We spent 20 hours researching the most popular mini fridges, and we tested five of them by stuffing them with dozens of soda cans, measuring temperatures, and chilling drinks, lettuce, and frozen meals for a week. Most of them worked just fine—but if we had to recommend one, we’d say the Danby Designer DCR044A2 is the best of the bunch.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $146.
The Danby has the best shelving and storage design we’ve seen, including individual can holders and a full-width freezer. The price is typical for a mini fridge, and even with ample capacity, it won’t take up much floor space.
For a particularly small mini fridge—something to stick under your desk or end table, for example—check out the Midea WHS-65L. Such tiny cube-shaped fridges can’t hold as much as our main pick. The Midea and its competitors are all basically identical, but this model usually costs the least.
Mini fridges are great companions for small apartments, dorm rooms, hangouts, and offices. They’re ideal for storing drinks, snacks, daily lunches, and leftovers, but they can also store perishable items for a few days at a time.
However, mini fridges fall short of full-size, all-purpose refrigerators in several key ways. Most minis have no crisper drawer, so produce will lose its fresh taste and texture after a few days. Freezer burn is common, too, and the freezer compartments don’t reach anywhere near the 0 degree Fahrenheit threshold for safe, long-term meat storage.
We put in roughly 20 hours of research and hands-on testing to make this guide’s recommendations. After setting up the picks and gathering initial impressions, we left a couple of our favorite models running, each with a head of lettuce and a frozen meal inside, for a week. And after that test wrapped up, we kept using them to store drinks and snacks, gathering in total a couple of weeks’ worth of performance data prior to publication.
But that isn’t the only experience we’ve had testing mini fridges. Both the editor of this guide and I used to cover appliances for Reviewed.com, and we did a couple of mini fridge roundups together in 2012 and 2013. The editor of this guide also made some mini fridge recommendations for The Sweethome in 2015, published in our college-dorm essentials guide.
The methodology has been a bit different each time we’ve done a roundup, but we keep coming away with the same conclusion: All mini fridges work fine. They’re all built around similar parts, just in different capacities with different shelves. Any of them will get cold enough to store food for a few days. So go ahead and buy whatever is cheap and available, even if that means buying a used one.
That said, we set out to find the standout models, the ones the with best shelves and the best prices, for anyone who wants a slightly better experience with their mini fridge.
We started by making a spreadsheet of the best-selling mini fridges at major retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, and Home Depot. We compared capacity, size, price, and other specs, and we tracked user ratings. We also made sure to consider only fridges that use compressors for cooling, as opposed to thermoelectric elements, which don’t get cold enough to keep food safe. As we do for all of our guides at The Sweethome, we looked for other sources of test data or user wisdom; Consumer Reports was the only external outlet whose data we closely considered.
People need to fit mini fridges in all kinds of spaces, so we broke the category down into two divisions based on size: cube mini fridges and tall mini fridges.
Cube mini fridges are short enough to fit under a desk or even into a shelving unit. They’re handy for keeping a stash of drinks or snacks, and maybe a day’s lunch for two people. Most cube fridges have a similar capacity and shelving layout.
Tall mini fridges are the more popular type, and are available with a wider variety of capacities and shelving options. They’re too tall to fit under a typical 30-inch desk, but they’re great for dorm rooms, tiny apartments, game rooms, office lunch areas, or anywhere else you want a compact fridge, really. If you need to store a couple of cases of canned drinks or a few days’ worth of food, one of these should do the trick.
For now, we’ve decided to ignore two-door mini fridges, because Consumer Reports testing showed that they all struggle to hold consistent refrigerator temperatures. We might cover them in an update, but this time we focused on single-door models.
We settled on five finalists—three tall models and two cube models. We bought them and started testing.
Any fridge needs to keep food safe to eat, mini fridges being no exception. All of our previous experience with these appliances told us that they’re up to that task. But just to be sure, we ran some tests to confirm that each fridge could keep food safe and appetizing.
We used a low-temperature digital thermometer to take readings in each appliance. For the fridge compartment, we recorded the maximum and minimum temperatures it reached over a period of half an hour. Then we did the same for the freezer compartment. After narrowing down the group to our top two picks, we recorded overnight temperature readings to be sure that they worked well.
