Choosing the best mini fridge
If you need
to chill food in a dorm room or RV, stock cool drinks in the wet bar or a
basement rec room, or find a way for teens to keep their food away from nosey
siblings, you might want to consider a mini fridge. Mini fridges are small
enough to slip into places where a full-size fridge couldn't possibly fit. Many
also have tiny freezer compartments that can hold ice for your wet bar or, in a
few cases, have room for frozen pizzas.
aren't known for their stellar freezing performance, though, and cold air
leaking out of the freezer compartment can sometimes damage delicate foods. Many
also don't have the ability to keep frozen foods at a safe temperature. In
general, it's best to focus on letting that mini fridge do its one job -- keep
unfrozen foods cool -- or to purchase a small fridge that has a separate door
for the freezer compartment. That means the freezer is isolated from the fridge
and better insulated overall, so your frozen items stay frozen and chilled
foods aren't damaged by leaking cold air.
You can also
purchase mini fridges that don't have a freezer compartment at all, which
maximizes your fridge space and eliminates the worry about cold air going
places it doesn't belong. If you really need extra freezing capacity, you're
usually best served by purchasing a dedicated stand-alone freezer; we
recommend the top choices in all sizes in a separate report.
use mini fridges to store wine or champagne, but if you are serious about fine
wine, you should consider getting a wine cooler instead. And, of course,
a mini fridge can't replace a full sized refrigerator, so if your big
fridge is on the fritz, head over to our latest edition of that report for some
cooling system for your mini fridge
mini fridges use compressors to regulate temperature, just like full-size refrigerators
do. Cheaper models rely on thermoelectric (Peltier) coolers, which use
electrical currents to produce their cooling effect. Generally speaking, mini
fridges that use thermoelectric cooling are sufficient for chilling drinks, but
little else. They cannot maintain temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the
U.S. Department of Agriculture's threshold for safe food storage.
important to know which type of cooling system a given fridge has before you
purchase, especially if you plan to store food in it. Most thermoelectric mini
fridges are identified as such on their packaging. (They may also be described
as "superconductor" refrigerators.) If you're not sure, check the
product specs: If they state that the unit cools a certain number of degrees
below ambient temperature, or that it must be unplugged intermittently, it's a
thermoelectric style fridge. All of the models in this report use compressors
save one of the smaller mini fridges, which we've clearly noted.
dominates this year's mini fridge reviews
well-known manufacturers of large refrigerators produce compact models, too;
but they don't always perform well. In fact, little-known manufacturer Danby
dominated the mini fridge reviews in our last report, and still performs well
in this report. However, the top spot for a larger (though still compact)
fridge in this year's report goes to a model from a well-known manufacturer:
the 4.5-cubic foot, Energy-Star-rated (Est. $330).
The kudos are
well earned. This Frigidaire does a great job of balancing every aspect that
users value in their mini fridges: It's reasonably compact, quiet enough to
operate in enclosed spaces and, most important of all, it keeps your food
consistently cold. Users say temperature adjustments (between 32 and 50
degrees) are easy, and they love having a second, separate door for the
full-width freezer compartment.
the freezer compartment, the Frigidaire FFPS4533QM's compartment is large
enough to have a single, adjustable shelf in it -- and the fact that it's
completely separate from the refrigerator compartment means you don't have to
worry about items placed on the top shelf of the fridge suffering freezer burn
This is the
only model we evaluated that performed well at both refrigeration and freezing,
and users love its auto-defrost function -- not a terribly common feature on
mini fridges. The main refrigeration compartment has two adjustable glass
shelves, an enclosed crisper bin to keep produce fresh, storage for cans and
tall bottles in the door, and interior lighting.
its excellent chilling and freezing performance, this mini fridge can do
anything: holding food in a dorm room or teenager's room, stocking ice and cold
drinks for a wet bar, or even functioning as a standalone fridge for a small
rental unit. The only real criticisms we found of the Frigidaire FFTPS4533QM
are some mixed reviews of its durability. The manufacturer estimates that it
uses 259 kWh/year, and it's backed by a limited one-year warranty.
Frigidaire FFTPS4533QM is an excellent value, too. But if you're on a truly
strict budget, we like the 4.4-cubic-foot (Est. $150). It's Energy Star rated, with an estimated energy consumption of
226 kWh/year, and similar internal storage: Three glass shelves (two that
adjust), plus storage for cans and tall bottles in the door.
DCR044A2WDD also has a small full-width freezer compartment, but because it
doesn't have its own door, it shares air space with the rest of the
refrigerator. As expected, users say this little unit has trouble keeping ice
cream hard-frozen, and cold air leaking out can freeze produce that's placed on
the top shelf. There's an open cavity meant for produce in the very bottom of
the fridge, but it doesn't actually have a produce bin. Users also note the
lack of an interior light.
said, the Danby DCR044A2WDD does pretty well where it matters the most -- the
actual refrigeration -- as long as you follow the manufacturer's instructions
carefully. You should plug the Danby in for 24 hours before filling it with
food, and leave several inches of air space to the sides and back. If you do
this, users say this mini fridge runs fairly quietly and does a pretty good job
of keeping your drinks or food chilled. In fact, the magnetic door seals so
tightly that you might have to put a paper clip in the seal to make it easier
just mixed enough, however, that if you're planning to store raw meat or other
food that must be maintained at less than 40 degrees, you should plan on
investing in a refrigerator thermometer to verify that the thermostat is
actually doing its job (its temperature range is supposed to be 32 to 50
degrees). Also, although the Danby DCR044A2WDD is backed by an eighteen-month
warranty, users say customer service usually offers refund checks instead of
repairing or replacing the unit.
biggest concern is making the most of limited space, another excellent mini
fridge is the 5.6-cubic-foot, Energy-Star-rated GE GCE06GGHWW Compact Refrigerator (Est. $360).
