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The Best Refrigerator

The best refrigerator for you is probably the Whirlpool WRF535SMBM—a reliable, affordable, French door fridge that fits a space 36 inches wide; our 65 hours of research has shown it to be the most common size and style of fridge bought in America today.

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Last Updated: October 4, 2016
The sale offer on our top pick is no longer available. However, after a quick check, we still believe that the Whirlpool WRF535SMBM is the best available refrigerator for most people.
Expand Most Recent Updates
August 24, 2016: Our top pick—the Whirlpool WRF535SMBM—is on sale at Home Depot for $1,200. Best Buy is also having a sale, offering the Whirlpool for $1,200 until September 14. If you’re okay with open-box models, you can use the Best Buy coupon code APPLIANCES20 to save even more. See our Deals Page for more information.    
April 6, 2016: We rewrote this guide with all new picks and tips on how to buy the right fridge for your home.
January 6, 2016: We prioritized other guides over this one during the second half of last year, and we apologize it's taken us so long to update it. We hope to be able to offer our latest recommendations by mid-2016.
August 26, 2015: It's taken us longer than expected to devote the proper resources to updating this guide, but we are working on it. We're keeping it on wait status for now, and should have a new pick this fall.
April 24, 2015: It's taken us way longer than expected to devote the proper resources to updating this guide, but we are working on it. We're keeping it on wait status for now, but should have a new pick by the end of June or early July.
January 9, 2014: Our main pick is being discontinued. Keeping this guide on wait status while we research a replacement.
December 16, 2013: Setting this guide to wait status while we work on making sure it's up-to-date. Our picks are still good for now, but expect additional research coming soon.

But let’s back up for a minute. Picking a fridge really boils down to personal taste; most fridges work well. Depending on your budget and the amount of space you have, you can choose from dozens of fridges with different features and styles. We can’t predict exactly what everyone wants in a fridge, but we can help you ask the right questions so no matter what you need, you’ll be able to find something that will make you happy.

That said, we’re still recommending a few specific refrigerators because our research shows that some size-style-price combinations are especially popular. These are the models that we would buy, informed by what most people seem to find important in a refrigerator and also our taste and preferences. If these picks suit you, fantastic. They’re all available at several national retailers near you.

Our pick
Whirlpool WRF535SMBM
One of the most affordable French door fridges at the most popular width (36 inches), this stripped-down-but-solid Whirlpool is reliable, efficient, and quiet.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $1,211.

The Whirlpool WRF535SMBM’s build is stripped-down but solid; it feels like it can turn in years of steady service without much fuss. With about 25 cubic feet of full-width, well-distributed capacity, it should hold enough food for a family of six with room left for drinks. Energy Star gives its efficiency a stamp of approval. Noise is not a common complaint among owners, either. No fancy features here, apart from an ice maker in the freezer, but that means there’s less that can break over time. And for what it’s worth, the stainless-look, French door design should keep your kitchen looking fresh and modern for years to come.

Upgrade pick
Samsung RF28HMEDBSR
Spend more on a fridge, and you get tons of features and designs to choose from. We’d get this Samsung for its versatile center drawer, blue LEDs, and silver trim.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $2,245.

In a big kitchen with a flexible budget, we’d get the 36-inch-wide Samsung RF28HMEDBSR. That’s because we love the four-door look, which is a newly popular variant on the typical three-door French door design. We also love all its little design flourishes like blue-tinted LEDs and shelves with silver trim. Sure, the center drawer’s “flex” temperature settings are a little gimmicky, but we’d turn it up to the warmest setting and keep our fancy beers in there. The ice maker is slow and somewhat prone to jamming, but we could live with that.

Do we need to pay this much for a good refrigerator? Hell no. We just like this one, and if we’re going to use something every day for the next decade, we’re getting something we like. You should pick whatever suits your tastes, and there are plenty of great options. Our buying guide can point out the pros and cons with most of the designs and features.

Budget pick
GE GTS18GTHWW
Need a cheap fridge that just works? Most top-freezer models are pretty similar, but this GE is among the least likely to have reliability issues.

On a budget, we’d get the GE GTS18GTHWW. This is the minimum viable fridge that most people should consider. It’s a 30-inch wide top freezer that costs less than $600. The GE has all the same features as similar models, and it’s less likely to have a factory defect or other reliability issues. At 17.5 cubic feet, it holds enough food for a family of four. This is also a solid pick if you’re looking for a second fridge to toss in the basement or garage, or if you need to provide for tenants.

Also great
Whirlpool WRF532SMBx
This is a slimmer 33-inch version of the Whirlpool we recommend above. All the same pros and cons apply here, though it tends to cost more.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $1,540.

