9 Easy Tips to Freeze Milk and How to Thaw it Safely

Tips to freeze and thaw milk

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How can you save money on milk purchases? For years we’ve frozen milk that we bought on sale in our deep freezer, and then defrosted it when we were ready to use it. Freezing milk is not that hard to do if you follow our tips. Learn how we freeze and thaw milk safely and quickly.

1. The Smart Way to Freeze A Gallon of Milk

To freeze milk, pour a little off the top to allow room for expansion. Stand the carton upright in your freezer and then wait about 12 hours. To thaw milk, set it in a microwave for about 10 minutes or defrost it in your sink for a couple of hours.

An important thing to remember when freezing milk is to pour off about 1 cup / 8 ounces of milk from the gallon before freezing. This allows “headspace,” room for the milk to expand when it freezes. If you don’t pour off a little, when the milk expands, it can work its way out, pushing the lid off and making a real mess in your freezer . . . we know, we’ve experienced it.

In reality, we have never measured how much milk we pour off from the gallon. We just take the gallon of milk and pour enough milk into our currently open milk jug to leave about 1 1/2 inches of air space on the top of the gallon.

Take a look at the photo on the top of the page to see how much milk we pour off of each gallon.

2. How Long Does It Take to Freeze a Gallon of Milk?

At zero degrees Fahrenheit, it takes about 24 hours for a gallon of milk to freeze solid.

We’ve actually never timed exactly how long it takes to freeze a gallon of milk. We put our gallons of milk on the bottom of our large chest freezer and then put bags of frozen veggies or fruit on top of the milk. But for the most part, it takes about a day for a gallon of milk to freeze.

3. Does Milk Go Bad as it Freezes?

We’ve never had milk go “bad” while it was freezing. The normal storage temperature for milk is 40 degrees. In the freezing process, you are moving milk from 40 degrees Fahrenheit to zero. We regularly purchase milk that is nearing the “Sell By Date.” The Sell By date is the last day that stores are supposed to sell the milk. It is not the date that the milk “Goes Bad.”

When we buy milk that is close to the sell-by date, we simply take it home and freeze it. It stops the deterioration. When it is defrosted we usually consume it within a week and rarely have it go bad. But if it does go bad, we use the sour milk to make “Sour Milk Pancakes.”  Get the recipe here.

4. How Do You Thaw Frozen Milk?

A website visitor wrote asked: I froze a gallon of 2 percent milk, it turned a yellowish color and it is taking forever to thaw. It’s been in the refrigerator for three days and it’s still frozen.

Here’s How We Safely Defrost Milk

To keep milk fresh it needs to be stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. When we pull milk out of our deep freeze the temperature is about 0 degrees. To safely defrost milk we usually put the gallon container in our kitchen sink.

Allowing it to sit in the sink to defrost is not a safety issue. The frozen milk in the gallon container keeps the milk that is defrosting on the outer edges at least at 40 degrees.

5. How Long Does it Take to Defrost Milk

In the Sink: In the winter, we pull the milk out the night before we need it and set it in the kitchen sink to defrost. In the summer, we do the same thing, but the process only takes a couple of hours.
If you’re nervous about spoilage, just shake up the gallon every half hour or so.

In the Microwave: If we need to thaw it faster, we put it in the microwave for  5-7 minutes and then shake it and then put it in again until we have enough thawed out to use.
The milk doesn’t spoil because as it thaws it is cooled by the “ice” in the middle of the gallon. We’ve been doing this for at least 20 years and haven’t had any problems.

In the Refrigerator: Refrigerator defrosting can take a few days. It all depends on the volume of your frozen milk, it could take up to three days to thaw completely in the refrigerator.

This is our least favorite option.

In the “old days” before the process of Homogenization was created, milk that was left sitting or had been frozen and defrosted would separate from the cream separate in the jug. Basically, the fat molecules would rise to the top of the liquid forming a layer of cream. The simple solution was to shake the jug until the milk was mixed back up.

Homogenization is designed to break down the fat molecules in a container of milk so that they don’t separate from the less fatty portion of the milk.

