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How to Defrost a Refrigerator

Learn how to defrost a refrigerator to keep it running cool and efficiently.

Getting Started

Our home appliances can all benefit from occasional maintenance to keep them running smoothly. This is especially true for our most-used kitchen appliances, like our refrigerators, which are constantly running to keep our perishables fresh.
A common issue that needs to be dealt with is ice buildup inside the fridge or freezer compartments, which can block cold air circulation and consume more energy. The ice builds up, creating a barrier, and can even expand and cause further damage.
While most modern fridge manufacturers, such as LG, equip their units with a timed heating element to melt ice buildup, it's still important to defrost every so often to allow a refrigerator to perform at its best and be more energy-efficient.
So keep cool and learn how to defrost a refrigerator to keep it running smoothly and efficiently.

Preparing to Defrost

If you decide to defrost your refrigerator, there are some necessary steps you must first take.

Eliminate as Much Food as Possible

First, take stock of the food inside, and use up or eliminate as much as possible. Otherwise, you'll find yourself storing it all in coolers.
One easy place to start is to simply clean out and discard expired foods or condiments that have been in there past their prime. Also, try to eat any food a week or two before defrosting the fridge, especially food that can potentially spoil or won't keep well in a cooler, like ice cream or cuts of meat.
Once you've eaten enough to trim down the fridge, pack any remaining food in a YETI cooler with ice packs. Then store the cooler in a shaded, cool area of your home. Basements stay relatively cool and a garage is also a good option during colder months, as long as there's no sunlight.

Turn Off and Open the Refrigerator

After all the perishables are removed, turn off and unplug the refrigerator to begin the defrosting process.
Leave the doors open to help the temperature rise, and remove shelves and drawer compartments in both the freezer and refrigerator.
Lastly, gather some highly-absorbent towels (ideally, old towels you no longer use) and cover the floor around the fridge. At this point, you can also spread around a few towels in the interior, especially on the bottom shelves.

Defrosting the Refrigerator

Once you have towels down and are prepared, it's time to defrost the refrigerator. Defrosting your fridge can be accomplished through a variety of methods, and you may need to try several if you're dealing with a thick ice layer. Here are some of the most common methods to defrost your fridge.
The Slow and Steady Defrost–As they say, slow and steady wins the race. And although it's time-consuming, this is the safest method to defrost a refrigerator. As easy as it sounds, you simply leave the doors open, checking in to make sure the towels are absorbing the melting ice. Depending on your icy layer, this could take anywhere from several hours to over a day.
The Boiling Water Bowl Defrost—With this defrost method, place a bowl of boiling water in the freezer compartment and shut the door tightly. Repeat this method every 30 minutes until all the ice melts, wiping up water as you go along.
The Heated Cloth and Scraper Defrost—In this defrost method, you place a cloth into a bowl with shallow boiling water, pouring a splash of rubbing alcohol over it. The hot rubbing alcohol solution acts as a loosening agent, allowing you to break off ice chunks easily. However, it's crucial to use a plastic scraper or spatula to avoid damage to the interior walls.
The Box Fan Defrost—In this defrost method, you set up a box fan in the freezer to increase air circulation, which will speed up the melting ice. Wipe up the water every half hour or so, checking on the melting process.
The Wet Vac Defrost—If you have a wet/dry vacuum, this is an easy method to defrost a refrigerator. Choosing the wet vac setting, you can alternate between blowing to melt the thick ice and vacuuming to suck up the pool of water.

While It's Empty, Give Your Refrigerator Maintenance!

With your newly defrosted fridge, now is the perfect opportunity to clean its interior and wipe up any last remaining puddles.
Dip a non-abrasive sponge into a solution of warm, soapy water mixed with a tablespoon of baking soda, and wipe down the entire interior surface. Rinse with a damp cloth, then dry the surface with a microfiber cloth to ensure all moisture is eliminated (or it will create a new layer of ice when the fridge is turned back on). Wash and dry the shelves and drawers separately and use antibacterial wipes on the fastened interior shelves.
Finally, check to ensure your freezer's seal still holds a proper suction, as this can cause frost buildup in the first place. Replace it if it appears broken or you can slip a piece of paper through the seal while the door is shut. This is a clear sign a seal needs to be replaced.

A Few Last Steps

Once your fridge is clean, dry and ready for food, take some time to follow these last few steps.
Plug the refrigerator in again, setting the temperature as low as it will go. Give it a solid half hour to return to a normal cooling level. Once your fridge is cooling again, you can transfer the food from the coolers back into the fridge and freezer.
If you find you need to upgrade your fridge, take a look at Abt Electronics' All Refrigerator Guides to discover what type is right for your kitchen and lifestyle.

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