Freezer Not Freezing? Here’s 7 Reasons Why

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If your freezer isn’t freezing, you’ll either have to suffer a big loss or fix it quickly. Any freezer could stop working at any given time, and it’s often at the most inconvenient time. First sign you’ll see is a buildup of frost, which is caused by rising temperatures. Another telltale sign is if the door doesn’t create a vacuum after being shut, which is often caused by a bad seal. For this guide we’ve researched the internet and interviewed field experts, in order to gain proper knowledge on the issue. Below you’ll learn how to diagnose and fix the most common issues yourself, so read on if your freezer stopped working and you need immediate advice.

Fixing a freezer that stopped working doesn’t necessarily require technical knowledge nor special tools. Some of the most common causes are easily addressed and fixed in just a few minutes. Common causes include bad/dirty seals, a buildup of frost, dirty coils, and a cluttered shelves/drawers. Among the more critical issues are bad thermostats, malfunctioning compressors and leakages.

Common causes of a freezer that is not freezing

There’s a high probability that your issue can be easily diagnosed and solved in just a few minutes. Based on our research, we found that most freezers stop working due to simple reasons that won’t require anything besides a little elbow grease and – in some cases – a few basic spare parts.

Among the common causes of freezers not freezing are the following:

  • Bad seals
  • Frost buildup
  • Dirty coils
  • Cluttered shelves/drawers
  • Bad thermostat
  • Compressor not working
  • Sealed system leakage

While most of these issues are easily fixed with a proper cleaning, some issues require simple spare parts to get solved. You may even be able to get them delivered directly from the manufacturer, in case it’s covered by warranty.

#1 – Bad seals

The door seal, also known as the gasket, could either be dirty or worn out. The seal ensures that your freezer is 100% airtight, and if it’s either dirty og damaged the freezer may stop working properly. If your freezer is an older model, there’s a chance that the rubber gasket has become brittle and therefore isn’t as flexible as it used to be.

How to examine: The “dollar bill test” is described on SF Gate, and as the name suggests it requires the use of a dollar bill. You can use any type of thin piece of paper, as long as it doesn’t break when pulled. Here’s how to do it: 1) Insert the bill and close the freezer door. 2) See if you can carefully pull the bill out. 3) If you can, the seal may be damaged or compromised.

How to fix: If the door seal is dirty, you can easily clean it with a microfiber cloth and some water with a few drops of dish soap added. If it’s damaged and has cracks in it, you’ll have to replace it. Call your manufacturer first and see if they can provide the replacement parts needed, and follow their installation instructions as they vary from one freezer to another.

#2 – Frost buildup

Freezer compartment with excessive frost buildup
If the freezer compartment has excessive frost buildup, airflow is restricted and it may stop functioning properly. Image credit: indigolotos / Depositphotos

While many new freezers have an automatic defrosting feature, older models require manual defrosting. Furthermore, you may have other issues that lead to regular frost buildups. If there’s a lot of frost inside your freezer, it may stop freezing properly. When temperatures rise more frost could start building up, but other issues such as a bad door seal could cause a frost buildup as well.

How to examine: This requires nothing but a visual inspection, as critical frost buildups are easily visible. You may want to check cause #1 in this guide, because frust buildup could be caused by a bad door seal.

How to fix: The quickest way to reduce frost buildup is to remove the drawers and baskets. Transfer the contents to an insulated container in order to keep them cold, and turn your freezer off. Wash the drawers and baskets if you want to speed up the defrosting process, and leave the freezer door open. Monitor the freezer during the defrosting process, as water may start running onto the floor.

Check this guide: How to Defrost a Chest Freezer

#3 – Cluttered shelves/drawers

Cluttered freezer compartment
Image credit: rorem / Depositphotos

According to Bob Vila, this is one of the most common causes of freezers not freezing properly. With cluttered shelves and drawers, the air isn’t able to circulate throughout the freezer. If air isn’t able to flow properly, there’s a chance that some contents don’t get as cold as others – and they may get freezer burns as well as a reduced shelf life.

How to examine: If your meats and other things have freezer burns, it’s an indicator that something is off. If you start seeing frost buildup in some areas, it’s another telltale sign that your shelves/drawers are excessively cluttered.

How to fix: Make sure the freezer isn’t packed to the brim, and remove any old/damaged items regularly to ensure a proper airflow between each item. No freezers are able to keep the temperature if air can’t flow properly, and automatic defrosting features may not work properly either.

Check this guide: How to Properly Organize a Chest Freezer

#4 – Dirty coils

If your freezer is neat and clean, dirty coils may be the culprit. According to Bob Vila, a seemingly functional freezer that isn’t freezing could have dirty coils. If the coils are either excessively dirty and/or dusty, the airflow may be restricted and your freezer could stop working and/or cause it to raise the temperature.

How to examine: This shouldn’t be the first step in the examination of a freezer that isn’t freezing, but if everything seems fine you may need to check the coils. Pull out the unit from the wall, and check if the coils are dirty and/or dusty.

How to fix:  Since the coils are located at the back of the freezer, you’ll have to pull the unit away from the wall. Be careful when doing so, and lay down a towel or blanket to protect the floors. If the coils are dirty and/or dusty, you can use the vacuum cleaner with a crevice/brush attachment to clean them.

