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Back-To-School: Getting A Mini Fridge For College

Updated on July 11, 2015

Are You Shopping For A Mini Fridge For College?

Summer, when most parents and college freshmen crowd the local Target or Walmart to buy college essentials, furniture and appliances. The mini fridge is something that is going to be on most college age students lists, especially if they are moving into a dorm for the semester. Most dorms won't come with one or an actual fridge as part of the...”amenities.”

However, if you're a student or a parent looking for a mini fridge in the middle of the back to school rush sales you will want to keep an eye out for bad deals and avoid picking the wrong kind of mini fridge. Typically the cheaper the mini fridge, the less you're getting in terms of quality. You know the old saying, you get what you pay for.

Compact Compressor Mini Fridges

A 2.7 Cubic Foot mini fridge.  This one has a soda can holder built into the door.
A 2.7 Cubic Foot mini fridge. This one has a soda can holder built into the door. | Source

What Kinds Of Mini Fridges Are There?

There are two specific kinds of mini fridges, in the sense of HOW they cool down their contents. Compressor type fridges are the old tried and true technology, same as what you'll find in the fridge in your kitchen at home and your freezer in the garage. Thermo-electric “fridges,” and I use that term very loosely, don't use refrigerant gas like compressor type fridges and freezers do, but rather use solid state electronics to remove heat from the fridge and contents and pump it outside into the room.

Now, you may have picked up on my disdain in the last paragraph about thermo-electric fridges. I'll explain why those aren't the best type of mini fridge you can buy. Thermo-electric mini fridges, sometimes advertised or marked as CFC free mini fridges to advertise that they're more eco friendly, are a great idea in theory, but in real life, they have some serious disadvantages. Most of those types of mini fridges can only cool their contents down by 30 to 40 degrees below the temperature of the room its in. That's not so bad for keeping drinks cool, but maybe the dorm you (or your student if you're a parent) are moving into gets crazy hot in the summer time, 80 degrees indoors with no air conditioning and you can bet your bottom dollar one of these mini fridges will not be able to keep milk at a safe temperature nor frozen food, well, frozen.

Now, compressor type mini fridges come in a variety of styles and you can definitely find the one that suits your needs. The cheaper ones come in cube shaped styles with a single door and typically a very small freezer compartment, which is usually just the evaporator coil unit inside the fridge with a flip up door over the front of it. This one is more for your bare essentials: drinks, fruits, veggies, milk, yogurt, etc...but not really good for keeping a lot of frozen items. A better choice if you need to have more room for storing frozen items would be a mini fridge that has two separate compartments, one for cold storage items like drinks, milk and other dairy products and another one for frozen foods. While it won't hold a huge amount of food, it can definitely hold enough food for a student for a week and keep it at the proper temperature.

Larger mini fridge with separate freezer compartment.
Larger mini fridge with separate freezer compartment. | Source

Where To Buy A Mini Fridge?

Mini fridges can be found at most big box stores like Target, Walmart, Lowe's or even Amazon. Outside of back-to-school season, there aren't many selections in stores, but online you can browse through several available models and read reviews from other consumers to see if one model or brand is better for your needs or not.

You can also find mini fridges available second hand, typically just before or after the end of a semester through places like Craigslist from students who are moving and don't wish to take it with them. If considering buying one from Craigslist, you will likely see a large variety of old and semi-new mini fridges available for sale, typically on average from as little as $25 on up to $80, depending on age and size and cosmetic condition. One thing to keep in mind when buying used mini fridges is to make sure that the shelves come with it, otherwise its an extra expense, if you can find them online.

Maybe You Can Find A Free Mini Fridge

Another place to find mini fridges are...dumpsters! Yes dumpsters, but not just any dumpsters, but college dorm dumpsters or dumpsters by apartments that are primarily rented by students. When some students are moving out, instead of taking their mini fridge with them or trying to sell it on Craigslist, they will simply throw it away! Granted, some things end up in the trash for good reasons and some may not work, possibly due to a bad compressor or other part, but a lot of mini fridges that are disposed of still work, and may just need a little TLC and elbow grease...and maybe some bleach. I will admit, I'm not afraid to pick up a mini fridge sitting beside or in a dumpster, take it home, clean it up and re-sell it on Craigslist. So if you're not picky and on a budget, this could be a good way for you to acquire a mini fridge or make a little extra cash if you're into flipping things for a profit.

Choose Wisely And Within Your Budget

You don't have to spend a lot on a mini fridge, and if you're thrifty, used mini fridges can be a good deal or if you're really cheap, tossed mini fridges may be your thing. Just be sure you're getting a mini fridge that suits your needs. If you just want something to keep drinks cool then a thermo-electric mini fridge can meet your needs. If you're wanting to perishables and other food cool, then a compressor based mini fridge would be better suited to that task. If you want more freezer space, you'll need a bigger mini fridge with an actual freezer compartment.


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