The Cold Hard Truth About Frost Free vs. Manual Defrost

by Kyle D. Mirka, Owner  

Which freezer is right for you? While there is actually some pretty cool science that goes into how an automatic defrost freezer (commonly referred to as a frost free freezer) works, most folks are making their choice based on four factors:

  • The upfront cost of purchasing a freezer
  • The work involved with defrosting a manual defrost freezer
  • The energy efficiency of one over the other
  • The food preservation factor between manual and frost free

So let’s take those four factors and break them down in an effort to help you make the right selection.

First, consider the upfront cost that you’re going to pay at the counter. Frigidaire is a leading manufacturer of freezers here in the United States because they’ve been building them for a very long time. They even build them for other manufacturers who just slap their own logo on the front. For this reason, I’ve selected Frigidaire to give us an idea of what you’re going to end up paying. These prices are the manufacture’s MSRP, and could certainly vary, but nonetheless, give us a base line.

Secondly, we have the factor of defrosting a manual defrost freezer. I must admit that I have three freezers in my garage, and they are all of a different variety – upright manual defrost ( which Frigidaire doesn't make anymore), upright frost free, and a chest freezer (which, in case you were wondering, are always manual defrost). I also happen to be defrosting my largest freezer as I type this content, so I am abundantly aware of how big a pain it is. Most folks only defrost their freezers about once per year. In order to do so, everything that is in the freezer has to come out because the freezer has to be shut off for as long as it takes to get rid of any build up. If you live in Anchorage, Alaska like I do, hauling everything from the freezer to the back deck in an effort to keep all the freezer foods frozen isn’t that big of a deal, but if you don’t have the frozen Alaska temperatures outside, you’ll have to find another place for all your frozen foods while you turn the freezer off for melting. Bottom line, it isn’t fun, and you’ve got to have a plan.


Third, let’s consider the energy efficiency of both the manual defrost freezers and frost free. Before I tell you how much energy the Department of Energy thinks they are going to suck up, be aware that the numbers are probably on the conservative side because they test based on the freezer only being 75% full and allow for the average temp throughout the freezer to be zero degrees Fahrenheit. Realistically if the freezer is packed full it’s going to use more energy because the circulation of air is more challenging and therefore it’s harder to consistently get a zero degree temperature. Nevertheless, I’ve compared the estimated annual electrical usage for the same two Frigidaire models that we considered above.

  • 15’ Manual Defrost Chest Freezer: 296 kWh
  • 16’ Frost Free Upright Freezer: 461 kWh

Let’s break down those kWh a little further because until we feel it in our pocket books those numbers don’t mean very much. I just took out my most recent electric bill and found that I’m paying 22.1 ¢ per kWh. That’s up just slightly from the national average of 13.8 ¢ per kWh. So here’s what that means in real dollars and cents:

  • A 15’ Manual Defrost Chest Freezer using 296 kWh at 22.1 ¢ is going to cost $65.41 for the year.
  • A 15’ Frost Free Upright Freezer using 461 kWh at 22.1 ¢ is going to cost $101.88 for the year.

So, if energy efficiency is the most important factor to you – get ready to dig, because a chest freezer is your winning horse. If you can live with paying a smidge more each year then follow your dreams and go upright – life out here on the edge is great!

Lastly, and the number one reason I hear come from the lips of consumers looking for a manual defrost freezer, food is supposedly going to freezer burn faster if kept in a frost free freezer. So is it true? The way a frost-free freezer remains frost-free is by warming the internal temperature from approximately zero degrees Fahrenheit to approximately thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit, one to four times daily. It’s not at the higher temperature for long but it allows for any ice crystals that thought about forming to dissipate. Items with a wimpy barrier are affected the most. Think about meat from the butcher or processor. He wraps it in plastic, and then he wraps it in thick paper. It’s not because it looks neat, it’s because he wants a barrier from high temperatures. The Food Saver commercials are cheesy, but they too prove the point here – add a level of protection from higher temps and you don’t have to worry so much about freezer burn.

We’ve covered a lot of ground in our quest for the right freezer. As I mentioned before, I have all three kinds in the garage, and this has given me reason for pause. Which one is right for me? Depending on what your first and foremost concern is, I hope you now have a path to the right freezer for you.




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