The Best Refrigerator
How do you choose between nearly identical fridges?
The trouble with the best refrigerators: from style to features to price, they are all pretty much the same between brands. So rather than debate the pros and cons of ice makers or pass judgement on the number of crisper drawers, we dug into the world of repairs. We surveyed appliance shops around the US to learn which brands are most challenging to fix, and polled 400 consumers one the importance of repairability before exploring our favorite fridge models in person.
How We Found the Best Refrigerator
Our search began like anyone’s would: spending hours looking through the websites of Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Sears, scrolling through hundreds of nearly identical-looking refrigerators. Then we went on Amazon — but that only made things worse. In total, we found more than 300 different freestanding refrigerator models available in the US.
Every brand offers similar options: GE, Maytag, Frigidaire, Kenmore, Samsung, LG, and others all offered multiple fridges with water and ice dispensers, French doors, bottom freezers, top freezers, spill-proof shelves… the list goes on. After clicking past page four of stainless steel side-by-side refrigerators, they all started to look the same. With product names like the GE GFE28GSKSS and the Whirlpool WRT318FMDM, they started sounding the same, too.
Which brand do you choose if you care about repairs?
Price couldn’t even help us much because similar models from different brands cost about the same, usually within a couple hundred dollars. So we changed our strategy: Which brand do you choose if you care about repairs?
Picking an appliance based on how easy a broken one is to fix is, admittedly, not how most people shop. Why not go for the fridge that won’t break at all?
The truth is, all fridges are fairly reliable on the whole. Most last about 13 years. But at the same time, it’s tough to determine a consistent track record of reliability from brand to brand — as Consumer Reports notes, the failure rates of “models within a brand may vary, and changes in design or manufacturer might affect future reliability.” Over the course our research, we learned that most refrigerator manufacturers switch up their models at least once a year, which means it can be tricky to guarantee the fridge you bought is the same one your neighbor has, even if they seem identical.
When we polled 400 consumers, 62 percent reported that repairability was either an “important” or “very important” factor in their purchasing decision — so we targeted repairability rather than reliability in our search for the best fridge.
We were told to steer clear of Samsung and LG.
We were shocked when the first two appliance repair experts we talked to recommended avoiding LG or Samsung refrigerators. Each manufacturer is well-known for innovative designs, and their refrigerator models consistently score well with Consumer Reports. J.D. Power shows both companies ranking exceedingly well in customer satisfaction, too. But when we spoke with Greg Truex, senior director of US Service Industries at J.D. Power, he confirmed that survey included only customers who purchased refrigerators during the previous 12 months — before problems with any refrigerator are likely to arise. Likewise, the Consumer Reports scoring also included very new models.
We called 35 repair shops across the country to see which brands were the most difficult to fix.
Exactly a quarter of the appliance repair shops we surveyed said they flat-out don’t work on either LG or Samsung. Nearly half (49 percent) agreed they are difficult to service, for a variety of reasons: it’s difficult to find technicians who know how to work on them, the parts are more challenging to find, they are just plain old harder to fix.
One of our repair experts, at Carter Bros. Appliance Repair in Seattle, says that in his experience, “The people who buy LG and Samsung fridges are initially satisfied. Everything works great in year one and two, but between years three and six, the problems begin.” He told us he regularly sees bad defrost sensors, bad icemakers, and Freon leaks. He also noted that Samsung and LG parts are the hardest to get a hold of, and a homeowner wanting to do his or her own repairs will have a really hard time with it — not entirely unlike a car owner doing work on a Honda versus a Saab.
From 2017 survey of 35 appliance shops in Seattle, Washington; Lafayette, Indiana; and Worcester, Massachusetts and poll of 400 consumers.
According to Dan Wiseman, owner of Wiseman Appliance in Seattle, both companies make “a great product, until you have problems. Then, you’ve got problems.” Jim Freedman, president and CEO of Metropolitan Appliance, concurred: “LG and Samsung may not require any more repairs than the American-made brands,” he said. “It’s just that they don’t yet have the infrastructure here to provide the same level of service.”
David Korss of Seattle Appliance Repair, who’s taken over 5,000 repair orders over the past six years, didn’t mince words: “They’re terrible to work on, terrible to repair,” he said. “And some technicians refuse to work on them.”
So while they’re innovative and modern, the common response — reiterated time and again — is that techs hate working on them. They break more often, and have technical issues, particularly on newer models with more features. This may just be a problem of infrastructure, like Freedman noted. Perhaps these drawbacks won’t exist a few years from now. But since the best refrigerators should be easy to repair and easy to get parts for, we decided to pass on LG and Samsung.
