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French Door vs Side by Side refrigerators: which is right for you?

French Door vs Side by Side refrigerators
(Image credit: Frigidaire)

It might not have the visceral excitement of Wilder vs Fury 2, but the French Door vs Side by Side refrigerators face-off gets top billing when it comes to choosing a new fridge for your kitchen. Both pack a punch when it comes to standard features and both types are available with Smart capabilities - so which one takes the heavyweight appliance crown? We’ve compiled this blow-by-blow comparison of the two to help make the decision easier. You can also take a look at our guides to the Best French door refrigerators and the Best side-by-side refrigerators once you’ve reached a decision.

French Door refrigerators

French Door refrigerators tend to occupy the higher-end of the appliance market in terms of features, capacity and price. Layout-wise they have a drawer-style freezer at the bottom and a double door, full-width chiller on top which means they don’t require a lot of space in front for access yet still provide super-wide storage. French Door fridges are hugely popular right now and have been for a few years, so there’s plenty of makes and models to choose from. But be warned, they tend to be more expensive than Side by Side or Top/Bottom Freezer styles. Prices in our best French Door refrigerators 2020 round-up range from between $1,500 and $3,000, which is typical of the majority of the models on the market.

The case for French Door refrigerators

Increased capacity is a massive plus and so is the extra width of the chiller cabinet. In addition to our experiences, we looked at users who have been living with the top French Door models for years. “Everything is easy to access and I never have trouble fitting large items in either,” reports one user on Reddit. Another adds, “French Door style allows for wider items to be placed inside more easily; like pizza boxes, baking sheets, large tray cakes, racks of ribs and more!” 

Having the freezer drawer situated down below is sometimes seen as a minus point, as it requires bending to rummage for items at the bottom, but reference to user reviews and opinions reveals this can be a plus. “Most people use the fridge more often than the freezer. Having the freezer below the fridge reduces the amount of bending over you have to do, which is a big ergonomics upgrade,” is one such opinion. While, “it's easier to see everything you have, because you get kind of a bird’s eye view,” is another view in favor of drawer-style freezers.

Best French Door refrigerators

Best overall: Frigidaire Gallery FGHB2868TF
Best counter depth: GE GYE22HSKSS
Best premium: LG LMXS30796S
Best for custom control: Electrolux EI23BC82SS
Best budget: Kenmore Elite 73025
Best for performance: Bosch B36CL80SNS
Best French door smartfridge: Samsung RF23M8570SG 

The case against French Door refrigerators

As mentioned above, French Door refrigerators tend to be higher-end, feature-rich appliances but this isn’t always seen as a plus and our research found some users who view all-singing-and-dancing appliances negatively. “More features means more possible issues, and more possible issues means more money for repairs”, was one such sentiment.

The freezer drawer at the bottom is something that divides opinion with some claiming that it’s awkward to use and makes items hard to find. “The freezer is hard on our backs. We’re tall, and bending and moving heavy frozen items is not much fun,” said one user on Reddit with another echoing, “some drawer-style freezers have you stacking stuff on top of stuff, so you kind of have to dig to get what's lower down in the freezer drawer”. If you’re looking for mass frozen storage, it’s tough to beat the best freezers for pure volume.

French Door refrigerators: the verdict

French Door refrigerators tend to be more expensive, but overall they offer increased features, more capacity and the ability to store wider items easily. However, if something goes wrong it could be an expensive fix and some find the freezer positioning awkward.

Side by side fridge

(Image credit: Electrolux)

Side by Side refrigerators

French Door refrigerators may well be in vogue right now, but there’s still a lot to be said for the Side by Side fridge. They split the storage space vertically down the middle, usually with the chilled section on the right-hand side and the freezer on the left. This means food can be stored at any height on either side to minimise bending down for frequently-used ice cream items. Most models favor the chilled section and offer it a few extra inches width compared to the freezer side, making it slightly easier to store wider items there.

There are still plenty of makes and models to choose, from full-featured Smart fridges to more basic/budget models and they’re generally slightly cheaper than their French Door counterparts. Prices in our best Side by Side refrigerators 2020 round-up start at around $1,000 and go up to around $3000, averaging out at $1,400.

The case for Side by Side refrigerators

Although French Door fridges tend to offer more storage capacity in the chiller, there are still some benefits to the Side by Side layout. For instance, Side by Sides tend to have a more even split between refrigerator and freezer space, which is good if you store a lot of frozen food. As mentioned above, some people find the drawer style inconvenient and this view was backed up by one Reddit user who reported, “I have used both and prefer the Side by Side. I’m able to rotate my freezer more easily and I have a ton of room with the ice maker completely on the door.”

Best Side by Side refrigerators

Best overall: LG LSXS26366S
Best budget: Samsung RS25J500DSR/AA
Best high-end: LG LSXC22396D
Most reliable: KitchenAid KRSF705HPS
Best counter-depth: Samsung RH22H9010SG
Best for families: GE GSS25GSHSS

The case against Side by Side refrigerators

Despite the benefits offered by Side by Side refrigerators one major complaint that became evident during our research is that the narrow compartments make storing wider items difficult. This can be particularly problematic around holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas as it’s near impossible to fit a roasting pan of leftovers on the shelves. One user noted that this is a year-round problem commenting, “simple things like putting a frozen pizza in the freezer become complicated. The freezer is not wide enough for them to fit, so you have to clear out enough space to wedge the thing in vertically, or diagonally.”

Others highlighted the ergonomic challenge presented by top-to-bottom storage in the chiller side, “80% of the time I’m opening it up to get something from the refrigerator. It doesn’t make sense to therefore keep half the chilled items at a height where I need to bend down to see them.”

Side by Side refrigerators: the verdict

Our research revealed some ergonomic issues around the layout and capacity, but in their favor, Side-by-Side refrigerators offer many of the features of French Door models but at a lower price point. While the width of the compartments can be problematic, the top to bottom layout often means more capacity for frozen food too.