Defrosting RV fridge makes for icy relationship


By Chris Dougherty

Chris Dougherty is a certified RV technician. Here is a letter he received from a reader while he was serving as’s technical editor.

Dear Chris,
Thank you for all your available helpful advice! Can you please tell me the best and fastest way to defrost the Dometic fridge in our coach? The fins get completely covered in ice every few weeks and there’s no temperature control. We are full-timers and defrosting this often is really inconvenient.

My husband was so impatient the last time that he did not even turn it off. He stuck a hair dryer in the fridge and freezer compartments, closed the doors and ended up melting one of the freezer door compartments, then put the food back in again while it was nice and hot. I will not let him do it like that again next time! Please help! —Ardis


Dear Ardis,
Thank you for the compliment!

The best way to defrost a refrigerator is to shut it off and open it up and let it defrost slowly. The manufacturers are clear that under no circumstances, for the reasons you stated above, should a heating appliance be used to defrost the unit. Additionally, no tool should be used to remove the frost, like an awl or scraper. A pan of warm (not hot) water can be used to accelerate the process, but time is the main factor. When done, make sure the refrigerator is dry.

This is tough especially for full-timers, as the refrigerator runs continuously and is always loaded. Frosting accelerates when the refrigerator is opened frequently, especially in a humid environment.

This is what Norcold recommends:

The cooling fins of the refrigerator operate at below freezing temperature and will naturally form frost from humidity, which is always present in the air. The humidity inside the refrigerator increases:
– with higher outside temperature and humidity.
– with the storage of non-sealed fresh foods or warm foods.
– with the amount of time that the door(s) are open.
– with any air leakage into the refrigerator.

Although the refrigerator is not frost-free, it is made to limit frost on the cooling fins. At regular intervals, the temperature control system automatically melts most of the frost from the cooling fins. The water from the cooling fins drains into a collection cup that is attached to the back of the refrigerator. The heat of the cooling system evaporates the water from the collection cup.

It is normal for frost to collect inside the freezer. Excess frost decreases the cooling performance of the refrigerator. Defrost the refrigerator and freezer as necessary:
– Remove all food from the refrigerator.
– Turn the refrigerator OFF.

NOTE: Defrosting the refrigerator makes excess water inside the refrigerator.
– Remove the drain hose from the drip cup at the rear of the refrigerator.
– Put the drain hose into a half-gallon or larger container to capture water.
– Put dry towels (etc.) inside the refrigerator and freezer to absorb melted frost.

CAUTION: High temperatures can cause the inside surfaces of the refrigerator to warp or melt. Do not use pans of HOT water, a hair dryer, or any other high-temperature devices to defrost the refrigerator. Do not use any hard or sharp objects to remove frost. Damage to the interior of the refrigerator can occur.

– To increase the speed of defrosting, put pans of WARM water in the refrigerator and freezer.
– Remove the wet towels (etc.) and dry the interior.
– Remove the drain hose from the large container and put the drain hose back into the drip cup.
– Remove the large container from the enclosure.
– Start up the refrigerator.
– Allow the refrigerator to cool down.
– Return all food to the refrigerator.

##RVT770 ##RVDT1255

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1 year ago

Cutting sheets are those thin, flexible cutting “boards” that you can find at any Wal-Mart or other grocery store. I have a couple of those on the back seat of my truck so the next time I’m going to defrost the freezer, I’ll try that trick.

On another note, why are people getting frozen fins in their fridge? I’ve never had that problem. Of course, I have a Dometic fridge so…

On another another note, do you have a good thermometer in both your fridge AND freezer. Of course, you can tell if your freezer isn’t working well if the food seems “soft” or mushy but do you know what the temp is in your fridge? I think the temp should be 40° or below in the fridge and 0° in the freezer.

Mike Sherman
1 year ago

Move all frozen food in the freezer to the refrigerator, turn it off, open the freezer door(s), keep the refrigerator door(s) closed. Lay down towels, speed up the process with a little assist from a hair dryer, any excess water should drain off to an exterior port (in a newer refrigerator).

Tommy Molnar
1 year ago

Wasn’t there an article on this site a while back about the pro’s and con’s of residential fridges? And wasn’t one of the con’s about how the warranty on residential fridges could be voided if found that you have it in your RV? Just wondering . . .

Tommy Molnar
1 year ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar
Capt Dan Guthrie
1 year ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Yes it does. A lot of people will not work on it. IF it’s in a RV.

1 year ago

The very BEST advice is to get rid of the useless RV fridge and install a residential fridge. Plus don’t believe the people who keep telling you that you will need to have 120 VAC power all the time and you won’t be able to boondock camp any longer. That’s all BS! If you have an Inverter that will handle the wattage for the fridge that’s all you need plus a generator that doesn’t need to run ALL the time either. I can boondock with the best of them and I have had a Samsung residential fridge in my coach since 2012. Love it!

1 year ago

You might want to consider investing in a RESIDENTIAL Fridge! They are less expensive than the typical gas / electric Absortion Fridges out there. Of course you would have to invest in an Inverter / Converter to run the unit on 120 when traveling. But those things are not that expensive either.

I would not have another RV without a Residential Fridge!

Here’s a well known fact. For EVERY Minute you leave your Gas / Electric Fridge Door or Doors open, it takes 1 hour or more to recover that cooling loss!

