Refrigerator Buying Guide - Consumer Reports (2023)

When it comes to refrigerators, your options go far beyond getting a glass of ice water without having to open the door. With custom panels, you can get a built-in refrigerator that matches your kitchen cabinets. Some refrigerators offer a door-in-door design, allowing you to access frequently used items from the door shelves without fully opening the fridge. You can even pull out a refrigerated drawer and find it full of cold sodas, chilled wine, or kid-friendly grab-and-go snacks.

Our refrigerator buying guide will help you choose the right type of fridge for your household in terms of configuration, size, energy consumption, and features. We also take a look at the latest refrigerator trends.

How CR Tests Refrigerators

CR’s refrigerator lab is a busy place. Our testers are constantly evaluating new models and adding them to our refrigerator ratings, which include models in all configurations: bottom-freezer, top-freezer, built-in, counter-depth, French-door, and side-by-side.

In our lab, each refrigerator we test gets wired up with temperature sensors. We then monitor it for more than a month in a temperature-controlled chamber to evaluate thermostat control and temperature uniformity. CR’s test engineers collect more than 5.4 million temperature readings for each model to detect warm and cold spots. We use that information to determine which refrigerators keep food fresh longer. The results reveal that many refrigerators simply don’t do well at their primary task, and that could mean more wasted food and bigger grocery bills.

To test the freezer compartments of refrigerators, our engineers fill the appliances with boxes and boxes of frozen spinach, then evaluate how well they keep the packages frozen.

In addition, we measure usable storage capacity, which rarely matches what manufacturers claim. Our engineers then use these measurements to calculate energy efficiency.

Last but not least, we incorporate survey data collected from CR members on thousands of refrigerators to judge predicted reliability and owner satisfaction for each brand and refrigerator type. (You can view our determinations of the most and least reliable refrigerator brands.)

All of this data is consolidated into oneOverall Scorefor each model that’s shown in ourrefrigerator ratings, which feature more than 250 models.

Picking a Refrigerator Style

There’s a refrigerator configuration to suit every household. French-door models are very popular because of their high-end aesthetic. Some consumers prefer the convenience of bottom-freezers, which put fresh foods at eye level, but side-by-sides can fit better in a smaller kitchen because of their narrow doors. See our fullrefrigerator ratingsfor how models in the different sizes and styles below performed in our tests.

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Top-Freezer Refrigerators

Top-freezer models are good for a lot of storage in a fairly tight spot. These traditional refrigerators tend to offer the most space for their size. Widths vary between 24 and 33 inches. Manufacturers claim capacities of up to 24 cubic feet, but our measurements show that total usable capacity goes up to only 20 cubic feet. Allow for a wide swing of the doors, and get used to crouching down to reach lower shelves and drawers.

Top-Freezer Refrigerators Ratings

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Bottom-Freezer Refrigerators

Widths on bottom-freezer refrigerators range from 24 to 33 inches, and claimed capacities approach 26 cubic feet, though our measurements show that total usable space is less than that of comparable top-freezers. (Top-freezers cost less, too.) Instead of the freezer being at eye level, your refrigerator shelves are easily scannable. Just get used to bending to rifle through frozen goods.

Bottom-Freezer Refrigerators Ratings

French-Door Refrigerators

French-door refrigerators have two narrow doors on top and a freezer below. Sometimes there’s one drawer (or more) in between. Widths range from 28 to 37 inches. Claimed capacities go up to 31 cubic feet, though the total usable space maxes out at just 21 cubic feet. The space-saving small-swing doors have the added value of opening only half the fridge when you’re stashing smaller items.

French-Door Refrigerators Ratings

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Side-By-Side Refrigerators

With the fridge on one side and freezer on the other, side-by-side refrigerators usually have through-the-door ice and water dispensers. With widths typically 33 to 36 inches, they’re claimed to have up to about 29 cubic feet of storage capacity (but usable storage maxes out at about 22 cubic feet). Narrow doors are a plus for small kitchens, but the tall, slender compartments can make items stuck at the back hard to find and might not be wide enough for, say, a pizza box. Overall, they’re not as energy- or space-efficient as other types.

Side-By-Side Refrigerators Ratings

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Built-In Refrigerators

Pricey and made to fit almost flush with cabinets and counters, built-in refrigerators are sleek beauties that come in bottom-freezer, side-by-side, and French-door styles. They are usually tall (upward of 85 inches) and wide (30 to 49 inches), with claimed capacities up to about 29 cubic feet (though usable capacity tops out at about 21 cubic feet). Some come with optional front panels to match your kitchen cabinets. Another built-in option: a column refrigerator, which forgoes a freezer compartment to maximize fresh-food storage and is often paired with a separate column freezer unit.

Built-in Refrigerators Ratings

Finding the Right Refrigerator Size

Most refrigerator configurations come in a range of sizes and capacities. Always measure where you plan to put the refrigerator before you shop.And don’t forget to measure the width and height of any doorways, hallways, stairways, etc., that the new one will have to travel through to get to the kitchen. Allow room for the refrigerator’s doors to swing open and for a 1-inch clearance around the sides and back for adequate airflow.

To help you find the right size refrigerator for your kitchen, ourrefrigerator ratingsare organized by width, allowing you to easily see the highest-rated models in the size you need. You’ll find models ranging from the standard 36 inches wide down to 24 inches. We also note the height and depth of each tested model.

