Thread Number: 91322  /  Tag: Refrigerators
Eliminating the self-defrost
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Post# 1158314   8/31/2022 at 12:13 by Paulg (My sweet home... Chicago)        

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I noticed a comment from John L. Regarding (my words) “deterioration” of a self-defrosting refrigerator where the self-defrosting feature does not work.
I always wondered about this and have a few questions for the group, and John L as well. Here goes:

In the past I’ve seen 1960s era refrigerators that were to my liking. For various reasons, I did not like the myriad of heaters that still existed within the refrigerator’s mechanism.
(This discussion is about all refrigerator heaters but NOT any ice-maker heater).
And so I thought to myself, “Why not just disconnect all those heaters and go back to the basic thermostat+compressor only setup?” So what if I have to manually defrost occasionally?
A case history includes a very large Admiral fridge I once saw. At that time I could have used a large basement fridge. However looking at the schematic, it had many heaters and so I passed it by. But I always wondered… What IF I ran it without the heaters? Who cares if I have to defrost it periodically?
John L comments seem to suggest that the refrigerator could potentially be harmed over time by disconnection of defrost features. Am I correct?
Not to be smug, but I, as an experienced person in this industry, tend to cop a VERY tongue-in-cheek attitude which is:
“Hell! I can do whatever I want with any appliance and I can handle any results! I am KING of my appliances”.
(Please appreciate the humor intended with the true statement above).
…. So, of course I can do what I please, but is my ignorance going to ruin my refrigerator?
Please educate me. Since the era of frostless refrigerators, there have been various names assigned to the feature such as “no-frost”, “self defrosting” and the like. As you all know, “Self-Cleaning” and “Continuous Clean” terms are applied to ovens but mean totally different features. Is there a technical difference in these refrigeration terms? Yes, there are simple timed-defrost systems and heated-defrost systems; I just don’t know if each has a particular name.
Your comments on some or all of my questions are welcome. Do not waste too much of your life reading or answering this. Just curious. Thanks.

Post# 1158317 , Reply# 1   8/31/2022 at 12:23 by bradfordwhite (West Coast, U.S.)        

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It depends on the layout.
Are you eliminating fans too?
Is the condenser on the back allowing free flow without a fan? You'd really need that and older frigs tended to do that.
As for the evaporator, you'd need more exposure inside the frig. Again it depends on how it's laid out.

Post# 1158322 , Reply# 2   8/31/2022 at 13:32 by Tomturbomatic (Beltsville, MD)        

I remember John taking a 60s or 70s Frigidaire all refrigerator with the mini freezer at the bottom that needed periodic defrosting and brilliantly turning it into a self defrosting refrigerator by having the fan run all the time so that it blew the refrigerator temperature (+32F) air over the evaporator when the compressor was off so that the frost always melted and drained into the pan below to dry up on its own.

Where you can run into trouble is if you eliminate the defrost cycle or the defrost heater (unless it is a hot gas defrost) in a frost-free refrigerator because the evaporator would not melt the ice on its own if it were in the freezer compartment. Because those are fan forced evaporators, they are hard to defrost as I found out when the defrost thermostat went on my GE Frost Guard Upright Freezer and it was like trying to melt an iceberg because it was vertical, the tubes were tightly packed and there was a plate over the coils which could not be removed until some of the ice was melted. If the box you find were an all refrigerator or if it were turned into an all refrigerator like John did to Mrs. Kelly's Frigidaire, there should not be a problem. Remember the serpentine coil in the fresh food section of GE refrigerators that frosted over during the refrigeration cycle then defrosted and dripped when the compressor shut off.

The other heaters that keep the cabinet from sweating should only be disconnected if the box is in a very low humidity environment or else you run the risk of rusting the cabinet.

Post# 1158328 , Reply# 3   8/31/2022 at 14:32 by qsd-dan (West)        

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If you have a dedicated freezer with additional space, I don't see a problem with manual defrosting at all. Food lasts longer in them without the temperature sways.

Post# 1158341 , Reply# 4   8/31/2022 at 19:06 by combo52 (50 Year Repair Tech Beltsville,Md)        
Eliminating the frost free cycle on fully frost free refs

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It’s generally not practical to try to do this some frost free refrigerators well actually run a week or two without going through a defrost cycle many won’t even make it two days depending on operating conditions.

The best you could do is limit the defrost cycles try to put a different timer system on and maybe have them only defrost once or twice a week if used lightly.

It’s so difficult to disassemble the freezer and defrost them manually that it just isn’t worth even trying But like you said Paul you can do anything you like with your refrigerator, lol

John L

Post# 1158368 , Reply# 5   9/1/2022 at 02:05 by bradfordwhite (West Coast, U.S.)        

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If you're willing to get creative....

