Last Updated: October 5th, 2018 at 12:32 pm
One of the biggest rewards of traveling in an RV is the ability to keep the comforts of home nearby.
Shouldn’t that, also, include the ability to eat like you’re at home?
Adding a refrigerator to your RV setup allows you to keep fresh foods, store refreshing drinks, or even place leftovers after a good meal in town.
An RV refrigerator, regardless of the size or model that works best for you, is an essential component to any serious RVers life on the road.
Before you add that extra fridge taking up space in your garage or basement into your RV, however, consider this:
Fridges and freezers for use in an RV are designed differently than those used in residential applications. Purchasing or placing a residential refrigerator into your RV may result in significant problems down the road.
That’s why we’ve reviewed the 5 best free-standing and portable refrigerators for your RV.
5 Best RV Refrigerators For 2018
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SMAD Electric/Gas Compact Refrigerator
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Let’s dive in a bit deeper and review each RV refrigerator individually:
🏆Midea WHD-113FB1 Compact Reversible Double Door Refrigerator
For the price, it’s hard to beat what you get with the Midea Compact. Finding a two-door refrigerator/freezer combo in a ‘mini’ fridge size is a tough task.
This would be great for someone who spends 99% of their time camping with AC power, where the lack of LP gas or DC power supply is less of an issue.
- Separate refrigerator and freezer compartments
- Adjustable temperature ranges
- Reversible door hinges allow you to optimize opening direction that suits the space
- Single form – will only work with AC power connection
- No defrost feature
- Whisper-quiet technology makes compressor noise, practically, undetectable
- Interior lighting and multiple organization shelves, door compartments, and drawer
- 5 x 19.4 x 33 inches
- 1 cubic feet
- Freezer compartment: yes
- 2 lbs.
- Energy star certified
- 1-year warranty
Avanti RA7316PST 2-Door Apartment Size Refrigerator
If you’re looking for an affordable, full-size refrigerator with the cooling power of a standard compressor, this may be your winner.
We love the feeling of a full height refrigerator in an RV, which makes everything feel/seem more like home.
Those of you with advanced solar power generation and an inverter can also run this while off-grid camping.
- Impressive interior volume
- Reversible door hinges – left or right opening
- Leveling legs
- Adjustable & removable shelves/bins
- Full range temperature control
- Single form method of operation requires consistent AC power
- Included ice cube tray
- Cycle defrost to help minimize buildup
- 23 x 21.5 x 56 inches
- 4 cubic feet
- Freezer compartment: yes
- 92 lbs.
- Energy star certified and ADA compliant
- Limited 5-year warranty
SMAD Electric/Gas RV Compact Refrigerators
Multi-power versatility is what you get with the SMAD Electric/Gas RV Refrigerator.
The ability to run off of LP gas, AC, or DC power is a huge benefit to those who spend a lot of time away from shore power.
This unit, due to its smaller size and no freezer, probably, makes the most sense for smaller camper vans or trucks at tailgates as opposed to full-time RV living.
- 3-way power supply – gas, 110V, or 12V
- High efficiency, minimal noise
- Easy to use manual controls
- Small interior volume
- No freezer compartment
- Regulator and hose not included
- Vent installation required for safe use
- Piezo igniter for easy pilot lighting
- Temperature control
- 9 x 18.1 x 26.5 inches
- 1 cubic feet
- Freezer compartment: no
- 49 lbs
Best (12V) Portable RV Refrigerators
🏆Dometic CF-035AC110 Portable Freezer/Refrigerator
The performance of one of the leading brands in RV refrigerator manufacturing, Dometic, is evident with this portable refrigerator/freezer.
Ideal for storing in the truck or outside of the camper for the ability to grab and go wherever your cooling needs take you.
It can run connected to AC or DC power, or entirely on its own battery without any cords or connections.
The speed at which the interior is cooled after turning it on is, also, impressive.
- Electronic thermostat
- Quiet compressor
- 2-way power supply options
- Only one compartment means you must choose between freezing or refrigerating the contents
- Limited interior organization potential
- Solar panel compatible
- High impact exterior is durable and weather-resistant
- 3 x 19.2 x 18.5 inches
- 31 cubic liters
- Freezer option: yes
- 12/24V DC or 110V AC
- 33 lbs.
- Dometic’s 2-year protection plus warranty
Whynter FM-45G 45-Quart Portable Refrigerator/Freezer
This Whynter model is another great option for tailgaters, RVers, or boaters looking for the ability to bring their refrigerator anywhere.
Unlike the Dometic above, it does rely on a corded power supply (either AC or DC), yet at less than half the cost it remains a serious contender.