For 33-inch spaces, Whirlpool makes a model that’s nearly identical to the wider Whirlpool we mention above. It’s called the WRF532SMBx (the last character is a “wild card” for different finishes), and the same pros and cons apply. One additional catch: 33-inch fridges aren’t as in-demand as 36-inch models, so prices tend to be higher even though they’re smaller.

Table of contents

How we picked

In this guide, we recommend a few refrigerators at the most popular sizes and styles and price points. Maybe one of them is a good fit for your home.

On the other hand, you might need a narrower or shallower fridge than we recommend, or maybe you just prefer a different style, or maybe prices have shifted dramatically since we published this guide. We know that we can’t account for all the make-or-break factors for every kitchen and every family. Instead, we’re laying out the most important questions to ask and factors to consider when you’re shopping for a refrigerator. If our picks don’t suit you or you just want to double-check our criteria, check out the How to buy a fridge section below.

We’re laying out the most important questions to ask and factors to consider when you’re shopping for a refrigerator.

How’d we figure out what makes a great fridge? We did around 65 hours of research for this guide over the course of about 18 months. (If you were waiting: Sorry it took so long!) I also had some prior knowledge about fridges, as I’ve covered the appliance industry for four years, including a stint at Reviewed.com. We tracked down as much sales and trends data as we could from AHAM, Trakline, and other industry sources. We also ran a survey of Sweethome readers that tallied about 270 responses, and we interviewed several experts, including:

  • Keith Barry, editor-in-chief of appliance coverage at Reviewed.com
  • Rich Brown, executive editor of reviews at CNET
  • Chris Zeisler of RepairClinic.com, who has a couple decades of field experience fixing all kinds of appliances
  • Steve Sheinkopf, CEO of Yale Appliance + Lighting sales and service in the Boston area and the prolific author of the Yale Appliance blog
  • Other salespeople on the showroom floor at Sears, Lowe’s, and Home Depot stores in the Boston metro area
  • Representatives from a handful of refrigerator brands, including Electrolux / Frigidaire, LG, GE, and Liebherr, among others

We read dozens of reviews based on controlled lab tests, published by Consumer Reports, Reviewed.com, and CNET to try to figure out what’s really important in a fridge. A few of their tests helped us shape our thinking, like CNET pushing the limits of shelving flexibility using actual groceries, Consumer Reports measuring the usable capacity compared to the advertised capacity, and Reviewed.com recording moisture loss from the crispers.

As for the specific models that we recommend in this guide, we focused on a handful of the most popular size-style-price combinations, which we gleaned from sales data provided by industry groups and manufacturers, the bestseller lists on retailers’ websites, and anecdotes from salespeople and repair technicians. We only recommend models that are available from multiple national retailers, so you should be able to find any of these in your area most of the time. If you can’t, you can use the next section in this guide to figure out if a different fridge is decent.

Since we don’t have the means to test fridges on our own, we got some hands-on time by checking them out in showrooms in the Boston metro area, including Sears, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Yale Appliance + Lighting. But we mainly relied on user reviews—thousands of them—for info about reliability and other qualitative aspects of the fridges. We also considered certain details from editorial reviews, like noise levels, but scores and rankings were a non-factor in our decisions for the most part.

That said, a fridge is a major household purchase, so we encourage you to do some research of your own, even if it’s just to head into a showroom to check out the feel and features of different models. The next section can help you ask the right questions about any fridge you’re interested in.

How to buy a fridge

Use this section as a guide to narrow in on your best fridge. We’re covering the most relevant topics in rough order of importance (size, price, reliability, style, and so on). That order is based on what we’ve heard from our expert sources and the questions we’ve heard from readers (and our own inter-staff chatter). But skip around as you see fit.

Also, we only mean for this advice to apply to freestanding refrigerators. Integrated or built-in fridges are beyond our scope, and you should head to a local showroom if you’re interested in one of those. If you’re looking for a mini-fridge, we recommend a few that we like here.

Size:

If you’re at home, grab a tape measure and figure out how much space you have for a fridge right now. This focuses your search more than any other step you can take. Write down the width, depth, and height, all in inches. Returning a fridge is a huge pain for everyone involved, so just get it right the first time.

If you only measure one dimension, make it width—that’s probably the limiting factor for what will fit in your kitchen. The most popular width now is 36 inches, but 33-inch, 30-inch, and smaller sizes are all common, too. (The actual widths are all a few fractions of an inch skinnier; we’re just rounding up for the sake of convenience.)

If you only measure one dimension, make it width—that’s probably the limiting factor for what will fit in your kitchen.

Depth can be a factor if you have a kitchen island or a galley-style kitchen, where you might need a shallower fridge (or at least a fridge with half-width doors that won’t bonk into a fixture when they open completely).

Height can matter if you need to slide the fridge in beneath cabinets, but usually it’s the least-important dimension.

