If you've got an older freezer, you're probably familiar with freezer frost. And you know that defrosting said freezer is usually an annual event involving an ice pick and a hair dryer. But before you trade your old freezer for a new frost-free one, here's what you should know.
What Is Freezer Frost, and How Does It Get in Your Freezer?
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.
That moisture gets into your freezer when you open and close the door. Or if you have a faulty gasket (that rubbery bit that seals the freezer), it can leak in little by little. It 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. Incidentally, frost and freezer burn are sort of the same animal.
What You Should Know About Frost-Free Freezers
Most newer freezers are frost-free. Cool, right? (Ha, ha.) But the way frost-free freezers get rid of the frost could actually compromise the long-term quality of your food. The frost-free freezers eliminate frost by raising the temperature inside the freezer a few times a day, from about 0 degrees to 32 degrees.
While this still keeps your food at a freezing temperature, it prevents any free-floating water particles from forming into ice, instead collecting them and siphoning them out of the freezer. It saves you the hassle of frost in your fridge, but can actually cause more freezer burn, as your food temperatures are fluctuating slightly and that makes it easier for moisture inside your food to escape.
That's why, if you're someone who freezes a lot of food and intends to keep it that way for a long time (like someone I spoke to recently, whose family hunts and then saves the meat for almost a year), it might make sense to use a deep freezer instead of (or in addition to) a typical refrigerator freezer for food storage. First of all, you won't be opening it as often, and second of all, it keeps food consistently at 0 degrees — the temperature at which you can keep freezer food literally forever, according to the CDC. Just know that those deep freezers will frost up and need defrosting periodically.
If you have a freezer that hasn't typically gotten a lot of frost, but has started to, check your habits: Make sure you're closing the door all the way so warm air doesn't get in there, and check to make sure the gasket isn't corroded. Any change in your freezer could be a sign of a malfunction. So in that case, the frost could be a good sign because it's giving you a clue that something's up!