We primarily surveyed independent appliance repair shops to get their impressions on Samsung and LG fridges. Big box stores, on the other had, have more resources to put toward servicing the appliances they sell. We also talked with reps from Sears and Best Buy, which both have technicians trained on Samsung and LG fridges.
Pretty much every other major refrigerator brand is equally reliable.
The same two experts who tipped us off about Samsung and LG both told us that GE refrigerators were the most reliable, hands-down. We asked the other appliance repair shops we surveyed if they agreed.
Remarkably, there was no consensus whatsoever on any brand being any more reliable or easy to fix than another. About two-thirds of the refrigerator repair experts we talked to actually said that every brand outside of LG and Samsung is “about the same,” in terms of reliability and how easy they are to fix. Style and features are only real differences between any two refrigerator brands.
Our journey took us back to Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Sears. We had in-hand our favorite GE fridges that were recommended by our GE-loving experts, and we wanted to see for ourselves how they stacked up to the competition.
Our testing team faced row upon row of stainless steel fridges. Turns out, small changes in style and features are the only big differences between manufacturers.
Our Picks for the Best Refrigerator
Refrigerators with French doors make them the most space-efficient option for most people (the doors don’t open as far into the kitchen), and second most energy-efficient design behind top freezers. It was quick to confirm why these GEs garnered so much praise from our experts. The thoughtful details in our favorite, like a space-saving icemaker built into the door, LED lighting on both the ceiling and in the drawers, and adjustable split shelving, give its layout an air of luxury and efficiency.
GE makes sure its real estate is used as efficiently as possible with two standout features. First, it builds its icemakers into the left front door, as opposed to in the body where it would take up valuable shelf space. Compare this to to Amana’s version of a French door fridge (shown right) that loses half of its upper left shelving.
And, several of GE’s French door models feature shelving that splits down the middle, with each side able to independently ratchet up and down to different heights.
This offers endless configurations to accommodate anything from oversized dishware to oddly shaped bottles without having to unload the entire fridge — one of those features you didn’t even know you wanted until you’re the one hosting Thanksgiving.
GE certainly isn’t the only brand to offer these features, and even within GE’s stable of French door fridge models, there are minor additions and subtractions that might swing the price by a hundred dollar here, several hundred there.
Case in point: For $100 more than the GFE28GSKSS is the near-identical GFE28HMKES ($2,899), which upgrades to electronic temperature controls on its drawers, plus features a nifty “quick space” shelf, where the front half of one of its shelves rolls to tuck under the back. Voila — instant clearance for, say, an extra-tall bottle of Riesling. Worth $100? You be the judge.
The biggest fluctuations in price are typically anchored to size and whether or not there’s an external ice/water dispenser. The GNE29GMKES ($1,999) is nearly identical to our featured fridge in size and specs (36 inches wide, 27.8 cubic feet — plenty of room to feed a family of six) but there’s no water dispenser, and the ice maker makes its cubes inside the freezer drawer, as opposed to the fridge door. You’ll miss out on instant crushed ice and at-the-ready filtered water, but you’ll also save nearly $1,000.
If you’re okay losing three inches in width and three cubic feet in capacity, the even cheaper GNE25JMKES ($1,599) might be of interest. It also eschews an external water/ice dispenser and digital display, but does include an internal water dispenser on the inside left wall, with an ice cube maker in the freezer drawer. It doesn’t have the adjustable split shelving we appreciate in the other models — but it does have that roll-and-tuck quick space shelf we so admired in the GFE28HMKES.
This is all to say that there is a lot of opportunity to find a fridge that meets your precise specifications. Consumer Reports rates these models of GE fridges as “Very Good” for noise, ease of use, and efficiency, and we thought their produce drawers slide in and out easily. We especially liked GE’s Slate finish options, a smooth, matte take on stainless steel, that fingerprints refused to stick to. The only downside in our hand-on tests: the seal on the freezer drawer is strong enough that we had to yank on the door pretty hard a to get it to slide open on more than one occasion.
The manufacturer of our top pick, GE, was recently purchased by Chinese company Haier (which also owns Fisher & Paykel) and is the parent company of Hotpoint and Monogram. GE will continue to be manufactured in the US at the same facilities, however, so all of the repair experts we talked to assured us that nothing would change about the manufacturing process or GE’s parts availability any time soon.
