Project Guide

How to Defrost a Refrigerator

Prepare the Refrigerator
Packs of frozen vegetables in a freezer drawer.

The week before you intend to defrost the refrigerator, try to use up any food from the refrigerator that can spoil easily and food from the freezer that would be difficult to refreeze, such as ice cream or meats.

  • Turn off the refrigerator and unplug the unit.
  • Leave the door open to start the defrosting process.
  • Remove all the food from the freezer and refrigerator compartments, discarding expired or old food. Pack any remaining food with ice packs into insulated coolers and store the cooler in the coolest part of the house away from sunlight. 
  • Take out all removable shelves and drawers in the freezer and refrigerator compartment.
  • Cover the floor in front and sides of fridge with absorbent towels. Place a few towels inside the fridge on the bottom shelf.
Defrost the Refrigerator
Open freezer door revealing melting ice layer.

There are several ways to manually defrost a fridge. Depending upon the thickness of the ice layer you are dealing with, you may need to combine several methods.

  • Leave the door open and wait, checking in periodically to clean up water as it collects. This is the safest method, but it takes the longest time - anywhere from several hours to more than a day, depending on climate and ice thickness.
  • Fill a bowl with boiling water, place it in the freezer compartment and close the door. After 30 minutes, remove the bowl and wipe up collected water. Repeat as needed until all the ice is melted.
  • Place a cloth into a heatproof bowl and dampen with boiling water. Pour over a small amount of rubbing alcohol, then lay the hot cloth on an area of ice to loosen it up. After a few minutes, use a plastic scraper or spatula to remove ice chunks.
  • Set up a box fan to blow into the interior of the freezer. The increased air circulation will speed the ice melt, so check the progress every 45 minutes and wipe up collected water. If you are defrosting a mini refrigerator, this method will likely get the whole job done in about 35 minutes.
  • Set up a wet/dry vacuum for wet use. Alternate between the blowing setting to help melt the ice and the vacuum setting to suck up the collected water.

Clean the Refrigerator
Person wiping the interior of a defrosted freezer.

Once the appliance is completely defrosted, clean it thoroughly before resuming use.

  • Make a solution of hot, soapy water with one tablespoon of baking soda. Dip a sponge into the solution and wipe the interior of the freezer and refrigerator. Rinse with a clean damp cloth. 
  • Use a clean microfiber cloth and completely dry the interior of the freezer. Ensure no water is left behind on any interior surface since it will freeze when the unit is restarted.
  • Thoroughly wash and dry all of the shelves and drawers. For any non-removable shelves, wipe down with an antibacterial wipe.
  • Check the seal on the freezer; a bad seal can lead to frost buildup. Wipe the seal with a little oil on a cloth to prevent it drying out and maintain the suction to the door.
  • Clean the floor around the refrigerator and make sure there is no standing water left behind.
  • Plug the refrigerator back in and set it to the coldest temperature mark.
  • Cool the appliance down for 30 minutes, then adjust back to the normal temperature.
  • Transfer food back into the freezer and refrigerator.

Though most models now come with an automatic defrost feature, knowing how to defrost a refrigerator manually is still an important kitchen skill to have, particularly if you have a top freezer-refrigerator. This basic appliance maintenance keeps your kitchen running smoothly over the long term. Be sure to check out our other guides on refrigerators, including advice on refrigerator organization, maintaining the correct refrigerator temperature, and the measurements to consider if you are buying a new refrigerator.