The refrigerator is arguably the single most used appliance in your entire home. There may be days where you don’t use the dishwasher, the microwave, or the washing machine, but rarely will a day go by when you don’t access your refrigerator multiple times over the day.
When it comes to choosing the right refrigerator, it might seem like a simple task on the surface. It’s just a large box that plugs into the wall and keeps your food cold, right? But the truth is that it's a fine line between a refrigerator you’ll love and a refrigerator that will drive you crazy from the moment you bring it home. It’s not just about whether it keeps food cold (although that is an important element that we’ll talk about). It’s also a long list of other factors that can determine your fridge’s quality.
That’s why we’ve put together this rundown of some of the most important elements of a great fridge, and how you can educate yourself to avoid selecting a refrigerator that won’t get the job done day in and day out (or decade in and decade out).
Your fridge keeps things cold, and the freezer keeps things colder, right? Well, there’s a little bit more to it than that. While basic refrigerators with only two climate control sections, the fridge, and freezer, may get the job done, you have a lot more options now than ever before.
It’s also not just about temperature— humidity, air circulation, and filtration are also vital factors that the best fridges offer to extend the freshness and life of your foods. You’ll notice a measurable difference in how long veggies, fruits, milk, and other foods remain fresh. Odors won’t transfer from one food to another in a quality climate-controlled fridge.
How Does a Fridge Achieve Improved Climate Control?
Your fridge controls the conditions inside by managing:
3- Air circulation and filtration
First and foremost, you need a steady temperature inside your fridge. Old or basic refrigerators feature a simple dial that ranges from 1-5, 1 being the warmest, and 5 being the coldest. Many newer fridges also now feature digital readouts and adjustments, rather than the traditional clicker knobs. This gives you even more control, flexibility, and transparency when it comes to the climate controls of your refrigerator and freezer. In a good fridge/freezer, the internal temperature shouldn’t fluctuate more than one degree from what you set.
Some brands feature a Super Cool or Super Freeze function. Let’s say you’ve just arrived back from the store, and some of your food has begun to melt after the journey home in the car. You can have your fridge’s compressor temporarily work overtime to provide an additional boost of cold. This also helps maintain the fridge’s temperature while the door remains open while stocking your fridge.
Humid air is needed generally to maximize preservation. However, vegetables may need more humidity compared to meat and other products. So, crisper drawers are essential at this point.
A good fridge should give you the ability to adjust humidity inside crisper drawers. Some brands go even further with this. For example, Bosch and Samsung have a sealed 4th drawer door where you can adjust the temperature and humidity based on the food you store inside.
Air Flow and Filtration:
Air should not stay stagnant inside your fridge. A good refrigerator should filter out ethylene gas, produced by vegetables and fruits, to help keep foods from developing a stale smell and flavor.
Quality brands now offer individual drawers or sections that act both as a refrigerator and a freezer. Based on your needs, you can set the compartment to its own unique temperature. This is perfect for tasks like quickly chilling drinks, making specific items last longer, etc.
One last point, the ambient temperature is vital for a fridge. Say your home does not have air conditioning and it is 100 degrees inside. The room temperature makes the fridge work a lot harder. Good refrigerators can withstand ambient temperature swings better.
Water Dispenser & Ice Maker
Not to be forgotten, the ice maker is the single most common point of issues with refrigerators. Because they use moving parts, they’re the most likely part of your fridge to break down and require repairs.
Read up on your fridge's ice maker and water dispenser, including reading reviews from real customers to see what their experience has been. Issues to watch out for are slow water flow (no one likes waiting five minutes just to fill a cup), ice that gets clogged up and stuck, and poor ice quality.
We all are familiar with external water dispensers. Nowadays, having an external dispenser is not an "in" look. Therefore, select manufacturers place the dispenser on the interior wall (this also saves space on the door allowing for more storage).
We are fond of the Samsung Auto Fill water pitcher/dispenser. Essentially, it comes with a pitcher that fills up automatically and keeps the water cold. You can even infuse the water with fresh lemons, cucumbers, and other fresh fruit.
Interior Design Conveniences
A refrigerator has the potential to be more than just a cold box with a door that has shelves inside. As the most used appliance in the house, you want it to offer a little bit more. The benefits of a well-designed fridge interior include a faster time when searching for items, which means less air is let out, which in turn leads to less waste.
Some refrigerators feature adjustable shelving so that you can customize your arrangement. You can not only adjust the levels on the shelving but fold or slide a shelf to make space for taller items. Drawers with adjustable partitions also become handy for proper organization.