- Maximum portability
- Refrigerator or freezer modes
- Powerful compressor cooling
- Included wire baskets for organization
- No Lp gas power option
- No separate compartments – Must choose freezer or refrigerator
- Fast-freeze mode rapidly cools to -8℉
- Ability to function even when tilted up to 30° off level
- 5″ W x 16.5″L x 20.5″ H
- 45 cubic liters
- Freezer option: yes
- Separate freezer door: no
- 115V AC or 12V DC power
- 45 lbs.
- 1-year limited warranty
RV Fridge Vs. Residential Refrigerator
There are many factors that dictate the differences in design between, most, RV specific refrigerators and their residential counterparts.
Not only are they smaller in size, accommodating for the limited space inside an RV, they must also allow for alternative methods of power.
Unlike the refrigerator in your kitchen at home, It is common for those inside a camper to be without traditional shore power for long periods of time, whether during travel or when camping off-grid.
Additionally, the components of residential refrigerators are, often, unable to withstand the constant vibrations and bumping experienced from a life on the road.
Portable units are designed with fewer moving parts and more durable materials.
In order to account for these demands, RV refrigerators use an entirely different method of cooling.
Make sure to look for an absorption refrigerator in a portable unit, as opposed to a compressor version common in residential selections.
What Is An Absorption Refrigerator?
An absorption refrigerator can cool itself via the burning of propane, without any need for electricity. This is a significant advantage for use inside of an RV or other situations where portability is important.
Envision a system of pipes within the rear of your refrigerator that contains an anhydrous liquid ammonia.
The heat generated from a small, pilot flame (burning propane) evaporates this ammonia through these tubes.
Upon mixing with water, the ammonia condenses and pulls heat from the interior space surrounding it.
Higher end RV refrigerators will, often, have 2-way power supply options.
When connected to traditional power, the heat is provided by an electric resistor.
When disconnected from AC power supply, however, it will then operate via an LP propane tank(?).
Ultimately, this is what keeps your food at the proper temperature after you disconnect from the power box at one campsite, and begin traveling towards another.
Types Of Refrigerators Used In RVs
The refrigerator styles used most commonly in motorhomes, travel trailers, and conversion vans can be summarized into three main categories.
The space available within your RV, the number of groceries you plan to store at any one time, and the degree of portability you desire will help determine which is best for you.
Big enough that you wouldn’t want to move them frequently, yet small enough to fit in the narrow spaces, often, found within campers, stand-alone refrigerators are a great choice for many RV owners.
This style of refrigerator doesn’t require any special water hose connections or permanent installation mounts.
The fact that you can, simply, plug them in and stand them wherever they fit within your space makes them popular for dorm rooms, apartments, in addition to campers.
If you’ve got the space, why not bring the comforts of your home kitchen into your RV?
A combination refrigerator/freezer gives you maximum food storage options without the need to decide whether you’d prefer them freezing or refrigerating.
With separate compartments maintained at the proper temperature, you’ve got both.
These refrigerators most closely resemble the ice chests you see people taking to the beach, park, and the pool during summer. They are small in size but allow you the freedom to bring your cold drinks and snacks to wherever you end up.
Unlike the coolers above, which require constant ice to keep the interior cold, portable RV refrigerators feature electric or battery powered compressors that eliminate the need to fill valuable interior space with ice.
Being that these are a popular first option for people on the go or in an RV, we’ve summarized some of the key benefits and disadvantages below.
- Maximum portability, travel readiness
- Higher-end models can run cordless via an internal battery
- Fast cooling
- Durable exteriors made to handle harsh conditions and bumps, scratches
- One compartment – must choose refrigeration or freezing
- Limited interior space and organization
- Cost – the technology necessary to bring refrigeration on the go is expensive
- No option for LP gas power hookup
What Happens If You Use A Residential Refrigerator in Your RV?
The apocalypse will arrive to destroy us all.
Okay, that might be a bit dramatic but there are, indeed, some key problems that you should be aware of if you choose to install a residential refrigerator in your RV.
Residential refrigerators are bigger than those designed for portable or RV use. This may appeal to full-time travelers or those with big families, however, they should remember that finding cabinet space in an RV kitchen can be challenging.
If the camper was originally designed with an RV fridge, your residential replacement may not fit into the designated cut out space. Accommodating your RV’s kitchen to work with a residential fridge may require expensive carpentry and cabinet modifications.
One of the biggest disadvantages in using a residential refrigerator on the road, in your camper, is the fact that they are only capable of running off of 110V AC power.
This isn’t a problem when you are plugged into a site’s electrical box, but it won’t help you when camping off-grid or keeping items cool while traveling.
In order to operate with the power supplied by your RV’s battery (a popular solution for power while on the road), you will need to purchase and install an inverter with your refrigerator that converts the 12V battery supplied power into the 110V that it needs.