Price:

Paying more for a fridge (up to a point) does get you extra capacity, style, and convenient features like an ice maker or shelving flexibility. As best we can tell, paying more does not guarantee reliability, longevity, quiet operation, or better food preservation.

A fair price for a no-frills, 30-inch-wide fridge with enough capacity for four people is about $600. That’s the minimum fridge we think that most households will be comfortable with, and it’s a reasonable cost if you have an older, smaller kitchen or just need something affordable on short notice to replace a broken fridge or equip a rental unit. Cheaper, smaller fridges are out there if you need them, but the storage space is pretty tight.

For most people buying a fridge today, the sweet spot is a 36-inch, French door fridge with an ice maker, stainless finish, and enough storage for six, maybe seven people, including wide and tall items as needed. It should cost about $1,400. Most modern kitchens are built for a fridge of this width. If that sounds about right but you need a narrower fridge, some 33-inch and 30-inch models will fit the bill, though these sizes tend to cost a little more because they aren’t as popular.

The maximum amount that we’d personally spend on a fridge is about $2,500. That gets us a 36-inch stainless steel French door fridge with a through-the-door water and ice dispenser, extra capacity, and all sorts of sharp design details like a fourth door.

But you can get all kinds of different features, finishes, and designs if you’re willing to pay for them. It’s up to you to decide if you want to spend extra for, say, a black stainless finish that’ll serve as the centerpiece for your super-modern kitchen, or a hot-water dispenser that can make K-cup coffee, or a door-in-door design.

While you’re shopping, remember that fridge prices can swing by hundreds of dollars in just a few days, particularly if you’re shopping at Sears. Keep your eye out for promotional deals—you shouldn’t have to wait more than a couple of weeks for one.

Reliability:

Try to buy a fridge that’s been available for a year or more. Older models have more user reviews, which can give you an idea about design flaws that cause problems in the first few years of ownership.

Every refrigerator we researched for this guide has a few scathing negative reviews, because sometimes bad units slip out of the factory, and sometimes a botched delivery or installation can damage the machine. But don’t let a couple of one-star reviews that play the shame card scare you away from a fridge that’s great otherwise. Just keep an eye out for patterns.

The main problems to watch out for are a catastrophic cooling failure or a microprocessor failure (everything has a computer in it now), which are both expensive to repair and render your fridge useless while you wait a few days for a technician to arrive. Janky ice makers and bad defrosters are also super-irritating, and can’t always be repaired, just managed.

Warranties today are short, so don’t count on them. Most brands only include a year of full coverage, even on fridges that cost $2,000 or more. Sure, you could favor brands that cover parts of their fridges for longer periods, like LG or Maytag. But it’s not some kind of magical protection against breakdowns, and it doesn’t mean customer service will be easy to deal with.

In our opinion, buying from a reputable, responsive dealer or working with a great service technician are your real insurance. Sears, for what it’s worth, has its own service department. Here’s a sobering view of what it’s like for a repair technician to try to work under a manufacturer’s warranty.

Refrigerators sold today will last about 10 to 15 years. Your old fridge probably lasted longer than that. Steve Sheinkopf, CEO of Yale Appliance + Lighting in Boston, told us he thinks new fridges have shorter lifespans because efficiency regulations are getting strict, forcing the compressor to cycle on and off more than it did in the past.

On that note, nobody can say authoritatively how any fridge will hold up relative to its competitors in 10 years, so don’t drive yourself crazy trying to figure it out.

It’s tempting to lean on a brand’s historic reputation to guess at its lifespan and reliability, but that isn’t as useful as you’d think.

We tried learning more about the quality of individual components in fridges and how that might affect longevity, but we mostly hit dead ends, and our sources didn’t think we’d gain much from it anyway.

It’s tempting to lean on a brand’s historic reputation to guess at its lifespan and reliability, but that isn’t as useful as you’d think. A couple of major American brands changed ownership within the past decade, some foreign brands got serious about American homes, and tons of outfits have moved production facilities. So the old ways don’t mean much anymore.

And finally, the brand reliability data published by J.D. Power and Consumer Reports is better than nothing but doesn’t tell you much about individual models, which is what’s really important.

Style:

Get whatever suits your preferences, within your size and price limitations. They do have some relative strengths and weaknesses, though, and we think most people will be happiest with either a French door if you have the space and money for it, or a top freezer if your kitchen and budget are tight.

refrigerator-comparison

The two most popular refrigerator styles these days are French door (left) and the classic top freezer (right).

French door is the most popular style now by far, according to every bit of industry data and every real-life salesperson we talked to.

