With so many different types of refrigerators on the market today, you can choose from the right combination of looks, storage space and convenience to find a fridge that fits your lifestyle. A great place to start your search is to pick the best type of refrigerator for your kitchen layout and your food storage needs. Our guide will help explore different types of refrigerators so you can learn more, compare and get started finding the right one.

How many types of fridges are there?

Though the types of refrigerators vary by brand, there are five basic configurations and a few different installation styles. The five types of fridge configurations are top or bottom freezer, French door, side-by-side and undercounter refrigerators. Most refrigerators are freestanding but you can find built-in fridges as well as counter depth models among the types of refrigerators. 


Let’s take a closer look at each type of fridge.

Open french door refrigerator with food inside

French door refrigerators

This type of refrigerator features a pantry-style layout. Two doors up top open to reveal one refrigerator compartment and a freezer drawer slides out below. French door refrigerators often offer more capacity and features compared to other kinds of refrigerators. They can be a good option for larger families or those looking for higher-end options.
Top-down view of open freezer

French door refrigerators usually offer:

  • Wide refrigerator and freezer compartments for items like frozen pizza or large casserole dishes and platters
  • More refrigerator capacity vs freezer capacity
  • Adjustable shelves, compartments, and more for customizable storage
  • Exterior ice and water dispensers
Open size-by-side refrigerator with food inside

Side-by-side refrigerators

Side-by-side refrigerators feature two doors that open from the center with a freezer on one side and a refrigerator on the other. Shelving from top to bottom allows you to place important items—fresh and frozen—at eye level while storing less-used items near the bottom. Like French door refrigerators, side-by-sides usually offer a little more overall capacity and tend to come with more features compared to other types of refrigerators or higher-end touchpoints.

Side-by-side refrigerators usually offer:

  • Slightly more freezer capacity vs a french door refrigerator
  • Vertical storage to keep both fresh and frozen items at eye level
  • Adjustable shelves, door bins, and more for customizable storage
  • Exterior ice and water dispensers
  • Reduced door swing clearance—great for narrow or tight spaces

Shopping tip: French door vs side-by-side refrigerators

The main difference is the location and dimensions of their compartments. A French door features two wide compartments with double doors on the refrigerator up top and a freezer drawer below. A side-by-side places the refrigerator and freezer compartments next to each other for two tall but narrower spaces accessible by double doors. If you need wide storage or like to keep all of your fresh items at eye-level, a French door fridge may be best for you. If you’d like the option to keep both at eye-level or if you don’t like having a pull out drawer, choose a side-by-side.

Open top-freezer refrigerator with food inside

Top freezer refrigerators

Sometimes called top-mount, this classic refrigerator style places the freezer above the refrigerator compartment with one door for each that opens from the side. This type of refrigerator makes freezer storage easy to access and provides wide in-door storage. You can often find top freezer refrigerators at an entry price-point since more advanced features like exterior ice and water are less common in this kind of fridge.

Top freezer refrigerators usually offer:

  • A traditional refrigerator setup and look
  • More refrigerator space than freezer space
  • Easy access to frozen items
  • Large door clearances, requiring more open space in front of the unit
  • A streamlined set of features and an entry price-point

 

Open bottom-freezer refrigerator with food inside

Bottom freezer refrigerators

Sometimes called bottom-mount, these refrigerators are the reverse of top freezer styles. In this type of fridge, the fresh food compartment is on top with the freezer down below accessible by either a side-open door or a pull-out drawer. This setup allows you to get a classic refrigerator look while making fresh items easier to access.

Bottom freezer refrigerators usually offer:

  • Larger refrigerator compartment vs freezer compartment
  • Easy access to fresh items
  • Large door clearances, requiring more open space in front of the unit
  • A streamlined set of features and an entry price-point
Open undercounter refrigerator with beverages inside

Undercounter refrigerators

Undercounter refrigerators are much smaller than full-sized types of fridges. As the name suggests, they are installed underneath the counter, making them a kind of built-in refrigerator. Most contain one refrigerator cavity, with some models featuring a freezer zone. Undercounter wine cellars and beverage centers are specialized versions made for storing wine or beer bottles and cans at your ideal temperature.

Wine refrigerator stocked full

Undercounter refrigerators usually offer:

  • Additional food or beverage storage
  • Ability to create specialized temperature zones or overflow cold food storage
  • A single reversible door
  • Undercounter installation for a seamless integration with cabinets
Stainless steel refrigerator in wood kitchen

Installation styles

Another consideration when choosing which is the best type of refrigerator for you is how you will install it. Refrigerators are designed with a couple of options in mind.
Small space refrigerator in a small kitchen

Freestanding refrigerators

To install this type of fridge, you only need the required clearances around the unit and the necessary hookups—power and/or water. Freestanding refrigerators do not need to be installed inside cabinets, though be sure to measure around the space where you’d like to place your refrigerator to ensure it will fit. This is the most common kind of refrigerator with the largest variety of configurations and features compared to other types of fridges.