Does the refrigerator you’re considering make good use of its space? Does the placement of drawers, shelves, controls, and other features make sense? Do you have ample fridge and freezer space, or is one section too large—making the other so small that it’s almost useless? Can you organize the freezer, so items are not buried?
There are other interior features to consider, too. Interior lights make the whole fridge space more visible and provide a luxurious, high-end feel. Stainless steel interior walls or reflectors can help preserve cool air.
Interior design does not necessarily make or break your refrigerator’s quality, but it can go a long way in improving its flexibility and the experience you have while using it. Great refrigerator brands know how to maximize the space available in the refrigerator effectively so that you can fit as much as possible inside.
Imagine if 20 years ago someone told you that your refrigerator would be able to play videos, give you reminders, order food, and even talk to you. Smart connectivity has been the hottest trend in appliance design, and it’s showing no sign of slowing down.
You might not have any interest in smart features for your refrigerator, but it’s worth considering. While there are certainly some gimmicky features that won’t make much of an impact, there are others that you might love. Some fridges can be programmed to remind you to replace certain items as they run out, others pair with a smartphone app that lets you monitor temperatures and even see inside the fridge. This can be perfect when you’re at the grocery store and can’t quite remember whether you’re out of milk or not.
Other smart features include voice control via Amazon Alexa or Bixby, remote diagnostics or door open alerts sent to your smartphone (perfect for families with forgetful kids).
Smart features do raise the price range of most refrigerators, so if you can’t afford to buy a fridge that includes them, don’t worry. There are plenty of quality refrigerators that don’t feature smart connectivity and still get the job done.
While advanced, high-end features like a touch-screen lets you see what’s inside the fridge or help order groceries, there are still other basic features you can look for in a quality refrigerator.
- LG makes the most innovative refrigerators. Check out our buying guide with the best LG fridges compared and ranked.
Reliability is where it all comes down to the brand name. Why? Because there’s no way of knowing from browsing a showroom whether a refrigerator is built to last. It might work just fine on day one, but how about on day 3,000?
Fortunately, certain brands have an established reputation for creating incredibly reliable appliances. Brands like Samsung, LG, GE, Whirlpool and others all build well-made refrigerators with quality materials and parts that are built to last.
We always recommend that you check out a manufacturer’s warranty document before buying. You’ll notice that some manufacturers offer a 1-year parts and labor warranty, whereas others offer more robust plans. Sub Zero, for example, features a 12-year sliding scale warranty. Other brands reward customers with a one-year extended warranty when their appliance is installed by a factory-certified professional.
We recommend that our customers purchase extended warranty plans with refrigerators, especially those that cost $1,500 or more. Once your standard warranty runs out after a year, any repair appointments you need can cost you $150 just for a visit, not to mention any additional charges for repair costs and labor charges. If you’re springing for a high-end fridge, the roughly $350 extended warranty may be well worth the cost.
It’s also important to note that fridge extended warranties can pay for spoiled food and power surge-related issues that aren’t covered by the manufacturers, even in the first year.
Finally, make sure the brand you buy from offers a great support system. You should always know who you call for support in the event of an issue. Is your brand known for being responsive? European brands often do a great job when servicing customers in urban areas, but if you’re in a more rural area, you might have better luck with an established U.S. brand.
- Whirlpool Makes the Most Reliable Fridges in the US - Read more on Whirlpool refrigerators.
Most people don’t think about noise concerns when shopping for a refrigerator the way they do when it comes to dishwashers and laundry appliances. But noise is one of the most common complaints in negative refrigerator reviews.
If you notice noise complaints when reading customer reviews of a specific refrigerator model, stay away. Your fridge is positioned smack dab in the middle of the most used area in your home, and likely near where you and your family or guests sit down to eat. You don’t want to be talking over the constant, loud hum of a noisy refrigerator.
Don't forget about energy efficiency when choosing your refrigerator. While refrigerators of today are dramatically more energy-efficient than older models across the board, there is still some variation. Highly energy-efficient models can save you as much as a couple of hundred dollars per year, and result in less environmental impact.
Choosing for Your Needs
Finally, it's important to remember that what makes a refrigerator 'good' or 'bad' primarily comes down to personal needs and tastes. A fridge that may not be right for someone else might be perfect for you. We recommend that before you go shopping, you write down a list of what you want in a refrigerator and the features that just don't matter to you. That way, you'll go into the shopping experience informed, ready, and equipped to make decisions on which refrigerator is the right one for your home.