French door models have a bottom-mounted, drawer-style freezer and two half-width doors for the refrigerator. French door is the most popular style now by far, according to every bit of industry data and every real-life salesperson we talked to. It’s the modern look, and it makes great use of its size and capacity. It has a better layout for wide items like pizza boxes or platters than side-by-side fridges, and the double doors make it easier to open fully if your kitchen island is tight to your counters. You do have to bend over to get into the freezer, though, which some people don’t love at first but tend to get used to.

Top freezer models have (no kidding) a top-mounted freezer and a full-width door on the fridge. It’s the classic refrigerator, a no-frills utilitarian cold box. Functionally, they work just like any other fridge. But except for some retro-stylized luxury models, they aren’t fashionable at all and usually have no special features to speak of, so they tend to be cheap. Many of the newest models are also very energy-efficient—like, almost as efficient as specialty fridges made for off-the-grid homes these days. If you have a kitchen island or a galley-style kitchen, the full-width door might not have the clearance to open fully, so take a measurement before you buy.

Side-by-side models are split vertically, with the freezer on the left and the refrigerator on the right. The typical argument for a side-by-side design is that it’s easy to get at both fresh and frozen foods, since they’re both at eye level. The major downside is that it can be tough to fit wide items like pizza boxes or cake platters into either side of the machine. Side-by-sides also tend to be less efficient than other kinds of fridges, though it really depends on the individual model. We think most people will be happier with a French door fridge—several salespeople we spoke with said that they outsell side-by-sides “at least” 10 to 1—but it’s really up to your personal preference.

Bottom freezer models are a lot like French door fridges, except the fridge door is full-width, rather than split into two half-width doors. For whatever reason, this style is not currently in fashion, apart from super-narrow units built for small, upscale condos. The wide-swinging door might have trouble opening fully near a kitchen island or other tight spaces.

Some high-end refrigerators have four or even five doors. For the purposes of this guide we’re lumping them in with “regular” French door models. Another industry trend is toward “counter depth” fridges, usually French door but they can be side-by-sides as well. They’re a few inches shallower than most fridges of comparable size, although the do jut still out from the counter a bit (the doors need to swing open, after all). They tend to be expensive and have less storage space, though they can be a great fit if your kitchen island runs pretty tight with your main cabinets.

Capacity:

You probably don’t need to worry about capacity. A typical fridge has plenty of space for most families these days.

Conventional wisdom says that a family of four can fit the essentials into an 18-cubic-foot fridge. That’s roughly the capacity of the smallest, cheapest model we recommend in this guide. For each additional person in your household, you’ll want another two cubic feet. By that measure, our main pick has enough space for a seven-person household. (The usable capacity in a fridge is always smaller than the advertised space, but our estimates are based on the advertised figures.)

A more common problem is that some fridges don’t use their capacity wisely. Side-by-side fridges are the main culprit here because their shelves can be too narrow for some large pizza boxes and platters, while counter-depth fridges might be a bit too shallow for those items. Through-the-door ice makers take up a chunk of shelf space, too.

Of course, you know better than we do how much space you need. If you keep tons of drinks in your fridge, maybe you’d find it worthwhile to get a fridge with slightly more capacity. If you’re really pressed for space in your kitchen but absolutely need more cold-storage capacity, an option is to get a second fridge. Our budget pick suits this purpose pretty well. Even a mini fridge can free up some extra room for drinks and doesn’t cost much to run.

Use the yellow Energy Guide sticker as your reference. The blue Energy Star badge is awarded to so many big models that it’s practically meaningless.

Efficiency:

Use the yellow Energy Guide sticker as your reference. The blue Energy Star badge is awarded to so many big models that it’s practically meaningless, yet isn’t awarded to some super-efficient top-freezer refrigerators.

Energy use is closely tied to capacity: Bigger fridges cost more to run than smaller fridges. For a 36-inch French door fridge, the government expects you’ll spend somewhere between $70 and $90 for a year of operation. Smaller top-freezers can cost less than $50 to run. (Consumer Reports tests ring up lower costs, but we’ll go with gubmint averages here.)

Fridges use much, much less energy than they used to, and your electric bill will almost certainly drop after you upgrade. This calculator estimates that If you’re replacing a 10-year-old fridge, you’ll save about $30 per year on energy; if it’s a 25-year-old fridge, you’ll save about $200 per year.

Noise:

User reviews and Consumer Reports are your best sources for figuring out if a fridge is loud or grating or otherwise obnoxious. We’ve only recommended models with Very Good or better noise scores at CR that weren’t regularly criticized in user reviews.

That said, it’s tough for anyone to guarantee you’ll personally be comfortable with a given fridge. Compressors all hum and whine at their own unique frequencies, and it’s tough to tell which combinations might drive certain people nuts but be totally cool for others. (We run into this same problem every summer when we review air conditioners.) And you can’t learn much in a showroom because the environment is too loud and the compressors are rarely turned on. If you’re the type with sensitive ears, best of luck to you.

