The 36-inch-wide, standard-depth Whirlpool WRF535SMHZ has a basic feature set, which—along with its sturdy build—bodes well for reliability. As a French-door model, it has a top-mounted, full-width refrigerator compartment, offering plenty of space to store fresh foods at eye level, where you’re less likely to forget about them. It’s a big fridge, with enough capacity for a household of six. We haven’t seen evidence of any serious quality or reliability issues. While it doesn’t have a piece of through-the-door ice or water dispenser, it does have an ice maker in the freezer.
Stylish and spacious, this 36-inch-wide Maytag MFI2570FEZ is similar to the Whirlpool WRF535SMHZ, but it adds a through-the-door ice and water dispenser if that’s a feature you don’t want to live without. Its round, pro-style handles also lend it a more sophisticated look than most fridges at this price. Sturdy glass shelves make the most of a 25-cubic-foot interior, which is roomy enough to hold the groceries for a family of six. And the price is entirely reasonable for a refrigerator of this caliber.
Side-by-side fridges aren’t as popular as they used to be, but for certain households—particularly those that favor frozen foods and a tidier freezer—they may be the best choice. We think the 36-inch GE GSS25GSHSS is the best affordable side-by-side fridge. The full-height freezer with shelves and bins makes it easier to get at frozen foods than the low-to-the-ground, bucket-style freezers in French-door fridges. It also comes with an in-door water and ice dispenser, and its shelves and drawers are easy to adjust compared with those of most fridges.
On a budget, we’d get the GE GTS18GTHWW, a 28-inch-wide, top-freezer model that is usually one of the cheaper fridges for the size. It has a sturdier feel and the same basic features as similar models do, and its owner-review history suggests it’s less likely to have a factory defect or other reliability issues. At 17.5 cubic feet, it’s just big enough to hold the basics for a family of four. This is also a solid pick if you’re looking for a second fridge to keep in the basement or garage, or if you need to provide one for tenants.
If you need a different size or want a different style than what we’ve recommended so far—or you’re not even sure where to start—check out our refrigerator buying guide. Even if we can’t recommend a specific model in the configuration that you want or need, the guide should help you figure out what to look for and how to think critically about any fridge you’re considering.
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Why you should trust us
We’ve done more than 100 hours of research for this guide since 2014. Liam McCabe is the appliances editor at Wirecutter and has covered the appliance industry since 2011, including a stint at Reviewed. He wrote the original version of this guide and has edited it since then. Michelle Ma is a former Wirecutter staff writer who wrote an earlier version of this guide. Kori Perten worked on the current version of this guide; she is a contributor to Wirecutter and previously tested and wrote about appliances at Reviewed for nearly four years.
Here’s the research we’ve done:
- We interviewed independent appliance store owners and salespeople, including Richard Hughes, director of training at Denver’s Appliance Factory, and Steve Sheinkopf, CEO of Yale Appliance + Lighting. We also chatted with other salespeople on the showroom floor at Sears, Lowe’s, and Home Depot stores in the Boston and New York metro areas.
- We spoke with brand reps, product managers, and engineers of brands we reviewed, including BlueStar Refrigeration, True, Electrolux/Frigidaire, LG, GE, and Liebherr, among others.
- We consulted repair technicians and online repair experts, including Chris Zeisler of RepairClinic.com, who has a couple of decades of field experience fixing all kinds of appliances, and Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit.
- We compiled sales and trend data from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, Trakline, and other industry sources, to understand what kinds of fridges people are buying.
- We scanned a few thousand reviews written by people who own the fridges that we reviewed.
- We listened to feedback from our readers (and our own staff members).
What type of fridge should you get?
Refrigerators come in dozens of size and style configurations, and they all do a fine job of preserving your food. You can pick any type that fits into your kitchen and suits your personal taste.
To keep this guide simple, we decided to focus on the three best-selling styles of refrigerator:
- French-door, 36-inch, standard-depth fridges have plenty of capacity for most families, a layout that helps keep fresh foods at eye level, and narrow doors that are easy to swing all the way open even within a cramped floor plan.
- Top-freezer, 30-inch (or narrower) fridges are inexpensive and can fit into most kitchens.
- Side-by-side, 36-inch, standard-depth fridges usually cost a few hundred dollars less than French-door models of a similar size and make it easier to organize your freezer and reach frozen foods.
If you want or need a different style, or aren’t even sure which size or type to choose, use our refrigerator buying guide to help you through the fridge-shopping process. That said, we are currently working on a guide to counter-depth fridges and might go into greater depth on some other styles, too.
How we picked
Since refrigerators all basically work well (as long as they don’t break), we had simple criteria for our picks in those three popular styles. Here’s what we prioritized:
- Sturdy build quality: You use your fridge more than almost anything else in your home, so it’s important to buy something that you’ll be happy to interact with and that can hold up under daily use for about a decade. We visited several showrooms to get a feel for how well-made our picks (and their competitors) are. Did the drawers pull out smoothly or with a cheap rattle? Did the doors feel hefty or hollow? Were the shelves intuitively laid out? Can the door bins hold gallon-size jugs or just ketchup bottles?
- No obvious signs of defects or design flaws: We’d love to guarantee that we’re picking the most reliable fridges, but we don’t have a crystal ball that can tell us how they’ll hold up in three years, five years, or 10 years. What we can do, though, is look for consistent complaints written in owner reviews about problems that pop up within the first year or so of use. These include noisy compressors, noisy fans, cooling-system failures, control-board failures, and ice-maker jams.