In the 90s I bought used a 21 c.f. GE self-defrost frig made around 1990. It has a removable back panel in the freezer.

The defrost timer wasn't working that I wasn't told about.
About a month after delivering it, I got a call from the tenant :"The frig doesn't seem to be working right and my baby's milk is spoiling."
Tenant had 3 young kids.

I went over, tools in hand, determined that the evaporator was a solid block of ice and it needed a timer.

Here's the thing: We couldn't just wait for that to thaw. So what I did is divert the tube on the back of the frig that normally drains the melt water into the pan below. I detached the clamps and literally swung it sideways into the kitchen sink. Then I started pouring water on the ice block which quickly melted the ice, the water went down the drain, and soon the freezer could be put back together and put into operation (saving the milk).

My proposition is this: instead of having this expensive and disruptive heater running inside the freezer, why not have a closed tank instead of the pan and have a simple submersible "fountain pump" down there that pumps water up over the top of the evap coil. If this simply ran twice a day, there wouldn't be a huge block of ice and wouldn't have to run long. There also would not be a significant introduction of heat to the freezer which would cause food to defrost.

It's just food for thought. If you think you are willing to manual defrost anyway, maybe this might provide some ideas.

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Post# 1158464 , Reply# 6   9/1/2022 at 18:14 by Paulg (My sweet home... Chicago)        
Dear Bradford!

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Your “Fountain Defrost” idea has much merit. You should consider patenting the idea.
Much obliged for the education from all who commented. If I ever decide to modify/ bastardize a refrigerator, I will let y’all know.

Post# 1158597 , Reply# 7   9/3/2022 at 18:05 by SudsMaster (California)        

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Sounds OK except for regions (like California) where there is a known drought and water shortages.


I also cannot imagine the amount of energy needed to do a self defrost is that much greater than the energy used on old non-self-defrost fridges. One can easily determine this by checking the storage capacity of a modern fridge and comparing the estimated energy use against that of and old non-self-defrost fridge of similar capacity.


Then there is the consideration of the energy needed to defrost an older fridge: energy used to boil water, open the fridge to insert a pan of such hot water into the freezer compartment, and the energy needed to bring the fridge back down to operating temp once the frost has dropped off the freezer compartment.

Post# 1158600 , Reply# 8   9/3/2022 at 18:47 by RP2813 (Sannazay)        

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For a while beginning in the late '70s my sister had a pink behemoth TOL 1961 Coldspot bottom mount fridge that she and her then-husband bought from a private party who advised that it just got a little ice build-up below the evaporator on the rear wall of the freezer section.  Well, it was more like the fridge developed a glacier back there that tried to slowly make its way out into the kitchen.  This was due to a failed heating element that no longer warmed recessed channels in the freezer floor to route melted frost to the drain.


The fridge still maintained proper temperature, but I don't know about the freezer.  They ended up calling Sears to repair it.  A retrofit heated trough was installed and the problem was resolved.  It was worth it since they had only paid $100 for the fridge.  It was beautiful, full-featured and quiet, but due to its size and weight it was left behind in the mid '80s when the house was sold. 

Post# 1158601 , Reply# 9   9/3/2022 at 19:01 by Paulg (My sweet home... Chicago)        

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Sudsmaster brings up an interesting point. It would be an interesting endeavor to see if the work of manually defrosting a refrigerator actually pays off. Wasted water, lost cooling, the cost of the annoyance are interesting arguments against it.

I had heard that Sears also marketed humongous refrigerators in the 1960s. I suppose most manufacturers may have but I had only heard of Sears and Admiral in the past. I am no expert in this arena but I understand the super-huge fridges in the day were typically side-by-sides and Admiral was trying to be king. I heard that they had the largest market-share in SXS in the 1960s. I cannot recall where I read that. Odd that they lost that share but I believe Twintubdexter remarked that their refrigerators didn’t win service awards.
Regardless, if a huge Pink Coldspot with the “Glacier-Magic” freezer came my way I’d be interested. However I don’t believe it’ll physically ever make it to the basement. That’s another reason I didn’t buy that Admiral. It had to go into the basement but I cannot imagine it making that last turn in the stairwell.
I wonder if Sears did a suitability interview with potential customers to see if their gargantuan fridges could even make it into the house..

Post# 1158607 , Reply# 10   9/3/2022 at 20:26 by RP2813 (Sannazay)        

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Paul, you must be psychic. 


My sister's place had an in-law unit on the basement level.  After she and her husband split up, she moved into that space and rented out the main house upstairs.  The pink fridge was wrestled down the steps and had to make a sharp right turn at the bottom.  I'm glad I had no part of that.  Doing it in reverse would have been much more difficult, and the in-law unit's other exterior ingress/egress route was too tight for the fridge, which is why it was left behind.