Shelves and drawers/layout:

It’s mostly up to personal taste. The thing we paid the most attention to is how smoothly the drawers glide open and shut. In our experience, certain brands are “stickier” than others, and that’s the kind of thing that can drive you a little nuts if you have to deal with it every day for a decade or more.

Other features to look out for, if you want them: Spill-proof shelves are useful. A folding or hide-away shelf is handy, because it lets you fit a tall bottle or cake tray from time to time without all the shenanigans of actually adjusting the height of the shelves. Gallon-door storage can free up a bunch of shelf space by letting you keep your juice or milk in the door. A good butter tray can keep butter a little warmer than the rest of the fridge, so it’s easier to slice (just make sure it’s not near the ice maker). Several French door fridges have a full-width drawer below the crisper these days; some think it’s a great place to keep snacks in a spot that kids can reach, while others think it’s too shallow to be useful.

Now you can even get a door-in-door refrigerator. Usually it’s found on very high-end French door models, but it’s actually starting to trickle down to more affordable side-by-side fridges too. What’s the advantage? Well, it looks futuristic, and you might save yourself two seconds reaching for the orange juice, too. The downside is that the “showcase” door doesn’t close as easily as the main door, so it’s easier to accidentally leave it open.

Ice maker:

Consumer Reports has found that refrigerators with automatic ice makers are more likely to need maintenance than fridges without ice makers. Based on user feedback, common problems include cracked water lines and dispensers that freeze themselves shut.

But ice makers come in almost any fridge that costs more than $900 anyway, and they’re super convenient. We scouted user ratings for models with good service records. If you use a ton of ice (when you entertain guests, for example), some fridges do crank out ice much faster than others. The spec sheet should tell you how many pounds it can crank out per day.

Door dispenser:

Ice and filtered water direct from the fridge is just the best. The downsides are that a dispenser usually adds hundreds to the cost of a fridge, and the ice maker takes up valuable space in the refrigerator, and it’s one more finicky feature that might need to be repaired. But if you think that’s all worth the near-magical level of convenience, go for it.

Climate control and food freshness:

Don’t get too worked up about this. Does lettuce wilt faster in some fridges than others? Or do blueberries mold quicker? Or do venison steaks get freezer burn sooner? Sure. But the huge majority of fridges do their job just fine. The small variance in performance makes so little practical difference that it’s not really worth obsessing about or paying extra for.

It’s hard to trust claims that certain fridges are better at maintaining food freshness than others.

We did hours and hours of reporting on this, talking with salespeople, repair technicians, editors at testing houses, a food scientist, and refrigerator engineers. The only details that everybody agreed on were that a fridge needs to hold temperatures between 32 and 40°F to slow the growth of harmful bacteria and mold without ruining produce and that the freezer needs to stay at or below 0°F, where it’s safe to store food indefinitely. Almost every fridge succeeds at this, and those that don’t are probably defective.

It’s hard to trust claims that certain fridges are better at maintaining food freshness than others. Maybe it’s true, but under what conditions? Lower temperatures do slow the growth of bacteria and mold, but you can adjust the thermostat in any fridge. We could not find any compelling evidence that super-stable temps are better. A swing of a degree or two is fine as long as it’s in the safe zone. Humidity and ethylene exposure in the crisper drawer do affect how crisp and juicy your fruits and veggies stay over time. But nobody was willing to give us even a ballpark estimate of how many extra hours or days you’ll get from your lettuce, even in a fridge with a “flex” area or an extra evaporator.

That said, lots of the slickest refrigerators have these climate features thrown in anyway. You don’t have to avoid them, although as Chris Zeisler at Repair Clinic points out, “you’re adding another refrigeration system, with some serious expense if something goes wrong.” Just don’t go out of your way to pay extra because you think you’ll make your food taste better or last longer.

Our picks

Best for most: a 36-inch French door fridge

whirlpool

Our pick
Whirlpool WRF535SMBM
One of the most affordable French door fridges at the most popular width (36 inches), this stripped-down-but-solid Whirlpool is reliable, efficient, and quiet.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $1,211.

If we were buying a 36-inch wide refrigerator, it would be the Whirlpool WRF535SMBM. Mainly, that’s because it’s one of the most affordable French door fridges out there, yet there’s no obvious sacrifice in terms of reliability, useful features, noise, efficiency, or layout.

At the time of writing, the Whirlpool WRF535SMBM was available for $1,200, which seems to be a pretty typical price as of early 2016. But we’ve seen it as cheap as $1,000. That’s a steal for a fridge like this.

