Birds-eye view of French door refrigerator pull-out freezer drawer full of food

How does a freezer work?

Freezers provide the ultimate flexibility for preserving and using food on your schedule. Read on to learn more about how freezers work, different types of freezers and how to properly store food to help it last.

What is a freezer?

Freezers are standalone or combination appliances that cool to 0°F (-18°C), or below, to freeze food, ice and more. Deep freezers are standalone appliances available in chest or upright configurations while refrigerator freezer combinations come in a wide variety of configurations and include a sizable freezer and refrigeration compartment. 

Freezer compartments of a four-door refrigerator full of food Freezer compartments of a four-door refrigerator full of food

Parts of the freezer

Freezers pass refrigerant through four main components—including the compressor, condenser coils, capillary tube and evaporator—on an endless loop as they work to chill and maintain the optimal internal temperature. Parts like the thermometer, door gaskets and vents each work in conjunction with the main components to keep freezers cold.

How does a freezer work?

Freezers expand and compress refrigerant to absorb and remove heat from the freezer cavity, leaving the freezer full of ice-cold air. Read the steps below to learn how freezers keep contents cold.

Compressor icon

Step 1: The compressor contracts refrigerant

The cooling cycle starts when the compressor draws refrigerant vapor in and increases its temperature and pressure, creating a hot and highly-pressurized gas.  

Condenser coils icon

Step 2: Condenser coils transfer refrigerant

The compressor begins pushing pressurized refrigerant through the condenser coils, triggering a chemical process that transforms refrigerant vapor into a liquid.

Capillary tube icon

Step 3: The capillary tube relieves pressure

Refrigerant transfers from the condenser coils to the capillary tube that drops the pressure of the substance as it enters the evaporator. This drop in pressure causes the refrigerant to re-vaporize and drop in temperature.  

Evaporator coils icon

Step 4: Evaporator and refrigerant absorb heat

In its final phase of the cooling cycle, refrigerant moves through the evaporator as it absorbs and expels heat from the freezer cavity. It then travels back to the compressor to begin the process again.

How different freezers work

Whether you’re interested in a standalone deep freezer for stocking up at the grocery store or a refrigerator freezer combination, every type of freezer offers unique features and configurations to help you care for your family. Learn about different types of freezers and their features below.

White Whirlpool® upright freezer

Deep freezer

Deep freezers keep food frozen at or below 0°F (-18°C) like refrigerator freezer combinations, but only feature a freezer compartment. These freezers span anywhere from 5 to 21 cubic feet and have the space to store foods for longer periods of time. Deep freezers often have less structured storage space and fewer features than their refrigerator freezer counterparts. They also may be available with locks that help control access.


You might consider a deep freezer like these freezers from Whirlpool brand if you often shop sales, store bulky items or entertain large groups.  

White Whirlpool® chest freezer

Chest freezer

A chest freezer is a type of deep freezer that’s oriented horizontally rather than vertically like refrigerator freezers, and comes with a lid that opens upward from the top. These short and wide freezers typically feature fewer drawers, dividers and shelving than standard freezers, providing a large and open space for bulky items. 


Unlike refrigerator freezer combinations, chest freezers can sometimes keep items cold for 2–3 days in the case of a power outage and can come with a lock to help control access. Models like the Whirlpool® 16 Cu. Ft. Convertible Chest Freezer with 3 Storage Levels can even convert to a refrigerator for extra cold storage. 

White side-by-side refrigerator in white cabinetry

Fridge freezer

A fridge freezer may be the first type of freezer to come to mind when you think of storing frozen foods. These refrigerator freezer combinations are available in configurations like French door, side-by-side, top freezer, bottom freezer or four-door models, each with its own unique freezer layout.


Top and bottom freezer configurations keep frozen foods at the top or bottom of the unit, respectively, and typically have basic shelving and door bins. Side-by-side refrigerator freezer combinations tend to feature more space in the freezer than other configuration types while French door models include a freezer drawer on the bottom, sometimes with two-tier storage.  