Other French-Door Fridges to Consider
What makes refrigerator shopping so overwhelming is that there just isn’t a lot to differentiate from brand to brand. A GE sitting next to a row of stainless steel look-a-likes becomes indistinguishable save for logos.
This fridge is a twin to our GE top pick: identical specs, within one point on Consumer Reports’ ratings, the same price. That said, it does come with a couple of fun extra features, including a “pizza pocket” on the inside of the freezer drawer to accommodate awkward-to-fit boxes, and three bins for fruits and veggies, instead of the standard two. Its second icemaker in the freezer is also included, as opposed to an optional add-on, and your color schemes are limited to black, white, and stainless steel — no slick matte Slate.
Like GE, Whirlpool also has a slew of French door refrigerators to explore, with different levels of bells and whistles and different price points. The popular $1,899 WRF535SWBM is a close match to GE’s $1,599 GNE25JMKES, including an interior water dispenser, although it boasts adjustable split shelving, which the equivalent GE lacks. Happy to skip filtered water altogether? Save another $100 with the WRF532SMBM.
You’ll feel like you’re seeing double again when it comes to Maytag. Its MFT276FEZ the same size and price as the GE GFE28GSKSS, with the same ratcheting split shelving, the same slender, space-saving ice maker, and lots of LED lighting. We liked the addition of a skinny canned-drinks drawer tucked between the crispers, and even though we missed a second level in the freezer drawer, there is a similar “pizza pocket” that the Whirlpool version included.
Maytag’s 25 cubic foot, no water dispenser model is the MFF2558FEZ, and at $1,799 is about $200 cheaper than GE’s equivalent GNE29GMKES, but tit for tat with Whirlpool’s WRF532SMBM.
Kenmore offers the most unique and feature-laden versions of the stainless steel French door refrigerators we looked at. The Elite 73153 is one of the highest rated refrigerators on Consumer Reports, beating our GE pick by three points by snagging a coveted “Excellent” rating for noise (as opposed to “Very Good”). It boasts two of the quick-space shelves we loved to GE’s one, and three tiers of drawers in its freezer, as opposed to just two. What’s more, the freezer door can simply tilt open for frozen treats on-the-go, instead of having to slide all the way out. We also appreciate that its exterior ice/water dispenser doesn’t try to do too much — there are just three discreet buttons for water, crushed ice, and cubed ice. The temperature control and display that GE and Whirlpool include on their external panels live inside the fridge on Kenmore.
These perks, plus its additional cubic foot of space, comes at a premium, though: MSRP rings up at $3,699 (although we’ve seen this model for as low as $2,099 at Sears).
For an extra $200 MSRP, you can also explore a “Grab-n-Go” door on the Elite 73163 (shown left). This door-in-a-door borders on gimmicky: the concept is that drinks and snacks that are consumed most often can be snagged on the fly from a chilled compartment without having to let all the cold air out of the fridge by opening the whole door. We’re not totally convinced it’s trend that’s here to stay.
If you’re looking to spend less than a grand on a fridge, but still want one that looks sharp and works reliably, GE’s GTS18GSHSS refrigerator is hard to beat. According to Dan Wiseman, “GE makes the best top freezer, period. The plastics are strong; they’re overall good quality; and they build enough of them that they can keep the price down.” Simply put, it does a great job of not looking like a budget pick while still being affordable ($649 in black or white; $799 in stainless steel).
On a more personal note, this is the refrigerator one of our product testers has at home. In the past 10 years, she’s never had a problem with it. It’s basic: Freezer on the top, fridge on the bottom, with adjustable, spill-proof glass shelving — and that’s about it. It has simple, manual controls to regulate the fridge and freezer temperature, a snack drawer, adequate lighting (though you won’t see LEDs or a freezer light at this price range), and adjustable-humidity produce drawers.
One place this fridge fell behind was in shelf arrangement. The two adjustable glass shelves are fridge-width. We would’ve liked to have seen at least one half-width shelf, like our french-door pick, as that definitely provides more options for accommodating large or odd-shaped items. That said, we were happy they weren’t flimsy wire shelves you might find in similarly cheap refrigerators. Indeed, our testers agreed that this fridge felt sturdy and well-made, and it comes with a mountain of user and industry reviews (more than 5,000) to recommend it with more than 4 out of 5 stars.
Other Top-Freezer Refrigerators to Consider
When it comes to basic, top-freezer-style refrigerators, what you see is what you get. You’ll be hard-pressed to find much of any difference among any of the refrigerators listed below outside of size, price, and exterior looks. Our GE top pick is on the smaller side: At 28 inches wide and with a 17.5 cubic feet capacity, it should accommodate a family of four, but it doesn’t give you much wiggle room beyond that.