Built-in refrigerators

Built-in refrigerators are affixed to the wall and installed in cabinets for a seamless look. They tend to be taller with a larger range of widths, some up to 48 inches. This is in part to make up for lost depth since built-ins tend to run 24 inches deep so they will be flush with kitchen cabinets. You may pay a premium for this upgraded look and this installation is considered more permanent. If you plan to remodel or move anytime soon, this may not be the best option for you.
Side-by-side refrigerator in a wood kitchen

Counter-depth refrigerators

Counter-depth refrigerators can be a more price- and space-efficient way to achieve a built-in look. This type of refrigerator tends to be about 24 inches deep to sit flush with kitchen cabinets. Most counter-depth fridges are a little wider to make up for lost depth, but they tend to fall within standard refrigerator heights. They are a type of freestanding fridge, making them a more flexible installation option if you anticipate a move or remodel in your near future. For more information on this type of installation, read our guide to counter-depth refrigerators.
Woman putting food in a small space refrigerator

What is the best way to compare different types of refrigerators?

When choosing which type of fridge is best for you, consider factors such as:
 
  • Size: French door and side-by-side models tend to offer larger capacities with top or bottom freezer fridges offering more compact options. Explore our guide to refrigerator sizes and dimensions to learn more.
  • Style: Choose a top freezer fridge if you want a classic style, or go for a French door if you’re looking for something more modern. For a premium look, consider a built-in installation or counter-depth fridge.
  • Space/cubic feet: Side-by-side refrigerators may offer a little more freezer storage compared to other fridges. French door along with top- and bottom freezer refrigerators provide wide cavities but you’ll have to choose whether you want fresh food or frozen at eye level.
  • Organization options: Look for the kinds of shelves and storage compartments or bins you’ll use the most. A fridge featuring adjustable storage options will let you customize the layout for your needs. Get help organizing your fridge to help keep your food fresh.
  • Features: A top or bottom freezer fridge with a streamlined set of features can still provide excellent cold storage. If you’re looking for some additional options like exterior ice and water, specialized temperature zones and spill-proof shelves, look to French door and side-by-side models.
  • Finishes: Most refrigerators are available in white, black and stainless steel. Whirlpool brand also offers select models featuring a fingerprint resistant stainless finish that resists smudges and easily wipes clean.
Mother and daughter at island in a large kitchen

How do I choose the best type of refrigerator for my family?

Consider budget, family size, your available space and the types of food you need to store. Here are some suggestions for each of these considerations including options from Whirlpool.
 
  • Budget: If you’re looking for a lower entry price-point, you can find some classic food storage options from Whirlpool with select top freezer and bottom freezer refrigerators that still offer features like optional interior ice makers, adjustable door bins, and freezer temperature controls. If you are in search of more advanced features to help with food storage and daily meal prep, consider select Whirlpool® French door and side-by-side models. You’ll find features such as exterior ice and water with Measured Fill and dual ice makers along with pizza or platter pockets for specialized storage.
  • Family size: Smaller families can find top and bottom freezer options in smaller sizes to meet their needs. Large families, or ones that often entertain might consider French door or side-by-side models for more options with larger capacities. Select Whirlpool® French door refrigerators feature refrigerated exterior drawers for easy access to snacks and the ability to adjust temperature controls and dividers based on what you're storing. Oversized built-in fridges are a good option for very large households. Undercounter refrigerators from Whirlpool can also offer some extra overflow storage or a specialized place to store beverages. Learn more about large capacity refrigerators to find a good option for your full house.
  • Kitchen space/layout: Families with limited space can find compact appliances from Whirlpool, including this 24-inch bottom freezer refrigerator. Learn more about apartment-sized refrigerators to find out how to optimize your space. If you don’t want to sacrifice capacity in a tight kitchen, the narrow doors of a side-by-side refrigerator require less door clearance. Whirlpool® Counter-Depth Refrigerators shave a few inches off the depth to help you fit a side-by-side or French door model into smaller kitchens.
  • Food storage needs: 
    Fresh: If family dinners usually involve a lot of fresh ingredients, look for a fridge that prioritizes refrigerator space and offers specialized temperature zones or food storage spaces. Select Whirlpool® French Door Refrigerators feature humidity-controlled crispers and Accu-Chill™ Temperature Management System to store food in its ideal environment.
    Frozen: If your busy family relies on frozen ingredients to get dinner together fast, consider models featuring more freezer space and easier access to frozen items such as select side-by-side refrigerators from Whirlpool featuring adaptive defrost or In-Door-Ice® storage that gives you an extra full shelf in the freezer.

Find the best type of refrigerator for you

Explore the entire lineup of Whirlpool® refrigerators. If you need more help with your refrigerator comparison, take a look at our refrigerator buying guide to help find the right refrigerator for your family and your home.

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