Freezer Door Left Open Overnight | Here’s What To Do

You walk into the kitchen blurry-eyed and notice the freezer door is standing wide open, and the food inside is sitting in a puddle of water…How did that happen? The truth is it does not matter. The damage is already done, and now, you need to deal with it. 

But, where do you start? Is the food still safe to eat? What about the freezer? Will it still function properly? Oh man, you think. This is the last thing I need today. 

First, take a deep breath. While there are some potential issues to address when a freezer door is left open overnight, it’s not the end of the world. If you keep reading, I will go over all the things you need to consider in terms of food safety and appliance damage, as well as what you can do to prevent this unfortunate event from happening again. 

Consequences of Leaving The Freezer Door Open

If your freezer door is left open all night, there are a few things you need to work through before you can close the freezer door and turn your back on it as if it never happened. So let me explain the implications and what you need to do to rule them off your checklist of things you need to worry about.

1. Risks to Food

Perhaps the biggest issue with leaving the freezer door open overnight is the risk of food spoilage. With the door open, the freezer and its contents begin to defrost. If the food thaws completely, it can begin to harbor bacteria and become unsafe to eat. This is especially true of meat, fish, and dairy products. Once thawed, these foods should not be frozen again. 

2. Frost Build-up

The bad news is that food spoiling is not the only thing you need to worry about if the freezer door is left open for long periods. With the door open, the warm air from outside the unit interacts with the cold air in the freezer causing frost to build up on the freezer components. As a result, the freezer has to work harder to keep the compartment cool. 

3. Freezer Damage

Because the freezer is working harder to cool the compartment and the contents inside, its components are subject to excess wear and tear. It may not seem like a big issue – you simply close the door, and it will eventually stop running – but ultimately, these components can become damaged. 

4. Temperature Issues

If any of the freezer’s components become damaged by its attempt to keep the freezer cool despite its door being left open, the appliance may experience temperature issues and not be able to keep the compartment at a consistent temperature. If your freezer has a built-in temperature monitor, keep an eye on it to ensure it is cooling as it should. 

How Long Can A Freezer Be Left Open Safely

The reality is that if your freezer door was left open overnight, the food will have at least partially thawed and therefore cannot be re-frozen. But that’s not to say you need to dispose of it. If it feels cool to the touch, then place it in your fridge and consume it within the normal timeframe for refrigerated food. 

You can safely leave a freezer door open for up to two hours and the food inside should still be fully frozen depending on the prevailing temperature in the room where the freezer unit is stored. Anything beyond two hours and you will need to sort through the food to find out what has thawed and what is still frozen.

What To Do If You Find Your Freezer Door Open

If you discover your freezer door has been left open all night, don’t panic. You can’t do anything about it except deal with the aftermath. Take a deep breath and run through the steps below. 

Checking Food Safety

The first thing you need to do is determine the safety of the food inside the freezer. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the ideal temperature for food safety is zero degrees Fahrenheit. Consult your appliance’s thermometer to see what the current temperature is inside the freezer. 

If it is warmer than zero degrees, the likelihood of some food spoilage is possible. Look for signs of defrosting and leakage, particularly in the meat products. Thawed meat products tend to leak their juices, and if you see this, they will need to be transferred to the refrigerator or disposed of. 

If you aren’t sure which foods are safe to consume after your freezer door has been left open, consult the USDA’s recommendations for food safety during emergencies. 

As a general rule of thumb, most refrigerators operate between 34°F (1°C) and 40°F (4°C) so if your freezer is still within this range, then treat the food as if it has been refrigerated, and transfer it from your freezer to your fridge for cool storage. 

Check for Potential Freezer Damage

Depending on how long the freezer door stood open, your freezer’s motor may have burned out. If you can still hear it running, you are in luck: it still works. If you don’t hear anything, though, the damage may have already been done. Proceed to sort through the food inside the freezer and remove anything that has thawed, then close the door(s) and see what happens. If the motor fails to kick in or the freezer fails to cool, the appliance will need repair or replacement. 

Check Frost Build-Up and Consider Defrosting

Because the freezer door was left open overnight, there might be frost buildup that needs to be removed. Frost buildup causes the freezer to have to work harder, so never allow frost or ice buildup to remain inside your freezer. It could also prevent the freezer door from closing securely and sealing.

If you see frost inside the freezer compartment and your appliance has an automatic defrost feature, you may want to consider running it to thoroughly clean your freezer. If your freezer doesn’t have an automatic defrost feature, throw out any spoiled food and unplug the appliance from its power source to begin the defrosting process. 

Fixing Temperature Problems

Unfortunately, leaving a freezer door open for an extended period can cause long-term damage. Because the appliance’s components have to work harder to keep the unit cool. Meaning they can wear out more quickly or fail to do their jobs efficiently. If, after getting your freezer cleaned out and running again, you notice it isn’t holding a consistent temperature or it is unable to cool sufficiently, it has likely sustained some damage that will require repair or replacement. 

How To Prevent Leaving The Freezer Door Open

It is easy to simply say, “Close the freezer door when you are done,” but the reality is mistakes happen. No one leaves a freezer door open on purpose, and sometimes, the door can open on its own. 

My best advice is to make sure to remove any frost or ice buildup as soon as you notice it. If you don’t, the ice will continue to build, which may make it difficult to close the freezer door completely. If it doesn’t seal tightly, it can’t keep your food cold. 

Next, if you have young children in the house, you may want to double-check that they are closing the fridge and freezer when they are done. Kids get distracted easily, and freezer doors can get inadvertently left open. 

Finally – and this is not really a “freezer door left open” issue, but the results are the same – if you know your area is predicted to have bad weather and potential power outages, plan accordingly. Stack foods together as grouped foods stay frozen longer. In the same vein, try to keep your freezer full because a full freezer will stay frozen longer than one that is only half full. If you have extra space in your freezer, fill it with ice packs, gel packs, or water-filled jugs. 

FAQs Freezer Door Left Open

How long does it take for a freezer to refreeze?

It depends on how long the freezer was left open. If it was only open for a little while, it may refreeze in as little as two hours. If it has completely thawed, it may take as long as 24 hours to freeze. 

What to do if the freezer was left open and now it won’t cool?

Unfortunately, the appliance may have been damaged by the excess wear and tear on its components as it attempted to keep the freezer cool. You should call a repair person to assess the damage and repair it. Ultimately, you may need to replace the freezer. 

You may be interested in reading How To Defrost a Samsung Ice Maker | Step-by-Step

Appliance Service Technician | Website | + posts

Andy has over 8 years of experience working on residential household appliances, performing diagnostics, and repairs across most major brands. He graduated from the Denver Institute of Technology, is NASTeC certified, and has worked for Mr. Appliance. Andy has contributed to features on major publications including Better Home & Gardens, Family Handyman, and