Think about how often you open your refrigerator door. Every splash of milk for coffee, every snack, every grocery run. Arguably, it’s the single most used—and single most important—appliance in your home. There definitely will be days when you don’t heat up leftovers in the microwave or run the washing machine. But a good refrigerator will make your life a little easier at least three times a day, every day.
Choosing the best refrigerator for your kitchen may seem like a straightforward task. But if you think it’s just a big box that plugs into the wall and keeps your food cold, we’ve got some news for you. The truth is, there’s a fine line between a refrigerator you’ll love and a refrigerator that will drive you crazy from the minute you bring it home. Keeping food appropriately chilled is, of course, really important. But it’s just the first thing on a list of factors you should keep in mind to pick out a good-quality fridge.
Read on for a rundown of the key features you’ll find on any great fridge, and learn how to avoid picking a lemon.
1) Advanced Climate Control
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, great refrigerators can do much more than that. You’ll notice a measurable difference in how long they keep your veggies, fruits, milk, and more fresh. You’ll also notice that odors don’t transfer from one food to another in a good-quality climate-controlled fridge (so bring on those leftover Brussels sprouts). Let’s take a look at how.
What Makes a Fridge Better at Climate Control?
First, you need to understand that a refrigerator actually regulates its internal conditions by managing three things: temperature, humidity, and air circulation and filtration. We’ll take them one at a time.
First and foremost, you need a steady temperature inside your fridge. Old or basic refrigerators feature a simple dial or knob that you can turn from 1 to 5, with 1 being the warmest and 5 being the coldest. Many newer fridges feature digital readouts and adjustments instead of those traditional clicker knobs. This gives you more control, flexibility, and transparency over the precise temperature. In a good fridge/freezer, the internal temperature shouldn’t fluctuate more than one degree from what you set.
Some brands’ refrigerators feature a Super Cool or Super Freeze function. Let’s say you’ve just come back from the store, and you’ve got a melty pint of ice cream on your hands. Turn on this function, and the compressor will temporarily work overtime to provide an additional boost of cold. You can also use it to help maintain the fridge’s temperature while the door’s open, as you put your other groceries away.
One last point: The ambient temperature is vital for a fridge. Say you’re shopping for a refrigerator for your garage—or any space without central heating or air-conditioning. Your refrigerator will have to work a lot harder to maintain a steady temperature in the summer heat and winter cold. Some refrigerators are designated as garage-ready, meaning they can withstand those big temperature swings better.
In general, humid air maximizes food preservation. However, some foods need more humidity than others to stay fresh. That’s where crisper drawers come in. A good fridge should give you the ability to adjust the humidity inside its crisper drawers: higher for foods that need more (like wilt-prone leafy green) and lower for foods that need less (like apples and pears). Some brands take this even further: For example, Bosch and Samsung refrigerators have a sealed fourth drawer door where you can adjust the temperature and humidity based on the food you want to store inside.
Air Flow and Filtration
You don’t want the air inside your fridge to be stagnant. A good refrigerator actively filters out the ethylene gas produced by vegetables and fruits to help keep other foods from smelling and tasting stale.
2) A Reliable Water Dispenser & Ice Maker
The ice maker is the biggest pain point with refrigerators. Because of their moving parts, they’re the most likely component to break down.
Read up on the ice maker and water dispenser of any refrigerator you’re considering, including online reviews from real customers. Steer clear if you see comments about 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’ve all seen fridges with external water dispensers, but today that looks a bit dated. Select manufacturers now put the dispenser on the interior wall. This saves space on the door, makes it sleeker, and gives you more storage space inside.
We are fond of the Samsung fridge Auto Fill water pitcher/dispenser. Essentially, it’s a built-in pitcher that fills up automatically and keeps the water cold. You can even infuse the water with fresh lemon, cucumber, and other fresh fruit.
3) Interior Design Conveniences
A well-designed fridge interior helps you find what you’re looking for faster, so you let out less cold air. You’ll also waste less food, since you won’t lose stuff in the back or the drawers. The interior design isn’t necessarily a make-or-break factor, but it can go a long way in improving your daily user experience. Great refrigerator brands know how to maximize the space inside effectively so that you can fit as much as possible. Look for these features:
Some refrigerators have adjustable shelves that truly let you personalize them. Moving them up and down is just the start. Some can also fold or slide to make space for taller items. Drawers with adjustable partitions also are helpful for organization.
Another helper when you’re hunting for an ingredient, these make the whole fridge space more visible and provide a luxurious, high-end feel.
Stainless Steel Interior Walls or Reflectors
They’re not just for looks—these shiny surfaces also help preserve cool air.
Easy-to-Switch Refrigerator/Freezer Compartments or Drawers
Quality brands now offer individual drawers or sections that serve both as a refrigerator or a freezer. Based on your needs, you can set the compartment to a specific temperature. This is perfect for tasks like quickly chilling drinks or making specific items last longer.
When assessing a fridge’s layout, think about how you shop and cook, and ask yourself: Does it 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 and the other too small? Can you organize the freezer so items don’t get buried?
4) Smart Features
Imagine if 20 years ago someone told you that your refrigerator would one day be able to play videos, remind you to pick up a gallon of milk, order takeout, and even talk you through recipes. You wouldn’t have believed them, right? But that’s precisely where we are. Smart connectivity has been the hottest trend in appliance design, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.
You may not be interested in a smart refrigerator, but they’re worth considering. There are certainly some gimmicky features, but there are others that you might love. For instance, you can program some fridges to remind you to replace certain items as they run out; others can be paired with a smartphone app that lets you remotely monitor temperatures and even see inside the fridge—ideal for when you’re at the grocery store and can’t quite remember whether you’re out of eggs.
Other smart features include a touch screen that lets you see what’s inside, voice control via Amazon Alexa or Bixby, remote diagnostics, and door-open alerts sent to your smartphone.
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 high-quality refrigerators that don’t feature smart connectivity.
LG makes the most innovative refrigerators. Check out our buying guide where we compare and rank the best LG fridges.
Reliability is all about 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 durable materials and parts.
We always recommend that you check out a manufacturer’s warranty document before buying. You’ll notice that some manufacturers offer a one-year parts and labor warranty, whereas others offer more robust plans. For a Sub-Zero refrigerator, for example, you receive a one-year extended warranty when it’s 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 one-year warranty runs out, 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 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 in your area. 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 refrigerators are considered the most reliable standard residential products on the market today.
Most people don’t think about noise when shopping for a refrigerator the way they do about 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.
7) Energy Efficiency
Don’t forget about energy efficiency when choosing your refrigerator. While today’s refrigerators are dramatically more energy efficient than older models, there is still some variation. Very energy-efficient models can save you as much as a couple hundred dollars per year, and result in less environmental impact. For starters, look for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star seal.
Your Specific Needs
Finally, remember that what makes a refrigerator “good” or “bad” eventually comes down to your lifestyle and taste. A fridge that may not be right for someone else might be perfect for you. Before you go shopping, we recommend taking the time to write down a list of the features you want in a refrigerator and—just as important—the ones that just don’t matter to you. That way, you’ll go into the experience ready to make a clear-eyed, well-informed decision.
Join the Conversation
See what other Designer Appliances readers are saying.
SIDENOTE. This post was last modified on July 2, 2021. However, we regularly update our content as we test more products and new models are released. We also listen to the feedback of our customers and make changes to our product recommendations based on their experiences. So don’t be surprised if you see some old comments below! Since reader comments contribute to the topic, we have decided not to delete them.