- Simple features: You can pay more for nicer ice and water dispensers, or extra drawers and doors, or sleeker finishes and handles, or a built-in touchscreen tablet. They all have their merits (okay, maybe not the tablet). But we chose to focus on basic models because repair technicians say that they tend to be more reliable (with fewer parts that can break). They also cost hundreds less to do essentially the same job. That said, we think it’s nice to have some basic conveniences, like an auto-defrosting freezer, adjustable shelves, crisper drawers, and glass or plastic (rather than wire) shelves in the fridge compartment. The vast majority of fridges have all of those features, and they’re the only ones we seriously considered recommending.
Our pick: Whirlpool WRF535SMHZ
If you need a basic, 36-inch French-door fridge, check out the Whirlpool WRF535SMHZ. It’s one of the most affordable models in this style, yet it doesn’t skimp on the build quality, features, or (as far as we can tell) reliability compared with similar fridges that cost a bit more.
The WRF535SMHZ feels as sturdy as any similar fridge in this price range. The doors have a nice heft, the drawers (including the freezer) roll smoothly, and the handles feel sturdy. The interior LED lighting is bright and inviting, and the exterior design is simple. It has a fingerprint-resistant finish too.
While the WRF535SMHZ doesn’t have as many flashy features as a lot of French-door fridges, it has all of the basics, including: crisper drawers for produce; a full-width deli tray for meat and cheese (or easy-to-reach snacks for the kiddos); a shelf inside the freezer to help with organization; and adjustable, transparent on-door shelves that make it easy to read condiment labels and can fit a gallon-size jug.
It does not have a through-the-door ice or water dispenser (some would argue that they cause more trouble than they’re worth anyway), though it does have an ice maker inside the freezer. The glass shelves aren’t totally spill-proof (no lips on the sides), but they will at least prevent liquid from dribbling down the front of the fridge. The thermostat is digital, though it’s on a scale from 0 to 7 instead of actual degrees Fahrenheit, like most fridges are.
This fridge seems pretty reliable—at least compared with others at this price. We’ve read some occasional complaints that the compressor makes a high-pitched whine and that ice forms on the lip of the freezer. (These could mean that the fridge isn’t level, and you’ll need to adjust the legs accordingly.) This fridge hasn’t been available for long enough to get a sense of its long-term reliability, though older, similar Whirlpool models have a good reputation. Some owner ratings take issue with the lack of a few familiar storage features, like dedicated compartments for eggs and butter, though these aren’t as common as they used to be, regardless of the model or brand.
Upgrade pick: Maytag MFI2570FEZ
The biggest difference is that the Maytag has ice and water dispensers built into the door, which some people feel is a must-have convenience feature. In-door ice dispensers are notorious for jamming, especially in French-door fridges where the ice-making hardware sits inside the warmer refrigerator compartment (rather than the freezer, as in a side-by-side fridge). Plus, the ice maker takes up valuable door-storage space. But we read very few complaints about the ice maker in this Maytag, and it leaves enough space for bottles as big as 12 ounces in the shelves that it affects.
The Maytag also has round handles, which look more sophisticated than the wider, flatter handles on the Whirlpool.
Side-by-side pick: GE GSS25GSHSS
If you use your freezer as often as the refrigerator compartment, or you just prefer the look and layout of a side-by-side refrigerator, or you want to save a few hundred dollars on a large fridge, we recommend the 36-inch GE GSS25GSHSS.
Other side-by-side fridges we considered had flimsy shelves, reports of ice makers and compressors repeatedly failing, or just a higher price. The GSS25GSHSS, on the other hand, seems sturdy and is reasonably priced. It has shelves that feel thick and stable and solid drawers that open smoothly. Owner reviews note that the shelves are easy to remove and clean and that the refrigerator runs quietly.
All of the features you should expect in an affordable side-by-side fridge are here. It has a block of through-the-door ice and water dispenser (it’s hard to find a side-by-side without this feature, actually). It’s highly adjustable, with many height options for the shelves and door bins, which are easy to glide in and out of the grooves on the refrigerator and freezer walls. Like any standard-depth, 36-inch fridge, the capacity is massive (25.3 cubic feet).
A small qualm we have with the GSS25GSHSS is that the shelves on the freezer side are wire racks, rather than flat glass or plastic. They feel flimsier and potentially harder to keep clean than flat shelves. It also has opaque (rather than clear) door bins. And as with all side-by-sides, this model doesn’t give you much horizontal space to work with, so you won’t be able to fit a sheet cake or large pizza box into either the fridge or freezer compartment.
Budget pick: GE GTS18GTHWW
If you need a fridge and you’re dealing with a tight budget (or floor plan), we recommend 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 poorly fitting shelf or as big as a cooling-system failure. It is also really easy to find for a low price.
At 17.5 cubic feet and just 28 inches wide, it still holds enough stuff for a family of four and should fit into almost any kitchen. The only special features to speak of are the spill-proof glass shelves, which are an improvement over über-cheap wire shelves (though you’ll still find a wire shelf in the freezer).
As with most other fridges in this price range, some owners find it to be a little noisy, but no more so than competing models. The thermostat is just a dial without specific temperature markings, and some owners said that they have had difficulty finding a setting that keeps both the fridge and the freezer at their ideal temperatures. (The workaround here is to set it on the low side and keep sensitive produce toward the bottom of the fridge, where it tends to be a little warmer.)