Should You Unplug an Empty Freezer or Keep It Running?

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You can unplug an empty freezer to help save electricity.
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Having a standalone freezer on your property provides extra storage, allowing you to buy bulk quantities of frozen goods or stock up for a large family. If the freezer is currently empty, you might need to decide whether to unplug it or keep it running. Both options have their advantages, but one may be a better choice for your situation.

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Unless you plan to use it again immediately, keeping your empty freezer plugged in and running is usually a needless use of electricity.

Save by Unplugging

In many cases, unplugging an empty freezer is both the most economical choice and the most environmentally friendly option. Since keeping an empty freezer at temperature requires electricity, you are adding extra kilowatt hours to your electric bill and using additional energy at your home if you keep the freezer plugged in. Even worse, because the freezer is empty, you have more cubic feet of space to keep cold. You can save money on your electric bill, and reduce your environmental impact, by unplugging an empty freezer.

Defrosting the Freezer

If you unplug an empty freezer, however, you must be prepared to defrost the freezer, or you will end up with a mess on your hands later. The method of defrosting a freezer correctly varies by manufacturer and appliance model, but in general is done by pouring water over the sides of the freezer to break up the ice accumulated on the surface and peeling away the ice as it comes loose.

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Unless your manufacturer's instructions explicitly advise against it, unplugging the freezer represents a lower-effort defrosting method. Prop the door open securely, and make sure children and pets are kept out of the area so they can't accidentally close it on themselves. After 24 hours or so, it will be fully thawed and ready to clean out. Whichever method you choose, finish by wiping up any water, ice or food scraps left inside, and clean the freezer with soapy water.

Why Keep a Freezer Running

The main reason to keep an empty freezer running is so that it can be ready for new food at any time. While you can always plug a freezer in again to add new food to it, you will have to wait a few hours for the freezer to reach freezing temperatures. If you keep a freezer running, you also won't have to defrost the freezer every time you deplete the current food supply.

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Empty Freezer vs. Full Freezer

If you don't intend to use a freezer again within a few weeks, you should defrost and unplug the freezer. This also enables you to move it into storage if needed. If you have simply run out of food in the freezer and intend to use the freezer again soon, you can save time by keeping the freezer running until you get a chance to refill it.

If you run through periodic, predictable cycles of filling and emptying your freezer, consider keeping a few empty gallon jugs nearby. As you empty the it, fill the empty space in your freezer with jugs of water. The jugs both cut down on the cubic footage your freezer needs to keep cold, and provides lots of thermal mass to stabilize the freezer's temperature. Both will help trim the freezer's energy usage.

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Alexis Lawrence

Alexis Lawrence is a freelance writer, filmmaker and photographer with extensive experience in digital video, book publishing and graphic design. An avid traveler, Lawrence has visited at least 10 cities on each inhabitable continent. She has attended several universities and holds a Bachelor of Science in English.