The defrost mechanism in a refrigerator heats the cooling element (evaporator coil) for a short period of time and melts the frost that has formed on it. The resulting water drains through a duct at the back of the unit. Defrosting is controlled by an electric or electronic timer: For every 6, 8, 10, 12 or 24 hours of compressor operation it turns on a defrost heater for 15 minutes to half an hour.
A defrost thermostat opens the heater circuit when the evaporator temperature rises above a preset temperature, 40°F (5°C) or more, thereby preventing excessive heating of the freezer compartment. The defrost timer is such that either the compressor or the defrost heater is on, but not both at the same time.
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