User ratings for the Whirlpool WRF535SMBM are among the best we’ve seen for a refrigerator, averaging 4.5 out of five stars based on almost 6,000 reviews. That bodes well for reliability. Even looking at the poor reviews, we can’t find obvious patterns of quality issues, and this thing has been out for a few years. Sure, there are some lemons, as there will be with any product, but nothing to suggest that Whirlpool goofed on certain parts of the design or cut any corners.

User ratings for the Whirlpool WRF535SMBM are among the best we’ve seen for a refrigerator.

The features in the WRF535SMBM are basic but all useful. The icemaker in the freezer churns out cubes quickly (and seems to run pretty reliably). The glide-out, full-width shelf on the bottom of the fridge is a good spot either for meats and cheeses, or as a convenient eye-level spot for kids to get at pudding packs or Capri Sun or kale or whatever they eat these days. Other than those two, it’s just typical shelves and drawers, nothing fancy. It is a simple, sharp, and clean-looking design, too.

whirlpool-open

Noise shouldn’t be a problem, as Consumer Reports rates the WRF535SMBM to be Very Good, and we found few complaints in user reviews.

Among similar French door fridges, the WRF535SMBM model is a little more efficient. Energy Guide estimates that it will cost $74 per year to run, while Consumer Reports says it’ll be closer to $59. That’s good by today’s standards and excellent compared to the fridge you’re probably replacing.

Although the feature set is stripped down, the WRF535SMBM feels like a quality refrigerator. Its build is as solid as any similar fridge we checked out. The doors have a nice heft that’ll help them close on their own. Drawers are smooth rolling, and the handles feel sturdy.

For what it’s worth, Reviewed.com found that the crispers in the WRF535SMBM have excellent moisture retention to keep produce appetizing for longer than other fridges might (though we’re not sure how much longer).

Flaws but not dealbreakers

What are the downsides? Well, the warranty on the WRF535SMBM is only for one year. That sucks, but unfortunately it’s pretty common in the appliance industry these days. (And a longer manufacturer’s warranty doesn’t guarantee good service anyway, since their payouts to technicians are fixed-rate and pretty meager, so they don’t always attract the top talent.) Based on user reviews from people who have owned this fridge for a few years, it seems to run reliably, so we’re not too worried about it. You could look into an extended warranty program if you’re concerned, but make sure to source it through a reliable service company.

The finish looks like stainless steel, but a bunch of owners have complained that it can rust if it’s left wet. That’s not great, but given the price, it’s not a surprise that Whirlpool had to cut costs somewhere. It’s also available in black or white finishes if you don’t like the stainless look.

There’s no through-the-door ice or water dispenser. But hey, one less finicky feature to fix.

Be careful with spills, because these shelves aren’t really spillproof. They have lips that prevent liquid from dripping off the front or back of the shelves, but it can still dribble down the sides.

The in-fridge thermostat is digital, but it runs on a 0-7 scale, not by degrees. If that bothers you, get a separate thermometer.

While the advertised capacity is about 25 cubic feet, Consumer Reports says that about 17.4 cubic feet of that is usable—that is, not taken up by framing for shelves and drawers and all that. It’s a little on the small side for a fridge of its size. That said, you should still be able to fit a frozen turkey in the freezer.

The competition

The Maytag MFF2558DEM is almost the same fridge as the the Whirlpool WRF535SMBM—the only difference is the handles. (Maytag is a Whirlpool Corporation brand.) The Maytag model tends to be a few hundred dollars more expensive up front, though it has a 10-year warranty on the compressor, whereas the Whirlpool warranty only covers that part for one year. Compressors don’t usually break down, but it can happen. Your call.

The Samsung RF260BEAESR often sells for about the same price as the Whirlpool WRF535SMBM. If we had to buy a fridge on short notice and the Whirlpool wasn’t available or the price had risen, we’d get the Samsung and feel pretty good about it. The only thing that put us off was multiple reports of problems with the defroster. Many owners have reported popping and cracking noises coming from the fridge—that’s not normal, and it’s a sign that the automatic defroster is faulty. It happens a little more than we’d like to hear about, but is unlikely to be a problem for most buyers.

If you’re shopping at Sears, check out the Kenmore 70413. It has a larger capacity than the Whirlpool and a neat control panel. The user reviews can be rough, though, and several cite problems with the cooling system and related customer-service dickery (though ratings at Sears tend to be harsher than at other retailers’ sites, and the quality of your service depends on your local Sears branch).

At this price, you can pick from tons of 36-inch-wide side-by-side fridges. Most of them even have through-the-door water dispensers. The GE GSE25HGHWW and Frigidaire FGHS2631PF are both well-liked. The thing is, though, they’re side-by-sides. If you know that’s what you prefer, great. But if you want to be able to fit giant pizzas in the freezer or big platters in your fridge, this isn’t the style for you. French door fridges outsell side-by-sides about 10 to 1 these days, even though they’re more expensive, so take that for what it’s worth.

