Perhaps you’re moving into a dorm and only have a little space over or under the counter or your desk. Or maybe you’d would like a handy, accessible little cooler you can grab drinks and your lunch out of when at the office, or an outdoor fridge you can keep a couple of drinks in to make sure they’re always the right degree of chilled for those barbecue nights.
Or, perhaps still, you find the inevitable trudge to climb up to the kitchen from your basement game-room tedious, and have often entertained the notion of just moving the fridge down to where you’ll have easy access to all the drinks and snacks you need.
It’s for scenarios like this that the mini-fridge is a perfect solution.
For a small unit – at least in comparison to full-sized fridges – often with a single door and a separate freezer compartment inside, there’s quite a few things to keep in mind if you’re looking to invest in one, to make sure you get your money’s worth. After all, the ‘mini’ in mini fridge is there for a reason – these units are small, and are generally not built to hold more than a couple of cans of drinks and perhaps two or three individual meals. Even then, whether or not they do a good job keeping them fresh, cool and safe enough to consume is reliant on a handful of features.
Let’s take a look at what exactly to keep in mind if you’re looking to purchase a mini-fridge.
One of the primary factors when considering a mini-fridge is of course saving space – if you’re in a tiny dorm or share a small kitchen space with other flatmates, or are looking for a budget- and space-friendly option for your office or work-room, you don’t exactly want something massive. But when it comes to picking a decent mini-fridge the over-arching rule of thumb is to pick the biggest one you can given the space you have available for it.
Smaller mini-fridges skimp on capacity, so you’ll hardly be able to fit anything in there, and are generally energy- and cost-inefficient in the long run – in other words, they’re going to be putting a disproportionate strain on your purse with arguably little pay-off. This is because, compared to bigger refrigerators, smaller units offer less insulation, and are overall less energy-efficient. The bigger you can afford and are able to fit into the available pace, the better, especially keeping in mind the internal capacity.
Since we’ve already touched on insulation, it’s worthwhile to mention here that some mini-fridges, particularly those designed for outdoor use to withstand fluctuating outdoor temperatures while maintaining steady conditions inside, are specifically built for superior insulation – these are, though, not built for indoor use, so the unit you pick depends in part on where and how you intend to use it.
Thermoelectric versus compressor
If all you’re looking for is something to keep your drinks cool for a while, a thermoelectric fridge is probably sufficient to suit your needs. This form of cooling uses the Peltier effect to essentially transfer heat from one part of the device to the other; this is why some thermoelectric cooling units also double as warmers, switching between modes at the push of a button. Typically quieter than compressor fridges, this type of fridge is best used for keeping beverages cool enough to drink within a day or two – they definitely don’t possess the cooling capacities to safely store perishables, including fruits, veggies, meats or meals, for too long.
For an option you’ll be able to stock eggs, greens, and perhaps your packed lunch and dinner for the day, you’ll want a compressor fridge. Vaporized liquid is pushed through coils and tubes as a fan cools this liquid. Consequently, compressor fridges are noisier than thermoelectric units, but not so noisy that it’ll keep you up at night or grate on your nerves. If you find the noise bothersome and intrusive, you might not want to keep it in your bedroom or any other location you’d want absolute quiet in.
Space and storage
The internal capacity of a mini-fridge is about as important as the space it takes up in your home or office. If you’re looking for an option to keep foods, especially meats and frozen meals, for longer than a couple of hours, one with a spacious enough freezer is a must. While several units feature only a tiny freezer – often big enough for just a tray of ice cubes – there are options available with the freezer as wide as the internal capacity of the fridge, which is a handy feature if you’re looking to store a couple of meals for longer than a day.
Typically, mini-fridge freezers don’t possess the same cooling ability to maintain the freezing point temperatures you need to safely stock frozen pizzas, deli meats and and so on long-term, but a good model will still let you store food safely for later consumption – handy for the university student on a budget or for time-deprived office workers who can’t afford to leave the premises to eat out everyday, and need their meals on the go.
Two-door mini-fridges with separate compartments are available for better cooling efficiency so you freezer and the rest of the unit operate independently of each other, but we’d recommend against picking these; product testing and customer testimonials have repeatedly indicated they tend to have difficulty maintaining consistent cooling temperatures.
Another handy feature that ups the attractiveness of a potential mini fridge purchase is removable and adjustable racks. Say you’ve bought a gallon of milk or juice, but the shelves of your fridge are far too narrow to put it inside – adjustable racks allow you to clear the needed space, making the most of the internal capacity of your fridge. We’d also recommend going with a unit that features glass shelves over wire racks – these are easier to clean, since you don’t have to get in between each wire, and of course is better at preventing spillages that could run into the rest of your fridge and the food and drinks you’ve got stocked inside.