There are two things to consider when buying a compact refrigerator. First, with the possible exception of two-door models, freezer performance among compact refrigerators is poor. In most models, the tiny freezer compartment shares airspace with the refrigerator and cannot keep food solidly frozen without causing ice to form on refrigerated food. The freezer is usually cold enough to make ice, albeit slowly.

Second, mini fridges use a lot of energy compared with larger refrigerators. The smaller size reduces the amount of insulation that can fit in the refrigerator's walls, so they don't hold cold air as well as standard models. Even Energy Star-rated compact units are inefficient compared to full-size refrigerators.

The features on most compact refrigerators are limited. Analog-dial temperature controls are almost universal, but extras such as automatic freezer defrost or a humidity-controlled crisper can add significantly to the price. Considering the number of owner complaints about breakdowns, the one extra that may be worth paying for is an extended warranty.

Here are some additional shopping tips:
  • Check with your school before buying a mini fridge for a dorm room. Most colleges and universities permit students to have mini fridges in their rooms, but some have restrictions on size and energy consumption.
  • Buy the largest mini fridge you can afford that will fit. Not only do larger compact refrigerators hold more food, they almost always perform better and are more energy efficient.
  • Glass shelves are better than wire racks. Solid shelves help contain spills, are easier to clean, and provide more stability for small items.
  • Choose a mini fridge with an interior configuration that suits your storage needs. Large door shelves work well for gallon jugs or 2-liters, but they may be an inefficient use of space for storing small items like yogurt or soda cans. Adjustable shelves are useful for refrigerating big items.
  • Consider a two-door model if you plan to store frozen food. You'll sacrifice some space for the separate freezer, but at least your frozen pizzas and ice cubes will stay frozen.
  • Avoid thermoelectric coolers for anything but beverages. This type of compact refrigerator often costs less and is very lightweight, but it may not keep perishable foods at a safe temperature, especially if it is located in a warm room.

Back to top