How to Clean and Sanitize Your Freezer

Now's the time to toss those freezer-burned Brussels sprouts

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated November 3, 2022
Woman cleaning refrigerator
Photo: Andrey Popov / Adobe Stock


Simple project; big impact.

Time to complete

96 hours

You’ll spend most of the time waiting for the freezer to defrost.


Up to $25

You might need a thing or two.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.

What you'll need:


  • Owner’s manual (optional)
  • Kitchen gloves (optional)
  • Large cooler
  • Clean dish sponge
  • Spray bottle (optional)
  • Microfiber cloths or paper towels
  • Toothbrush (optional)


  • Ice
  • Liquid dishwashing soap
  • Distilled white vinegar (optional)
  • Bleach (optional)
  • Activated charcoal, baking soda, or cat litter (optional)

If you can’t remember the last time you deep cleaned your freezer, now is your chance to check this task off your home maintenance to-do list. After removing all of the ice cream, frozen vegetables, and ice packs from the freezer, use this step-by-step guide to make it look new again. Follow these steps to learn how to clean your freezer and keep it looking fresh. 

Prepping to Clean Your Freezer

Before you start tossing out food and scrubbing away frozen gunk on the freezer shelves, you’ll want to prep the freezer correctly. Certain freezers may need to defrost thoroughly and frequently before you start cleaning and sanitizing.

Read the Freezer’s Owner’s Manual

There are general techniques for cleaning all freezers but look at the manufacturer's instructions before starting for model-specific tips. The manual will also recommend how often to deep clean your freezer, but it’s usually twice per year.

Determine Whether or Not to Defrost

If you have a stand-alone freezer or older model, you’ll need to take extra steps, like letting the freezer thaw out for a few days. However, most people with modern freezers can get to work shortly after unplugging or turning off the freezer.

Decide What Freezer Items to Keep

All food has a shelf life, and it's not as long as you may think. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a handy refrigerator and freezer chart to help you know when to purge:

  • Raw ground hamburger and stew meat: 3–4 months

  • Cooked poultry leftovers: 4–6 months

  • Cooked meat leftovers: 2–3 months

  • Hot dogs and lunch meats (in freezer wrap): 1–2 months

  • Frozen casseroles: 3–4 months

How long does stored food last in the freezer, with cooked meat leftovers lasting 2 to 3 months
  1. Defrost the Freezer and Store Your Frozen Food

    Find out if your freezer has a separate on/off switch from the refrigerator. If it doesn't, you’ll need to unplug the appliance. Don’t worry, though. If you leave your refrigerator shut the whole time you clean, the food will stay fresh. According to the FDA, you have 4 hours before you should worry. Next, dust off your cooler, fill it with ice, and add your frozen foods. The cleaning process should take about an hour or two, depending on the size and condition of your freezer, so the temporary cooler will work well to keep your foods fresh without power

  2. Remove the Freezer Accessories

    A woman opening fridge freezer container
    Photo: PixieMe / Adobe Stock

    Your freezer probably has shelving, bins, and racks that need cleaning. First, remove every removable item and let them warm up to room temperature, especially if they’re glass. A quick temperature change (freezing to hot water) can crack plastic and glass, so allow them to sit for about 20 minutes.

  3. Clean the Freezer Parts in the Sink

    When cleaning items that are in contact with food, avoid cleaning products with fragrances and chemicals. So, when cleaning your freezer parts, keep it simple with hot water, mild dishwashing soap, and a new sponge. Or you can make homemade cleaning supplies if you need a shot of extra cleaning power for tough spills. Fill a spray bottle with equal parts of vinegar and water and spray the accessories. Then, rinse away the cleaning product under a running faucet. Let everything air-dry or wipe them down with a clean microfiber cloth.

  4. Wash the Freezer Interior

    A woman cleaning a freezer
    Photo: Janis Smits / Adobe Stock

    Wash the freezer’s interior with the same cleaning solution, including the walls, top, bottom, and cracks and crevices. If you have stubborn spills, saturate the spots with the vinegar spray, let them soak for a few minutes, and then use a toothbrush to scrub away the grime. Revisit the spot as many times as needed. Finally, rinse everything with a wet, soap-free towel. Use a microfiber cloth to dry the freezer or let it air-dry.

  5. Sanitize the Freezer With Bleach

    If your freezer needs extra TLC after washing it with soap and water, mix a solution of 1 tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water and sanitize the whole freezer, including the accessories. Let the solution sit for about 15 minutes to dry.

  6. Tackle Lingering Odors

    Lingering freezer odors can be challenging to eliminate and take a few days to dissipate, so make long-term plans for your freezer and refrigerator items as needed. After washing and sanitizing, leave the door open for up to two days to let the odor escape. If you still can’t get rid of the evidence of past fish dinners, fill a container with clean baking soda, activated charcoal, or cat litter to soak up the odor. Turn the freezer on with the container inside for two to four days for the best results.

  7. Turn on the Freezer and Wait

    Before reloading your freezer, you’ll want it to resume the perfect temperature (check your manual, but it’s usually about 0 degrees Fahrenheit). Check your cooler to see how your frozen foods are doing since the freezer can take an hour or more to get back to its chilly state.

  8. Reload the Freezer

    After the accessories and interior are dry, the odor is banished, and you’ve reinstalled the parts, it's time to reload your food. You can maximize your space with shelving and bin organization similar to these fridge organization tips.

  9. Dust the Coils and Clean the Exterior

    If you want to go the extra mile and extend your freezer’s lifespan, clean your refrigerator coils and wipe down the exterior, especially the top of the fridge. If you have a stainless steel appliance, use a product specially formulated to clean that type of finish. 

DIY Freezer Cleaning Vs. Hiring a Pro

Cleaning and sanitizing your freezer isn’t the most glamorous job, but it’s typically a manageable DIY project that doesn’t require many supplies. However, you can also opt to hire a home cleaning pro near you to clean your kitchen appliances and other parts of your house that are tricky to clean. Be sure to inform your house cleaning pro how often you’d like them to clean your freezer. That way, you can rest easy knowing your humble abode is in professional hands.

Frequently Asked Questions

Ideally, you should clean your freezer thoroughly about every three months. But if unplugging and defrosting the freezer frequently stresses you out, aim to give it a deep clean at least twice per year.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.