You should, also, consider the greater power requirements of a residential refrigerator before installing one into your RV.
If you utilize a solar-powered system for your off-grid camping, there is a strong possibility that it will not be able to handle the needs of a residential refrigerator, which is known to be a power hog amongst other electrical appliances.
Residential refrigerators are not designed to handle the consistent vibrations, bumps, and unexpected jolts that take place when a camper is barreling down the highway at 65 mph.
Internal components, while lighter than those seen within an RV refrigerator, are more prone to failure when used in this manner.
Popular Food/Drink Options For An RV Refrigerator
There are, obviously, an infinite number of ways that you can take advantage of having a refrigerator with you when you travel.
Here are just a few of the ways we find ourselves using our RV refrigerator the most:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables – Helps us eat healthy even while traveling, which can be a challenge
- Cold drinks – It’s hard to beat the refreshment found in a cold drink after a day spent outside
- Leftovers – One of our favorite parts about visiting new places is to enjoy the local cuisine. Now that you have a fridge, you’ll never use the phrase, “sorry, we can’t take it with us because we’re camping” again.
- Breakfast foods – We like to try local restaurants for dinner but having the ability to cook/prepare our own breakfasts helps to save us money
- Medicine or Vitamin storage – Some medications, such as popular omega-3 fish oil pills, require refrigeration
How To Install Your New RV Refrigerator
Before getting started with the necessary steps required to, safely, install your replacement RV refrigerator, consider whether you are, truly, the best person for the job.
Removing an existing refrigerator and installing a new one is considered a moderately difficult process by most experienced RV technicians.
While those who are confident in their skillset will be able to handle the removal/install on their own (or at least with a friend who you’ve convinced to help load and unload two refrigerators), several precautions will need to be taken.
You will be disconnecting the hardwired power supply and liquid petroleum (LP) gas lines that run to your existing refrigerator.
There are serious repercussions if this is not done correctly or if you forget to shut off certain valves before disconnecting.
If you don’t feel ready to tackle this project on your own, please take your RV to a local, knowledgeable RV repair shop that can manage the install for you.
Sometimes, the peace of mind delivered by a professional install will be well worth the additional investment it will require.
- Determine whether the old RV refrigerator will fit through the doorway (some fridge installations were down before rv wall panel and doors were built). If not, you might have to remove a large window or windshield in order to remove the old fridge.
- Make sure you have worked with your new RV refrigerator manufacturer to ensure that you have measured correctly and have purchased the proper size for your cabinet cut out.
Removing Your Old Refrigerator
- Fully close the valve for your LP gas tanks to stop the flow of gas through the lines. Access to this valve is usually found on the RV’s exterior via a small hatch or cover
- Unplug your power supply cord and/or turn off your generator
- Remove the vent/hatch panel located on the outside of your RV, providing access to the rear of your currently installed refrigerator
- Unplug the refrigerator’s AC power cord
- Disconnect the DC (12V battery supplied power) wires from the refrigerator
- Identify the gas line connection hose and disconnect it from the unit by screwing the bolt counter clockwise. Hearing a small release of the pressurized gas that remained in the line after shutting off the valve is normal
- Determine if there are any screws, accessed from this panel, securing the fridge to its base or frame. If so, unscrew them now
- Return to the interior of your RV and remove remaining screws that have secured the refrigerator to its frame. Depending on the previous method of installation, this may involve removing of vanity plates and doors to access screw heads
- You are now ready to remove the old refrigerator. It may be smart to protect your RV’s flooring before you attempt to slide it out. It can, also, be helpful to place a friend on the exterior of the RV to prevent any cords or gas lines from snagging as you pull it out of position
Installing Your New RV Refrigerator
- Carefully insert it into the designated cabinet space making sure not to scratch or dent the front panels
- Return to the exterior of the RV and confirm that the gas line connection port lines up with your RV’s gas line hose. Have a professional install any necessary extensions or gas line piping modifications
- Connect your RV’s gas line to the new refrigerator. Inspect for possible leaks by turning on gas supply and then listening, smelling, and applying sudsy water to connection points. If no leaks are detected, turn gas back off before continuing with electrical connections
- Insert the DC wires into their respective housing and secure them in place. A voltmeter can help confirm which wire is positive
- Plug the new refrigerator’s AC power cord into the outlet positioned for this purpose
- Secure the refrigerator to its base and frame via numerous screws, typically supplied with the fridge. You will, likely, need to access screws from both the interior and exterior
- You may need to route a condensation tube through the vent panel so that any moisture drips on the outside of the RV
- Turn on your fridge and get ready to enjoy your updated kitchen. Remember, to let the interior fully cool before placing food inside
Keeping Your RV Refrigerator Clean
Regular cleaning of your refrigerator’s exterior and interior is a great way to extend its life.