Re:  the pros and cons of manual defrosting, I think the two-door GE Combinations with single cold control required less recovery time than other makes since the fresh food section door could remain closed while the separate freezer was defrosted and water ran down the drain system to the pan behind the front grille.  Once the defrosting was done, and since the cold control operated off of the fresh food section's conditions, it didn't require much recovery time.  The freezer caught up quickly enough, particularly when re-stocked with still-frozen contents.

Post# 1158610 , Reply# 11   9/3/2022 at 21:17 by SudsMaster (California)        

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I would hazard a guess that before automatic defrost fridges hit the market, most home refrigerators were manual defrost. Until now I'd never heard of a the setup that Ralph described. I'm assuming it didn't have a heating element in the freezer compartment to initiate the defrost process. It sounds like a compromise/interim design between auto defrost and manual defrost. Is that correct?

Post# 1158612 , Reply# 12   9/3/2022 at 22:27 by RP2813 (Sannazay)        

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Rich, yes -- GE marketed the two-door Combination series with the claim of no defrosting ever, but they were only talking about the separate fresh food section (see bullet point #4 in the '57 promo below).  This applied to all Combinations until Frost Guard was introduced in 1959 (which used hot gas to defrost the freezer), but GE was still producing the manual defrost types well into the 1960s. 


Having enjoyed the Combination experience for several years with my '57 top mount model, I can attest that the defrosting process was far less work than it was with older style refrigerators like your single door GE.  I used my own "Red-E-Defrost" heater to speed up the process because no, the Combinations didn't have an on-board heater from 1948 through 1958.


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Post# 1158613 , Reply# 13   9/3/2022 at 23:03 by SudsMaster (California)        

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OK, Ralph, thanks.


But I'm still puzzled.


Wouldn't most frost be in the freezer section? And far less frost in the refrigerator section?


Glad GE eventually figured it out.

Post# 1158615 , Reply# 14   9/3/2022 at 23:16 by RP2813 (Sannazay)        

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For sure Rich.  The frost in the fresh food section was just a light glaze on the ceiling mounted serpentine evaporator coil.  The cold control wouldn't activate the compressor until the evaporator coil had remained at a high enough temperature long enough for the frost to melt away and drain into a trough. 


I think the operating temperature of the coil was around -13 F.  After the compressor cycled off, the coil temp only needed to hit a few degrees above freezing to defrost, and for only a few minutes.

Post# 1158625 , Reply# 15   9/4/2022 at 06:18 by SudsMaster (California)        

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Well, maybe I'm stupid, but I don't get the point of a refrigerator that only defrosts the section that has the least amount of frost, and leaves the section that will get the most frost encrusted with a layer of ice.


Or maybe I'm missing something?


Seems to me we had a bottom freezer fridge in New England back in '62-63 that my mom wasn't too thrilled about. Then we moved to California and left it behind.


Post# 1158629 , Reply# 16   9/4/2022 at 09:05 by Paulg (My sweet home... Chicago)        

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Perhaps this question has been addressed in the info above.
But I will ask this question:
Why would Admiral (or any other mfr) market virtually identical refrigerators at the same time, one with no-defrost in the refrigerator only and one that defrosts in the refrigerator and freezer?

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Post# 1158630 , Reply# 17   9/4/2022 at 09:11 by Paulg (My sweet home... Chicago)        
Glam shot for Paul Chaks

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If I ever find one of these I get first dibs; you get second.

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Post# 1158631 , Reply# 18   9/4/2022 at 09:23 by combo52 (50 Year Repair Tech Beltsville,Md)        
The evolution of automatic defrosting refrigerators

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The two door refrigerators that most everybody made where you defrosted just the freezer were a huge breakthrough, the freezers accumulated frost relatively slowly you could often go a full year without defrosting them even in regular kitchen use. Having the freezer completely separate fteezer also gave you a real 0° freezer that you could keep food in long-term.


Far more moisture escapes from the refrigerator section and turns into frost in the typical refrigerator, the two door combination refrigerators only needed about one 1/4 to 1/10th the amount of defrosting as an old-fashioned manual defrost one with the freezer chest in the top.


Companies like admiral made both fully frost free refrigerator freezers and ones where you still had to defrost the freezer because fully frost free ones not only cost a lot more to build but they cost a lot more to run many people didn’t want to pay the extra money.


Even back in the 60s people complained of adding $6 to $10 a month to their electric bill when they got one of these huge fully frost free refrigerators, they also didn’t like how frequently they ran and how much heat they put off in the kitchen.


John L

This post was last edited 09/04/2022 at 10:20
Post# 1158646 , Reply# 19   9/4/2022 at 12:13 by Paulg (My sweet home... Chicago)        
Thank you for clarifying

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Learned something new today. Thanks!

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