How to Defrost a Chest Freezer & How to Organize a Chest Freezer + (FREE) Printable Freezer Inventory Checklist

I see you out there… you with your thick walls of ice who haven’t defrosted your freezers in 3 years. This is for you. :)

Defrosting your chest freezer regularly will help it have a longer lifespan, and your food will keep better. I’ll show you how to defrost properly, as well as what not to do. You’ll find both written and video instructions here! I’m also going to share the freezer alarm we use to make sure we don’t lose all our precious food. Plus I’ll share the pros and cons of a chest versus upright freezer.

Don’t forget your FREE printable “Freezer Inventory List,” and FREE printable “How to Defrost a Freezer Checklist!”
No strings attached– a free gift from me to you, so that using your freezer is a joy and not a chore!

**You will find these at the bottom of this post.**

Our freezer is one of our most important preserving tools! Over the years, freezing has become my favorite way to preserve food– both meat and produce. I still ferment, can, and dehydrate some of our homegrown produce, but the majority gets frozen.

For more information on freezing your produce in the best ways possible, check out my book Freeze Fresh!

Watch the video for how to Defrost a chest freeze! With extra tips!

How do you know when it’s time to defrost your freezer? 

Well, most manufacturers recommend defrosting when the ice build up is ¼- to ½-inch thick, and for us that translates to one time a year.

As ice builds up it can accumulate near the door and make it difficult to close and seal properly. This leads to temperature fluctuations and freezer burn, and it also decreases the life span of the freezer.

I know that I really hate the feeling of defeat that comes from knowing you have good food in the freezer. Food that needs to be used and that you want to use, but you can’t find it, or you cringe at the thought of having to dig for it. Whenever I start to feel this way, it’s usually time for a reorganization or clean out.

How to defrost a chest freezer

Here are the basics– I give even more helpful tips in the video!

Click here for free printable: HOW TO DEFROST A FREEZER CHECKLIST!

1. Unplug. Most brands recommend unplugging rather than just turning off the freezer for defrosting. If you’re prone to forgetting things, leave a note on the door or set a reminder on your phone to plug the freezer back in when you’re done.

2. Empty. Remove everything from the freezer and stack it on the floor near the freezer. Cover the frozen food with several heavy blankets to insulate it while you work. If the freezer is in a location where the floor isn’t clean, lay down a tarp or blanket first. Alternatively, place the frozen food in coolers. 

3. Thaw. Position a household fan to blow air into the freezer to help push out the cold air. This is especially important to do for a chest freezer, because cold air sinks, and the lower area is slow to warm up. Let the freezer thaw until the ice buildup starts to release from the sides, about 10 minutes. Wait for the ice to let go naturally. Do not pry the ice off or use warm water or warm air. This waiting time can be a good opportunity to organize and inventory the freezer contents.

4. Remove ice. Gently slide the ice chunks to the bottom of the freezer, then scoop them out and into a bucket. Never use a metal scoop, as it could scratch the inside of the freezer. A plastic dustpan or a thin-walled plastic container works well for scooping.

5. Dry. Use towels to dry the inner side walls and to soak up any remaining water from the bottom. When you’re finished, the freezer should be completely dry to the touch.

6. Replug. Plug the freezer back in– don’t forget this step! Most freezers have a power indicator light on the outside or an interior lightbulb to let you know that the appliance is receiving power.

7. Refill. Load everything back into the freezer immediately. There is no need to wait until the freezer chills again.

How to organize a chest freezer

If you just have everything piled on top of each other in the freezer, I can see how the prospect of defrosting seems overwhelming. And also, how do you even find anything in there?! Once you know how to defrost a chest freezer, it’s time to organize it!

For our chest freezers, we use a box system. Everything goes into open-top boxes, that way it’s easy to take out the top layers to get the things at the bottom. When the food is contained to a box and organized with like products, you know right where to find something and you can easily get to everything at the bottom. That way your freezer doesn’t turn into a black hole where food disappears forever.

We keep one freezer for all the fruits and veggies we preserve, and another for meats. We also freeze things like butter, cheese, bread, ice cream… and those tend to go in whichever ever freezer has available space.

How you organize everything up to you, but we tend to keep like with like. All the berries together in  a box, all the green beans and broccoli in another. I’ll put things like broth  and dairy together, and I keep one of the top boxes open for things I grab often like herbs, or ready-made soups, or leftovers. Because we buy a half cow every year, we have couple boxes for ground beef, and another for roasts and steaks. We have a pork box, and a chicken box, and a seafood box too.

Our favorite boxes are “banana boxes,” which are what bananas are shipped to grocery stores in. You can ask them for them, but we actually get ours from the Amish bent and dent store. They are sturdy without being too bulk, they hold up really well, and they have handles for easy lifting. We also use a banker boxes, and I’ve seen people use simple doubled paper grocery bags or even fabric grocery bags to help organize.

Pro-tip: One thing you might need to do is alter your boxes. We often have to shave a little off the top to make them fit and make the freezer close without interference.

How to inventory a freezer

Click here for free printable: FREEZER INVENTORY LIST!

As far as how to keep track of what you have in the freezer, especially if you have a lot of different things… I do think its helpful to keep a list. If you have my book, Freeze Fresh, I have no doubt that your freezer is full of all kinds of unique and delicious goods!

