Frost in my Freezer

You wake up in the morning and go to the refrigerator to get some breakfast. When you get out the milk, juice or whatever it is you get for breakfast, you notice something is wrong. It's not cold! The next thing you do is open up the freezer and see if that is still working properly. Wheeew it is. But why?

What you probably didn't notice was that the freezer has not been going through it's normal defrost cycle. Because of this un-noticed event going on, there has been frost building up on the evaporator coils that doesn't belong there. After this frost continues to build up over the course of a few days to a week or so, now you are going to start to notice the effects.

Here is what's happening when you have a malfunction in the defrost system.
  • Air cannot circulate from the freezer(where the cold happens basically) to the fresh food section.
  • Your refrigerator will run constantly to try to cool the fresh food section. This will develop a new set of problems with your refrigerator. More on that later....
  • Excess frost builds up within the coils inside the freezer. This is what is blocking the air flow to the fresh food section
  • Usually you will notice the icemaker will stop making ice. Poor air flow and not quite cold enough temperatures in the freezer cause this
  • Water will not come through the dispensor on the door. Cold air settles, the water resovoir will freeze.
  • Compressor may overheat and shut off. This is when you hear, click,click,click. Not good
  • Ice Cream in the Freezer will start to get soft. That's really not that bad. lol
What can you do about this. Let me explain the defrost system in general so you get an understanding of what is going on.

The coils inside the freezer are the only part inside the whole refrigerator that "get cold". They need to stay free from excess frost build up so that air can pass through the coils and reach the refrigerator section of your refrigerator. Every eight hours or so, depending on the type of defrost timer or control you have, the compressor and fans will shut off and the machine will go into defrost mode. When the refrigerator is in defrost there is a heater that is tied into the evaporator coils inside the freezer that comes on. This heater is behind the rear panel inside the freezer where the evaporator coils are located. It melts the frost that has accumulated over the course of time. After about thirty minutes the machine comes out of defrost and goes back to normal operation.

Now the air can continue to pass through the coils and keep the freezer frozen and the refrigerator cool and everybody is happy.

What components make up the defrost system?
  • Defrost control or timer.
  • Some refrigerators have a defrost timer. This type works like a clock. Every eight hours or so the machine hits the defrost spot and that's when defrost occurs
  • Some refrigerators have an Adaptive Defrost Control. This is what makes a refrigerator energy efficient. It varys the length of time it takes the machine to go into defrost. So instead of the energy hogging heater coming on every eight hours, it may be 24 hours, 18 hours, 10.5 hours, who knows. It depends on how many times you have opened the doors, how long the compressor has run. This is good because the refrigerator may not need to go into defrost every eight hours. Now you are saving energy. Good Stuff
  • Defrost Thermostat
  • This is the component that controls how long the heater stays on when the machine is in defrost mode. Say the defrost cycle is thirty minutes, the heater may only be on for ten of those thirty minutes on the timer controls. On Adaptive Defrost Controls, when the heater shuts off, shorty after the machine exits defrost mode. Basically if the heater only stays on for ten minutes, the whole defrost cycle will only be about 12 or 13 minutes long.
  • Basically when the heater comes on, it starts to melt the frost on the evaporator. Once all the ice and frost is gone, the temperature behind the panel will start to rise. Once the temperature behind the panel rises to a certain temperature, the thermostat will break the current of electricity going to the heater. Bam, it shuts off and prevents your freezer from becoming a sauna, or an oven. I'm sure you get the drift. The heater is on the bottom of the evaporator coils and the defrost thermostat sits on top of the evaporator coils.
  • Defrost Heater
  • This is the last component in the defrost system. This one should be pretty simple. By now if you have read this far you should already know what this does and how important is it. Some defrost heaters are a coil of wire in a glass tube under the evaporator coils. Works like a light bulb basically. The other style looks like the bake element in your stove. They both get red hot either way and melt the frost.
So what happens now? Well the first thing you can do to get the machine running is to remove the rear panel of the freezer. From there you will want to remove all the frost and ice that has built up. Pouring hot water over the coils is the best method. The water will drain out of the freezer through the drain hole in the bottom of the freezer under the evaporator coils.  From there it will evaporate on it own.

Once all the frost is gone, you could put the machine back together and it would work fine. For a few days, until the frost has developed again due to the defrost issue. That would only be a temporary fix.

Hopefully between this article and video you are able to find your problem and repair it. Feel free to post in the comments or visit the Appliance Outlet website to get further information about fixing your defrost problem.  If you have any request for videos or questions with your repair, feel free to ask.  You can reach me on Google+ or on my YouTube Channel  Thanks for taking the time to read and watch this and good luck with your repair.


  1. Thank you so much for your informational and step by step videos. My fridge is now getting colder!

    Seattle, WA

    1. Glad I was able to help you out. What was the problem causing your machine to not get cold?

      Thanks for your time!

  2. Thanks for the helpful info. My crummy Whirlpool fridge is having a defrost issue, but the defrost timer is different from the Frigidaire one in your video. It doesn't appear to have a dial to turn for manually putting it into defrost mode, so is there another way that I can tell if the issue is with the timer, the thermostat or the heater itself?

    1. What's your model number. I can look it up for you.

    2. It's a Whirlpool ER8GHKXMS00. Thanks a ton!


    3. Hello,

      You have an ADC board. This is not a mechanical timer that has the dial, you are correct. On some models, if you open the refrigerator door and press the light switch 5 times quickly, you should hear the fan and compressor shut off. This should put the refrigerator into defrost manually. Give that a shot and let me know how you make out.


    4. Bill,
      I've just finished completely defrosting and cleaning my freezer. I plugged it back in and tried your light switch trick and it didn't seem to have any effect. I'm wondering if I wait around for a while and listen for the fridge to shut off, maybe I can figure out if the timer is the issue? Since I don't know if it's a 6, 8 or 10 hour cold cycle, I'll just have to keep checking the clock and listening for it to shut off. Is this a good idea? Thanks again for sharing your expertise.


    5. OK I went ahead with my idea and 6 hrs after plugging in the fridge, the compressor shut off for at least 15 minutes. If my logic is correct, then this means that the timer is not the issue, right? Now I just need to figure out whether it's the thermostat or the heating element...

  3. I have a Frigidaire, and last night I realized we had a problem...fridge was about 60, but the freezer worked fine. Today, we pulled the panel off, the evaporator coils were just covered in ice, and a large chunk had accumulated at the bottom. Took a hair dryer to it to get it melted. Since it's Sunday, we didn't know what else to do, and everyone's closed today. Luckily, I googled the right question, and found your site.

    I watched both parts of the video. I manually turned on the defrost, let it sit, and after about 10 minutes came back and it appeared the heater had come on, as everything was slightly damp/dripping, from where it had defrosted. Not sure what I would have done if the heater hadn't come on, I'm not in any way a technician, nor do we have the means/tools to test the heater.

    Just have to find the part, hopefully locally, I want to get this taken care of ASAP.

    Thanks for the videos.

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  32. I'm looking for a chest freezer or any freezer that have a frost built up. I like frost in my freezer. Do they called frost free?

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  34. My freezer continues to frost up. I have already replaced the defrost timer and that wasn't the problem, any other methods that I can try to determine if its the thermostat or heater? I don't have a multi-meter, so any tricks or pointers would be helpful!


  35. thx so much it was a bad timer, awesome job