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Updated November 2021
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Buying guide for best compact refrigerators

If you are in the market for a refrigerator but don’t have the space for a full-size appliance, a compact refrigerator may be what you need. Also known as mini fridges, compact refrigerators can be just the right size for use in a dorm room, office, apartment, or anywhere else where space is an issue. They are also handy to have in everything from rec rooms to basements, where they keep beverages cool and save you trips to the kitchen.

Much like standard refrigerators, compact refrigerators are sold in a variety of sizes and with a wide array of feature sets. This guide covers the range of compact refrigerators on the market and provides advice on what you should be shopping for to land on the right fridge for your needs. We also examine what you will find in various price ranges and highlight some of the best compact refrigerators currently out there.

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The majority of compact refrigerators run using a compressor-type cooling system in which tubes of gas are used to remove heat.

Key considerations


Any compact refrigerator you purchase should be durable and capable of holding up over time. The most common exteriors you’ll find include composite materials and stainless steel. If you like the appearance of stainless steel but could do without the smudges and fingerprints it collects, try to find a fridge with a spotless steel exterior.

Doors made from stainless steel or glass will likely cost more. Doors in general should close securely and stay closed, and the gasket around the doors should be tight enough that the refrigerator will not leak.

Some compact refrigerators offer a choice of colors, so you can match your choice to your existing décor.

Size and capacity

The size and capacity of your compact refrigerator are closely linked factors. Size will be an issue if your space is limited or you’ll want to move the fridge frequently. The larger a compact refrigerator is, the heavier it will be. These types of appliances range in weight from 40 to 75 pounds or more.

Capacity also varies quite a bit with compact refrigerators, from 1 cubic foot to around 4.5 cubic feet for larger models. The higher the capacity, the more you can store — but the larger it will be, size-wise.


Any compact refrigerator you are considering should be Energy Star-compliant. These refrigerators use less energy to run than those that aren’t compliant, costing you less money over the long run. The majority of Energy Star compact refrigerators cost $25 to $35 a year to run.


While not standard, some compact refrigerators can function as either a freezer or a refrigerator, with a temperature range that can be set to meet either need. If this sounds like a feature that you would use, seek a compact refrigerator that is convertible.

Noise level

Since your compact refrigerator will likely be used in a small area, the noise the appliance generates could be an issue. If this matters to you, make noise output it one of your important criteria as you search.

Maintenance and cleaning

Know whether a compact refrigerator you’re considering offers automatic or manual defrosting. Some offer both: automatic defrost in the refrigerator section and manual defrost in the freezer. Your compact refrigerator should also be easy to wipe down and clean, both inside and out.



Do you want a compact refrigerator with a dedicated freezer section? The majority of models have one, but some do not. If your potential compact refrigerator includes a freezer, know how large it is and if it includes shelves.

Crisper drawer

Some compact refrigerators include a vegetable crisper to keep fruits and vegetables fresh. A crisper drawer that is transparent will allow you to tell at a glance what is inside.

Interior light

Similar to standard refrigerators, the majority of compact refrigerators feature an LED or other kind of light so you can easily find your items. The light should be bright enough to be effective and accessible enough to be changed if the bulb burns out.


It’s standard for compact refrigerators to be equipped with shelving for storage. There are usually one to three glass or wire shelves in these fridges, depending on their size. Glass makes everything more visible and is easier to clean than wire shelving. Whatever shelving you have should be removable and adjustable for maximum versatility.

The door

The doors of most compact refrigerators include some special features. Can holders, general shelves (windowed or not), and space for storing tall bottles are all common, so think about what would serve you best.


The controls on these appliances usually come in the form of a simple dial that you can use to select the running temperature. Some compact refrigerators offer simple minimum to maximum ranges; others allow you to dial in an exact temperature between its high and low limits.


While not standard, some compact refrigerators have locking capabilities. This is a plus for shared living situations and for when you want to keep children from gaining access to the fridge. On the downside, if you use the lock, that’s one more key to keep track of.

Compact refrigerator prices

While certainly less expensive than standard refrigerators, compact refrigerators can still set you back a bit. These appliances start out around $150 and can reach up to $250 to $300 or higher. In the higher price range, you will find compact refrigerators with a greater capacity and pricier features, such as a stainless steel or glass door.

Also check what kind of warranty a compact refrigerator carries, if any. Anywhere from 12 to 18 months is fairly common for those manufacturers that offer a warranty.


  • If you want to place your compact refrigerator on a base, be it is stable enough to hold the refrigerator when full. Something as unsteady as a folding table is not sturdy enough to serve as a base.
  • The exterior of these fridges can heat up, so do not use the top to store perishable items or plants.
  • Is your compact refrigerator going to be used in a dorm? Be sure to check the dorm rules regarding both the size and power consumption before buying one.
  • Carefully read the manual before trying to install your compact refrigerator under a countertop or as a cabinet. Some of these appliances should be installed only as freestanding units.
  • If your fridge has a freezer section and you plan on using it for ice, check to see if it comes with an ice cube tray. If not, you will need to supply your own.
  • A compact refrigerator with a separate door for the freezer will generally be more efficient to run than a unit that uses one door for both the refrigerator and freezer sections.
  • Larger compact refrigerators tend to be more energy efficient and hold more than smaller ones, so try to buy the largest your space and budget will allow.
  • Some compact refrigerators feature scratch-resistant worktops, so you can easily use the top of the fridge as a work surface or storage area for heat-resistant items.

Other products we considered

The Daewoo Retro Compact Refrigerator offers a visual throwback with thoroughly modern controls, LED lighting, and an Energy Star rating. It holds 4.4 cubic feet. The Willz Refrigerator is an inexpensive option with perks like slide-out glass shelves, a can dispenser, and mechanical adjustable thermostat. And if you’re just searching for something to keep beverages cold, the glass-doored Phiestina Beverage Cooler Refrigerator is a handy, attractive option. This fridge holds up to 96 cans that are kept cool via a digital memory temperature control.

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Much like a standard refrigerator, regularly defrosting and cleaning your compact fridge can help it run more cleanly and efficiently.


Q. What is a reversible door?
It is a door that has the ability to open from the left or right simply by switching out what side of the door the hinges are on. This feature is standard on the majority of compact refrigerators. Reversible doors are handy for versatile placement of the fridge or for those who are left-handed.

Q. What are the benefits of a stainless steel door?
First, stainless steel offers an attractive appearance that will fit into a wide range of kitchen décors. Stainless steel is also easy to clean and durable. Refrigerator magnets work with stainless steel, so you can use the door to hang anything from organizational items (such as a calendar or a to-do list) to photos and other decorative elements.

Q. Can a compact refrigerator be used outdoors?
No. A compact refrigerator is essentially a standard refrigerator, only smaller. Like standard refrigerators, compact refrigerators are meant for indoor use only and won’t hold up to the rigors of rain and other outdoor elements.

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