And why it’s important to do on the reg.

When was the last time you cleaned your freezer? If you can’t remember—or, perhaps, you’ve never done the deed—well, we don’t blame you. It’s one of those unappealing household tasks that probably doesn’t rank very high on your to-do list (if it ranks at all).  

Yet giving your freezer a regular scrub-down is important on several counts, says Michael Silva-Nash, executive vice president of the Greater Little Rock and NW Arkansas division of MOLLY MAID, a Neighborly home cleaning company. Here, Silva-Nash explains why it’s important to buff up your freezer, how often you should do it, and easy tips for getting the job done thoroughly and efficiently.

Why Should I Clean My Freezer?

Over time, dirt, dust, and food remnants can build up in your freezer. If this gridue collects in the coils, it can decrease the efficiency of the machine, explains Silva-Nash, which is why it’s important to regularly remove said gunk. By doing so, you’ll ensure your freezer is running efficiently, which translates to less energy used and more money saved on your electric bill. On top of that, every cleaning provides a chance for you to take stock of the items in your freezer and consume items that are nearing expiration. This can help reduce food waste and save dollars on your grocery bill.  

How Often Should I Clean My Freezer?

Though the frequency at which you should clean your freezer depends on many factors—like the make/model, how often you use it, and your storage habits—a good rule of thumb is to clean it before or when the frost is a half-inch thick.

Also, if you find your freezer not working as well—say, for instance, your items aren’t as cold as usual or you hear the freezer running more often—that’s another sign that it likely needs a scrub-down, says Silva-Nash.  

In general, Silva-Nash advises establishing a regular cleaning schedule—every three months, for example, or twice a year—to stay ahead of massive build-ups. Small, frequent cleanings are less arduous than sporadic scrubbings.

What Materials Do I Need to Get the Job Done?

You’ll need a cooler with ice to stash your frozen goods while you’re completing the cleaning. If you don’t have a cooler, you can use bowls of ice, which “won’t work as well” [in terms of keeping your items completely chilled] caveats Silva-Nash, but will provide a “quick fix.”

For the cleaning itself, you’ll need soft rags and dish soap. You’ll also need a canister vacuum or other type of vacuum with a hose. If your freezer is especially stinky and/or has particularly tough stains, you can create a special cleaning solution by mixing a quart of hot water with 2 tablespoons of baking soda and a teaspoon (or less) of vanilla extract. Another useful tool for stuck-on stains: an old toothbrush. Also, if your freezer has a drip pan, you’ll need a good disinfectant. Lastly, if you have a stainless steel fridge, you’ll need baby oil and a microfiber rag. 

I Have The Materials. What Do I Do Now?

You should allot between 30 minutes to an hour for the task, says Silva-Nash. When you're ready, follow these steps.  

  • Before you start any cleaning, turn off your freezer. This will save energy as you clean and also ensure your safety as you tackle the coils.
  • Fill up your sink with hot, soapy water.
  • Empty the ice container and pour the ice into your cooler or bowls, and then drop your ice container in the sink to soak.
  • From there, empty all food items from the freezer and sort your goods into two piles: things you are going to keep, and older items you are going to toss. For foods in the former group, take the time to thoroughly wipe and clean them (for example, remove any spillage on the lids surrounding jars or the outside of Tupperware) before stashing them in your temporary cooling device.
  • Take out all of the drawers and add them to the soapy sink for soaking.
  • Use the vacuum to remove any crumbs left behind at the bottom of the freezer.   
  • While you have the vacuum out, use it on the coils to remove any dust, dirt, or debris. Just be sure to go slow and be gentle so you don’t damage the coils.
  • If your freezer has a drip pan underneath, remove that and empty it, preferably somewhere outside the kitchen, says Silva-Nash, as it can contain unsanitary water. Clean it thoroughly with a disinfectant.
  • Wet a rag with hot water and your choice of cleaner (either dish soap or the baking powder/vanilla mix). Use the rag to wipe down the entire inside of the freezer, going from top to bottom, left to right.
  • For any stains that can’t be removed with the rag, try a toothbrush.
  • Once the interior is clean, take a fresh rag or paper towel and dry the inside, going from top to bottom, left to right again.
  • After you’ve dried the inside, turn on your freezer again and replace the drawers and ice bin.
  • When the freezer is cool enough again, put your food back, organizing it so that your older and close-to-expiring items are towards the front and newer items are towards the back.
  • While you’re at it, make sure every food item is marked with an easy-to-ready expiration date.
  • Now, tackle the outside. If you have a stainless steel freezer, use the oil and microfiber rag to polish the doors, handles and sides. If you have a non-stainless steel freezer, use a cloth rag or paper towels and a water/soap solution to do the same.
  • Lastly, for a better-smelling freezer going forward, stick an open box of baking soda inside, or soak a cotton ball in vanilla, orange or lemon extract (depending on your scent preference) and stash that in a back corner.

Final step: Pat yourself on the back! And then enjoy your squeaky-clean, well-organized, and energy-efficient freezer.