White Whirlpool® French door refrigerator in brown cabinetry

Frost freezer

The differences between frost and no-frost freezers typically come down to how the appliances defrost. Frost-free freezers automatically reduce the frost build-up on walls, while frost freezers require manual defrosting whenever ice on the walls reaches at least ¼ inch thick. Frost freezers may be less expensive to operate as they don’t expend additional energy monitoring and keeping frost build-up under control.

Close-up of food in a deep freezer

Portable freezer

Portable freezers—sometimes referred to as portable fridges—are considerably smaller than other freezer types, often resembling a large cooler in size. Unlike coolers, portable freezers plug into a power source and typically feature thermostat control, making them ideal for camping trips, tailgating and more.

Garage-ready chest freezer below a window

Garage-ready freezer

Built to handle fluctuating external temperatures, a garage-ready freezer can maintain an optimal internal temperature in environments ranging from 0°F to 110°F. Some garage-ready freezers are equipped with uniquely designed compressors, thick insulation and a triple-seal gasket to help seal in cold air. Explore garage-ready freezers from Whirlpool brand to store your family's favorites.

How to prevent freezer burn

Food becomes freezer burnt when cold and dry air dehydrates its outermost layers. Though it’s safe to eat, freezer burn can alter the texture and flavor of food as it sets in and often leaves a layer of ice crystals on the surface. You can help prevent freezer burn by preparing and storing frozen food properly.

If you plan to freeze a dish that’s already cooked, let it cool completely before you put it in the freezer. Most fruits and vegetables should be blanched before cooling and freezing. You can properly package foods by wrapping them in multiple layers of plastic wrap, foil or wax paper, then putting them inside an airtight container with as much air removed as possible.

How long does food last in the freezer?

The shelf-life of frozen foods depends on the type of food and how it’s prepared before freezing. Most vegetables last anywhere from 8-12 months in the freezer and should be blanched and cooled before freezing, while most fruits typically last 9-12 months. Fully cooked meats stay fresh for about 1-2 months, but uncooked beef, pork or poultry can last up to a year if stored properly. 

Close-up of frozen food in the freezer Close-up of frozen food in the freezer

What happens when my freezer is not freezing?

A freezer that won’t get cold enough can lead to frozen food spoilage, but there are a few possible causes you can explore to start troubleshooting. First, double-check your freezer’s temperature settings. It should be set at or below 0°F (-18°C), but a faulty thermostat may interfere with the cooling process.

Next, reorganize your freezer to make sure it’s not overcrowded or blocking airflow from the evaporator fan. Dirty condenser coils can also contribute to a freezer struggling to keep up, so use a vacuum with a crevice attachment to occasionally remove dust from the coils. Excessive frost buildup can force the freezer to work harder and may interfere with proper cooling. Remove frost by manually defrosting the freezer, or use your freezer’s auto-defrost setting if it has one. Consider consulting a professional if frost continually builds up.

How to defrost a freezer

If the frost in your freezer is at least ¼ inch thick, it’s time to defrost. Start by unplugging the freezer, then transfer all the food inside to coolers. Next, lay down towels or a plastic liner at the base of the freezer and stuff shelving with rags to help sop up water as the frost melts.

Your freezer may include a drainage hose for defrosting. If so, place the end of the hose in a low basin to capture run-off. Leave the freezer door open as the ice melts completely. You can angle a fan towards the inside of the freezer to help speed up the process. With ice melted, mop and wipe away water, then thoroughly clean and dry the inside of the freezer. Plug the freezer back in and allow it to cool to the optimal temperature before replacing food.

What’s the best freezer temperature?

Keeping your freezer at or below 0°F (-18°C) should keep your food frozen and fresh, but long-term storage for foods like meat and vegetables can begin to alter texture and taste. You can pay attention to a few key indicators that suggest your freezer is at an optimal temperature, including surfaces that are virtually free of a frosty layer, solid ice cream and food free of freezer burn. 

Person loading food into a chest freezer Person loading food into a chest freezer

Shop Whirlpool® deep freezers

Deep freezers from Whirlpool brand make it easy to bulk buy and sale shop your family’s favorite items. Select models include the Fast Freeze option to freeze foods fast by driving freezer temps 10 degrees colder than the lowest setting. Plus, Whirlpool® chest freezers come equipped with a counterbalanced lid that stays open so you can use two hands to find what you’re looking for. 

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