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Why Do Freezers Ice Up And How To Prevent It

Why freezers ice up
Why freezers ice up

Do you want to know why freezers ice up and how to prevent it?

I’m sure at some stage you’ve opened your freezer and struggled to get the food item you were looking for unstuck from the ice.

I have plenty of times and have often wondered about this whole phenomenon.

Why do freezers ice up?

Freezers ice up when moisture in the air comes into contact with the cooling panels or coils inside the freezer and freezes up. Over time these layers of frozen water vapor builds up and forms thick layers of ice. This makes freezers less energy efficient and can contribute to the damage of food by a process called freezer burn.

Let me explain in detail!

In this article I will discuss:

How does the ice build up?

It is inevitable that freezers will be opened and closed.

In some settings that will happen more than others.

If you are living on your own, chances are it will happen less regularly than, for example, with a commercial freezer in a restaurant.

Every time a freezer is opened, air from the outside will mix with air from the inside. 

Moisture in this air that comes into contact with the cooling panels or coils inside the freezer, freezes instantly on contact.

Now, it may not be huge amounts of ice that forms this way, but over time, all these ice layers accumulate and build up.

If not prevented and treated often, it will eventually become a much thicker and significant layer of ice.

What are the negative effects of ice buildup in freezers

There are many negative effects of this ice layer that forms in the freezer. Here are the major ones.

The freezer is less energy efficient

The first and foremost is that this ice layer causes the freezer to be less energy efficient.

This is because the compressor needs to work harder to keep the inside at the desired temperature.

Although the layer is made of ice, it still acts as an insulator between the freezer coils and the food.

The lifespan of the compressor and freezer gets reduced

The lifespan of the compressor gets reduced because it has to work harder and longer. 

The freezer walls, as well as the coils, can get damaged as well.

Ice buildup can put pressure on these and in certain cases can actually bend or crack the walls and coils.

Ice can prevent the door from closing

As the ice builds up, it can get to a level later on where the ice prevents the freezer door from closing properly.

This will reduce the insulation of the freezer by letting in warmer air.

This, in turn, will cause more ice to build up and make the freezer work even harder.

Damage to food

Freezer burn, as it’s called, is when you have ice that forms on food itself.

It’s not the buildup of ice in the freezer that causes this, per se. It is the same process that is responsible, though. 

Freezer burn can dull the flavors of food as well as alter the texture. has a good article on freezer burn here.

Reduce the available space

The ice layer that keeps growing can reduce the available space inside your freezer compartment drastically when left unchecked.

How to prevent freezer ice buildup

All is not lost, though.

It is really easy to minimize the buildup of ice by following these steps.

Open your freezer less

This is pretty straightforward.

The less frequently you open the freezer, the less air gets introduced into the freezer, and the less new moisture gets the opportunity to freeze.

Plan ahead

Now this may seem silly, but if you plan what you need beforehand, you can just open the freezer, get what you need and close it again.

You won’t stand in front of the open freezer and browse while deciding what’s for dinner.

So when you plan ahead, you need less time to grab something from the freezer and less time, again, for new air to circulate in.

Organise your freezer

When your freezer is organised, you will need less time to find what you need. 

Also, an organised freezer will reduce the chances of food freezing into the ice on the sides of the compartment when you are able to keep a little space in between the sidewalls and your food.

Don't understock your freezer

This goes hand in hand with the above.

If there is too much space in the freezer, there is more room for new air and moisture to enter into. 

That is why you also need to buy a freezer that is the right size for your setup and the amount of food you plan on freezing.

Remember, if it’s only you, it is still possible to stock a big freezer to minimize excess space.

But you have to take into account that if you are not going to go through that food regularly, it is going to be subjected to freezer burn.

Buy a new freezer

Now this is probably not as cheap as the steps above, but if you have an old freezer, it will be worth it to invest in a newer model.

Most new freezers have a self defrost function to prevent ice buildup.

It works really clever, actually.

The freezer picks up when there is some ice building up on the coils and panels. It then automatically shuts off the compressor and heats the coils to melt the ice.

Just enough, though, so that it does not heat up the inside of the freezer. 

It stops the heating after a while and restarts the compressor.


Ice buildup is an everyday thing that, if left unchecked, can cause damage and incur costs.

It is therefore recommended to just follow these easy steps to minimize the chances of that happening.

But don’t worry if it did happen, you can read my article here on how to easily and safely defrost your freezer!