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To defrost a freezer, people need to remove all food and other contents, unplug the freezer or turn it all the way down, and allow it to stand with the door open while the ice melts. Modern frost-free freezers are designed to not need defrosting, but may periodically benefit from a quick wipedown with a dry cloth to remove minor frost buildup. With older freezer units, people should defrost regularly, before large chunks of ice build up, because it will go more quickly when the ice is thin and huge ice deposits can waste energy.
To prepare to defrost a freezer, people should make sure the freezer and attached fridge, if applicable, are as empty as possible, making it less necessary to handle food. Some people may leave the unit plugged in and put everything in the fridge while the freezer is turned down, while others may choose to empty out the fridge and freezer to clean both at the same time.
All food in the freezer should be packed in a cooler or cold bag with ice, and put in the fridge or a cold spot in the house. If people also need to empty the fridge, the food should be packed in with the frozen items to keep it cold. It is especially important to be careful with raw meats, as they can become warm enough to harbor bacteria. Generally, frozen raw meat and seafood should stay cold enough, but if they were in the fridge, they may become dangerously warm while people defrost a freezer.
Once the freezer is totally empty, people can unplug it or turn it down and leave the door open to allow air to circulate so the ice will melt. It is advisable to put paper on the floor to collect drips and chunks of ice. It is possible to purchase defrosting products to melt the ice more quickly, or people can place a pan of warm water in the fridge to loosen the ice and defrost a freezer more rapidly.
When people defrost a freezer, it is often possible to pull chunks of ice off as it starts to warm up, but it is not a good idea to hit the freezer walls or use tools like knives to pry the ice off. This could potentially punch holes in the system used to circulate coolant, causing a leak. In addition to being a potential environmental issue, leaks will also make the fridge run less effectively, and it will eventually break down when it runs out of coolant.
The other thing I would suggest is to make sure you unplug the freezer you're defrosting. This is because condensation can form, and the resulting moisture could drip down the cord and get into the electric socket, which could cause all sorts of unpleasant things to happen.
Since I'm going to deal with defrosting the freezer anyway, it's just as well to do it as safely as possible, which means unplugging it. It's not a huge deal, and my mind rests much easier knowing I've done it.
When I lived in the dorm and had a small fridge, I would defrost it about once a quarter. I always put a pan underneath the freezer unit and turned it off before I left for the weekend, after getting anything out of it that I wanted to keep. When I got back, I'd empty the pan and clean the fridge.
If you're going to go to the trouble of defrosting your freezer, I'd recommend you go ahead and clean it after it defrosts and before you load it back up again. Baking soda mixed in water will usually clean about anything in a freezer, and it will freshen the area, without leaving any scent of its own behind. Baking soda is cheap, so getting a couple of boxes for cleaning purposes will set you back maybe a dollar or two, if that.
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