Alongside that test, we stashed a frozen, microwavable meal into each model’s freezer compartment and checked it periodically over several days to confirm that it stayed frozen, and that the appliance kept freezer burn to a minimum. We also put half a head of iceberg lettuce on the top shelf of the fridge to see how well the fridge could preserve perishable produce, as well as to see if it accidentally froze items sitting near the freezer.
In another test we gauged how much stuff we could fit in, which has as much to do with the shelving layout as with the manufacturer’s claimed capacity. We used standard 12-ounce soda cans as our main unit of measurement, though we also took notes on whether the fridges could store some commonly used, awkwardly shaped items like gallon jugs, snacks, and takeout boxes.
We also considered factors such as compressor noise (they were all fine) and whether cans came flying out of the in-door shelves when we opened the door too fast (they always did).
*At the time of publishing, the price was $146.
We like the Danby Designer DCR044A2 more than other mini fridges, mostly because it has better shelves and a smarter layout, including individual can holsters and a full-width freezer. That means you can store more food and drink more comfortably. Temperature performance is safe and as satisfactory as you’ll find in a mini fridge at this price. It takes up a similar amount of floor space as other models, and it’s relatively short for its size.
Designed with the best shelves and storage of any mini fridge we tested, this Danby model is advertised to have a capacity of 4.4 cubic feet, in the same range as competing models, but it uses its space better than the rest.
We were able to fit 89 12-ounce cans into the Danby DCR044A2 comfortably (meaning, they didn’t fall out when we opened the door). One of our favorite features is the set of eight individual can holders, a departure from the one-at-a-time dispensers in most other mini fridges. The holders can even accommodate 16-ounce tallboy cans.
In addition to a nine-egg tray in the door, the Danby has a slide-out tray under the freezer, which is a great place to keep deli meats and cheeses. (It also serves as the drip tray during the defrost cycle.) Most other mini fridges don’t have these kinds of options. You can also raise or lower the individual shelves (not made of wire!) throughout the interior to adjust for items of different heights.
And if you’re looking to store frozen goods, the freezer in the Danby is just as wide as the fridge itself, which is a big improvement on the smaller, partial-width freezers in many other models. Our temperature tests showed that both sizes of freezers hold temperatures roughly equally, so it’s a no-brainer to choose the extra space.
For food storage and preservation, this Danby works as well as any mini fridge. Across our testing, it sat squarely within the FDA-recommended temperature range for refrigerators (35°F to 38°F). In the freezer, the usual resting temp was about 9.9°F. That’s a bit of a problem for long-term storage (which we’ll cover below), but it’s absolutely typical for the mini fridges we’ve tested, and fine for storing frozen meals for a few days at a time.
Another space-saving consideration of the DCR044A2 is its height: It’s only 32.7 inches tall, more than a full inch shorter than the next-best competitor, the Midea WHS-160R. It isn’t short enough to fit beneath a standard 30-inch desk, but it may fit beneath a bar shelf or countertop.
Most of the Danby DCR044A2’s flaws can be chalked up to problems with mini fridges in general. Finding the right temperature setting can be tricky since the temperature dial has no markings. Freezer burn is inevitable if you leave anything in there for more than a few days. And the cooling system seems cheaply built.
In our initial test, with the dial at the halfway mark, we recorded the Danby fridge at 40°F, which is too warm for storing perishable foods. So we turned down the dial to about the two-thirds mark and reran the test. At that point it hit a typical resting temp of 35.6°F, squarely in the safe zone. It’s hard to say whether you can expect every unit of the Danby to follow this pattern; it could be the result of a manufacturing quirk unique to the fridge we tested, or maybe the factory leaves the fridge’s default setting a little high. In any case, if you plan to store food that could make you sick if it spoils, you may want to buy a fridge thermometer (we got ours for $7) or to at least turn the dial down from the get-go.
Freezer temperatures in all mini fridges tend to fluctuate a lot. That’s probably because it’s fundamentally inefficient to have an unsealed freezer shelf inside a compartment that’s mostly just a fridge. In our tests, while the DCR044A2’s freezer typically rested at about 9.9°F, the temperatures fluctuated as high as 27°F and as low as 9°F, for a total swing of about 18 degrees. Those shifts in temperature are substantial enough to cause slight freezer burn within a few days, affecting the taste and texture of the food. And since the freezer never came close to reaching the 0°F threshold for safe, long-term meat storage in our tests, you’ll have to find a better place to keep your venison steaks for the winter.
