A freeze dryer or a lyophilizer is a machine that works by freezing perishable products and removing the water from them. Freeze-dried foods are shelf-stable for up to 25 years if properly stored. A freeze dryer is a fantastic addition to any home, but it’s also an expensive one, so you might ask yourself: “How long will my freeze dryer last?”
A freeze dryer is designed to last indefinitely with proper upkeep, maintenance, and regular cleaning. Our unit is 5+ years old with no issues beyond regular oil-related maintenance. Friends with original Harvest Right units 10+ years old have needed some repairs on it, but it still works great.
It’s also important to keep in mind that this doesn’t depend only on the maintenance; freeze dryers work best if they are run regularly because the system lubricants and refrigerants pool and settle if left to stand unused.
How Long does Freeze Dryer Vacuum Pump Last?
Freeze dryer pumps can last for years or decades, depending on upkeep. Our oil-based vacuum pump is 5+ years old with no issues, even with a custom-built automated system to clean the oil.
Our friends, who have had their unit for more than 10 years now, have had some work done to fix their unit. I also believe they had to replace some tubes on their oil-based vacuum pump. The pump itself is, last time they told me, still going strong.
- Oil-based pumps require regular oil changes but are longer-lasting.
- Oil-free pumps have a scroll seal that can wear out over time. Despite being advertised as easier to use and longer-lasting than oil-based pumps, they usually wear out before oil-based vacuum pumps do.
The pumps may need to be repaired or replaced every few years; you will know the time to replace it has come when you won’t be able to achieve as deep of a vacuum.
Want to know more about the various freeze dryer pumps? Read my article: Complete Guide To Freeze Dryer Vacuum Pumps (Oil And Oil-free).
How Often Do Freeze Dryers and Vacuum Pumps Need Maintenance?
Freeze dryers and vacuum pumps need to be cleaned regularly, especially if they appear dirty. Oil-based pumps also require regular oil and filter changes. A well-looked-after unit can work for years without any additional or considerable maintenance needed.
After every few uses, the pump parts should be separated and thoroughly cleaned to keep them in good condition.
Maintenance of oil and oil filters
Oil should be drained and filtered every 4 to 5 batches before the oil changes color (or sooner if the oil appears to be cloudy), while the oil is warm.
- As the oil collects contaminants and breaks down it becomes darker.
- Highly contaminated oil can shorten the work span of your oil pump.
- It is best to use thick, highly refined mineral oil that breaks down slower and also cools down the pump because it runs hot.
- Regular changing of oil filters is also very important and should be done every 30 to 90 days.
- You will know it’s time to change the filter if the oil doesn’t drain through it or if the oil isn’t clean after filtering.
Seriously go read my article, the Complete Guide To Freeze Dryer Vacuum Pumps (Oil And Oil-free), next. It’ll help you so much!
How Often Do Freeze Dryer Units Need Maintenance Work?
Freeze dryers typically don’t need much maintenance beyond being kept clean or oil changes for oil-based vacuum pumps, although any damaged parts should always be replaced. Collector coils in particular should be replaced in case of any physical damage.
The most common type of maintenance that you’ll need to do as a freeze-dryer owner is to defrost the unit. In case of an ice build-up, the freezer dryer should be defrosted, and the ice removed because in case the coils are not at the right temperature, they won’t trap the moisture from the air.
Usually, though, if you just give your unit plenty of time to defrost after use, and then leave the unit off properly between uses, then it’s not a big deal.
I did mention the collector coils in particular earlier; this is because they’re kind of a big deal. They’re usually solid and totally reliable unless they get visibly damaged. Then, they really do need to be replaced. Our friends, who have had their unit for a decade or more, have had to replace the collector coils. They said it was worth shipping it back (or driving it back, as we live relatively close to Harvest Right’s main headquarters) was worth having them do it.
Power cords are for a standard 110-volt outlet and should be replaced in case the freezer dryer is not showing any signs of getting electricity.
How Often Does the Software Need to Be Updated?
Harvest Right freeze dryers come with standard software, though it continues to be updated. Newer software can shorten cycle times and reduce power consumption, but software upgrades do have an extra fee.
Updating your freeze dryer’s software and firmware can help you get a shorter cycle time and even reduce your power consumption, but considering you need to buy the upgrades and your freezer dryer won’t work any worse without them, they remain a matter of choice.
- The software does upgrades from time to time with newer features, but you can request that at any time.
- Older machines cannot be upgraded, and you must have the software version 3.0 or higher to upgrade to the newer one.
- To upgrade your software simply download the firmware and copy it to a USB drive.
- To update your unit, just insert the USB drive into the freeze dryer and then turn it on and follow the instructions.
Our unit, being 5+ years old, has a relatively old version of the software. We’ve never paid to update it, and our unit works just fine. We’ve discussed updating it now and then, but so far, the cost of the update has never been enough to pay off the benefits of the updates. So we haven’t done it. And yes, we’ve run the numbers!
How Often Do Parts Last?
The various parts of a freeze dryer all have different life expectancies. Cables and coils can last for years, while oil filters will need to be filtered regularly. Our unit, at 5+ years old, still uses the original cables, coils, and parts, though the oil has been replaced and filtered regularly.
Of course, there is always a possibility of a significant breakdown due to mishandling or part malfunctions due to lower quality material, but most users find no major work needs to be done if they approach their day-to-day maintenance with care.
How Long Is the Warranty on Freeze Dryers?
In case of problems with any parts, Harvest Right (the only brand of freeze dryer that’s made for at-home use) offers a full one-year warranty starting from the original ship date during which time they will be responsible for repairing or replacing any part of the freezer dryer which proves to be defective.
The only exclusion is the oil vacuum pumps which have a 6-month warranty.
They also offer a limited three-year warranty during which time they will be responsible for repairing or replacing any part of the sealed refrigeration system (compressor, condenser, evaporator, tubing) which fails because of defective workmanship or material.
If you do have a problem and need a new part or procedure, Harvest Right will send you the part or procedure with a video on how to remedy the issue.
Please note: if you buy a used unit from Harvest Right, then it may not have the full warranty. Instead, it will usually have a 90-day warranty, although the listing on the site should specify any changes to the warranty.
Or if you buy a used unit from a previous owner? Then there may not be any warranty at all, depending on how long it’s been owned and used.
Key Takeaways and Next Steps
Although they are an impressive and initially expensive piece of machinery that can even leave you feeling a little intimidated, the freezer dryers are a well-worth investment that won’t lose you any money on frequent repairs and changing of parts, of course, if you exclude things like oil and filters (which, when regularly changed actually prolong the life cycle of your unit).
If you are willing to devote some time to it, you can also find great DIY tips and tricks that will further minimize your costs in the long run and keep your freezer dryer working without any problems for a long time.
For example, here’s how we built an automated oil filtration system for our oil-based vacuum pump. That way, we don’t have to do any work, and the unit itself handles the oil filtering! It’s basically amazing.
Go read this article next to see our hands-free oil filtration system: Complete Guide To Freeze Dryer Vacuum Pumps (Oil And Oil-free). I even made a YouTube video showing it to you – and it’s linked in that article, along with a parts list.
Learning from your own experience is essential, but learning from others is also intelligent. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as homesteaders.
- Way too many hours were spent talking about freeze dryers with other nerdy food preparedness friends.