It, also, helps to limit the amount of food waste and contamination that can develop from dirty conditions or spills that spread liquids onto other items.
Take a look below at our recommended cleaning steps to keep your RV refrigerator in pristine shape.
Weekly (or with each trip in your RV)
- Be aware of foods that have been in the refrigerator for long periods, and make plans to, either, eat them soon or dispose of them if already bad
- Wipe the door handle of your refrigerator with a disinfecting wipe – A common place for bacteria in the kitchen since it is, often, opened during and immediately after handling food
Once every 3-6 months
- Remove all food items from your refrigerator, preferably, when contents are low – This is a great time to throw out spoiled items and identify what needs to be eaten soon
- Remove shelves and drawers to clean with warm, soapy water in a sink or wipe them down in place with a solution of water and vinegar
- Make sure all cleaned surfaces are completely dry before returning food to them
- Remove dust and/or food residue from the exterior by fully wiping all sides (don’t forget the top which, often, has lots of dust) with a damp cloth
Once every 6-12 months
- Unplug your refrigerator from its power source and inspect the compressor and coils located on the backside of the unit
- Remove heavy buildup with a coarse brush and wipe down any visible dust with a clean, damp rag
- Important: Never use cleaning chemicals on your refrigerator’s coils and always ensure that all power sources to the refrigerator are turned off before beginning
Key Considerations When Buying An RV Fridge
How Much Space Do You Have Available?
This is, largely, the determining factor for what type of RV refrigerator will work best for you.
Are you looking to add a refrigerator to your small, camper van, or are you looking to replace one in a motorhome that already has cabinet space cut out for it?
Remember to factor in your RV slideouts when deciding where to place your refrigerator.
We, also, recommend placing your refrigerator in a position where you won’t need to move it for every trip or each time you retract the slideouts.
How Long Is Your Average Trip?
If you frequently set out for weeks at a time in your RV or are considering full-time RV living, where consistent eating out is financially unrealistic, make sure you look for a dual freezer/refrigerator large enough to handle your daily dietary needs.
Try to avoid the situation where you end up needing to supplement your main refrigerator with multiple portable units.
Not only does that strategy take up unnecessary space within your RV, it makes grocery organization a challenge (searching through 3 refrigerators or coolers for ketchup is not fun).
Conversely, if you seldom camp for more than 2 nights on a weekend, then you may benefit more from a smaller, stand-alone refrigerator or a portable unit that gives you a few options for food and drinks without occupying much space.
Where Do You Camp Most?
Considering the areas that you prefer to camp and their accompanying power supply options will help clarify which RV refrigerator will work best for you.
For example, if you seldom camp without access to an electrical box and AC shore power, then you might be able to get away with a larger fridge that takes more power.
Additionally, you wouldn’t need to be as concerned with the 2-way and 3-way operation modes of many high-end RV refrigerators (since you would seldom need LP gas or DC power).
Alternatively, if you find yourself, regularly, camping off-grid or at sites that don’t offer electrical hookups, then you might do better with a smaller, more energy efficient fridge.
You’ll, also, need to think more about power supply and whether your power generation methods (solar, battery, etc.) are capable of handling a refrigerator running 24 hours a day.
A 3-way rv fridge will, likely, be a lot more versatile in this situation.
Knowing how you plan to power your new RV refrigerator is one of the most important aspects to purchasing a new one.
Residential refrigerators are more efficient at cooling, however, they require power loads not suitable for most camping situations where you may not have shore power.
Instead, look for 2-way or 3-way models that run off of LP gas or DC power while you are traveling or when you are without access to AC power.
These models will cost more and require a bit longer to cool, but they are specifically designed for mobile use and give you maximum flexibility for the many environments in which you camp.
How Many People Are You Feeding When You Camp?
RVers who travel with their family and friends will, naturally, benefit from a larger refrigerator to accommodate their increased grocery needs.
If you travel solo, a smaller stand-alone fridge may save you money (less propane) and space.
Do You Like To Cook While Camping?
Some folks consider cooking a gourmet meal for their family and friends during an RV trip as a big part of the fun.
Others are just as happy eating out, or eating more traditional, simple camping meals. Knowing which of the two you are will help dictate what size capacity cooler will keep you, and your hungry guests, happy.
Ultimately, you’ll discover that an RV refrigerator can be an integral part of feeling at home on the road, regardless of which model you decide is best for you.
Life on the road can be expensive and having the ability to store your own, fresh food can save thousands of dollars over the course of many trips.
With the combination of increased comfort and cost savings, incorporating a best possible RV refrigerator into your travel lifestyle may be just what you need to keep the adventure going.