Judy G
1 year ago

I put the frozen foods in the sink and cover with towels to retain the cold. Then I attach a clip on fan to the edge of the freezer. The warmer air from the room speeds up the defrosting process with no damage.

Karen Willis
1 year ago
Reply to  Judy G

Same here, takes very little time, the rest of the fridge doesn’t warm up much, food stays frozen in the short time it takes.

1 year ago

Add recirculating air fans made for refrigerators. Prolongs the formation of frost and extends the time before having to defrost again.

Clifford Rice
1 year ago

The easiest way to defrost takes virtually no work at all. I use an AC Infinity AXIAL 9238 Muffin Fan and place it on the shelf to blow across the cooling fins of our Norcold. Run the cord through the door seal. Because the refrigerator temperature is above freezing, the air moving across the fins from the fan warm the fins and ice to above freezing and the frost just disappears without having to do anything other than move the fan. Once it’s defrosted, remove the fan. It doesn’t get any easier! Repeat as needed.

Scott McCormack
1 year ago

I have the Norcold 611. Excessive frost built up in my freezer diminishing the cooling capabilities in the refrigerator compartment. I used my Bissell Little Green carpet shampooer to help me defrost rapidly. I unplugged the refrigerator, sprayed warm water from the Bissells’ nozzle toward the top of the frost built up and the large portion of frost dropped to the bottom of my freezer. I simply lifted the frost out by hand and placed it in the sink and vacuumed up the excess water with the Bissells’ suction hose. I completely dried the freezer compartment using terry cloth. Now I’m praying like crazy this solved my refrigerators cooling problem.

4 years ago

Marilyn has it right, cut the strips to fit the sides, back and bottom of the freezer. When ready to defrost, remove rinse, DRY THEM OFF and replace whole job done in less then 10 minutes. We did that for 13 years with our No-Cold before replacing the entire unit with a Samsung RF197, no need to defrost anymore.

4 years ago

We hang the hair dryer in the freezer from a carabiner attached to the dryer and hanging on one of the wire shelves. We also monitor the temperature inside with a remote thermometer. Takes about 20 minutes for the complete job. We’ve used this routine for 10 years as full timers, and have had no adverse effects.

4 years ago

We saw on a website to put the thin cutting sheets you can get at Walmart on the back wall of freezer. You might have to cut them to fit but they are cheap. The cutting sheet can be easily removed and washed off quite a few times and helps keep frost down on back walls! We have been doing this for about a year and it really helps!!!

4 years ago
Reply to  Marilyn

What are cutting sheets?

Pamela Moore
1 year ago
Reply to  Marilyn

How do you fasten/keep plastic sheets to freezer walls.

4 years ago

The manufacturer recommended way of defrosting a fridge/freezer is fine for a weekend user, but totally impractical for a full timer. It would involve hours of time, bags of ice, and more than one cooler, which most full timers don’t have room to carry, just for defrosting a fridge. If you allow the food to warm up while defrosting, it shortens the life of the food items. What the gentleman above did was just plain stupid and lacked any common sense.
I have been full timing for 7 years and always use a hair dryer to defrost my fridge. But I never set the hair dryer down in the fridge or freezer. I always keep it moving so no spot gets too hot. Only point it at sheets of ice, never at the ceiling or side walls that have no ice. I use a plastic spatula to lift the melted ice off the fins or the back wall of the freezer.
Tip: melt the ice on the fridge fins only to the point that you can lift the sheets of ice off with a plastic tool or spatula. That takes less heating time and less chance of overheating the surrounding plastic walls.. I only remove food from the two top shelves of the fridge so I can lay a towel on the top shelf to collect ice and to be able to remove the drain tray when done melting the ice off the fins.
In the freezer, first scrape the hoary frost off the back wall and then remove that with a large spatula. Then heat the remaining solid ice and slowly lift it off the back wall I set the frozen items in the kitchen sink and cover them to keep them cold.
I can completely defrost and wipe dry both the fridge and freezer in my 10 cu ft Dometic , replace the food and turn it back on in less than 15 minutes. I defrost it every 3-5 weeks, depending on the humidity of the area we’re in, and I’ve never had a problem in our 7 years of full timing.

1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

UPDATE: The above comment is mine from 3 years ago. I have now changed the defrosting process slightly. I now shut the fridge off for about an hour or two, which doesn’t raise the food temps but does raise the temp of the fridge cooling fins slightly & starts to loosen the ice on the fins. I lay a towel on the top shelf & then use thin tongs to reach in & grab the chunk of ice on each fin & gently pull it off the fin, which frequently comes off in one piece. I then use a hair dryer to clean up any left over ice that has accumulated around the fin area, but always keeping the hair dryer moving. For the freezer, I use a plastic spatula to scrape the frost off the back wall & the constantly moving hair dryer to melt the solid ice enough to slide it off the back wall. I use a Sham Wow absorbent towel to soak up the water. This entire fridge/freezer process takes less than 15 minutes to remove the ice & repack & start the fridge. My 12 year old Dometic 10 cu ft still works perfectly on temp setting #4 & keeps the fridge temp around 38 degrees & the freezer temp between -5 & -10 degrees below zero.

Joey Hamilton
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

How long does it take to get the freezer cold again? We used very warm water to melt the ice in our NorCold freezer with the power switch off. Then I used a fan to help dry it and now it’s nearly five hours and the freezer is only 65 degrees. And the fridge is 59 degrees. Thanks!