Tasty Trash: The $55 million Squawkfox Food Waste Challenge is a series aimed at helping your family save up to $1,500 this year by reducing food waste. The environment may also thank us. To start from the beginning, read the introduction.

When your freezer is a time capsule celebrating the Ice Age, then maybe it’s time to join the Modern Age by thawing your deep freeze.


how to defrost a freezer
The Ice Age Cometh: It’s time to thaw that frozen mess.

Photo Credit: Conny Liegl (flickr/MoonSoleil)

These Titanic-sized icebergs require a good melting session.

The causes of freezer frost

There are two common reasons ice may be forming in your freezer.

1. Take a peek. Freezer frost grows when moisture from the air condenses on the walls and turns to ice. Every time you open your freezer to take a peek, a blast of humid air sneaks in and builds up a thin layer of frost.

2. Blame the seals. If your freezer turns into a block of the cold stuff quickly, it’s likely your door seal. Cracked, worn, or misaligned freezer seals can let warm air in and cold air out. Yep, this is costing you some cool cash, so check those seals and stop gawking into your open freezer.

The cost of growing glaciers

Your freezer needs to work harder to keep your food cold since ice acts as an insulator. If you’re growing glaciers in parts of your freezer, you’ll use more energy to keep the internal temperature low. Plus, your food may not be stored at a low enough temperature, leading to food waste. According to the USDA, frozen food should be kept below 0ºF (-18ºC) or spoilage can occur.

freezer ice

Hold the ice: There’s no space for food.
Photo Credit: “Bennet” (flickr/bennett4senate)

Where’s the beef? Or frozen veggies, or stored leftovers? A lot of ice buildup can turn your ice box into an ice block, making it impossible to store perishables and access food. Why bother plugging the thing into an energy sucking socket if you’re just using your freezer space to foster frost?

How to defrost your freezer

You can beat the glaciers into a hasty retreat in five easy steps. Here’s how to get ready for the great freezer thaw:

freezer defrost

Stuff you need:

  • bucket
  • hot water
  • towels
  • vacuum cleaner
  • dish soap
  • plastic spatula
  • freezer thermometer (optional)

Total thaw time: One hour — longer if you’re storing the arctic.

STEP ONE: Free the food. Start by emptying your frost-filled freezer and moving the perishables to another ice box or transferring the goods to a cooler.

igloo chest freezer

If it’s a cold winter’s day, you can probably store your freezer contents in bins outside — as long as you don’t have any wildlife or hungry neighbors nearby.

how to clean a freezer

This is a great time to take a detailed inventory of what’s hanging out in your deep freeze. Toss out or compost anything that’s gone bad.

Food Waste Diary

Add all chucked food to your Food Waste Diary (free download)

how to compost
Composting Made Easy

Check out How to compost without raising a stink for the easy-to-follow composting steps.

STEP TWO: Get unplugged. Don’t get into a battle with your freezer by attempting to thaw ice while the machine is trying freeze it. Huge waste of time and energy, people — kinda like running up the down escalator. Unplug your freezer to save yourself from this frustration.

STEP THREE: Thaw the sucker. Place a towel in the bottom of your freezer to collect the water from melting ice.

defrost freezer

This step is particularly important if your freezer is a front-door-loader and not a chest model, since large amounts of water could drip out the door. Yeah, messy.

defrost freezers

Place a small plastic bucket of hot water in the freezer. Close the door and wait 10 minutes. Repeat a few times. The heat from the water will defrost (or loosen) the ice.

Bonehead Move: Do not use a metal pot with boiling water to defrost your freezer — you might melt the plastic lining, forcing you to replace the dang unit.

manual defrost freezer

Once the ice beings to loosen, go ahead and use a plastic spatula to gently remove the larger chunks.

auto defrost freezer

Take care not to damage the freezer lining.

STEP FOUR: Scrub a dub. Place all ice pieces in a bucket and use a towel to mop up any water.

clean freezer

Using warm water and a bit of dish soap, wash and wipe every surface inside the freezer and dry it with a towel. Carefully clean the door seal. Vacuum any dust from coils along the outside and back of the freezer.

Money Saving Tip: Inspect and replace freezer door seals if they’re cracked or fail to close evenly. You’ll need to know the exact make and model of your freezer to order a new seal kit.

STEP FIVE: Lock and load. Plug in your freezer and wait for it to cool down. Once the freezer is cold, reload all the food that passed your freshness test in step one. Don’t forget to list all expired or freezer burnt food in your Food Waste Diary.

Bonehead Move: Don’t load cold food into a warm freezer — you’ll defrost the lot and possibly spoil your perishables. Expensive mistake.

Allow 24 hours for the temperature to stabilize, and then use a freezer thermometer to check the temperature. Most manufacturers recommend freezers be set to 0ºF (-18ºC) or colder to keep food from spoiling.

ice cream recipes
Make homemade ice cream with leftovers?

After removing the unwanted ice from your freezer, why not stock up on some tasty ice? Click on over to Healthy Snacks: A tasty twist on homemade ice cream for a frugal treat that fights food waste.

Happy thawing!