A four-door fridge from the future

samsung

Upgrade pick
Samsung RF28HMEDBSR
Spend more on a fridge, and you get tons of features and designs to choose from. We’d get this Samsung for its versatile center drawer, blue LEDs, and silver trim.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $2,245.

If money was not a big concern, and we needed a 36-inch freestanding refrigerator for our recently renovated kitchen where all of our very smart and good-looking friends come to hang out on the weekends, we’d buy the Samsung RF28HMEDBSR, which fluctuates between $2,200 and $2,600. To be clear, this is not a fridge we’d buy because it’s perfectly sensible. We just really like its style and feel, and any potential reliability issues seem to be par for the course with fridges these days.

10-refrigerators-telescopic-shelf-slow

Mostly, this thing looks dope. If regular French door fridges look modern, then four-door fridges look like the future. It feels well built, with a nice heft to the doors and smooth-rolling drawers. The advertised capacity is about 28 cu ft, though some of that gets lost to the ice maker. The two telescoping shelves can help free up room for the occasional tall item, without having to actually move the shelves. We also like the size of the water dispenser, which is big enough to fit some pitchers. The interior has some nice design touches, like silver trim on the glass shelves, and blue-tinted LEDs along the sides (rather than just up top).

One great use for the flex drawer would be to keep wine and fancy beers in there.

The central drawer between the fridge and freezer is a “flex” area with independent temperature controls. It’s a little gimmicky, sure, and one salesperson we spoke with called it “a glorified vegetable crisper.” But one great use for the flex drawer would be to keep wine and fancy beers in there at a slightly warmer setting than the main fridge compartment. Or you could use it as an easy-access snack drawer for the kids or whatever.

samsung-drawers

Compared to other brands’ warranties, Samsung offers decent coverage, including five years for the important cooling components and 10 years for the compressor. That doesn’t guarantee it’ll work properly or that you’ll get good service (more on that below), but it’s better than nothing.

Flaws but not dealbreakers
No surprise, the water and ice dispenser can be finicky. This is pretty typical of any refrigerator with a through-the-door dispenser. For what it’s worth, this one doesn’t seem to be much more problematic than others in the price range. Several owners find the ice maker to be slow. That’s probably because it’s a small, slim unit, so that it doesn’t take up too much shelf space in the fridge.

Samsung customer service is dodgy, according to many, many reports we’ve read. And even when they do agree to fix a problem, that doesn’t mean they’ll send a great repair tech. We’d try to get around this problem by buying from a local or regional dealer—somebody we’d be able to talk to face-to-face if we ran into a problem with the fridge while it was under warranty.

Reviewed.com found that the crisper doesn’t retain moisture as well as some other fridges, which may lead to “accelerated spoilage” through dehydration. They did not provide a timetable for that spoilage, and they’ve reviewed many, many refrigerators that performed worse in this test.

The competition
The other four-door model we looked at most closely is the Whirlpool WRX735SDBM. In terms of functionality and features, it’s a toss-up between this and our Upgrade pick, but we prefer the Samsung based on looks and feel. Whirlpool models in general look plainer—no extra interior lights, no shiny trim on the shelves, just nothing to get excited about. When we’re spending this much on a fridge, you bet your ass we’re gonna go after the shiny shit.

In terms of functionality and features, it’s a toss-up between this and our Upgrade pick, but we prefer the Samsung based on looks and feel.

Samsung makes a three-door model with similar design and features, the RF28HFEDTSR, though it doesn’t have as many user reviews, so we can’t draw many conclusions about reliability.

But if we were to get one of these big, good-looking three-door models with a dispenser, we’d get the LG LFX28968ST instead. We like how the ice maker is built into the left-side door, freeing up extra space on the top shelf where the ice maker would otherwise sit. The downside to this approach is that the ice maker might be even tougher to service if it breaks, and many owners have noted that it makes items on that shelf much, much colder than most people are used to having their shelf items—a couple reviews pointed out that it even makes the left crisper extra cold, and that ain’t great for your leafy greens.

These are just the fridges that suit our tastes. You can pick from plenty of other features and finishes. Other slick new designs include black stainless finishes, door-in-door models, and “true” four-door designs.

An affordable top freezer

ge-budget

Budget pick
GE GTS18GTHWW
Need a cheap fridge that just works? Most top-freezer models are pretty similar, but this GE is among the least likely to have reliability issues.

If we needed a fridge on a tight budget, we’d get the GE GTS18GTHWW, a top-freezer model. Most fridges at this price are nearly identical, but this is our favorite because the user reviews suggest it’s the least likely to have a defect, whether it’s as minor as a misfitting shelf or as big as a cooling system failure, and it is really easy to find for a low price.

