How to Keep Your Freezer Cold

Written by Danny Bourque.

Rotten food stinks. Bad.

You know how you feel when someone gets you a surprise present?  Pretty good, I bet.  Now imagine if you got a present, and when you went to use it a few days later, it was broken, spoiled, just turned into garbage.  Just awful, I’m sure.

A few years ago, I knew that when Aimee got me half a cow for Father’s Day, she had to break the news a little bit early so we could prepare appropriately.  That meant finally getting a chest freezer to put it in.  We had been talking about preserving and storing food, buying in bulk and the like, but actually purchasing the freezer was a first step to making that a reality.  A somewhat expensive step.  It would have been really crappy if the freezer broke, or did not adequately freeze the food that we were to put it in.

Hence, I did all the research, read the manual (both French and English versions, of course), and then instructed the store’s moving guys on how to properly move it down the stairs, keep it level, etc.  They guys looked at me like I was some kind of nutcase.  They probably move 20-30 freezers EACH DAY, and here was this engineer telling them the “right” way to move it.  Well, *sulk* just because they’ve been doing it all their life, doesn’t mean that they necessarily are doing it the right or best way.

And so, since those movers wanted nothing to do with my advice, I bottled it all up. Now that I have a larger, (slightly) more interested audience, I propose to share the wisdom I gleaned from both versions of the user’s manual, the sales guy, about 20 websites, and the guy up the street who came to watch.  This, of course, to ensure that your FREEZER DOESN’T DIE and spoil all your hard work and frugal, bulk savings.

The boring part (for some – not for me!)

I don’t want to get sidetracked or start a rant here, however all but 3 countries in the WORLD use the metric system.  The US is one of them.  As much as I would rail against these anachronistic units of measure, some of the terminology can help you concretely understand these tips and tricks to keep your freezer in peak condition.

In the US, a unit of refrigerating capacity is called a Ton.  This is because in the “olden days”, a certain capacity of refrigeration could make 1 ton of ice in a day.  Now the compressor on your freezer (and fridge, for that matter), is of fixed size and capacity.  Let’s say it was 1 Ton (12,000 BTU/h).

In this ideal example, if you put one ton of water into your freezer, what would you expect in 24 hours?  1 ton of ice.  Now what would you expect if you put 2 Tons of water?  No ice.  1.1 tons?  Same thing.  Your freezer would not have enough capacity to turn all that water into ice.  You may have a crust around the edge, but if you went to pick it up, it would likely break and slosh cold water all over you.

The takeaway

Don’t add too much “fresh” poundage over a 24 h period.

These days, we do more than “make ice” in our freezer – we freeze food and keep other stuff really, really cold.  So what would you NOT want to do if you buy a brand new freezer?  Fill it with a bunch of warm stuff right away that needs freezing because your freezer is NOT going to have the capacity to do all that work.  Hence, it can generate a fixed amount of “cold” work in a 24 hour period. So don’t pack your freezer with a ton of warm food and expect the freezer to magically turn it into ice by morning.

Of course, if your food is already pre-frozen, like how our cow arrived, there is no trouble, because the freezer has no “work” to do to get it to cold.  If you plopped in 134 lbs of warm beef, however, it would be a completely different story.  And you would probably have to throw out your beef and any other food you had in there. And that story would be a sad one.

Operate 24 h before adding food

This is in order to let your freezer stabilize.  You know those old thermostats (maybe you still have one) that overshoots like crazy and freezes you out (or cooks you out) and then shuts off for a while and allows the temperature to swing wildly in the other direction?  The temperature sensor in your freezer is not quite that bad, but there are still some swings at the beginning which you want to avoid.  Also, testing it for 24h ensures you didn’t get a DOA, i.e. a dud.

Keep your freezer level

Contrary to what the sales guy may have told you, your freezer does not have a portal to the South Pole which little elves and penguins use to drop off ice on occasion.  The reality is that there is a motor with a compressor running in there.  Motors and other moving metal parts like to have oil lubricating them, otherwise they heat up and fail prematurely.  Keeping your freezer level ensures that oil will properly drain back to the oil pan and keep that compressor humming for years to come.

This is also related to the tip of leaving it unplugged for the same amount of time that you moved it (i.e. we unplugged it 3 hours ago, moved it on its side, and then installed it in our new home – wait 3 hours before plugging back in.)  Think of tipping a jar of cold molasses upside down for a while.  Once you tip it right-side up, how long would you have to wait until the molasses were all back on the bottom of the jar?

Do not put your freezer in an enclosed space.

Speaking of little motors inside your freezer, your compressor “makes cold” inside your freezer via a refrigeration process, and then rejects the heat to the surrounding room.  If your freezer is in an enclosed space, like a closet, it won’t take long before the closet temperature starts to creep upwards.  Then you have 2 problems which can exacerbate each other: it is harder and harder for your freezer to reject heat to an already hot room, and 2 – you’re essentially storing your freezer outdoors in Austin, Tx in the summer.  The heat from the room is going to creep back into your freezer, making it work harder to stay cold inside.