Maytag MRT711SMFZ — $1,199
At 33 inches wide and with a 20.5 cubic feet, this larger upgrade option features LED lighting and a full-width deli drawer, instead of GE’s half-wide snack version. Maytag’s MRT311FFFM ($1,049) is a similar model recommended by Consumer Reports; it’s most notable difference is a pair of pocket handles tucked into the edges of the doors, as opposed to contoured handles protruding from the front.
Frigidaire FFHI1831QS — $979
This stainless steel model is similar in size at the GE (30 inch wide with 18 cubic feet capacity) and has a near identical layout as the GE, with full-width adjustable glass shelves and a half-width snack drawer. The extra $200 is for the icemaker in the freezer, although with it you lose significant storage space.
What We Looked For in the Best Refrigerator
We set some basic standards to home in on the best, based on our experts’ combined input — and some common sense.
Sizing: Most people want something more than a mini fridge in their kitchen, but something less substantial than the $15K built-in Oprah purportedly owns. That’s why we only considered freestanding, full-size refrigerators, with volumes between 17 and 31 cubic feet. Enough space to hold food for a family of four for a week on the small end, and more than enough space for a family of six — plus a few cases of soda — on the large end.
Energy Star Rating: Your refrigerator is always on. That’s why energy efficiency matters when it comes to picking one out. Any refrigerator with an Energy Star Program rating is verified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) to be at least 9 percent more efficient than models that only meet the federal minimum standard for energy efficiency. That means a potential savings of several hundred dollars of operating costs over the life of the appliance — and a significantly smaller carbon footprint. Because of this, each of our top picks wound up using less than 706 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year. That means that if we were to install any of our top picks in our offices in Seattle, for example, where electricity is currently 10.5 cents per kWh, they would all cost less than $74 annually to run.
Dual evaporators: Most refrigerators have a single evaporator, or cooling coil, housed in the freezer, which is responsible for cooling both compartments by circulating the same air. Dual evaporation, which creates two separate climates that don’t share air or humidity levels — one for the freezer, and one for the refrigerator — helps maintain a steadier temperature and humidity level throughout each compartment. This actually keeps food fresher, longer, as this 2016 Consumer Reports study confirms. Our top picks from each of the major brands, with the exception of the budget top-freezer models, all have them.
Adjustable, spill-proof glass shelves: This technology is cheap to produce, and its benefits as far as day-to-day usability is concerned are substantial. Can’t fit that leftover Crock-Pot meal in the fridge? Just take out a shelf to make room. Spill the milk? A simple concave-shaped refrigerator shelf can easily contain the mess.
Other Common Refrigerator Features — and What They Actually Do
Can’t decide which additional features you want (and are willing to pay for)? Here’s a quick rundown of the most common refrigerator upgrades.
Drawer-specific temperature controls: Some refrigerators will offer an adjustable-temp drawer for meat, fish, and cold cuts. This feature funnels a separate stream of cold air directly into the drawer, ensuring it stays anywhere from about 2 to 6 degrees colder than the rest of the fridge. This is more than just an organization feature, since it can become a real health hazard if you store raw meat at too high a temperature. So, it’s definitely nice to have, but also not essential. Every French-door-style refrigerator listed in this review comes with this feature, except the Frigidaire. None of the top-freezer-style fridges do, though.
Exterior ice and water dispensers: Having immediate access to chilled, filtered water and ice on a refrigerator door is, admittedly, convenient — but it comes at a price. Models with built-in ice and water dispensers cost at least $200 more than otherwise similar refrigerators. You also have to pay for increased energy costs and replacement filters that could run you anywhere between $50 to $100 per year. They have an established tendency to break, too. According to Wiseman, “The ice/water dispenser is generally the thing that breaks first on a refrigerator. We say they’re good for about six years.” Meaning, an icemaker might only last half the life of the refrigerator. Regardless, they’re undeniably popular (and useful while they work), so all of the French-door-style refrigerators in this review come with this feature. The lower priced top freezers don’t.
