Best Cheap Refrigerators
- Published on
- By Raechel Conover
From basic top-freezer refrigerators starting at less than $500 to feature-packed side-by-sides, a variety of reliable, cheap refrigerators are available for less than $900. Although you get lots of bells and whistles with upmarket models, you aren't guaranteed better dependability. The best inexpensive refrigerators do an excellent job keeping fresh foods fresh, frozen foods frozen, and penny-pinching users content. We identified four models that deserve a place on the list of any consumer in need of a new, cheap refrigerator.
Cheap Refrigerators Buying Guide
Our top two picks are the Maytag M1TXEGMYW (starting at $710), a top-freezer model with ample storage and a reputation for value and reliability, and the Whirlpool ED5KVEXVQ (starting at $899), a side-by-side that stands out for its feature set and overall performance. Sitting a rung below are the Kenmore 69002 (starting at $848), a bottom-freezer refrigerator with functional storage space and good temperature regulation, and the GE GTH18GBD (starting at $537), another top-freezer model that consumers consider a decent value at the cost of a little noise. One model that just doesn't rank is the Frigidaire FFTR1814L (starting at $476), an entry-level fridge with a top freezer and few features that is the target of complaints about build quality and performance.
Kenmore, Maytag, GE, LG, Amana, Whirlpool, and Hotpoint are well represented in the cheap refrigerator segment of the market. A recent study by J.D. Power and Associates found that Samsung rates highest in customer satisfaction for both features and price and Kenmore Elite fridges score well for performance and reliability, but most models bearing these brand names don't meet our definition of "cheap". Maytag and GE refrigerators have been dogged recently with slightly more repair issues than other major brands, according to research by a consumer products testing site as reported by Appliance Assistant, but some models (one from each of these companies appears on our list of top picks) nonetheless earn multiple stars in online consumer reviews.
Generally speaking, utilitarian top-freezer refrigerators are the least expensive, with side-by-side models costing slightly more. Bottom-freezer and French-door refrigerators (the latter have two doors for the fridge compartment atop one freezer drawer) hover at the higher end of the price spectrum, although a few sit just within or beyond the Cheapism range. Counter-depth and cabinet-front styles start at a minimum of $1,800. Compact and apartment-style refrigerators are the least expensive options but too small for most families.
Price aside, the configuration of your kitchen may knock certain refrigerator styles out of contention. Top- and bottom-freezer models require more door clearance than side-by-side or French door refrigerators, which are both well suited to galley kitchens and layouts with a center island. But keep in mind that wide-shelved top- and bottom-freezer refrigerators accommodate oversized containers and platters better than side-by-sides, which have significantly narrower fresh and frozen food compartments.
The household's daily food preferences will probably affect the cheap refrigerator you choose, as well. If demand for fresh foods and vegetables is high, a bottom-freezer fridge may be more convenient. Heavy consumers of TV dinners and ice cream might prefer the easier access of a top-freezer fridge. A related consideration is the allocation of space between refrigerator and freezer compartments. Top-freezer and bottom-freezer models offer two-thirds fresh to one-third frozen storage; the split in side-by-side refrigerators may be similar or closer to half and half. French door refrigerators give you two-thirds fresh storage but provide the space-conserving benefits of side-by-sides at a higher price point.
The outer dimensions of a cheap refrigerator also bear noting. Width is self-explanatory but a hinge atop the door adds an additional 1/2- to 3/4-inch of height to the front of the fridge, which matters if there's a cabinet above. The hinge measure is usually factored into the product specifications, but sometimes two heights are given -- one with and one without the hinge. Carefully check the clearance if the cabinet depth equals that of the refrigerator.
Most refrigerators come in white, black, and stainless steel, with some available in bisque and platinum or silver. Standard white refrigerators are the cheapest; stainless steel models sell for about $200 to $300 more. One disadvantage to stainless is the endless battle against fingerprints, while white and bisque show dirt easily. The finish is either smooth or textured (white, black, and bisque only).
Cheap refrigerators are a pretty basic appliance. There aren't many frills in this segment of the market, so aside from a handful of exceptions, forget about an automatic icemaker, external water dispenser, and LCD display. But pull-out and/or spill-proof shelves make an appearance in the better budget models, as do gallon-size shelves in the door. The best inexpensive refrigerators are also Energy Star compliant. But remember: The larger the refrigerator, the higher its cost and the greater its energy consumption, so choose a model that meets your needs without exceeding them.
