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This is the latest choice review (pay to view) on fridges.
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COMPARE-A-FRIDGE (Test results)
To see full results and specifications for all the fridges in this test see the Compare-A-Fridge tool. You can also customise the list according to your needs.
What to buy
FISHER & PAYKEL ELEGANCE E372B (B) $1449
FISHER & PAYKEL Tasman E331T $1019
SAMSUNG Cool n' Cool SRL316NW (B) $899
WESTINGHOUSE Virtuoso RJ423V $1589
FISHER & PAYKEL Tasman E381T
FISHER & PAYKEL Elegance E440T
WESTINGHOUSE Virtuoso RJ393V $1429
FISHER & PAYKEL Tasman E442B (B)
WESTINGHOUSE Virtuoso RJ525V $1689
ELECTROLUX Kelvinator NB510J (B) $1639
FISHER & PAYKEL Elegance E521T $1799
More than 525 L
SAMSUNG Cool Tech Plus SRL550DW (B) $1999
WESTINGHOUSE WSE6100WA $1799
WHIRLPOOL 6ED2FHKXRL $2199
(B) Bottom freezer
The models in the What to buy list are the best models we've tested in each size range.
Here are some important factors you need to consider before buying:
First decide on the size and where you want the freezer to be, then look for tested models with good temperature performance and energy efficiency. The more energy-efficient they are the lower the running cost — they run all the time, so it'll greatly affect your hip pocket as well as the environment.
There are big differences between fridges in all performance areas, (such as temperature performance, energy efficiency, cooling ability, crisper freshness), and none is ideal across the board. So you need to decide which factors are most important to you and use the Compare-A-Fridge feature to find the best fridge for your needs.
Measure your available space and allow for the manufacturer's recommended installation space so that your fridge will work at it's optimum efficiency — saving you money. Note that the Compare-A-Fridge feature takes into account the recommended installation space.
If you're buying a side-by-side fridge and freezer, measure your doorways make sure it'll fit through before you buy.
A frost-free fridge will tend to make strange noises (pops, clicks, bangs) that might have you checking the house for intruders in the middle of the night. Modern fridges tend to be noisier for a number of reasons including different insulation, energy-efficient compressor design and components used to keep the fridge frost-free. But some are definitely quieter than others during normal running.
Some plastic shelves may not be as durable as those made of other materials. The Compare-A-Fridge can filter the tested models by the shelf type in the fresh-food compartment.
Look for features that are convenient and useful for your storage needs, such as a chiller, to keep meat, fish and poultry for longer.
Freezer on the top, the bottom, or at the side?
Think about your typical fridge and freezer usage and whether the type of fridge you're considering matches it.
The fresh-food compartment is used more often than the freezer, so having it on top or at the side improves accessibility.
Bottom-mounted freezers tend to have slide-out baskets instead of shelves, making contents easy to get at. But there can be a disadvantage: the crispers in fridges with the freezer at the bottom are sometimes too cold.
Each compartment of a side-by-side model tends to be narrow and deep. This can make them difficult to reach into — slide-out shelves can help — and can also restrict storage options (we couldn’t fit a frozen pizza flat in some). But the narrow doors can be less intrusive into passage space in the kitchen when open.
Generally, the tall compartments of side-by-sides can make the even distribution of cold air difficult, so you'll get variations in temperatures throughout the fridge and freezer, particularly at the top.
Check that the fridge can fit through your home's doorways before you buy — particularly if you're considering a side-by-side fridge.
A fridge needs at least a few centimetres of air space around it. Measure your available space, and brochures in the shop or the fridge’s manual will tell you how much space to allow — as does the Compare-A-Product feature.
Side-by-side cabinets tend to twist unless you're very careful about height adjustment at various points when the fridge is installed.
Energy, environment, and running costs
A good fridge/freezer should do more than keep your food safe — it should also be energy-efficient. As it’s working non-stop, the energy it consumes adds up — think of the long-term running costs as part of the purchase price of the fridge. For some years now Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) have been in place, which every new fridge sold in Australia must meet. These are mandatory standards and — especially the revised, tougher MEPS that came into force in January 2005 — have brought significant improvements in energy efficiency.