RELATED ARTICLE: Organic Food on a Budget

6. What Kind of Freezer Do You Use to Freeze Milk?

A chest freezer is one of the most efficient ways to store food. They don’t cost a lot to buy or run and the amount of money you can save is amazing.

Check out the highest-rated chest freezers on Amazon. And read this article where we describe what we freeze in our freezer and how much money it saves us each year.

Our first freezer was a used 9 cubic foot chest freezer. A few years later we upgraded to a 20 cubic foot frost-free upright. Then when we moved to our larger home we sold the upright freezer and bought a 27 cubic foot chest freezer. It’s been working great since 1995 and saving us money every year since then.

7. Is It Okay to Drink Yellow Milk?

A half gallon of frozen milk in an Aunt Jemima syrup container
A half-gallon of frozen milk in an Aunt Jemima syrup container.

Frozen milk is not the pure white color that you normally see, it turns a little yellow. We had one mom tell us that she threw the frozen milk away because it “went bad” (turned yellow). Don’t fret if when it changes color; when defrosted it returns to its normal color and taste.

Freezing milk allows you to stock up on-sale priced milk and not be concerned about it going bad before you use it. Drink up!

8. How Long Can You Keep Milk Frozen?

You can keep milk frozen in an air-tight container for several years without losing any quality. The most important thing is to have a tightly sealed container. if you keep the air out, it will store indefinitely.

Some websites say you should only freeze milk for between 3 and 6 months because it could absorb flavors from the freezer and because it turns more yellow. This is totally untrue. If you use sturdy plastic or glass containers, the flavor of your milk will not change if you store it longer.

As for turning “more yellow,” we’ve never seen that. The photo above proves that frozen milk does turn yellow, but it’s never gotten more yellow over time.

Please don’t let some uninformed bloggers scare you away from using your freezer to stock up and store milk and other great food bargains in your freezer.

Tips for freezing milk and thawing milk.

9. What About Soy and Almond Milk?

We freeze all kinds of milk: Cow’s milk, Goat Milk, Soy, Almond, Rice, and others.

One thing we’ve noticed is that some of these products don’t freeze well. While they do freeze solid when you defrost them the liquid isn’t smooth . . . it’s grainy.

The solution to grainy defrosted milk

But there is a simple solution. Simply pour the defrosted milk into a blender and blend for about 10 or 15 seconds. It will be completely reconstituted. Check out this video and see for yourself

We share more about stocking up, what you can freeze and can’t freeze, and many other money-saving grocery tips from two of our resources:

  1. In our best-selling book, “Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

2. In our Audio download seminar, “Stretching Your Grocery Dollars Without Becoming A Coupon Queen

15 thoughts on “9 Easy Tips to Freeze Milk and How to Thaw it Safely

  1. Diana

    There seems to be a difference between “sour” milk and “spoiled” milk. Here’s a short piece: http://www.cookingmanager.com/spoiled-milk-sour-soured-milk/

    It seems “sour” milk can only occur if the milk is not pasteurized; several writers indicate “spoiled” milk, which is pasteurized milk that’s been around too long, should be discarded rather than used.

    Sounds like your experience differs.

    1. Steve Economides

      Diana, Thanks for your thoughtful comment. We read the Cooking Manager’s article and didn’t see her cite any credible, scientific resources for her opinion. It seems that there are a wide range of opinions regarding Pasteurized vs Raw milk and what happens when they go sour. When making a decision about food safety we like to find at least 3 independent and credible sources. We try to avoid facebook comments, chat groups and bloggers who only offer opinions without supporting references. Check out: https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/10/milk-smell-and-taste-may-differ-but-benefits-are-the-same/ and https://www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm079516.htm

  2. MC

    I’m not convinced it’s okay to thaw milk in the sink

    If I thaw it in the fridge, how long will it take to thaw?

    1. Steve Economides

      Mindy, It’s okay to be cautious. We’ve been thawing milk this way for years. Consider this: If the milk is frozen solid, it is between at zero degrees and 31 degrees Fahrenheit. The optimal temperature for refrigerator storage of milk is 40 degrees F. As the milk defrosts, there is still a good amount of it that is frozen. This iced milk will keep the temperature of the defrosted milk at or below 40 degrees. But if it will make you feel better, let it defrost in the sink for a couple of hours, then put it in the refrigerator.