You can keep a paper inventory list on a clipboard near the freezer and check things off as you take them out, or keep a note on your phone. A written list is also really helpful for meal planning and making sure you actually use up everything you worked so hard to preserve. Even if your list isn’t always up to date, having and imperfect list is better than no list at all.

One thing I like to do is snap a few quick photos as we are loading the freezer back up. I take a photo of the bottom and middle layers of boxes– that way I know right where something is and I don’t have to guess which column it is, if I’m digging all the way to the bottom.

Pros and cons of a chest Freezer

On a chest freezer, the door is on the top of a chest, and it opens upward like a treasure chest.


It has more usable space inside compared to an upright freezer.

It is typically less expensive to buy and more energy efficient to operate than an upright freezer.

Because of the way everything packs snuggly into a chest freezer, it has a large amount of thermal mass and food will stay frozen longer if the power goes out than it will in an upright.

Because they have fewer components, manual-defrost chest freezers have a slightly longer life span than self-defrosting upright freezers.


Most chest freezers are only sold in white and look very utilitarian.

Chest freezers take up more floor space and are harder to keep organized. If you don’t have a good organizational system, it can feel like your food gets lost.

Because the freezer is so deep, some folks have difficulty reaching the bottom. I am 5 feet 6 inches tall and can place my hand on the very bottom of the freezer if I stand on my tippy toes!

Chest freezers typically need to be defrosted manually, which isn’t that bad of a task. It takes Karl and me just under an hour to unload, defrost, clean, and reload our large 24-cubic-foot chest freezer. We do this once, sometimes twice, per year.

Pros and cons of an upright freezer

On an upright freezer, the door opens outward like a refrigerator, and it has shelves inside.


Most people find this type of freezer easier to load and unload. It’s also easier to keep organized because it has shelves. For anyone with physical limitations, or who has trouble bending over or lifting, an upright freezer might be a better choice.

If you freeze in glass containers, it’s helpful to be able to store the jars on shelves to prevent them from clanking together and cracking.

An upright takes up less floor space and is more likely to be available in colors other than white.


The shelves inside are nice for organizing, but they might not accommodate large or oddly shaped items.

During a power outage, an upright freezer will thaw approximately 1 day faster than a chest freezer. This might be an important consideration if you live somewhere that loses power frequently.

If your upright is self-defrosting, it won’t stay as consistently cold, and the fluctuating temperature can encourage freezer burn. The motor cycling on and off tends to make self-defrosting uprights noisier as well.

Freezer alarms: to protect your food from spoiling!

If you keep a freezer with important, valuable food inside -especially if it’s homegrown, it’s also important to have an alarm! I’ve heard waaaaay too many horror stories of people losing everything in their freezer because someone left the door open or accidentally unplugged it.

We use SensorPush sensors and have for years– and we love them! (They are good for other things too, like to keep track of the temperature and humidity in our root cellar and chicken coop.)
Click here –> for Sensors.

This is a little sensor that keeps track of the temperature, and relays the info to an app on my phone. Because the freezer is a big metal box, and it communicates through bluetooth, you do need to be within about 20 feet to pick up its signal.

If you can’t be that close, you can use their gateway. The sensor push talks to the gateway, and the gateway uses wifi to send the data to their cloud. The app reads it from the cloud, so you can see the temperature and get alerts anywhere in the world.
Click here –> for the Gateway.

In the app, which is really great by the way… I have a high temperature alert set. We have it set to notify us if the freezer gets above 20º. Our freezers are typically around 0 degrees. That way, if the cord comes unplugged, the door gets left open, or the freezer malfunctions, we’ll know before everything is thawed. We keep one of these in every freezer.

Free Printable Freezer Inventory list & Freezer defrosting checklist!

There– that is more than you probably ever wanted to know about freezers! Don’t forget to print your free freezer defrosting checklist, and your inventory list. And check out my book Freeze Fresh is you want practical and creative ways to freeze produce.




Hi, I’m Crystal. I love growing, cooking, and preserving, and we hope to inspire you to do the same!

You can get to know me better over on Instagram where I share a lot of our day to day lives, including what we’re cooking and eating, what the chickens are up to, and how the gardens and orchards are producing.

My YouTube channel is where I share more in-depth tutorials on topics like gardening and orchard care and preserving.

My book, Freeze Fresh, teaches you how to preserve over 50 different fruits and vegetables. I share my time-tested preparation techniques that ensure color, texture, and flavor are retained in the freezer. From familiar favorites like apples, corn, potatoes, and peas to surprises like lettuce, avocado, and citrus fruit. There are over 100 recipes that freeze well, such as Blueberry Maple Pancake Sauce, Pickled Sliced Beets, Mango Chutney, and Honey Butter Carrot Mash–as well as delicious ways to cook the frozen food after thawing, including Tart Cherry Oatmeal Bars, Broccoli Cheese Soup, and Blueberry-Matcha Latte Smoothie.

Whole-Fed Homestead is reader-supported. Some of the links on this site are affiliate links (like Amazon links), and I make a small commission from purchases made through those links. This doesn’t cost you anything, but helps to support my work here. Thank you for your support, and allowing me to continue creating helpful content to share with you!

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