Check the energy rating label — the more stars and the lower kWh per year, the better.
Concerned about the hole in the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect? Look for a model that uses a hydrocarbon such as butane or pentane as the refrigerant and/or blowing agent for the insulation foam.
All fridges on the market are CFC-free, so don't base you purchase decision on "CFC free" labels.
Click here for more energy saving tips on refrigeration.
A single control may seem easier to use, but as it sets both the freezer and the fresh-food compartment, you can't adjust one without affecting the other. In most fridges with two controls, one is the thermostat and the second is usually a baffle — a flap that directs the cold air more to either one or the other compartment. Having two controls doesn't always make adjusting the temperature any easier, but may increase your chances of getting the right temperature balance between the fridge and freezer.
Some electronic fridges have relatively independent temperature management of the two compartments, which better addresses the problem.
Some have a 24-hour memory that monitors door openings and precools the fridge before a period of heavy use — such as when the kids get home from school or you're preparing dinner.
Some automatically manage the defrosting to suit the conditions.
For ease of use...
Reversible door: Make sure the door opens in the right direction for your kitchen. On some models the doors are reversible but you may have to call in a service person to do it.
Do the handles allow easy door opening and closing? Note that the level of difficulty, in most cases, will increase when the fridge is working (as opposed to a display model that's not operating). Make sure the handles aren't too high or too low.
Check that the shelves (and door shelves) are easy to remove and replace, and that the range of shelf positions suit your needs. For example, can you stand soft-drink or wine bottles in the door shelves?
Some shelves are made from moulded plastic or safety glass, which helps confine spills. But some plastic shelves may not be as durable as those made from other materials.
If the fridge has to be positioned with the door hinge next to a wall, shelves should be removable with the door open at only 90 degrees.
Rollers are useful for easy moving — when cleaning behind the fridge, for example. It should also have adjustable feet (or rollers) for levelling the fridge. Four rollers are better than two, provided they have brakes or adjustable feet to secure the fridge in place.
Look for smooth, easy to clean surfaces with no awkward corners or dirt-trapping crevices.
Some fridges have warning beep if you leave the door open too long.
A chiller is important if you often store meat, fish and poultry (fresh or cooked), to keep it at a safe temperature and for longer. If you're choosing a fridge with a chiller feature, the chiller’s temperature should be close to zero and ideally it has a separate temperature control.
A quick-chill zone close to the cold-air outlets is handy for cooling drinks quickly, but food left there too long can freeze. Some CHOICE readers have told us that far from being useful, they find this zone reduces the amount of usable space.
A dairy compartment is convenient for keeping butter and hard cheeses slightly soft.
Look for a well-sealed crisper drawer to keep vegetables fresh; check that the fridge's air outlets don't blow onto it, as this will dry food out faster. A good crisper means you don't have to put your fruits and veges in plastic bags.
Ice trays with a dispenser or other special containers are available on some models.
A water dispenser on the outside of the door means it isn’t constantly opened for a cold drinks.
Some water dispensers and icemakers/dispensers need to be connected to a water tap — important to consider before installing or moving your fridge. Also, they can take up almost 30% of your freezer space. With others, water can be dispensed from a container inside the door.
You may also want to consider a water filter for your water dispenser and icemaker which will also needs to be plumbed in. If possible try to connect your fridge to an existing water filter — it'll save you additional costs for filter cartridges.
The plastic surfaces of the ‘deli bin’, upper door shelves, dairy compartments and crisper bin(s) of the ELECTROLUX KELVINATOR fridges contain an antimicrobial formulation, called ‘anti+bac’, which is claimed to inhibit the growth of bacteria on treated surfaces for the life of the fridge. These surfaces contain Microban, an antibacterial pesticide with the active ingredient triclosan, registered by the US EPA to inhibit bacterial growth in plastic. But it doesn’t protect you from food-borne illness (just the plastic), and neither is it a substitute for good hygiene practices — you still have to clean your fridge. According to ELECTROLUX, it’s just meant to keep it “cleaner between cleanings”.
