How Often Should a Refrigerator Defrost?

Newer models of refrigerators include defrost systems with automatic controls to monitor and prevent ice or frost build up. Frost-free refrigerators provide convenient, trouble-free and cost-efficient ways of defrosting. However, if you have an older model refrigerator, you may need to defrost your refrigerator manually. Knowing when to defrost your refrigerator will maximize your refrigerator's cooling power and prevent it from breaking down.

The Process of Defrosting

Refrigerators can only function well if their main cooling unit is free of frost or ice build up. Defrosting can help manage the refrigerator's cooling capacity. The process of defrosting involves shutting the power down for the compressor to cease operation. After defrosting, water from the melted ice will travel through water ducts to the water tray at the bottom of the refrigerator.

The Need to Defrost

When ice builds up in the freezer or on the evaporator, the refrigerator's cooling capacity decreases. Your refrigerator will need additional energy to increase its cooling capacity. Ideally, the normal temperature in the freezer should reach between minus 5 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit, and 36 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit in the main section. Poor refrigeration causes stored food to either stick to each other or spoil. During a power failure, ice build up melts and may ruin the interior of the unit. When heavy ice build up liquefies, the evaporation process will most likely not remove the water from the melted ice entirely. The remaining water becomes a potential home for mosquitoes and other forms of water-borne bacteria and contaminants.

When to Defrost

Through regular defrosting, the unit will achieve and sustain optimum cooling performance. For a manual defrost refrigerator, clean the unit using liquid detergent and water after defrosting. Do this at least once every week. For refrigerators equipped with automatic defrost systems, they automatically defrost when they reach a certain pre-set temperature. Power shuts down, disabling the operations of the thermostat. This process can happen on several occasions on different time intervals within a day.

Defrosting Checklist

Before turning off the power to defrost the unit manually, remove all items and place them in a cooler with ice to avoid spoilage. Then, turn off the refrigerator completely. Some models may require you to also unplug the power cord. To aid in liquefying the ice build up, pour hot water into the freezer to speed up the defrosting process and do away with manually scraping off hardened ice build up that remains after the initial defrosting stage. Put rags or towels on the floor by the bottom of your refrigerator to catch any water spillage. Keep the door open to let in warm air and speed up the thawing process. You don't need to take these steps for refrigerators equipped with automatic defrost systems.