  3. Kay

    I have been buying milk on sale and freezing it for many years.
    I have never poured any milk off nor have the cartons expanded to the point of bursting open. The way I avoid that is to lay the cartons down with the handle facing up. The air bubble that is naturally at the top of the carton will then flow into the handle. Once the carton is frozen, it can then be stood up normally to save space. My thought is that the handle is more sturdy than the lid and can handle the expanding pressure better.
    Keep in mind, the cartons do expand, but not to the point of bursting.

    1. Steve Economides

      Kay, you’re correct that the paper cartons do have a lot of expansion room build into them. We normally froze milk in plastic gallon containers. These gallon milk bottles do have some expansion indents on the side, but apparently not enough for freezing. We had a few that did overflow into our freezer, thus the decision to pour off about 1/2 cup from every gallon that we freeze.

  4. Michael Thaxton

    We drink and use Promised Land milk and their bottles are stronger and dont bust open so we dont even open them . Comes in handy when they have a 2 for $5.00 sale !

  5. Marianne

    I either go through a half-gallon in a matter of days, or end up tossing an unopened quart that turned to water and goo. I recently started making homemade yogurt so I now buy milk by the gallon. But I did not want to invest in something that could spoil before I used it all. So I invested in some inexpensive but sturdy 1 qt freezer containers to split up and store the gallon I buy. I use pint containers for the 1/2 gallon I buy for cooking or baking. Have not had to throw out spoiled milk in a long time!

    1. Steve Economides

      Marianne – Freezing your milk in smaller containers so you can use it up before it goes bad is a great idea! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Keln

    Just want to point out the science behind the yellowed milk, since people are still viewing this article (myself included since I just started buying milk cheap and freezing it).

    The colors that you see in anything are highly dependent upon the chemical structure of the substance giving off that color. For the same reason that water-based liquids expand and you need to remove some milk from your gallon before freezing, it will also look yellow when frozen.

    This is because frozen water ice forms within the milk while the milk fat is sort of pushed outwards. Without getting into too much detail here, when your milk is frozen, it is mainly the water in the milk that is ice and the fat molecules are suspended around it. So the yellow coloring is you just seeing fat, because it reflects yellow light. In an aqueous suspension, all light is scattered, not just the yellow, which is why liquid milk looks white.

    Once you thaw it out and recombine the suspended fat solids with the water (by shaking it), you will see the nice white coloring you are used to.

    I’m posting this because we pulled our first gallon out of the freezer yesterday and my wife freaked out about it being yellow. I explained that off to her satisfaction but came here to figure out how to safely get it dethawed by morning. The kids love their cereal!

    1. Steve Economides

      Wow – what a great explanation. Thanks for taking time to educate us all!

    2. Steve Economides

      Wow Kein, you really know your milk. Thanks for sharing this chemistry lesson. We’ve never worried about the color of frozen milk, but this makes it much more understandable, and palatable.

  7. Kym

    I recently discovered that the 4-pack frappuccino bottles that look like milk bottles, hold about a cup of milk with adequate freezing headspace. The slightly larger bottles that are sold individually hold about a cup and a half. At that size they thaw quickly in a cold water sink bath, approximately half an hour. Since our kids moved out, we find we don’t need a whole gallon thawed at once but keeping recipe sizes frozen individually really helps us preserve and use our milk on our own schedule.

  8. Whitney

    How long is the milk good for after you have thawed it? How long have you frozen milk for and then used it? Thanks in advance 🙂

    1. Steve Economides

      Whitney, you have asked some GREAT questions about freezing and defrosting milk. While we’ve never really tracked the dates, we can tell you that we have successfully frozen milk for several months. When it comes to defrosting, its “shelf life” is the same as fresh milk – somewhere around a week if kept in the fridge at 40 degrees. We recommend not storing milk on the door of a refrigerator as it is one of the warmer spots due to opening and closing. If your milk does go sour after a week, don’t throw it out, just use it for sour milk pancakes – get the recipe here:Delicious Chocolate Chip Sour Milk Pancakes

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