Opening the fridge door means lots of cold air can escape. By keeping your fridge moderately full, you'll help prevent the fridge from warming up too much (and reduce any food safety risks). This also keeps the temperatures more even throughout the compartments.
It's often difficult to get both the fresh-food compartment and the freezer at the right temperatures. Buy two good thermometers — one for the freezer and the other for the fresh-food compartment to help you get the temperatures right. Go to our Fridge/freezer thermometers article for which ones to buy and how to use them effectively.
Many new Minimum Energy Performance Standard (MEPS)* 2005-compliant fridges have longer compressor cycles — the period when the compressor runs and stops, runs and stops. Longer compressor cycling uses less energy and so works in favour of energy efficiency. However, it can also increase temperature fluctuations in the fresh food and freezer compartments, and large fluctuations can compromise the quality of some foods, particularly those whose surfaces are more vulnerable to bacteria. We’ve found fridges that can meet MEPS requirements and manage temperatures well, but if energy efficiency comes at the expense of appropriate temperature management, it’s false economy.
In this test, the ELECTROLUX KELVINATOR NB430J did well at maintaining steady temperatures throughout the stopping and starting of the compressor. By contrast, the ELECTROLUX KELVINATOR N520J, SAMSUNG SR-281NW, NEC NTM260R and NEC NTM470R failed our temperature fluctuation test and we can’t recommend them.
Problems with Electrolux models
Two Electrolux models in this test — the SIMPSON SBM4300WA and WESTINGHOUSE Virtuoso BJ383V — had problems with temperature management. We had both serviced, and in both cases technicians replaced the duct that carries the cold air up the back of the fridge. In fact, when Electrolux saw our test results for the SIMPSON (we give manufacturers the opportunity to comment on them before we publish), it told us it was likely there was a problem with the duct.
The WESTINGHOUSE problem was fixed early enough for us to retest. With the SIMPSON we only had time to do a few check-tests after the repair: enough to see its performance had improved, but not enough to publish full results.
We’ve encountered duct-related problems with six out of the 12 MEPS 2005-compliant Electrolux fridges we’ve tested over the last two years, across all three Electrolux brands (ELECTROLUX KELVINATOR, SIMPSON and WESTINGHOUSE). We understand that many of the MEPS-compliant models in question share a similar duct design.
Symptoms of a duct-related problem aren’t clear-cut and may vary from fridge to fridge. You may notice that you can’t achieve reasonable temperatures in both compartments using the ‘mid’ setting; that it’s difficult to get a good range of temperatures between fridge and freezer; or that fresh-food cooling time is longer than you’d expect. Or your food just doesn’t seem to last as well as it should.
We’re wondering just how many Electrolux fridges with this type of problem are out there, with vaguely unsatisfied owners who just can’t quite get the fridge working as well as they’d expect. Electrolux confirmed there have been problems withSIMPSON ducts and with their fitting, and said it’s currently making changes to address these issues.
In the meantime, if you think you have an affected model, you could try Electrolux’s suggestion of adjusting the fridge thermostat to a colder setting than mid and the freezer control to a warmer setting than mid. If you still find the fridge’s operation unsatisfactory and it’s within the two-year warranty period, you can have it serviced free of charge.
One of the tested models, the HITACHI R480ET5X, used around 18% more energy than its energy label indicated, well above the 10% variation allowed for. If you owned one that behaved this way, you’d pay $150 more for electricity over 10 years than you’d expect from the label.
* Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) which every new fridge sold in Australia must meet, have been in place for some years. These are mandatory standards and — especially the revised, tougher MEPS that came into force in January 2005 — have brought significant improvements in energy efficiency.
What are ideal temperatures?
Keeping food cold slows down the rate at which most bacteria and mould grow, and helps to keep food fresh for longer. It's widely agreed that 3ºC is an ideal temperature for the fresh-food compartment, but between 0°C and 4°C is OK — check the temperature with a fridge thermometer.
Crispers shouldn't be much colder than 4°C, because some fruits and veges (such as lettuce) will be ruined if they freeze.
How cold should your freezer be?
