Refrigeration technology has come a long way in recent years, improving cooling efficiency and reducing the cost of different components. In the past, you might have expected a cheap fridge to keep drinks cool in your garage and not much more. However, nowadays, inexpensive fridges are more than capable of earning a spot in your kitchen proper—they just may not have the latest and greatest smart home features.
Just because price no longer prevents you from buying a good refrigerator, that doesn't mean all inexpensive appliances are equal: There are a lot of cheap fridges out there that are best left in the garage.
When it comes to affordable fridges, consistency is key. Less expensive fridges often have poor temperature control, which ultimately will result in food spoiling. We use an array of sensors to track how consistent each fridge's temperature is over time, at several spots throughout its interior. We also measure humidity retention and the total usable storage area.
If you’re in the market for an entry-level, counter-depth fridge, there are are fewer options better than the Haier HA10TG21SS top-freezer. This is a budget buy that offers an impressive performance for your initial investment. While its smaller stature means less storage space compared to a full-size model, it has impressive temperature performance and adjustable-height, spill-capturing shelves—two rare features to see in a fridge at this price point.
This fridge does lack some standard features, like a through-the-door ice and water dispenser or smart features, but the absence of those features lets this fridge shine at its very low price point. If you're looking for a basic fridge and didn't have much use for fancy features anyway, the Haier HA10TG21SS is one of the best values currently available.
While it’s easy to look at a fridge and say, “that’s a big box that keeps things cold,” there’s a lot more nuance to exactly how these appliances go about their task.
Over the course of a week (including a day for calibration), we put each refrigerator through a series of tests in a special lab that keeps the air at 72°F (+/- 5°F), with a relative humidity of 50% RH (+/- 15% RH)—basically, we keep it perfectly at room temperature. .
We run through the same scientific tests we do for all refrigerators—just because they're more affordable doesn't mean they should operate any differently. We measure the fridge's temperature, humidity loss, freezing time, usable space, and energy use.
We also use each fridge in a more casual manner, more akin to how owners would in their home setting as opposed to us poking and prodding it in a lab. These more “common sense” tests help us catch the idiosyncrasies of actually using the product, such as noting the doors have a good weight to them, or that a shelf tends to bind up and not slide smoothly. These more subjective tests help provide a more holistic view of the product and ensure that a poor user experience won’t be forgotten under piles of impressive testing data
For more information on our full testing procedure, you can read all the gritty details in The Best Refrigerators.
What You Should Know About Buying A Refrigerator Under $1000
Temperature Performance May Be the Most Important Factor
When you're looking to buy a refrigerator, you want one that has steady, stable temperatures for consistent periods of time.
The ideal temperatures for a fridge and freezer compartment are 37°F and 0°F, respectively. With fridge temperatures higher than 37°F, it’s possible normal fluctuations will bring it above 40°F, which is the start of the bacteria "danger zone". Freezer temperatures warmer than 0°F mean that the food isn't being truly frozen. We especially want freezer temperatures to be stable, as inconsistency will exacerbate freezer burn.
Consider Storage Space Based on Your Needs
One of the most important refrigerator specs is its storage capacity—not to be confused with the total volume inside the fridge. In many cases, manufacturers claim the total volume inside the fridge, which is what you’d get if you flooded the cavity with water.
Since this isn’t how you’d go about storing your groceries, this measurement is unhelpful for determining exactly how many pizza boxes and takeout containers you’ll be able to cram inside. Not only is it unrealistic to expect users to cram a pizza box around the ice maker, but you also need to leave enough room for cold air to circulate freely or else the fridge isn’t going to cool properly.
Depending on style, refrigerators have more or less room, generally speaking. Side-by-sides are notoriously tight on space, whereas French-doors are generous.
We measure the usable space, which is how much empty space in the fridge's interior you could actually store items. That means we’re counting the space available on shelves, in bins, or in drawers—but we’re not counting the space around the ice bucket.
This also means our measurements are more directly comparable than manufacturers’ storage claims, as we’re applying the same measurement methodology to each fridge we test, regardless of its type or style.
Do You Need a Standard Depth or Counter-Depth Refrigerator?
The term "counter-depth" refers to a fridge that’s shallow enough to sit flush with your cabinetry.
The standard depth for a regular, non-counter-depth fridge is about 30 inches. If your fridge is surrounded by cabinets, it probably sticks out four to six inches. If you have space restrictions or stylistic preferences that render this situation untenable, you might want to take a look at counter-depth fridges.
Other Refrigerators Under $1000 We Tested
Only available at Best Buy, the Insignia NS–RTM18WH7 refrigerator has one big thing going for it: a low, low sale price, which means it's cheaper than almost any other full-size fridge you can buy.
