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Freezer vs. Refrigerator: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 7, 2023
A freezer preserves food at below freezing temperatures, while a refrigerator keeps food cool above freezing to prevent spoilage.

Key Differences

A freezer is an appliance that keeps food frozen, typically at temperatures of 0°F (-18°C) or below. This is to ensure that food is preserved for a much longer time without spoilage. Refrigerators, on the contrary, maintain a higher temperature, generally between 35°F and 40°F (1.7°C to 4.4°C), which slows down bacterial growth, keeping food fresh for a shorter period compared to freezers.
Freezers are designed for the long-term storage of food, allowing items like meat, fish, and ready-made meals to be kept for months. Refrigerators, however, are meant for daily or weekly use, storing products like milk, eggs, vegetables, and other perishables that are consumed more regularly.
The environment inside a freezer is icy and frosty, often leading to foods becoming solidly frozen. In a refrigerator, the environment is cool and moist, which is ideal for preserving the texture and moisture content of fresh food without freezing it.
The functionality of a freezer is to stop bacterial activity entirely by solidifying water inside the cells of food, which effectively preserves it. The refrigerator’s role is to retard the bacterial activity to a level that keeps food safe to consume for a period ranging from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the item.
In essence, both freezers and refrigerators are essential in the modern kitchen, serving the shared purpose of food preservation but at different temperatures and time frames. Where a freezer halts bacteria by creating a sub-zero environment, a refrigerator merely slows these microorganisms by providing a cool, but not freezing, space.

Comparison Chart


Below 0°F (-18°C)
Between 35°F and 40°F (1.7°C to 4.4°C)


Long-term preservation by freezing
Short-term preservation by cooling

Food State

Foods are kept frozen solid
Foods are kept cool, retaining moisture

Preservation Time

Can preserve food for months or even years
Preserves food for days to weeks

Common Use

Storing meats, frozen meals, and ice cream
Storing dairy, produce, and beverages

Freezer and Refrigerator Definitions


An insulated compartment that preserves by freezing.
The freezer is almost full; it's time to defrost it.


Kitchen appliance for preserving daily-use food items.
The refrigerator is stocked with ingredients for the week.


Appliance for keeping foods at freezing temperatures.
Stock your freezer with plenty of vegetables for the winter.


A cooling unit typically used for storing groceries.
I need to clean the refrigerator out before we go shopping.


Freezing unit for making and storing ice.
Check the freezer to see if we have enough ice for the party.


An appliance for cooling food to slow spoilage.
We just bought a new refrigerator with a water dispenser.


A device to store and freeze food long-term.
I placed the leftovers in the freezer for next week.


A device to keep perishables fresh at cool temperatures.
Put the milk back in the refrigerator after you use it.


Household appliance for food storage below 0°F.
The new freezer can hold up to 200 pounds of meat.


Household appliance for maintaining food above freezing.
The light inside the refrigerator doesn't turn off.


A thermally insulated compartment, cabinet, or room in which a subfreezing temperature is maintained for the rapid freezing and storing of perishable items, especially food.


An appliance, cabinet, or room for storing food or other substances at a low temperature.


An appliance or room used to store food or other perishable items at temperatures below 0° Celsius (32° Fahrenheit).


A household appliance used for keeping food fresh by refrigeration (short form fridge).


The section of a refrigerator used to store food or other perishable items at a temperature below 0° Celsius (32° Fahrenheit).


A similar device used to keep non-food items cold, such as blood, photographic film, drugs, or pharmaceuticals like insulin.


A Parkinson's disease patient that experiences freezing of gait (FOG) episodes.


One who has a chilling influence.


One who, or that which, cools or freezes, as a refrigerator, or the tub and can used in the process of freezing ice cream.


That which refrigerates or makes cold; that which keeps cool.


Electric refrigerator (trade name Deepfreeze) in which food is frozen and stored for long periods of time


White goods in which food can be stored at low temperatures


How can I increase my freezer’s efficiency?

Keep it full, well-organized, and defrost regularly.

Can I store all food items in the refrigerator?

Most but not all; some items like deep-frozen goods need a freezer.

Is it okay to put hot food in the refrigerator?

It's best to allow food to cool to room temperature first.

What’s the best way to organize a refrigerator?

Designate areas for dairy, produce, meats, and condiments.

What temperature should my freezer be set to?

Typically at or below 0°F (-18°C).

Why is my refrigerator not cooling properly?

Possible reasons include dirty coils, faulty thermostat, or poor sealing.

How long does it take for a freezer to get cold?

Generally, 4-6 hours after plugging it in.

How do I defrost a freezer?

Turn it off, remove food, and allow ice to melt and drain.

Should a refrigerator run all the time?

It cycles on and off; constant running may indicate an issue.

How often should I clean my freezer?

At least once every three months or when you notice frost buildup.

Can I put aluminum foil in the freezer?

Yes, it’s good for wrapping food for freezer storage.

Can freezer bags be reused?

Yes, if they are cleaned and there was no raw meat inside.

What’s the first thing to check if a refrigerator stops working?

Check if it’s plugged in and the circuit breaker hasn’t tripped.

Can a freezer work in a garage?

Yes, if the temperature is within the unit's operating range.

What can cause freezer burn on food?

Air exposure due to improper packaging.

Do freezers kill bacteria?

No, they just inhibit bacterial growth.

Is it safe to keep medications in the refrigerator?

Only if specified by the medication guidelines.

What is the lifespan of a refrigerator?

On average, 10-15 years depending on the model and maintenance.

Why is there water under my refrigerator?

It could be a clogged defrost drain or drip pan.

How do I stop my refrigerator from smelling?

Clean it thoroughly and store food in airtight containers.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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