It has the standard mini fridge organization (two adjustable glass shelves plus
a clear crisper drawer, door shelves and a can rack) plus interior lighting and
a small, full-width freezer compartment. This version is white, but it also
comes in stainless steel as the GE GCE06GSHSB Compact Refrigerator (Est.
Users say the
GE mini fridge is very quiet and it can be used as a freestanding appliance or
built in to the under-counter space meant for a dishwasher. It does a great job
of keeping food and drinks cool, although once fully loaded it takes a while to
get back down to its ideal operating temperature.
Danby DCR044A2WDD, the GE Spacemaker's freezer compartment shares airspace with
the refrigeration compartment, so it struggles to freeze full-size ice cubes
(although the smaller ice cube trays it come with work pretty well). Users are
also put off by the need to manually defrost the freezer compartment every few
months. Still, when it comes to maximizing storage, the Spacemaker's
5.6-cubic-foot capacity is hard to beat. It's covered by a one-year limited
mini fridges are the smallest available
mini fridges (sometimes called cube fridges) are good for keeping beverages
cool and sometimes storing a small lunch, but not much else. Many of these
models are small enough to fit under a desk and inexpensive, but they also tend
to be made of cheap components that leave them inefficient and unreliable.
One notable exception
to this field is the Energy-Star-rated 2.6-cubic-foot (Est. $180),
which has three adjustable glass shelves, a can rack, and a door shelf that'll
hold one tall bottle. Users say this mini fridge runs relatively quiet and does
a good job of keeping things cool, and because it has no freezer compartment,
there's more room for storing food and drinking inside. (An auto defrost
function takes care of any ice that might build up.)
delicate items like lettuce may freeze if you put them toward the back of the
fridge, where it tends to be cooler, and the lack of air circulation means you
can get a lot of temperature variation when it's fully loaded. Upsizing your
Danby DAR026A1BDD by just a little bit can help; the extra room allows better air
circulation, which in turn helps maintain consistent temperatures. You can get
the same fridge in several larger capacities: 3.1 cubic feet, 3.2 cubic feet,
3.3 cubic feet and 4.4 cubic feet, many of which eschew freezer compartments in
order to offer you the most refrigerator space possible. It even comes in a
tiny 1.7 cubic foot model. This fridge is also available in several bold colors
-- red, black, white and stainless steel -- and you can get the 3.3 cubic foot
fridge in a patriotic, Budweiser-branded version emblazoned with red, white and
blue elements from the American flag.
DAR026A1BDD is backed by the company's 18-month warranty, although you'd have
to transport it to the repair shop -- but owners say the company is more likely
to issue a refund than pay for repairs. Like larger Danby fridges, this unit is
meant for freestanding use only -- it needs at least five inches of open space
on the back for air circulation, and a couple inches on the sides.
compartments on tiny, cube-shaped mini fridges are typically even worse than on
large mini fridges, if only because there's less space for storing your
delicate produce or drinks away from the freezing compartment. If you must have
a freezer compartment for storing ice, though, the (Est. $95) offers a
half-width compartment that still leaves room for a tall bottle on one side of
the fridge compartment. Its door basket is large enough to hold a 2-liter pop
bottle, too, and the wire shelves slide out for easy access. On the downside,
users say it's too loud for use in living areas (put it in the garage instead).
It's also not particularly energy efficient, and not terribly durable either --
so if you can, you should go for the Danby model or, even better, a larger
the intro we mentioned thermoelectric fridges as generally being something to
avoid. But if you're positive that all you want is a beverage cooler, their
relatively quiet operation may make them attractive. Our top pick for
thermoelectric mini fridges is the (Est. $135). Because there is no compressor taking up space, this
1.7-cubic-foot mini fridge is relatively roomy inside, with two adjustable
shelves and a rack that holds a single tall bottle and an interior light that
you can switch on and off. The only noise you may hear is the hum of its fan.
that the Avanti SHP1702SS cools effectively, but slowly. Some users are
confused about what it's meant to do, expecting it to safely cool food even
when salespeople try to warn them away from the thermoelectric design. But if
you go into this purchase with the clear expectation that it'll cool your
beverages and nothing else, you'll probably be very happy with it.
Mini fridges of any brand get roughed up in transit with some frequency, but
the Avanti SHP1702SS seems to arrive damaged more often than most. Check and
make sure it's in good condition before accepting delivery.
Expert & User Review Sources
recent multiproduct test of compact refrigerators comes from ConsumerReports.org,
which rates 15 models based on factors such as performance, energy efficiency
and noise level; you need a subscription to access the full report, though.
Because mini fridges have such a poor reputation for performance, we also
leaned heavily on user feedback from sites like Lowes.com, HomeDepot.com, AJMadison.com, BestBuy.com, ABT.com, and of course Amazon.com to evaluate how compact fridges operate in real-world conditions.