How to defrost a freezer without turning it off – save yourself time and stress

Get your freezer frost-free without the faff

Blue kitchen with gold hardware, wooden parquet floor and silver fridge freezer
(Image credit: Future PLC/Ryan Wicks)

There are some chores which take that much willpower than the rest, and there are few things we try and put off more than the arduous task of a freezer defrost. However, we might just have a game changer for you, as *pause for effect* we're going to explain how to defrost a freezer without turning it off.

While the easiest and most effective way to defrost a freezer is by switching it off at the mains, we're all aware there are situations where it isn't possible for one reason or another.

‘Sometimes it's much easier if you don't have to turn off your freezer when you defrost it,’ notes Nicholas Auckland, energy and appliance expert from Trade Radiators. ‘Turning off your freezer and defrosting that way could take up to around 24 hours, once you factor in defrost time and the time it takes for the freezer to get back to its desired temperature.’

Before we dive in, it's key to remember that since your freezer will be plugged in during the process, it's incredibly important that you take care and follow all safety precautions. When in doubt, check with your manufacturer.

Now, onto how to defrost a freezer that's still running...

How to defrost a freezer without turning it off 

open plan kitchen, timber flooring, skylight, plants, countertop top, storage, lighting, stools, tiling, pendant lighting, sink, faucet, appliances, pink countertop, pendants lights, extractor fan, fridge

(Image credit: Future PLC/Philip Lauterbach)

‘When to comes to how to defrost a freezer without turning it off, it will work on most freezers, however, it does require some patience,’ warns’s appliance expert, Brian Johnson. ‘Heavily iced-up freezers may not be effectively defrosted in this way.’

What you’ll need

White kitchen with double silver American fridge freezer, island and yellow pendant lights

(Image credit: Future PLC)

‘This is the best option if you're particularly rushed for time, as you don't have to wait for the freezer to reach its usual temperature again once you turn it back on,’ recommends appliance expert Nicholas.

'It’s best for freezers with less ice build-up. If there's too much ice build-up, consider turning off your freezer as you'll be wasting energy by leaving it on with nothing in it for a rather extended period of time.’


Souble silver fridge freezer in kitchen with blue cabinetry

(Image credit: Future PLC)

1. Remove everything from your freezer

Begin by removing everything from your freezer. This includes all of the food and perishable items, as well as any and all shelving and drawers. ‘This is important as you need the space and you need all the ice to melt,’ explains Nicholas.

As you remove your food, it's very handy to have a cool bag nearby to keep your items frozen while your freezer defrosts. ‘As long as they are placed out of sunlight and in the coldest place in the house, it would ensure your food is kept at a safe temperature,’ says Natasha Blythe, Learning Designer at High Speed Training. However, 'if they thaw, it's likely that you won't be able to safely refreeze them,’ cautions Nicholas. 

‘If your freezer isn’t particularly full, you could ask a neighbour, or someone close by, if they could store your food while the defrosting is taking place,’ suggests Natasha. 

2. Boil water and fill a bowl

Brass boiling water tap

(Image credit: Future PLC/Phil Barker)

Next, depending on how much space you have in your freezer, you should should fill a bowl or two with boiling water and place on a tea towel at the bottom of your freezer.

Amanda Lorenzini, refrigeration expert at recommends leaving this bowl or pot in your freezer for ‘15-20 minutes.’

3. Mop up the melted water

Open towel and blanket storage

(Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)

Soon after this, you'll notice that ice will begin to drop as it melts. ‘Use another tea towel to wipe down the sides and tops of the freezer and ensure you remove any moisture from the appliance,' recommends Amanda.

While it may seem a bit obvious to clean up melted water, it's actually one of the most important steps to this process, because as soon as you close the freezer door this will start to freeze up again, effectively undoing all the time and effort that you’ve just put in.

‘Keep replacing the bowls of boiling water until the freezer is defrosted,’ continues appliance expert Nicholas. And ‘remove the pan when you have seen the last bit of ice fall and continue to soak up any moisture using the towels,’ adds Amanda.

4. Rebuild your shelves, slot any drawers back in and close the door

Once all the water's been absorbed, you can rebuild the shelves, insert the drawers and close the freezer door to allow the freezer to start building cold air again. However, hold you horses because it's not time to get your food back in just yet.

‘Once you turn it back on, you need to give the freezer enough time to get back to the correct temperature before you think about putting the food back,' says Natasha. 'This can take a number of hours, but the time will vary between appliances.'

A view into the kitchen from the dining area looking towards the pale blue Smeg fridge

(Image credit: Future PLC/Ryan Wicks)

What not to use to defrost a freezer without turning it off

If the boiling water hack doesn’t help to break up all of the ice in your freezer, this is a pretty good sign that you'll need to consider another method. That said, under no circumstances should you take a hair dryer or scraper to your freezer to try to break up the last bit of remaining ice. Be warned!

‘It’s not recommended to use a hairdryer or any other electrical item to speed up the process, or to hack off the ice with a sharp object as these methods pose a risk to not only the freezer, but your own safety,’ agrees Natasha.

‘Another problem could arise if you use the likes of spoons and utensils to hit at the ice in order to speed up the process,’ adds Nicholas. ‘If you hit the ice, there is a chance that you could damage the walls of the freezer which could break it. This could also result in electrocution so stay clear of breaking down any ice yourself.’

Appliance expert Brian also warns that, ‘you should never under any circumstances use a hair dryer to defrost a freezer. This combination of electricity and water is extremely dangerous and should not be attempted. It may also damage the working parts of your freezer such as the cooling element.’

So, if using boiling water has not helped to sufficiently defrost your freezer, you'll instead need to follow the traditional method of turning your freezer off to defrost it fully. Slow and steady wins the race and all that.

Close up of silver fridge freezer in kitchen

(Image credit: Future PLC)


How long does it take to defrost a freezer without turning it off?

This method should only take a few hours, instead of a full day, so can save you quite a bit of time. But appliance and energy expert Nicholas does maintain that ‘this really depends on how much ice is frosted up in your freezer.’

‘Leave yourself around 4 hours, and in this time you'll be able to work out whether this method is working for your freezer or not,’ he says. ‘Defrosting a freezer by turning it off can take around 24 hours, but a lot of this time is spent waiting for the freezer to cool back down after being turned off.’

To save yourself being stuck in a deep freeze where it takes days for the ice to melt, make sure you know how often you should be defrosting your freezer and if you're still having problems it's well worth turning to get to the bottom of why ice is building up in your freezer in the first place. But if you're simply in need of a quick freshen up to get rid of excess ice, then how to defrost a freezer without turning it off may just be your new secret weapon.

Ellis Cochrane

Ellis Cochrane has been a Freelance Contributor for Ideal Home since 2023. She graduated with a Joint Honours degree in Politics and English from the University of Strathclyde and between her exams and graduation, started a lifestyle blog where she would share what she was buying, reading and doing. In doing so, she created opportunities to work with some of her dream brands and discovered the possibility of freelance writing, after always dreaming of writing for magazines when she was growing up.

Since then, she has contributed to a variety of online and print publications, covering everything from celebrity news and beauty reviews to her real passion; homes and interiors. She started writing about all things homes, gardens and interiors after joining Decor & Design Scotland as a Freelance Journalist and Social Media Account Manager in 2021. She then started freelancing at House Beautiful, Country Living and in Stylist’s Home team. Ellis is currently saving to buy her first home in Glasgow with far too many Pinterest boards dedicated to her many design ideas and inspirations.

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