To help you find the best refrigerators outside the standard dimensions, we have guides to the bestcounter-depth refrigerators,30-inch-wide refrigerators, and33-inch-wide refrigerators.

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 30 to 33 cubic feet. Note:Our tests have foundthat the amount of usable storage is often less than the amount claimed by manufacturers.Check our refrigerator ratings for the actual capacity of each model. And to see the best large fridges from our ratings, see thisguide to the best refrigerators for big families.

Decode the EnergyGuide Label

Energy efficiency has become a big selling point with consumers. All new refrigerators are a lot more efficient than models from a decade ago, but information on a refrigerator’s EnergyGuide label will help you go as green as possible.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star rating, which you can find at the bottom right of the EnergyGuide label,is a good place to start when shopping. It means that a product is in or around the top 25 percent of the market in terms of efficiency. But efficiency varies by configuration (e.g., an unlabeled top-freezer might be more efficient than an Energy Star certified French-door model).

For an apples-to-apples comparison of which models are most efficient, look at the EnergyGuide labels of the refrigerators you’re considering, and compare the annual operating costs and the kilowatt-hours used per year.

At CR, we also test refrigerators for energy consumption, which can add up to a $50 to $60 difference per year, or more than $500 over the life of the unit (refrigerators should last roughly 10 years).

We give all the refrigerators we test a score for energy efficiency and list their estimated annual energy cost. You can sort our refrigerator ratings based on their energy-efficiency ratings. To see the top-scoring models, check out our roundup of the best energy-efficient refrigerators from CR’s tests.

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Photo: Consumer Reports Photo: Consumer Reports

Refrigerator Features You'll Want

Refrigerators are increasingly tricked out with options to make your life easier and more organized. French-door models are usually the most loaded. Just know that if you can’t live without adjustable shelving or an in-door coffee maker, you’ll have to pay top dollar. The features below are the ones we think will add the most convenience to your refrigerator. For more, check ourrefrigerator ratings.

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Through-the-Door Ice and Water Dispenser

This is one of the features most requested by buyers. Caveat: We found that models with this convenience also require the most repairs. Energy costs are higher, too, and you trade ice water for storage space.


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Door-in-Door Storage Access

Without opening the entire door, you can grab frequently used beverages and condiments. That will save on energy costs in the long run.


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Freshness Features

Dual evaporators help maintain higher humidity levels in the refrigerated areas and prevent freezer odors from migrating there. Air purifiers eliminate bacteria and mold spores, while vacuum-sealed crisper drawers are meant to keep food fresh longer.


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Temperature Controls

You decide how cold your fridge is in certain areas. For example, set a drawer to be cooler than the rest of the fridge to store meat, fish, and cold cuts better.


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Better Shelves and Drawers

You can rearrange split shelves to different heights independently. Elevator shelves crank up and down without needing to be unloaded. Shelf snuggers attach to racks to secure bottles and jars. Pullout shelves or bins make access to stored items easier.


Through-the-Door Ice and Water Dispenser

This is one of the features most requested by buyers. Caveat: We found that models with this convenience also require the most repairs. Energy costs are higher, too, and you trade ice water for storage space.


Latest Refrigerator Trends

Many manufacturers are trying to enhance refrigerators by adding high-tech features.

More and more new models come with WiFi connectivity and a companion smartphone app, allowing you to remotely change fridge settings and temperatures, receive alerts if a door is left open, and (if the fridge has cameras) view the contents of your fridge while you’re out grocery shopping. For example, Samsung has added large touchscreens to many of its French-door and side-by-side models, complete with apps for finding recipes, ordering groceries, watching TV, playing music, and controlling smart home devices. LG has models with windows for seeing what’s inside without opening the door, as well as a Craft Ice feature that makes large ice balls for cocktails and spirits. GE even makes French-doors with a built-in Keurig coffee maker.

But these features have been slow to catch on. According to a nationally representative survey of more than 2,000 adults (PDF) conducted by Consumer Reports in October 2022, only 3 percent of Americans own a smart refrigerator that’s connected to the internet, and an additional 5 percent own a smart refrigerator that they haven’t connected to the internet.

While most people haven’t embraced smart refrigerator features, there’s a consumer preference for refrigerator configuration. In our most recent refrigerator survey, French-doors made up 57 percent of new refrigerators purchased by CR members in 2021 and the first half of 2022, followed by side-by-sides and top-freezers at 15 percent each, bottom-freezers at 9 percent, and built-ins at 4 percent.

Shopping Tips

Once you’ve settled on a fridge style, the required dimensions, and the features you want, it’s time to start shopping. Read CR’s roundup of the best refrigerators of the year, or filter according to your needs in our refrigerator ratings.

If you don’t need a new refrigerator right away, wait for the sales over the next major holiday. We find that refrigerator prices tend to dip in the summer and hit their lowest point around Black Friday.

We also recommend that you comparison shop. Don’t forget to check independent retailers, and don’t be afraid to haggle or ask for a discount. If you aren’t sure where to start, see our guide to the best appliance stores.

Another option if you’re on a budget or simply looking for a good deal is to consider buying a used refrigerator. You can get a higher-end model for a lot less than the retail price. The best places to look for used fridges are used-appliance stores and, believe it or not, appliance repair shops. Both types of stores will usually give you a warranty, too. For more on purchasing used appliances, see our used-appliances guide.

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