In terms of performance, it can be difficult to decide which low-cost refrigerators are the most reliable. There seems to be some disparity between testing-site recommendations and user feedback revealed in online refrigerator reviews. Models touted as a good value by experts often get lukewarm consumer reviews, and those that rate highly with consumers are often ignored by testers. Complicating matters further, refrigerator offerings are revamped or renamed on an almost yearly basis. By the time a model has accumulated a respectable amount of refrigerator reviews or has undergone formal testing, it's often being phased out or has already been discontinued. This is what happened recently with many experts' favorite in the discount category, the Maytag M1TXEMMWW.
Still, refrigerator reviews we found online pointed us to several cheap refrigerators that reportedly perform well in home use. Consumers are particularly satisfied with the value for the buck and serve up kudos for temperature regulation and reliability. And many apparently buy budget-priced models to serve as overflow fridges in the basement or garage for surplus beverages and foodstuffs. The one area of discontent with cheap refrigerators concerns noise. A notable number of refrigerator reviews for some models we researched grumble about an annoying din or odd sounds.
Refrigerators Temperature Regulation.The primary function of any refrigerator/freezer combo is keeping fresh food cold and frozen food colder. Indeed, the majority of consumers seem pleased with the climate control of their budget models.
Consistent fridge and freezer temperatures are a hallmark of the side-by-side Whirlpool ED5KVEXVQ (starting at $899), say refrigerator reviews at Best Buy, even when stressed by the constant open-and-shut routine of hungry teenagers. The Maytag M1TXEGMY (starting at $760) holds temperatures at steady levels, according to the bulk of refrigerator reviews at AJ Madison. As evidence, one purchaser writes of keeping tabs with thermometers in both the top freezer and lower fridge portions of the unit while another rates its functionality as "above average." A few users, however, report uneven cooling and ice cream that's not fully frozen at the recommended freezer setting.
Consumer postings at Sears are mostly mum about temperature regulation in the Kenmore 69002 (starting at $848), leading us to conclude that cold is sufficiently and constantly cold in this bottom-freezer model. Still, we read several reviews warning that the freezer door pops ajar when shutting the refrigerator door above. (If you don't notice this right away, you could wind up with thawed frozen food.) Some consumers hedge their assessments of the GE GTH18GBD in refrigerator reviews at Home Depot, saying that the freezer could do with more chill. Most report otherwise, however, asserting that ice freezes in less than an hour and the fresh-food compartment quickly reaches a fully cool and steady state when first starting up.
One model we researched, the Frigidaire FFTR1814L (starting at $476), seems beset by some temperature irregularity. Users of this model gripe on sites such as Best Buy and Amazon that the freezer frosts over and the fresh food compartment doesn't stay cold. Several refrigerator reviews also report durability problems and others express disappointment with the build quality (e.g., bins that crack, weak shelves, misaligned handles).
Refrigerators Noise.Budget-priced refrigerators are often the target of complaints about noise. Although more than one user chides the noise police, noting that a refrigerator is, after all, a machine, even one of our top picks, the Maytag M1TXEGMY, gets called out in some refrigerator reviews for being a bit loud. By contrast, the Whirlpool ED5KVEXVQ and Maytag M4TXNWFY (starting at $449), another entry-level top-freezer model, generally earn points for quiet operation.
Oftentimes the audible sound is merely the compressor in its "on" cycle. But loud or unusual refrigerator noise may reflect a poorly functioning compressor, insufficient insulation, or an overactive ice maker, to name a few causes. Minor grousing about noise shows up in refrigerator reviews of the GE GTH18GBD at Best Buy and Home Depot, although many retort that this model is quiet enough. The Frigidaire FFTR1814L attracts reproach for excessively loud and odd noises that one consumer asserts make it unsuitable for the kitchen. Another refrigerator review contends the Kenmore 69002 sounds like the exhaust fan in a bathroom, but few others air such complaints.
Energy Efficient Refrigerators, Storage, and Capacity
Energy Efficiency.An energy efficient refrigerator is environmentally friendly and can lead to significant cost savings over time. Refrigerators with an Energy Star -- those that generate energy savings of at least 20% over the minimum federal standard -- often cost slightly more up front, but savings in the monthly utility bill should eventually offset the higher price. Additionally, you may be eligible for rebates from your local energy company just for buying an Energy Star-compliant appliance. Among the low-cost models we researched, the Maytag M1TXEGMYW, Whirlpool ED5KVEXVQ, GE GTH18GBD, and Kenmore 69002 are Energy Star qualified. The Frigidaire FFTR1814L and Maytag M4TXNWFY are not.
Storage.Top freezers, bottom freezers, and side-by-sides offer distinct refrigerator storage arrangements. Top-freezer models pass the convenience test for households that prefer to eyeball the food in the freezer. Bottom-freezer models appeal to consumers who are thrilled about not having to bend down to retrieve fresh produce from low storage bins. Both these designs boast shelves that are wide enough to hold large platters and bowls. The narrow shelves in side-by-side models work for some families but not others. One family of five finds the Whirlpool ED5KVEXVQ holds plenty of food that's easily accessible, according to a comment posted at Best Buy, while another gripes that the pile-up of items on slim shelves is prone to tumbling down when removing or looking for something. Regardless, side-by-sides are a top seller.