At 17.5 cubic feet and about 30 inches wide, it holds enough stuff for a family of four and should fit into almost any kitchen. The only “special features” to speak of are the spillproof glass shelves in the fridge, which are a step up from uber-cheap wire shelves.

ge-drawers

Like most other fridges in this price range, some owners find it to be a little noisy, but no more so than competing models, as far as we can tell. The “thermostat” is just a dial without specific temperature markings, and some owners have found it a little difficult to get an ideal temperature setting that keeps both the fridge and the freezer at happy medium.

And that’s all there really is to know about this thing. It’s a simple, effective fridge for not much money, and it’s probably less likely to break than other fridges in this price range.

The competition

What are your other options? If it cost a bit less or were easier to find, we’d get the Whirlpool WRT318FZDW instead. Everything we said about the GE applies to this one, too, including the generally solid service record. It has a slightly larger capacity (18.2 cubic feet), and is an inch deeper as well. We also considered the Frigidaire FFTR1821QW, but more owners have complained about the noise than we’re comfortable with. The Kenmore 60502 also caught our eye, though complaints about cooling-system failures are a little too common for our comfort.

Of course, you can find cheaper, smaller, lower-capacity models out there if you need them—just consider that if you go too cheap, you’re giving up a bunch of capacity, which might make it tough to store a week’s worth of groceries.

A French door for 33-inch spaces

whirlpool-slim

Also great
Whirlpool WRF532SMBx
This is a slimmer 33-inch version of the Whirlpool we recommend above. All the same pros and cons apply here, though it tends to cost more.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $1,540.

If we needed a 33-inch fridge (still a popular size), we’d get the Whirlpool WRF532SMBx, a narrower version of the fridge we picked for most 36-inch spaces. Everything we liked about that wider version—reasonable price, plenty of capacity, reliable track record—applies to this narrower model as well, as do the flaws.

The competition

Another model we liked at this size and price was the GE GNS23GMHES. The slate finish is a nice departure from the typical finishes at this price, and some of us prefer its traditional meat-and-cheese drawer. That said, it’s discontinued, so you’ll need to grab it soon if you’re interested. The GE GNE25JGK looks like the new version, and we’ll keep an eye on user reviews as they emerge. If you’re a Sears shopper, the Kenmore 7200x can be a decent option when it’s around the $1,200 mark, though that brand seems to have a higher rate of factory defects than others.

We didn’t find any other French door models that impressed us in this price range, though plenty of step-up models are available. Plenty of bottom-freezer, side-by-side, and top-freezer models are available at this price as well.

What about a sleek 30-inch fridge (or slimmer)?

If our kitchen was small enough that we needed a 30-inch fridge, we’d just go with the budget model we mentioned above.

We looked for a 30-inch model with a more modern look and better features, but nothing at the right price jumped out at us.

We looked for a 30-inch model with a more modern look and better features, but nothing at the right price jumped out at us. The French door fridges at this size all cost more than comparable 33- and 36-inch models, which feels hard to justify buying. None of the bottom-freezers felt like they were worth the $400 premium over our budget pick. And sure, we could get an “in-between” top freezer with a stainless finish, but we’d rather just save the money.

Of course, none of that should stop you from getting a refrigerator you like. If you’re working with a narrow space and want something more than a boring, cheap top-freezer, our buying guide may help you find it.

Care and maintenance

The first step to a trouble-free fridge is buying it from a dealer with a good reputation that you feel will be responsive if you have any problems during the warranty period. They’re responsible for delivery and installation, and if those are mishandled, it can cause problems with the fridge from the get-go. And if you do end up with a faulty fridge, a good dealer tends to be able to resolve the problem much faster than the manufacturer’s customer service—even if you’re under warranty.

As far as a DIY maintenance schedule, we like the advice the Repair Clinic publishes. Their suggested best practices include cleaning your condenser coils, wiping down (or replacing) the door gaskets, cleaning the drip pan, and replacing the ice or water filter.

If you want tips on how to keep your fridge clean and smelling fresh, listen to cleaning writer Jolie Kerr.

We also like most of the tips in this infographic about the best practices for using your fridge, like where different foods should go in the fridge, and which crisper humidity settings work best with various kinds of produce.

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Sources

  1. Steve Sheinkopf, CEO of Yale Appliance + Lighting, Phone interview, January 2015
  2. Keith Barry, Editor-in-chief of Reviewed.com appliances, Phone interview, January 2016
  3. Chris Zeisler, Appliance expert at RepairClinic, Phone interview, January 2015
  4. Rich Brown, Executive editor of reviews at CNET, Phone interview, May 2015
  5. Engineers and product managers at Electrolux, Phone interview, February 2016

Originally published: April 6, 2016

Leave the cat alone.