Frost-free Fridge Full of Frost and Ice?

Frost-free Fridge Full of Frost and Ice?  Try a manual defrost...

A few months ago my trusty 16 year-old frost-free refrigerator starting having problems: water was dripping into the fridge section, frost and ice were building up in the freezer, and the motor seemed to be running a lot. After reading about possible "fixes", and doing a little research into how much a new fridge would cost (outrageous!), I decided to start with the simplest thing first - a manual defrost.

The old fridge is working fine, at least for now, and I have some time to save up to buy a new one instead of putting it on credit - that will save on interest charges. Also, the motor isn't running all the time like it was when it was icing up, so that is saving on the electric bill.

* Though this is a messy job, it may extend the life of your fridge, it may run more efficiently, and it might buy you a little time to save up for a new one.

You will need: a picnic cooler, some towels, maybe a mop, an extra freezer if available, some freezer packs or plastic water or pop bottles 

First things first - Put off grocery shopping/restocking and eat up what you can from the fridge and freezer so there will be less to have to keep cold during the long defrost.
If you have freezer packs you use in your summer cooler, freeze them. If you don't have freezer packs, partially fill some plastic water or pop bottles and put them into the freezer.

When You Are Ready To Defrost -

Start early in the day.

Empty the freezer. If you also have a free-standing freezer, put any remaining frozen items there. If not, see if a family member or neighbor might let you toss a few things into their freezer for a day.
Empty the fridge section - Grab your picnic cooler and put your fridge items into it along with your freezer packs or frozen water/pop bottles.

When the fridge and freezer are emptied out, pull the fridge out from the wall and unplug it. While you are back there, look for a pan with a tube running to it - that is your drip pan. When the fridge is working properly, the water from the auto-defrost comes down that tube, into the drip pan, and the warmth of the motor causes the water to evaporate. Sometimes the little tube gets clogged and the fridge doesn't work correctly, or the tube can get frozen up - like it was in my case. Leave the fridge pulled out from the wall so you can check it later. If water starts to drip from the tube during your manual defrost, then it isn't clogged. It it doesn't drip, the tube can be cleaned out; information on how to do that can be found online.

Now open the fridge and freezer door.
PLEASE REMEMBER TO KEEP CHILDREN AND PETS AWAY FROM THE FRIDGE! A small child might get closed up in there while you're not looking, or a small child might decide the fridge is a great place for the family pet. Keep a close watch on the little ones!

Now, the waiting and toweling - As the ice and frost starts to melt in the freezer, you'll have to wipe up the water. You will also be getting lots of dripping into the fridge section that will need to be wiped up.
If you have a lot of ice built up in the freezer, you can carefully poke at it with a butter knife to help knock it loose. You can also (very carefully!) use a hair dryer to blow some warm air into the freezer to speed up the process.
This step may take some time, depending on how much ice and frost you have in the freezer, and how cool your house is.   *Schedule some other kitchen projects for the same day and you'll be right there handy to wipe up the fridge as everything melts. 

After a few hours, check the tube in the back of the fridge to see if it is dripping. This started very slowly when I did this defrost technique and there was only a drip once in a while. As the fridge thawed out, it dripped faster. 
You will need to keep an eye on the drip pan. If it starts to fill up, grab an old towel and soak up some of the water.

After the ice and frost are out of the freezer, the unit will continue to defrost. You will probably get a lot of dripping in the fridge section, so put some clean towels on the top shelves to catch the water. 
Also, tuck an old towel into the drip pan in the back of the fridge. Depending on how frozen your fridge is, you may still end up with some water on the floor. Have a mop handy!   

Then, just let the fridge sit, unplugged, doors open, until the next morning.

The next morning, wipe out any water from the fridge and freezer, and then pull the towel out of the drip pan. Mop up if needed.
Plug the the fridge in, and slide it back into place.

Wait for several hours, to allow the fridge and freezer to get cool, before placing your food back into the unit.

While this technique may not work for every fridge and in every situation, you might decide it is worth a try. Start with the simplest thing first!

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