The warmer it is, the faster your foods' taste and appearance will deteriorate. Many manufacturers recommend keeping their frozen foods at –18ºC, which is easily achievable in a good freezer, though some will go colder.
Ice cream can be a rough indicator for checking the temperature of your freezer: at –18ºC it'll be hard, and keep its texture and appearance. If your freezer's temperature varies, you'll find ice crystals start to form, the ice cream becomes gritty and eventually yellows. The warmer your freezer is, the quicker this will happen.
Some fridges have a chiller, which may have its own temperature control. This is in fact just a baffle (an adjustable flap), not a thermostat: adjusting it to allow more cold air in will decrease the temperature. A chiller is good for storing fresh meat at around 0°C, keeping it safer to eat for longer than if stored in the main fridge compartment.
To check whether your fridge is cooling as it should, buy a food or fridge thermometer (from a kitchen or catering supply shop, hardware or electrical store) — or one for each compartment — and monitor temperatures in the fresh-food and freezer compartments. A fridge should be able to achieve –18ºC and 3ºC simultaneously in the freezer and fresh-food compartments respectively in cool to warm environments. If your fridge has problems reaching or maintaining these temperatures, contact the manufacturer.
Conventional controls — thermostat and baffle
Many conventional fridges have two controls, but that doesn't mean one controls the freezer and the other the fresh-food compartment. Though you'll often find one control in each compartment, adjusting either of them can in fact affect the temperature in both. This is because one of the controls is usually a thermostat, while the other's a baffle.
The thermostat senses the temperature (sometimes in the freezer, sometimes in the fresh-food compartment, and sometimes in both — it varies from model to model) and, if it gets too warm, the compressor (the motor unit) kicks in, producing cool air. When the temperature is right, the compressor turns off.
The baffle control dictates how much of the cold air is directed to the freezer, and how much to the fresh-food compartment, and so dictates the relative temperatures of the two compartments.
So how do you know which is which?
Ideally they'd be properly labelled, perhaps as 'Temperature' and 'Balance control'. Often, though, they're both just labelled 'Temperature control', giving the false impression that the temperatures in the fresh-food compartment and freezer are independent.
Check the instruction manual that comes with your fridge — the better ones do explain which control does what, and it's worth reading it carefully to get your fridge's performance right.
Alternatively, when the compressor is running try turning one of the controls to the warmest setting — if it's the thermostat control it will turn off the compressor. If it doesn't, it's the baffle.
If you still can't tell, call the manufacturer for the information.
Electronic fridges — better control
Some — though not all — electronic fridges use a different system, which can be much easier to use. These fridges have separate controls, sensors and fans, allowing the temperatures selected for the two compartments to be relatively independent.
Should I alter the settings....
When I've put in fresh groceries?
Once you've got your fridge temperatures right, you shouldn't need to fiddle with the settings to cope with a load of warm groceries. If a fridge does its job properly, turning the temperature control to colder when you put a large load in won't speed up the cooling process — it'll just mean your food ends up colder.
If your fridge doesn’t seem to react to a warm load by starting the compressor running to cool it down, you can try setting it colder for a while, but don’t let the food get too cold before turning it back. Alternatively, have it checked by a service person — or, if it’s old, consider buying a new fridge.
From summer to winter and vice versa?
You may find your freezer gets warmer — not colder as you might expect — during the winter months. It's a good idea to keep an eye on temperatures using a fridge/freezer thermometer— or two — particularly in the height of winter and summer.
Which foods should you put where?
The crisper — the enclosed drawer(s) you’ll find at the bottom of most fresh-food compartments — is designed for keeping fruit and vegetables fresh. A good crisper should be cool and well sealed, which means it won’t be as dry as the rest of the fridge, so your vegies should stay fresh for longer. Check that the fridge's air outlets don't blow into it, as this will dry them out faster.
The door shelves are usually the most convenient spot to put bottles, whether of milk, soft drink, sauce, juice or wine. But in some of the fridges we’ve tested, the door bottle shelves have been warmer than is ideal for keeping milk (it’s best stored at or below 4°C). If you want it to last longer, keep it in a colder place in the body of the fridge. And some fridges’ door shelves are too small to store soft-drink bottles.