On the plus side, the Danby’s freezer is definitely cold enough to store ice cream or other frozen treats, as well as microwavable meals for a few days at a time.
Two-door mini fridges might be an option worth considering if a mini freezer is more important to you than a mini fridge. According to Consumer Reports, such models have better freezer performance (but worse refrigerator performance) than single-door designs. But we don’t know whether the two-door models actually get cold enough for safe long-term storage or if they’re just better than single-door models.
Finally, to our eyes the business end of the Danby DCR044A2 seemed a bit delicate and cheaply built—but that was the case with every mini fridge we looked at. The shelves and door were fine. But the wiring looked as if it were soldered in a hurry, and the compressor and all its connections were left unprotected on the back of the appliance. What this means is that it can sustain damage pretty easily in transit. Not only will you need to handle it with care, but so will the distributors, the people who work in warehouses and stockrooms, and the delivery people, too. If you suspect that you’ve received a broken unit, you probably have—return it immediately.
If we had a very small space to fit a mini fridge, we would buy the cube-shaped Midea WHS-65L. It’s cheap and surprisingly spacious despite its small footprint, it offers solid temperature performance, and it boasts a freezer compartment to boot. It also has some decent user reviews.
The Midea WHS-65L is basically the same machine as most other cube fridges, as far as we can tell, but it’s usually the most affordable one you can get. If you see another one for cheaper, go for it—that fridge will probably work just fine. (Some of them don’t have freezers, though, and it’s up to you if that’s a dealbreaker.)
Because of a cube fridge’s limited space (1.6 cubic feet) compared with tall mini fridges, such a model is probably not the best option if you plan to rely on it to store more than one or two days’ worth of food for more than two people, but it really depends on your circumstances. For what it’s worth, in our tests we were able to fit 46 12-ounce cans inside the Midea WHS-65L.
We recorded a fridge temperature of 37°F after a half hour. That fell to 35°F after we turned the dial down, but either way, those are perfectly adequate temperatures for food storage. We recorded a wider temperature fluctuation in the freezer: 11°to 21°F, which fell to 10°F to 20°F after we turned down the dial. That performance is about as good as you’ll get from a $100 fridge with a half-width freezer compartment. Just don’t depend on the freezer for long-term storage of frozen meals, and you’ll be fine.
The Midea WHS-160R is a tall mini fridge with a slightly larger raw fridge capacity than the Danby, but in practice the difference is negligible. The shelving, though, is the real letdown. This Midea model has only a partial-width freezer, the can dispenser is prone to letting cans slip through the bottom, and the shelves are wire rather than glass or plastic, so spills will spread through the entire interior, and some items won’t balance as nicely. As far as temperature performance, it hit similar marks as the Danby did once we adjusted the dial. But the lettuce we stashed near the freezer frosted slightly after a few days of testing—not an issue we ran into with the Danby.
The Magic Chef HMBR350SE is one of the cheapest tall mini fridges you can find, and a best seller at Home Depot. Temperature performance was adequate in our tests. It’s significantly smaller than the Danby, with a more-limiting shelving layout, but it is really cheap, so if you’re looking to save a few bucks and don’t care about the design, it’s worth a look.
The SPT RF-164SS cube is literally the same fridge as the Midea WHS-65L, just with a different door and logo, and it usually costs $20 extra. The manufacturer dresses up the description with terms like “sealed compressor for quiet operation,” but that’s just marketing. If you can’t find the Midea WHS-65L for a good price, by all means go with the SPT RF-164SS, or just about any other cube fridge—we think they’re basically the same appliances, though some have freezer compartments and others don’t.
Just to reiterate, we think most mini fridges will work absolutely fine for storing drinks and some food for a few days at a time, as long as they have a compressor. If you end up with a lead on a great deal for a mini fridge that we don’t cover here, or if you just find yourself at a big-box store trying to figure out which one to buy in a hurry, you don’t need to overthink it.
Originally published: August 15, 2016
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