Also make sure that your freezer is able to “breathe” properly, by carefully following the installation instructions.

This video illustrates the problem with dirty coils and how to clean them:

#5 – Bad thermostat

In rare cases, the thermostat could be damaged. The thermostat is a vital part of the freezer, as it ensures proper utilization of the compressor, as well as the fan motors to regulate the temperature inside the unit. Unfortunately, this is also one of the issues that may require professional assistance or a bit of technical knowledge to solve.

How to examine: While this method may not work on all models, it’s worth trying before calling a professional: If your thermostat is adjustable, try switching it from the lowest setting to the highest setting and listen for a click. If you hear a click, it means the thermostat is most likely working as it should. If you don’t hear any click and/or the freezer just doesn’t freeze at all, the thermostat is very likely defective.

How to fix: We do not recommend fixing the thermostat yourself, as it requires a set of special tools and spare parts. Call the manufacturer and see if they can help you solve the issue or send you a new thermostat, and get professional assistance from a local provider that you trust.

#6 – Compressor not working

Your freezer has a compressor built into the bottom back part, and this is vital for the overall functionality of your freezer. If the compressor is defective and stops working, the freezer will no longer keep the temperature. The compressor makes sure the refrigerant gets compressed and circulated through the unit, in order to cool the freezer to the desired temperature setting.

How to examine: The compressor is most likely located at the back or bottom part of your freezer, so you may need to pull the unit away from the wall. Lay down a blanket or towel beneath the feet before doing so, if you want to protect your floors. When your freezer is on, you should be able to hear a buzzing sound from the compressor. If it’s completely quiet at all times, it’s likely defective. If you have a multimeter, you can use it to test the continuity between the electrical pins on the compressor.

How to fix: According to Repair Clinic, a defective/malfunctioning compressor must be replaced by a licensed professional. Consider getting a quote beforehand, to make sure it’s worth repairing the freezer. If it’s an old unit, you could likely save money if you opt for a new freezer. New freezers tend to use less energy than old models, hence this is worth considering.

This comprehensive video guide could be helpful if you suspect that your compressor isn’t working:

#7 – Sealed system leakage

Your freezer makes use of a sealed system to circulate the refrigerant, and if there’s a leakage the freezer may not freeze properly. While this is not one of the most common causes, some older freezers may simply form rust on the evaporator coils and they could eventually start leaking.

How to examine: In most freezers you’ll be able to see the evaporator coils between the shelves and/or internal compartments. If one section is frosting up and/or the other section doesn’t freeze at all, the freezer’s sealed system may have a leak.

How to fix: Unfortunately there’s no easy way to fix this issue, and you may have to replace the freezer. We recommend that you call the manufacturer first though, to make sure there’s nothing to do except buying a new freezer.

This video gives a good amount of examples on sealed system leakages in different areas of a freezer:

How do you know if your freezer is bad?

Some of the issues mentioned above are signs that your freezer is dying and/or in need of repair. Sometimes it’s the age, and other times it’s defective. Area Appliance Service has created a list of 6 signs your refrigerator is dying, and if your freezer isn’t freezing you may want to check it out.

Area Appliance Service mention these issues as signs that your freezer is bad and could die soon:

  1. Condensation keeps building up.
    This is a common issue with refrigerators, and could cause molding. This is harmful to any produce kept in the refrigerator, and you should call a professional to determine the cause.
  2. Excessive heat from the motor.
    If you notice that your freezer is overheating, the motor could be defective and/or working overtime to maintain the temperature inside the unit. One way to determine whether the motor is bad, is if the coils at the back of the freezer are hotter than usual.
  3. Your food goes bad quickly.
    If you notice that your food smells bad and has a lot of frost buildup on the surface, your freezer may not be freezing properly. This is usually a sign that the door seal is defective, but it could be caused by other things as well.
  4. Freezer is freezing over
    If ice starts forming on the exterior of your freezer, it may be a sign that it’s malfunctioning. You can try to “reset” your freezer by turning it off until the ice has melted away, but make sure the water doesn’t sit on your floors for longer periods of time. If the problem persists, you’ll have to call a professional technician.
  5. Freezer passed its life expectancy
    According to Mr Appliance, freezers should last from 12 to 20 years. Unfortunately freezers are like cars, and the cost of repairs and maintenance are likely to increase over the years. If your freezer is getting older, it may stop working and therefore stop freezing like it used to. An old freezer may not be worth repairing, since new models are usually more energy efficient and affordable in comparison to repairing the old freezer. 

How long should it take for a freezer to freeze?

It normally takes between 12 and 24 hours for your freezer to become cold enough to keep your food frozen. If you just plugged a new freezer and noticed that it doesn’t freeze, there’s no need to worry.

Some freezers have a special feature that you can activate, if you want to speed up the freezing process. This uses a little more energy, but on a positive note the freezer cools down quickly and enables you to keep your foods frozen.

Keeping this in mind you’ll have to be patient, if you just had your freezer repaired. Before evaluating whether the repair was successful or not, you need to give it at least 12 to 24 hours to reach the target temperature.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you should never fill up your freezer to the brim at once. Always read the instructions first, and make sure you don’t add more foods to the freezer than its daily maximum. The daily maximum indicates how much food it can freeze in just 24 hours, and if you add more than that your foods may turn bad before they freeze to the desired temperature.