The 18-cubic-foot top-freezer had a tough time with some of our tests. Namely, it ran a little hot, with temperatures well above our preferred value of 37°F. Bumping the temperature down to the lowest setting will ensure that your food is being safely preserved. On the other hand, this fridge was one of the most efficient fridges (in terms of electricity usage) that's ever come through our labs. There's also plenty of storage space, with no hidden extras (like water filters or air filters) to take up valuable real estate that you need for a pizza box or a Thanksgiving turkey.
Long story short, the Insignia NS-RTM18WH7 is worth a look if you need a second fridge, or if your budget is tight.
The Samsung RT18M6215SG is a unique top-freezer. This 18-cubic foot fridge has nearly-ideal temperatures for keeping food fresh, and we loved its sleek, black stainless steel finish.
Surprisingly, the most boring part of a typical fridge—its freezer— is where the RT18M6215SG is truly innovative: With a few button presses, you can convert it into a second refrigerator zone. This could be a great choice for a small kitchen, a vacation home, or a garage or basement refrigerator.
With its versatility and good looks, the Samsung RT18M6215SG a better-than-average value.
Our tests show this fridge is one of the most efficient models we’ve tested, providing low, stable temperatures while drawing an average amount of power. We loved its glass shelves, and while the fridge does run a bit warm, a quick initial calibration will take care of that issue.
The one downside? Its crispers. The WRT311FZDM loses humidity at a rate three times that of other fridges, almost like it’s trying to dehydrate your leafy greens.
Stil, if you’re willing to put up with an iffy crisper, this is a legitimately good fridge: it’s energy efficient, has an attractive interior, and comes equipped with plenty of flexible storage.
It’s very difficult to get a quality French-door fridge for under $1,000. While the Frigidaire FFBN1721TV currently falls just over that line, it’s close enough—and good enough—that we feel it merits mention in this round-up.
The FFBN1721TV stands out for its impressive performance test results, by hitting the ideal 37°F and then barely moving from that spot. Unlike many other options in this round-up, the FFBN1721TV also has great crispers, which will keep you veggie-lovers in fresh greens much longer than similarly-priced models.
The fridge is on the small side, however, so if raw storage capacity is your main purchase-driver, it’s best to check out other options listed here.
If you’ve ever needed any proof that “good things come in small packages”, the Frigidaire FFHT1425VV top-freezer is an excellent piece of evidence.
This refrigerator is about ten inches shorter and skinnier than its competitors, though it manages to offer nearly as much storage space. We really liked its sliding deli drawer, for example, which allows you to both use the drawer and store tall items on the shelf below, all without having to adjust any shelves.The FFHT1425VV’s efficient use space is truly impressive, and we’d highly recommend it to those who struggle with finding sufficient storage for their smaller space.
In addition to offering a ton of space, this energy-efficient fridge has solid temperature control in both its fridge and the freezer compartments (though we’d recommend calibrating the freezer a bit cooler to stay on the safe side).
If you want a simple, no-frills fridge, the GE GTS22KGNRBB is a good choice at a great price.
The GTS22KGNRBB aces the basics and provides steady, cool temperatures in both its fridge and freezer. It doesn’t have much flexible storage, however, or really much in the way of extra features in general. Still, its temperature performance was so good we think that alone covers its purchase price.
If you're looking for a new fridge that’s a step up from your average inexpensive option, the GTS22KGNRBB is a pretty good value for what it offers.
The Whirlpool WRT518SZFM is a simple top-freezer that’s excellent at maintaining steady, cool temperatures. We also love how many customizable storage options it offers.
While we liked the cooling performance and storage options for a fridge at this price point, it’s still pretty basic: If you want dispensers or smart features, we’d recommend checking out other fridges on this list. If a basic fridge is exactly what you’re looking for, however, the WRT518SZFM is perfect.
The Frigidaire FFTR1814VW is the type of fridge you buy as your second, when other, cheaper models just won’t cut it.
Our tests found the FFTR1814VW has great temperature consistency—something budget fridges typically struggle with. It just doesn’t offer much else on top of that. As such, we might not recommend this one for active duty in your kitchen, but as a second fridge it’ll run rings around other budget options.
Jonathan Chan currently serves as the Lab Manager at Reviewed. If you clean with it, it's likely that Jon oversees its testing. Since joining the Reviewed in 2012, Jon has helped launch the company's efforts in reviewing laptops, vacuums, and outdoor gear. He thinks he's a pretty big deal. In the pursuit of data, he's plunged his hands into freezing cold water, consented to be literally dragged through the mud, and watched paint dry. Jon demands you have a nice day.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.