This is intended to keep cheese, butter and the like at a warmer temperature than in the rest of the fridge — closer to serving or spreading temperature. Of course, cheese in particular won’t last as long as if it’s stored at a colder temperature. Soft cheeses shouldn't be stored here but in the cooler main part of the fridge, because they're prone to contamination with listeria bacteria.
You may also have a butter conditioner, which has a small heater to keep butter soft and spreadable. The heater may have a few settings, ‘hard’ usually means the heater’s off and the conditioner functions as a dairy compartment.
Some fridges have a chiller compartment, which should be at around 0°C to keep perishable food fresh for longer. It's useful for keeping uncooked chicken, fish and other meats fresh, or even for quickly chilling a drink. You’ll also find that precooked foods keep longer here, but be careful about cross-contamination with raw foods.
A few fridges have a versatile compartment that you can use as a chiller or crisper by selecting the right temperature. Some also have a warm setting that’s ideal for storing tropical fruits, tomatoes and so on.
Store them in the fridge in their original carton: it protects them, slows down moisture loss, prevents them absorbing odours from other foods and enables you to keep track of how old they are. Fresh eggs should keep well for four to five weeks; boiled eggs in their shells will keep for up to five days. Cracked eggs may be contaminated, so throw them out. See Egg FAQs for more.
As with the main compartment, it’s best to avoid loading too much in at once, and don't put piping hot food straight into the freezer, as it’ll warm up the food that’s already there. If your freezer’s relatively full, its temperature’s more likely to stay even and your food should last longer. However, be careful not to block the cold-air outlets with a frost-free model, and leave air space around the walls for better air circulation.
Try placing a ripe banana in the dairy compartment if you want to keep it an extra day or two. Dairy compartments are usually warmer than the rest of the fridge, so the ripening process should be slowed down without as much damage to the banana's skin.
Ripe tomatoes also like warmer temperatures than the average crisper, so if your dairy compartment is big enough you could try keeping them in there (but not with the bananas — that might make them ripen faster).
Overall our survey respondents like their fridges big: nearly three quarters owned one that was 400 L or more, while a third had one 500 L or more. Around half the fridges were eight years old or less at the time of the survey, and we’ve only reported results for them.
Brands reported on the most were FISHER & PAYKEL (34%), WESTINGHOUSE (27%) and KELVINATOR (12%).
Which ones have been found most reliable?
Most fridges bought in or after 1996 are reasonably reliable — only 10% required repairs over the previous 12 months. But there's a reliability sliding scale here: only 7% of fridges under 300 L had needed repairs, while of the models over 500 L, 13% had required repairing during the year.
For newer models (bought after 2000) subscribers noted the following problems that were significantly higher than average:
Icing up of food: WESTINGHOUSE (9%)
Noise: FISHER & PAYKEL (8%)
Door seal: KELVINATOR (7%)
Handles and fittings: MAYTAG (7%) and FISHER & PAYKEL (4%)
Shelves:FISHER & PAYKEL (5%)
Refrigerator repairs by size
Base = All respondents who own a fridge bought in or after 1996 Percentage not needing repairs in last 12 months
Very small to medium (under 300L) (399) 93
Medium (300L-399L) (1772) 93
Medium to large (400L-500L) (3182) 91
Very large (500L and over) (2766) 91
ALL fridges (8262) 90
Percentage not needing repair
(A difference of 6% or more between brands is meaningful.) All fridges (8262) 90
LG (266) 97
Kelvinator (1006) 93
Whirlpool (445) 93
Samsung (186) 92
Westinghouse (2183) 91
Fisher & Paykel (2831) 89
Amana (120) 86
GE (239) 84
Maytag (181) 80
The figure in brackets is the number of subscribers reporting on this brand bought in or after 1996.
Percentage who would buy the same brand again All fridges (8288) 82
LG (267) 91
Samsung (184) 87
Maytag (184) 86
Kelvinator (1020) 85
Westinghouse (2185) 85
Fisher & Paykel (2843) 83
GE (238) 82
Whirlpool (446) 82
Amana (120) 73
For CHOICE’s recommendations / overall Score:
Models are ranked from best to worst by overall score. Five factors were included in the overall score, weighted as follows:
Temperature performance: 40%
Energy efficiency score: 20%.
