5 must-have refrigerator features

Mary Farrell

Good news for cost-conscious consumers: Our latest tests of more than 250 refrigerators reveal an expanding array of options, including roomier models designed to keep food fresher and make it easier to organize. Innovations in refrigeration make today’s models not only more energy efficient but more convenient. Here are the features to look for when shopping for a new refrigerator.

Digital controls with temperature readouts. These are more precise than dial controls and can include readouts in degrees for the refrigerator and the freezer compartments.

LED lighting. LEDs take up less space than incandescent lightbulbs, use less energy, and can be placed to uniformly light the appliance’s interior.

Special shelves. Adjustable door bins and shelves move to create room to fit tall items. Elevator shelves let you crank them up and down without removing their contents. Pullout shelves or bins improve access to items stored. Split shelves allow you to adjust them to different heights independent of each other.

Drawers that control humidity. Crisper drawers are available in all but basic refrigerator models, some with controls that maintain optimum humidity levels. Some models also have temperature-controlled drawers that you can set cooler than the rest of the refrigerator. (You might want to keep meat, fish, and cold cuts at lower temperatures.) Some drawers can also chill or thaw their contents quickly.

Dual evaporators. This feature helps maintain optimum temperature and moisture levels in the fresh-food section. It also prevents food odors from migrating between the refrigerator and freezer compartments.

A convenient feature that often needs repairs
Through-the-door ice and water dispensers are included in some French-door models and almost all side-by-side refrigerators. It’s a major convenience with a drawback: Our latest reliability survey indicates that refrigerators with this handy feature require more repairs than those without it.

If you do have a water dispenser, you’ll need a filter to remove small particles or contaminants such as lead and chlorine, and impurities that cause bad tastes or odors. These have to be replaced periodically. You may also want to add a filter to the refrigerator’s water-supply line.

Top refrigerators from our tests

—Adapted from Consumer Reports' Kitchen Planning & Buying Guide

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