The Cold Truth about Refrigerators: Should You Buy Frost Free or Manual Defrost?

Credit: Family Living Today

If you’ve got a freezer that’s more than or about 10 – 15 years old, then you’re probably familiar with freezer frost. We also believe that you’re aware of the hard work you put into defrosting said freezer. But before you trade your old freezer for a new frost-free one, here’s what you should know.

What Does Manual Defrost Freezing Mean?

Many older style refrigerators and some modern mini refrigerators and freezer-only units require manual defrost. Frost is moisture that was once floating around in your freezer. When it gets cold enough, the moisture sticks to the coldest surface it can find, which is usually the walls of the freezer or the area around the ice maker.

In these non-frost free models, frost periodically builds up in the freezer over the coils and it needs to be manually defrosted. The frost also comes from your food: When you stick something in there that’s not properly wrapped, or wrapped with a more porous material, like lightweight plastic wrap, the moisture inside the food slowly seeps outward toward the colder spots in the fridge. This can be inconvenient as you have to remove all of the food from the freezer in order to do this. 

What does the Term Frost Free Freezing mean?

“Frost free” is a term that has been used in the refrigerator industry for decades. This is a cleaning design feature that you’ll find on many upright freezer models as well as in most combination refrigerator-freezers. Frost free is an automatic defrost cycling process requiring no intervention from the homemaker.

Frost free refrigerators and freezers have a heating element to defrost the evaporator coils, and a tray of some sort to collect the water and allow it to evaporate to the outside. The water usually collects into a drain pan and will evaporate on its own. This ingenious system eliminates the need for the manual defrost process. Usually, the defrost cycle runs on a built-in timer and operates a few times a day. Terms like “automatic defrost,” “frostless,” or “no-frost” all refer to this technology.

Fortunately for most consumers in this day and age, whether a refrigerator is frost free or not is generally not a consideration. It is worth double checking when you are shopping to ensure that the unit is frost free, but the vast majority are. This is a great feature for saving you time and effort!

Frost-free vs Frost

If you in the market for a new refrigerator, you may be wondering which you should go for. You need to consider all freezer features along with operation, energy, and maintenance before making a decision about buying a freezer. When it comes time to make your freezer decision, consider what’s most important to you: the convenience of a self-defrosting freezer (and the easy-to-organize storage potential of an upright model), or the cost and energy savings of a manual defrost model.

A quick run through both features is sure to help you make the right decision.

Frost-free vs Manual Defrost
Comparison Table

Note: Freezer burn looks like dry, leathery, and sometimes pale patches in various areas of frozen foods. On bread and buns, it looks more like dry, hard sections, usually more on the outer edges. Freezer burn does not make frozen foods unsafe to eat. However, it does make them unpleasant or difficult to eat as food quality has severely deteriorated. The affected food tastes nasty and frequently develops an unpleasant texture. Wrapping up items in polyethylene baggies, plastic-coated freezer paper or heavy-duty aluminium foil further protects your food from cold damage.

Manual Defrost Refrigerators in the Market

There are a few types of refrigerators and freezers that remain on the market that are not all frost free (manual defrost), such as:

  • Mini fridges made for dorms and offices – usually below 10 cubic feet
  • Some smaller apartment refrigerators – usually in the 10 to 14 cubic foot range
  • Many chest freezers and some upright freezer units

Look For: For added convenience, look for a model with a front drain so it is easier to connect a hose to drain water during defrosting.

Frost-free Refrigerators in the Market

Most—though not all—upright models of freezers have a frost-free feature.

Watch out for Best Frost-free Refrigerators.

9 thoughts on “The Cold Truth about Refrigerators: Should You Buy Frost Free or Manual Defrost?

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  4. Disappointed that you mentioned nothing about the length of time food is able to be frozen and maintain its quality. A manual defrost freezer stores fish, seafood and meat longer. So if you want to store a custom slaughtered whole packaged beef or a year’s worth of shrimp or salmon you’ve caught, go with a manual defrost! Hard to find and to afford these days.:(


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