Buying Guide

Man opening a french door refrigerator
Refrigerator Buying Guide

Find the Best Refrigerator for Your Needs

When it comes to refrigerators nowadays, options go way beyond simply getting a glass of ice water without having to open the door. With custom panels, you can get a built-in that exactly matches your kitchen cabinets. And forget four doors—some newer models have five or more. You can even pull out a refrigerated drawer and find it full of frosty sodas. Our fridge-by-fridge guide helps you choose the right type for your home, de-mystifies claimed vs. actual usable storage space, and helps you find the least noisy models—so you, and your groceries, can chill out.


Pick A Style

There's a configuration to suit every household. French-door models are exploding in popularity. Many consumers swear by the convenience of bottom freezers, but top freezers and side-by-sides can make more efficient use of space in a smaller kitchen. Here's what you need to know to make the best choice. See our full Refrigerator Ratings for how models in the different sizes below performed in our tests.

A top-freezer refrigerator.

Top Freezer

A traditional fridge, that's good for a lot of storage in a fairly tight spot. These tend to offer the most space for their size (typically 30 to 33 inches wide). Manufacturers claim up to 22-cubic-foot capacities, but our tests found about 20 percent less. Allow for a wide swing of the doors, and get used to crouching down to reach lower shelves and drawers.

Top Freezer Refrigerator Ratings
A bottom-freezer refrigerator.

Bottom Freezer

They range from 30 to 36 inches wide and claimed capacities approach 30 cubic feet, though usable space is less than that of comparable top-freezers (which cost less than these, too). Instead of the freezer (which you use less) being eye level, your fridge shelves are easily scan-able. Just get used to squatting to rifle through frozen goods.

Bottom Freezer Refrigerator Ratings
A French-door refrigerator.

French Door

It has two narrow doors on top, and the freezer below. Sometimes there is one drawer (or more) in between. Widths range from 30 to 36 inches. Claimed capacities go up to 30 cubic feet, though usable space doesn’t match that of comparable top-freezer models. The space-saving small-swing doors have the added value of opening only half the fridge when stashing smaller items. More of these now have the sought-after in-door water/ice dispensers.

French Door Refrigerator Ratings
A side-by-side refrigerator.


With the fridge on one side and freezer on the other, these usually have through-the-door ice and water dispensers and temperature-controlled bins. With widths typically 32 to 36 inches, they claim roughly 30 cubic feet capacity (but only about 70 percent is usable). Narrow doors are a plus for small kitchens, but don’t open wide enough for, say, a pizza box, and tall, narrow compartments make items stuck at the back hard to find. Overall, they’re not as energy- or space-efficient.

Side-by-Side Refrigerator Ratings
A built-in refrigerator.


Pricey and made to fit almost flush with cabinets and counters, these sleek beauties typically come in bottom-freezer and side-by-side styles, but sometimes French-door or four-door. These are usually wide (36 inches plus), with 25 cubic feet capacity (of which only about 70 percent is usable). Look for optional front panels to match your kitchen cabinets. Get the look for a little less with freestanding cabinet-depth versions. Another built-in option: A column fridge, as narrow as 18 inches, to make the most of every kitchen nook.

Built-In Refrigerator Ratings
A mini fridge.

Compact or Mini

Perfect for a dorm room, your office, or a kitchenette. Keep in mind that some models have only one quarter the capacity of a regular fridge, but cost just as much to operate. Temperature performance can be iffy in some models (allowing it to rise above 40 degrees F, the point at which your grub sprouts harmful bacteria), so save these babies for sodas and other beverages or for temporary storage of snacks (rather than milk, mayo, or other perishables).

Compact/Mini Fridges

Consider Size

Most configurations come in a range of sizes and capacities. Always measure where you plan to put the fridge before you buy. Check that it can fit through doorways. Allow room for the refrigerator's doors to swing open, and for a one inch clearance around sides and back for adequate airflow.

As for capacity, most manufacturers recommend 19 to 22 cubic feet for a family of four. But if you do a big weekly shopping trip or buy in bulk, you may need more—up to about 30 to 33 cubic feet. Note: Our tests found that the amount of usable storage capacity was often less than the amount claimed. Check our Refrigerator Ratings for more.


Decode the EnergyGuide Label

Energy efficiency has become a big selling point with consumers. All new fridges are a lot more efficient than they were a decade ago, but here's a look behind the label—to help you go as green as possible.

The EPA Energy Star rating is a good place to start when shopping; it means that a product is in the top 25 percent in the market, but efficiency varies by model (i.e. an unlabeled top-freezer might be more efficient than an ES-approved French door model). Additionally, we test for energy consumption, which can add up to a $50-60 difference a year, more than $500 over the life of the unit.

For an apples-to-apples comparison of which models are most efficient, look at the EnergyGuide labels of your favorite fridges, and compare the annual operating costs and the kilowatt-hours used per year.

We give all the refrigerators we test an overall score for energy efficiency. You can check our Refrigerator Ratings for details.


Five Features You'll Want

Fridges at all price points are increasingly fitted out with options to make your life easier and more organized. French door models are usually the most loaded. Just know if you can't live without a built-in wine rack or an in-door coffeemaker, you'll have to pay top prices. The features below are the ones we think will make you happiest. For more, check our Refrigerator Ratings.