Consumers generally say the models we researched serve up efficient refrigerator storage. Abundant door storage merits a shout-out in reviews of the Whirlpool ED5KVEXVQ, Kenmore 69002, and GE GTH18GBD, as do adjustable shelves in the Kenmore 69002, GE GTH18GBD, and Maytag M1TXEGMYW. For the most part users commend the easy access into the cold interiors, although a number grouse about the front and center placement of the temperature control unit above the top shelf on the Maytag M1TXEGMYW and Kenmore 69002, which they say impedes loading and unloading. By contrast, the storage arrangements in the Frigidaire FFTR1814L are roundly panned. Consumers contend that the two shelves in the fridge compartment and the half-width shelf in the freezer are insufficient, the door shelves are short and they have a tendency to fall out.
Budget refrigerators often come stocked with storage components such as humidity-controlled drawers to keep veggies crisp, snack or deli drawers, dairy bins for butter and eggs, and adjustable and/or wide in-door buckets for milk gallons and two-liter bottles. All the refrigerators we researched, but for the Frigidaire FFTR1814L and Maytag M4TXNWFY (starting at $449), come with more than one of these refrigerator storage features; the side-by-side Whirlpool ED5KVEXVQ boasts the widest assortment.
Glass shelving in the refrigerator compartment, found on the top four refrigerators we researched, is a big hit with consumers because the solid surface guards against spillage below (some, however, don't like the visible messes and splotches). Glass shelves are also very stable. Wire shelving, somewhat of a throwback to an earlier era, makes an occasional appearance in the lower end of the refrigerator market -- in the Maytag M4TXNWFY and Frigidaire FFTR1814, for example. One user of the former is a big fan of wire shelves, asserting in a review at Home Depot that they ensure better air circulation. The wire shelving on the Frigidaire FFTR1814, on the other hand, draws howls from consumers who say they sag under the weight of a normal load.
Interior lighting is also a plus. All the models we researched come with a light in the fresh food compartment but only the Whirlpool ED5KVEXVQ and Kenmore 69002 feature a light in the freezer section, as well. Some consumers who bought models lacking a freezer light say they miss it.
Fridge Capacity.The experts at CNET recommend purchasing a fridge with capacity of four to six cubic feet of fresh storage for each adult in the household. Since the average life expectancy of a refrigerator is 14 to 19 years, depending on the style, be sure to take growing children into account when making a selection.
Most budget refrigerators are top-freezer style, which typically provides total fridge capacity (refrigerator plus freezer) of 14 to 22 cubic feet. Of the top-freezer models we researched, the Maytag M1TXEGMYW has a fridge capacity of 20.6 cubic feet (slightly more than six cubic feet allotted to the freezer), while the GE GTH18GBD and Frigidaire FFTR1814L offer just over 18 cubic feet of capacity, including a bit more than four cubic feet of freezer space in each. Storage capacity on the very basic and comparatively small Maytag M4TXNWFY tops out at 14.4 cubic feet (3.8 cubic feet for the freezer), although reviewers at AJ Madison say it holds plenty of fresh and frozen foods and is ideal for small apartments or guest cottages.
Bottom-freezer fridges run larger, generally boasting capacity of 19 to 25 cubic feet. The Kenmore 69002 provides 19.7 cubic feet, with just less than a third of that devoted to the freezer. Side-by-sides offer up to 30 cubic feet of storage; the Whirlpool ED5KVEXVQ features 15.2 cubic feet of fresh storage and 9.9 cubic feet of frozen storage for a total capacity of 25.1 cubic feet.
Refrigerator Extras.Frills aren't expected in this price range, so purchasers are often pleasantly surprised by the little "extras." One post on Home Depot, for example, says the pull-out shelves are an added bonus that make the Whirlpool ED5KVEXVQ especially easy to clean, although another claims that goop gets stuck in the slides.
Don't look for fancy add-ons like wine racks, quick-freeze drawers, or LCD displays in these models. Few lower-cost refrigerators come standard with an ice maker; the cheapest quality refrigerator we found with an in-door ice and water dispenser is the Whirlpool ED5KVEXVQ side-by-side, which pushes the Cheapism price niche to its limit. This "bonus" isn't without its headaches, however. Appliance Assistant reports that refrigerators with ice makers tend to have more problems than models without. That said, the Whirlpool ED5KVEXVQ receives of its share of praise overall, and the ice and water dispenser seems to have been a motivating factor in many consumers' decision to spring for this model.