Abstract The present paper advances an in-situ study of frosting and defrosting processes in tube-fin evaporators of household refrigerators and freezers. Frost growth experiments were carried out using a purpose-built test facility comprised of a refrigerated cabinet placed inside a climatized chamber, and a vapor compression refrigeration loop that controls both the evaporating temperature and the evaporator superheating. A first-principles two-dimensional simulation model was put forward to predict the evaporator blocking over time, and also the heat and mass transfer rates. The model validation exercise has shown that the model follows well the experimental trends of pressure drop, frost mass, cooling capacity and air flow rate, with all predictions falling inside ±10% error bounds. The model was then used to assess the impact of several design parameters on both the evaporator blockage and defrost efficiency. It was found that a nearly ideal defrost efficiency is achieved when the defrosting process is performed by two simultaneous heaters.