Whether you own a chest freezer, an upright freezer, or a compact freezer, there’s an inescapable fact — you’re going to have to clean it, and possibly even defrost it at some time. Think of this task as protecting your investment. You’ve spent money in stocking your freezer, so you’ll want it running at peak efficiency.
For manual-defrost freezers, defrosting and cleaning is recommended when a quarter to one-half inch of ice builds up on the interior walls. For a self-defrost freezer, Kate Mummaw, kitchen expert with Whirlpool Corporation Institute of Home Science, recommends a thorough cleaning once a year, unless there’s a lot of spillage, a prolonged power outage, or you live in a high-humidity area.
Cleaning your freezer not only maintains optimal performance, but if food is kept at improper temperatures due to reduced freezer efficiency, it can spoil, resulting in food poisoning. Furthermore, food can only be frozen for a certain amount of time before it loses its quality. Regular freezer cleaning will help you weed out these older items.
How to Defrost and Clean a Chest Freezer
Check your freezer manufacturer’s manual for cleaning and defrosting instructions, but here are some general guidelines.
1. Turn the temperature control to “off” and unplug your freezer. Place old towels under the freezer if water from cleaning and defrosting could damage the floor.
2. Remove the food. You may not have seen a great deal of this food for some time. Note the names and dates on freezer bags and containers (labelling is a good practice to start if you’re not already doing this).
Inspect the food, checking for freezer burn (ice crystals and discoloration), icy puddles around a freezer bag (indicating thawing has occurred at some point), and bad smells. Discard any food that smells bad. Any food showing freezer burn can be safely eaten, but it affects the taste and texture of the food, and you may not want to keep it. Also, if you haven’t used a labelling system, and you can’t identify the food item, it’s safer to throw it out.
If you see signs of thawing, you’ll have to make a decision about keeping the food in your freezer. Thawed, or partially thawed food, can be safely refrozen if the temperature did not go above forty degrees.
3. Transfer the food you’re keeping into your refrigerator freezer (if there’s any extra space), and the rest into a cooler with ice packs, or a box lined and covered with blankets. Place the box in the coolest area you can find to keep it as cold as possible. If it’s winter and the temperature is below freezing, you can store the box outside.
4. Open your freezer door and prop it open if necessary. Remove any baskets and removable shelves, and soak them in warm soapy water, but wait until they’ve reached room temperature to avoid cracking.
5. If your freezer has a drain plug, locate it and open it. Place a pan under the drain to collect the water. Some freezers come with a drain hose you can use to direct water to a bowl or pan. If there is no drain plug, wipe up excess water as it accumulates in the bottom of the freezer.
6. You can speed up the thawing process by placing buckets and bowls of hot water in the freezer. Close the lid and leave for about ten minutes. Repeat this process. Use a hair dryer to help melt the ice if the manual states it’s a safe method. Never use any sharp objects to scrape the ice. You could damage your freezer.
7. Once the ice and any water is removed, wash the inside and outside of the freezer using a soft cloth and a mild, non-scented dishwashing detergent in warm water. Don’t forget to wash the gasket on the lid. Use only a damp cloth on any lights. Rinse the soap residue using a soft cloth and warm water. Finish washing the baskets and shelves that were soaking.
For stubborn stains or food debris, wet a cloth with warm water and mild detergent, and place it on top of the mess. Let it sit for fifteen minutes. Wipe up any material that lifts easily, and repeat the procedure until most or all of the stain or debris is gone. Any residue can then be scrubbed loose with a soft cloth and a paste of baking soda and warm water.
If an area needs to be sanitized, first wash it with soap and water, dry, then apply a mixture of one tablespoon chlorine bleach in four cups of warm water. Let it dry, then rinse.
8. Dry the inside of the freezer and the baskets and removable shelves thoroughly. Replace the drain plug, shelves and baskets, plug the unit back in, turn it on, and set the temperature. Once the temperature has reached a minimum of zero degrees, repack your frozen foods.
How to Clean a Self-Defrosting Freezer
The procedure for cleaning a self-defrosting freezer is similar, except for the defrosting steps. Always check the owner’s manual for cleaning instructions first. The following are basic cleaning steps.
1. Turn the temperature control to “off” and unplug the freezer (even if it’s part of the refrigerator). Food in the fridge will stay cold for about four hours if you don’t open the door.
2. Remove the food and place the items you want to keep in another freezer, a cooler with ice, or a box lined and covered with blankets. Place the box in