One of the greatest luxuries in life is having a temperature-controlled appliance that keeps food fresh and beverages cold. But a full-size refrigerator isn’t the answer to every situation. You might not need (or have room for) 20 cubic feet of cold. Sometimes, small is perfect. That’s when it’s time to consider a compact refrigerator.
Ideal locations for a compact refrigerator might include an apartment, a recreation room, an indoor patio, the kitchen in a tiny house, a dorm room, an office, a bedroom, a man cave, or a she shed. But you likely have many questions. Reading through this guide will give you a quick education so you know how to find exactly what you’re looking for. And if you’re still undecided, we’ve included a bit more specific information regarding some of our favorite compact refrigerators.
Considerations when choosing compact refrigerators
Size: How much room do you need inside the refrigerator? Do you have a limit on the outer dimensions? If you have a designated space where your compact refrigerator needs to fit, that takes precedence over everything else. It doesn’t matter if it can hold a gallon of milk; if your compact refrigerator doesn’t fit in the space you have available, it won’t be of any use to you. Measure carefully.
Built-in or freestanding: The difference between these two options is the venting. A built-in compact refrigerator vents out the front and bottom, so it can be enclosed on the sides, back, and top. A freestanding unit needs room to vent on all sides, so it can’t be put in an enclosed space.
Freezer: Sometimes, all you need is to keep your beverages chilled and your food fresh. However, if you eat ice cream, enjoy frozen foods such as pizza, or like to put ice cubes in your beverages, a freezer is a must.
Doors: A separate door for each compartment enables you to quickly access the refrigerator without allowing any of that vital cold air to escape the freezer.
Interior: Some models are excellent for storing cans but won’t fit a tall bottle. Some feature a crisper drawer that maintains a higher humidity (which is good for green, leafy vegetables) or lower humidity (which is good for thin-skinned fruits and vegetables). Think about what you want to keep cold and choose a compact refrigerator that is best suited for that purpose.
Shelving: For maximum flexibility, you’ll want movable shelves. Shelves are typically made of either wire or glass. Wire shelves allow the cold air to circulate better, but sometimes they can be a little precarious, making it easy for small items to tip and spill. Glass shelves provide a more stable surface and can help contain a spill better than wire shelves.
Noise: If noise is an undesirable factor, read up on the models you’re considering to be sure there are no surprises when you plug in your refrigerator for the first time.
Efficiency: Compact refrigerators aren’t known for their energy efficiency. Many use as much energy as a full-size refrigerator. If efficiency is important, an Energy Star-rated model is your best option.
Compact refrigerator prices: The cost of a compact refrigerator is most closely tied to its size and number of doors. A small, cube-shaped model that’s good for holding a few cans or small items costs roughly between $60 to $130. A rectangular unit that offers more space and flexibility starts at around $100 and can cost up to $180 or more. Refrigerators with double doors cost from $160 to $250.
Keep your compact refrigerator away from heat sources. That includes heating vents, the stove, the dishwasher, and direct sunlight.
Make sure the refrigerator is level. This is necessary in order for the door to close properly.
A compact refrigerator works best when it’s full — not overfull. Be sure there is enough space for the cold air to freely circulate around the inside of the unit to allow for proper cooling.
Do not place items directly in front of the cold air vents.
Do not wrap or line the shelves with aluminum foil or towels.
Keep your refrigerator’s contents organized and tidy. This will help you drastically cut down on the time the door is open and help lower your monthly energy bills.
Regularly clean the gasket of the refrigerator door. Use a mild detergent and water to help get rid of any grime that might be keeping the door from sealing properly.
Defrost your refrigerator regularly. If you don’t have a frost-free compact refrigerator, you’ll need to manually defrost it to keep it running efficiently.
Q. What’s the best operating temperature for my compact refrigerator?
A. The refrigerator’s job is to keep food cold enough to remain fresh. According to the FDA, that means your refrigerator should never go above 40°F. If you like to have a little wiggle room, 38°F is a good compromise. A freezer should be kept at 0°F.
Q. How do I know the temperature inside my compact refrigerator when the thermostat dial only has numbers that range from 1 to 10?
A. Put an appliance thermometer in a glass of water and place the glass in the center of the refrigerator. Let it sit for seven or eight hours to get the best reading. For your freezer, you will need to put the appliance thermometer between two frozen food items. Check the temperature in about seven or eight hours. Do this regularly to be sure your compact refrigerator is operating properly.
Q. I’ve heard you shouldn’t put hot food in a refrigerator, that it’s safer to let it sit out until it cools to room temperature. Is that right?
A. No! Dramatic shifts in temperature could be problematic for glass and ceramics, but not food. And since bacteria doubles approximately every 20 minutes, food left out for just two hours (and less time if the surrounding temperature is hotter than 70°F) is no longer deemed safe to eat by the FDA.
Compact refrigerators we recommend
Best of the best: Danby Compact Refrigerator
Our take: A sizable freestanding refrigerator (no freezer) with 4.4 cubic feet of space.
What we like: The door of this Danby refrigerator can hold both cans and larger bottles, making it extremely handy for beverages of all sizes. It has a see-through vegetable crisper, as well as an automatic defrost system to simplify maintenance and cleaning.
What we dislike: The unit has a hard time recovering when the door is left open, which can make it difficult to keep the temperature stable.
Best bang for your buck: Haier 2-Door Compact Refrigerator
Our take: A versatile 2-door unit that’s ideal for a dorm room, rec room, or small office.
What we like: The smart layout of Haier’s compact refrigerator allows you to enjoy the benefits of a freezer without compromising too much space in the fridge portion. It has a can dispenser, see-through crisper, two full-width glass shelves, and room for two two-liter bottles in the door. The stylish black finish makes this unit an elegant choice for just about any décor.
What we dislike: You need to take extra care with setup to be sure the unit is level and the doors close fully.
Choice 3: EdgeStar Compact Fridge/Freezer
Our take: This powerful, freestanding compact refrigerator offers many of the same features as a full-size unit but takes up much less space.
What we like: This Energy Star-rated refrigerator offers a 0°F freezer along with an adjustable thermostat (34°F to 60°F) to keep your food at the temperature you need. It also has two shelves, a crisper drawer, and a can dispenser.
What we dislike: This model is more expensive, which might put it a little beyond what you want to spend, but the added features make it worth considering.
Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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