Cooling ability: 12%.
Crisper freshness: 8%.
Ease of use: 20%
A good temperature for a fridge is 3°C, and for a freezer -18°C. The temperature perfomance score is a measure of the fridge’s ability to manage basic cooling temperatures in all compartments, and is based on the following factors:
Do temperatures fluctuate too much due to the compressor running and stopping? (30%)
Is there an adequate range of temperature combinations to satisfy the needs of most users? (25%)
Can the fridge and freezer cope with changes in the outside temperature? (20%)
Are compartment temperatures generally uniform, without warmer or colder areas? (20%)
Is the temperature for both the fridge and freezer appropriate when the controls are set to 'Mid' or the manufacturer's recommended setting? (5%)
Cooling ability score
This test shows the refrigerator’s ability to handle a difficult cooling job in the fresh-food compartment. The score is based on the time it takes to cool down a 20 kg load by 15°C on a simulated hot day.
This test assesses the comparative energy consumption, and gives an indication of the amount of electricity used over one year of normal operation. The energy score is based on the measured energy consumption and is adjusted depending on the volume of the fresh-food and freezer compartments.
For side-by-side fridges, the energy used is measured with any icemaker off, as the standard requires. Icemaking will use a little extra energy, and if you make a lot of ice you can expect a slight increase in energy consumption and running costs.
This test measures the amount of humidity in the crisper compartment, giving an indication of how well it will keep unwrapped fruits and veges without drying them out.
Ease of use score
The ease of use score is made up of:
Versatility of food storage, including adjustability of shelves and ease of storing items of different shapes and sizes. (60%)
Ease of cleaning: how many crevices and fiddly bits there are to deal with while cleaning. (30%)
Ease of understanding and setting temperature controls: whether graphics and instructions are misleading and confusing or clear and direct. (10%)
Quietness / noise
New fridges, particularly frost-free ones, make a combination of noises that some people may find annoying. More noise is produced when the compressor starts up and also during the defrost cycle. Some models have an external fan system to help keep the compressor cool, which can add to the noise level. Also, plastics inside the fridge can make loud noises as they expand and contract with temperature changes. The design of your kitchen and the fridge’s location will affect what you’ll hear. Our test tells you which models are noisier during normal running, but some of these more unusual noises can be more noticeable with models that are quieter during normal running.
The gross volume quoted by the manufacturer tells you approximately how much air space the fridge has to cool, which includes spaces you can’t put food into. Taking this into account, use the volumes to get an idea of how big the freezer is compared with the fresh-food compartment so you can choose a fridge that meets your storage needs.
For side-by-side fridges, the usable freezer volume is approximately 30% less than claimed, due to space taken by the icemaker, so the claimed total volume is overstated too.
Running costs over 10 years
The running cost is calculated from the energy used over 10 years, using a rate of 15 cents per kilowatt hour. A 10-year period provides a useful indication of the long-term differences between high and low energy usage. The difference in running costs of the best and worst models in our test would be about $1000 over 10 years, and around 8500 kg of greenhouse gas production — a lot when you consider the millions of fridges in Australia doing the same thing.
This is a recommended retail price unless otherwise specified. You can probably get a better price by shopping around.
All the listed fridges are frost-free — the refrigerator/freezer automatically defrosts around every 12 hours or so, but it depends on the model and how hard it's been working.
The measured dimensions include hinges and any protrusions at the back, such as the compressor. They’re rounded up to the next centimetre. This is the actual size of the fridge; you need to leave space around the top, back and sides for air circulation. Note that the Compare-A-Fridge feature takes into account the manufacturer's recommended installation space.
Door hinge position
This is the side of the fridge that the door hinge is positioned, as well as the direction that the door opens. With many models you'll have to pre-order it on either the left or right, and it isn't reversible after purchase. But some are reversible: while you can do this yourself with some models, manufacturers generally recommend getting a service call. Reversible doors are useful if you move house and/or need to position the fridge differently.
This page last reviewed September 2006.