Selecting a Refrigerator

What you need to know about purchasing a refrigerator for your kitchen.


As the largest appliance in the home, a refrigerator is a basic necessity and is often a young consumer's first major appliance purchase.

With proper care and maintenance, refrigerators can operate for 15 years or more, so you may want to plan ahead for change in family size over the years.

Are you in the market for a refrigerator? Evaluate features and extras before you buy.

The most popular model may be the two-door, top-freezer design. Bottom freezer units put fresh food at eye level and frozen items below, while side-by-side models have narrow doors that open at the center.

Newer on the market are three-door models, also called "French door" refrigerators, that feature side-by-side doors on the top refrigerator and a freezer on the bottom.

Which door style is best for you? It really comes down to personal preference and the types of foods you buy and store in a refrigerator or freezer.

Refrigerators also vary widely in size and required clearance space. Very small models might be perfect for a small apartment while large homes may benefit from large models with separate freezer and refrigerator units.

When replacing a refrigerator, measure the height, width, and depth of your existing space, and take those dimensions with you when you shop.

Cabinet-depth refrigerators are shallower models that extend from the wall about as far as standard cabinet front (though handles may protrude farther). These can be a boon for small kitchens and can look sleeker than models that extend beyond countertops, blocking traffic flow or a doorway.

Average refrigeratorcapacity ranges between 9 and 30 cubic feet. A family of two needs 8 to 10 cubic feet of refrigerator space for fresh foods. Add an extra cubic foot for each additional family member.

Freezer space: A family of two needs 4 cubic feet of freezer space. Add 2 cubic feet for each additional person. Increase the freezer space if you stock frozen products or shop infrequently. Top and bottom freezers offer the most storage flexibility. Side-by-side models may offer more total storage space, but sometimes it's difficult to store large or wide items in them.

  • Color and finishare varied. White and almond are popular basic choices. Black is striking and can be ideal if you want to match other appliances.
  • Other finish options include restaurant-style glass doors, trim panels to match cabinets, and the ever-popular stainless-steel doors. Since stainless-steel is so prone to fingerprints, you may prefer a stainless "look-alike" that will require less maintenance.
  • Shelvingis usually adjustable in height to make room for foods or containers in many sizes and shapes. A few manufacturers offer shelves that crank up or down, making them easy to adjust.
  • Spill-proof shelves help reduce cleanup time. In-the-door shelves and bins generally lift all the way out for washing in the sink and are adjustable in height to fit gallon-size milk containers, juice bottles, and soft drinks.
  • Spacious crispers with clear fronts and adjustable humidity controls help you keep track of fresh produce in the refrigerator. In the freezer, side and tilt-out baskets are handy.
  • Some models are manufactured with ice-makers, and other models are designed so that ice-makers can be installed as an option.
  • Ice and water dispensers are useful for children or for people who frequently get cold drinks. These devices also save energy because the door is opened less frequently. High-end refrigerators may include built-in water filters that help dispensed ice and water look and taste better.
  • One new development in refrigerators is smart appliances. A smart refrigerator may have a touch screen and help with fridge inventory, list making, calendars, recipes, and more.
  • Noise and energy: When you shop, ask to turn on a model so you can listen as it operates. The noise will be quieter in your kitchen than on a concrete sales floor. Check the yellow Energy Guide label to determine the average energy use. Compare models that have the same capacity.
  • Do your homework. Browse websites and magazines that compare current models and features. Consumer Reports is an excellent source for unbiased information and recommendations. Visit:
  • Check manufacturer's instruction booklets regarding recommendations for cleaning products and procedures.
  • Most external surfaces can be cleaned with a solution of warm water, detergent, and ammonia. Rinse well with clear water. Don't use abrasive or scouring pads because they may scratch surfaces.
  • Inside your refrigerator, wipe up spills immediately to avoid having them dry out and become sticky.
  • As needed, remove shelves, drawers, and bins and wash in a kitchen or laundry sink. Dry thoroughly and re-install in the refrigerator.
  • Change filters on water purification systems as often as directed by the manufacturer.
  • Follow manufacturer's recommendations for overall refrigerator maintenance including vacuuming coils.
  • Periodically test refrigerator and freezer temperatures using a reliable thermometer. Make adjustments as needed, according to the manufacturer's refrigerator and freezer controls.
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