer
A person checks frozen food in containers for freshness.
  • Begin by disconnecting the freezer from its power source. Many freezers have off switches, but unplugging the freezer ensures that the power cord won’t get wet while plugged in. 
  • Remove the frozen food. Put as many items as possible in your refrigerator, space permitting -- they won’t have time to thaw while you're cleaning. Put the rest in a cooler, including the ice from the freezer. 
  • Use this time to inventory the food in your freezer, and get rid of the items that have freezer burn or are past the expiration date for frozen foods.
How to Clean a Freezer
A person wears kitchen gloves to clean a freezer with a cloth and cleaning solution in a spray bottle.

Clean out and deep clean your freezer at least once a year. Kitchen gloves are optional but can keep skin from sticking to a cold, dry surface.

  • Make a solution of hot water and vinegar and put it in a spray bottle. A solution of water and soap is acceptable, but vinegar is unquestionably food safe and has no soapy aroma. 
  • Spray the interior walls, floor and gaskets and wipe with a sponge or microfiber cloth
  • For how to clean a freezer floor of sticky food residue, scrub the trouble spots with a toothbrush or small scrub brush dipped in hot water. 
  • Dry the interior thoroughly with a cloth or paper towels -- any water residue could freeze and cause wear to the interior surfaces. 
  • Clean the outside of the freezer with stainless steel cleaner or another appropriate cleaner and microfiber cloth. 
  • Be sure to dust the condenser coils. 
  • Replace all the shelving and food items.
  • Don’t forget to plug the freezer back in and turn it on. 

Tip: Most contemporary freezers are self-defrosting, so you won’t have to defrost or remove ice. (See below for how to defrost a freezer.) 

Clean Removable Freezer Shelves
A person wipes a removable shelf from a freezer.
  • While you’ve emptied out and are cleaning the freezer, take out the shelves and drawers, as well as any other removable items like ice cube trays. You can clean them more thoroughly when they’re outside the freezer. 
  • Mix fragrance-free dish soap with warm water in a sink or basin. Wash the items with a dish sponge, as you would hand-wash dishes. Rinse to make sure no traces of dishwashing liquid remain.
  • Make sure shelves and other removable items are completely dry before returning them to the freezer. 
  • Dishwasher-safe ice cube trays can be washed in the dishwasher, refilled and returned to the freezer at your convenience, depending on how soon you need ice. 

Tip: Wait until shelves, drawers and other removable items are room temperature before cleaning them in water. A sudden change in temperature can cause some items to crack. 

How to Clean a Freezer That Smells
A person wears gloves to clean the inside of a freezer with a sponge and a solution in a spray bottle.

While freezers are designed to store foods for extended periods, most edible items can go bad in a freezer given enough time. Take special steps to clean a refrigerator that smells.


  • Note that if the freezer has strong, lingering odors, it can take several days to thoroughly clean, dry and deodorize, so make an appropriate plan for temporarily storing your frozen items. 
  • Follow the cleaning steps as above, but mix a solution of 1 gallon of water and 1 tablespoon of bleach. Use it to clean the inside of the freezer with a scrub brush.
  • Leave the freezer door open for two days to dry completely and the odor to dissipate. 
  • If the smell still remains, fill a bowl with activated charcoal, baking soda or cat litter and set it in the empty freezer. Run the freezer for 2 to 4 days to absorb the odor.
How to Defrost a Freezer
A person wears kitchen gloves to remove ice while defrosting a refrigerator.

The longer you allow frost to build up in your freezer, the longer it will take to remove it. The more often you defrost your freezer, the less time consuming it will be. 

  • Newer models don’t require defrosting, but you may need to know how to clean freezer ice, especially if you have a deep freezer or chest freezer, before you can thoroughly wash the appliance. 
  • Check the owner’s manual: most freezers defrost in similar methods, but they may have significant differences. Expect it to take the better part of a day.
  • Unplug and empty the freezer, as you would when beginning to clean. 
  • Place a towel at the bottom to soak up melting ice. Place a baking sheet or similarly-shaped pan atop the towel to catch water. 
  • To speed the defrosting/process, place a pan of hot water at the bottom of the freezer. You can also use an electric fan, blow dryer or the blow setting of a wet/dry vacuum to replace the cold air with warmer air.
  • Gently loosen or remove melting ice with a plastic scraper or spatula. Do not chip at it with an ice pick or other implements, which can damage the freezer. 
  • If the freezer has a drain or stopper, open it and use a basin, drip pan or hose attachment to catch the water. 
  • When defrosted, clean and thoroughly dry the unit. 

Tip: If you have a freezer with more than 1/4 inch of ice on the base or walls, you should go ahead and defrost it. 

Learning how to clean a standup freezer is the same as any other freezer unit. Cleaning out the freezer has a side benefit of helping you to use, store and dispose of frozen food more efficiently.