Use a cord specifically for appliances

Power cord for surge protection to eliminate frying your compressor during a storm.  I’m sure you’ve seen these cords if you own a window AC unit.  They’re flat and thick, not round like your typical extension cord.  These cords are designed for the full rated power draw of your appliance and will not cause your compressor to “brown out” or be a fire hazard. These are beefy cords and are worth the money to protect your investment.

Clean and De-ice it once a year

This last tip has a dual purpose.  Firstly, de-icing your freezer will make it run more efficiently.  Your freezer coils are embedded within the walls of the unit, and a thin (or thick) layer of ice between them and your food actually acts as an insulator and prevents your freezer from effectively cooling your newly inserted food.  Also, by cleaning it out once a year, you’ll probably find something you forgot in there, and will either cook it promptly, prior to freezer burn, or throw it out, making room for more stuff.

Have you heard of any of these tips before?  Do you have others that you could share?

About Danny

Danny Bourque is a mechanical engineer who is known at both home and work as either “the geek” or “the numbers guy”. He is very methodical and genuinely loves to analyze almost anything that piques his interest – including food.

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  1. Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies says

    Danny, you are so smart! I just learned a whole bunch, and we’ve had chest and standing freezers my entire life. In fact, my nan had 2 of ’em. In addition to 4 fridges. For 2 people. Then 1 person. And they were always chock full.

    Freezers really can be a godsend. And personally, I love your engineering perspective. As I read, I couldn’t help but think we think about life the same way.

  2. Great article! So many people I know think that they can plop it place, plug the sucker in, and have popsicles in an hour.

    I had to chuckle a bit about your outside during summer in Austin, TX comment. We’re a few miles south of Austin, but this summer I was sure that our freezer was going to give out — temps in the garage (the only space we have for a freezer) were regularly in the triple digits.

    The one tip I would add is to use a simple freezer alarm, even with a new machine — it’s been invaluable for us.

  3. Such great info… I had no idea the US was so behind in terms of the metric system! Now I want to learn it just so I can be as smart as you. 😉

  4. Excellent post! I learned a ton (not metric) and thanks to you my deep freeze is going to get the cleaning it’s been needing — today. I have that dreaded ice/frost build up on my freezer walls that acts as an insulator (I did NOT know this) and now I know why it doesn’t seem to be working as well as in the past. Thanks for the great info!

  5. Awesome post! We are getting a 1/4 cow this winter and I need to buy a chest freezer, so this will come in handy. Thanks for doing the research for me ;).

  6. We don’t have a second freezer yet, but it is something I’ve been wanting to get. Thanks for all this great information so I can do things the right way when we start working on our freezer storage.

  7. Thanks for the timely post, as we try to preserve our summer bounty for the winter.

    Another important tip is not packing your freezer to the brim. The cold air needs room to circulate around to work optimally.

    -the redhead-

  8. Fabulous tips!

  9. Love these tips! We just acquired a second freezer, and I can’t wait to put all the information in this post to good use!

  10. Aaaaand now I have to go de-ice my freezer (thankfully, I have two of ’em so I can shuttle the frozen food between them and not have to eat my weight in frozen meat, veg, and ice cream!).

  11. I learned a lot from this post, and I’m going to make stock today to start cleaning out my deep-freeze. Then it will be tomato sauce and I think that will clear enough out space to fit the rest into our indoor freezer and then to be able to de-ice the deep-freeze!

  12. This was fascinating to read. Thank you!

  13. Danny, what is it about you engineers??!! 🙂 My husband, an electrical engineer, is the SAME way…researching all the particulars. Which is (usually) good, of course — except when it’s not 🙂 (Can you tell I’m the one with ADD?)
    Thanks for your pointers. I’ll have to ask my DH if he checked ours – which we got not too long ago — to be sure it was level. He did check other things about it, I know!

  14. One more thing to consider – the freezer will work more efficiently if it is full. So – if you’re between seasons of food and have lots of empty space in the freezer – fill some milk cartons 3/4 full of water and put them in the freezer. Your freezer will use less electricity and when you need the space it’s easy to take the milk cartons out, defrost that ice and use it to water some plants.

  15. I love the idea, Shenna, about using the water to water plants. I make lots of individual serving bowls of soups to fill up the freezer space.

    I want another freezer so badly I cant stand it but m’honey thinks Im nuts and he thinks we shouldnt get another, instead, eat all the stuff in the one we have, which btw is the largest home freezer they make.

    A recommendation I have is you might consider buying a gas powered generator just in case the electricity goes out for several days. Your freezer should be fine for a day or two at the most, as long as the door isnt opened, but after that, its not going to be pretty. The thought of the loss makes my stomach turn.

    I dont have one, but Im going to buy one, one of these days. If I had a freezer full of meat, like a half cow or pig, I’d definitely make sure I had one on hand.

  16. We unplugged our freezer for about six months or so. We just plugged it in and it won’t work. Any reasons why, and what we can do about it?

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