Adjustable humidity crisper drawers: Even the colossus appliance manufacturer Whirlpool admits — food preservation technologies wouldn’t be necessary if consumers simply followed best practices, like keeping berries unwashed in a dry, covered container so they don’t grow moldy with added moisture. Vacuum-sealed or adjustable-humidity crisper drawers can, theoretically, help keep food fresher longer if consumers know how to use them, but they’re certainly not essential to keeping food fresh. The rule of thumb is to put any produce that wilts into the high-humidity drawer, and keep drawer vents open to create an even more humid environment. Fruit does better in low humidity, so it’s often best left outside the fridge. Still, this is a common feature found in all of our top picks, including the basic top-freezer models.
In-door gallon storage: While almost every modern fridge has this feature, in-door, gallon-sized storage shelves aren’t actually that great. Door temperatures in any refrigerator are generally a few degrees higher than the rest of the fridge (sometimes well over the FDA’s recommended maximum high refrigerator temperature of 40 degrees), so items that spoil easily (like milk), shouldn’t be stored in the door to begin with. Regardless, this is a popular feature, so it’s included in almost every new refrigerator, including all of our top picks.
Did You Know?
Refrigerators come in five main styles.
Top Freezer: This is the most popular and affordable style of refrigerator out there. For hundreds, if not thousands of dollars less than other styles, top-freezer fridges provide comparable performance (that is to say, they still keep food cool), storage space, and energy efficiency. They’re not overly fashionable, however, and take up more space when their doors are open than either French-door or side-by-side options — making them less than ideal for narrow, galley-style kitchens.
Bottom Freezer: Nearly identical in concept to the top-freezer style, bottom freezers simply make the convenience upgrade of moving the least-used storage area (the freezer) down to knee level as a drawer, rather than a door. This also keeps the most-used items — in the refrigerator section — higher up and more easily accessible. Of course, you’ll pay slightly more for this added convenience.
French Door: By making the freezer section a bottom drawer (like the bottom-freezer style), but dividing the top refrigerator door down the middle — so it opens like a set of French doors — the French-door-style refrigerator is by far the most stylish, and convenient to use. It also requires less space than any of the other styles, without sacrificing internal storage. They’re less energy efficient than either top or bottom freezer refrigerators, though, and cost hundreds to thousands of dollars more. Take, for example, the $2,000-plus cost difference between our Favorite Style top pick (a French-door model) and our Favorite Basic Refrigerator top pick (a top-freezer option).
Side by Side: The least energy-efficient and the least space-efficient style of refrigerator there is, side by sides are great at looking good, but not much else. Large or odd-shaped items, like a frozen pizza or your Thanksgiving turkey, are difficult, if not impossible, to accommodate. None of our top picks are side-by-side-style for this reason.
Counter-Depth: A counter-depth — also known as cabinet-depth — fridge will be your best option if space efficiency is the most important to you, or if you want a built-in look without the built-in price. These fridges aren’t as deep as normal refrigerators, so their doors barely extend farther than a standard counter — allowing them to take up less floorspace. This means less interior storage space, of course, but also a more streamlined, stylish look.
Energy Star ratings matter, but don’t necessarily mean you’re getting the most eco-friendly fridge.
There are those who scoff at Energy Star savings, given that reducing energy costs by $35 to $300 over a fridge’s lifetime doesn’t seem like much on the surface. Who really cares about saving $2 a month? But we decided, as did our appliance expert Wiseman, “It makes sense to think about ecology.” Especially once you consider that if all refrigerators sold in the United States were Energy Star certified, energy savings nationally would grow to more than $400 million each year, eliminating 8 billion pounds of annual greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to the output of 750,000 vehicles.
This doesn’t mean, however, that Energy Star-rated appliances will automatically be the most cost-effective. Smaller fridges will always be cheaper to run than large ones — even if they’re not Energy Star certified — and some styles will be more (or less) energy efficient than others. Top freezers are more efficient than bottom freezers, French doors, or side by sides, for example. That’s why you should always look at the yellow Energy Guide sticker on any appliance, to determine its estimated annual electricity usage and cost. The information it provides will give you a much more accurate idea of how much your new refrigerator will cost to operate.
You should really measure twice before buying a refrigerator.
Few things are more frustrating than purchasing an appliance, shipping it to your house, and having it not fit in the space you want it; or, even worse, having it not fit through the front door. Get all the measurements for where you plan to install your new refrigerator before you actually buy one — including the doors and pathways you’ll use to reach your kitchen. Measure depth, as well as height and width, so your new fridge doesn’t unexpectedly stick out into the kitchen too much, or isn’t at least as deep as your countertops. Take into account the space you’ll need to open the refrigerator door, too. You may need French doors if you’ve got a galley-style kitchen, or an island placed nearby.