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RVing means giving up a lot of creature comforts, but fortunately, a fridge is not one of them. If you’re new to RVs, you might wonder what type of fridge to use in your motorhome. Can you bring your fridge from back home, or should you try something else?
The best type of fridge for a motorhome or RV is a compressor fridge if you want to run it on electricity. An absorption fridge, commonly known as an RV fridge, is the only option you can power on propane. Using your standard fridge from home is an option, but it will use much more electricity.
In this guide, I’ll go through each type of fridge that’s usable in your motorhome and weigh the pros and cons of each. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll be able to choose the best fridge for your RV confidently!
Your RV Refrigerator Options Explained + Pros and Cons
1. Normal Fridge
The first option at your disposal for refrigerating food onboard your motorhome, RV, or caravan is to use a regular fridge which I cover in depth in my other article, which I recommend you to read if you are considering this option.
Do I recommend unplugging your fridge from home, lugging it on your motorhome, and stuffing it full of food? No, I do not.
If you have a spare fridge, then you can use that but first ensure it is a compressor fridge and not a thermoelectric since those will consume way much more electricity.
By far, the biggest benefit of using a normal fridge in your motorhome, RV, or caravan is cost savings. Since standard fridges are not considered specialty appliances in the same vein as an RV fridge, you’ll spend less money on the former than the latter.
Although regular fridges aren’t as boondock-friendly as specialized RV fridges, although they can be made so.
After all, you always have the option to use a battery bank or solar panels to power the fridge, so it keeps your food and drinks frosty. Remember, though, that your motorhome would need to be outfitted with quite a sizable array of solar panels, a large battery bank with lots of juice, and a suitable inverter when boondocking.
On a 100AH Lithium battery, you can count on between 19 and 35 hours of runtime without any charging if you only use the battery to power a regular fridge via an inverter. In the other article, I mentioned above.
If you spend months on the road in your RV at a time like me, then any little homey touches that make your motorhome feel cozier are always appreciated. There’s just something about the sight of a regular fridge that’s more comforting than an RV fridge.
All this is assuming that using a standard fridge on your motorhome is even a viable option in the first place! Normal fridges are designed for kitchens, not RVs. There’s no guarantee yours will even fit.
Before you waste time and effort physically pulling the fridge into your RV, measure it first.
Then measure the openings throughout your RV. If you have clearance, feel free to bring the fridge if you also have a suitable way of powering it since you either need an electric hook-up or a good battery and inverter to power it. You’ll have to settle for an absorption or compressor fridge if you don’t.
Another risk of using a regular fridge in your motorhome while you don’t have an electric hook-up is that you need to use an inverter. That set-up will pull about 2-3 times more electricity than a 12v RV compressor fridge.
This sucks up electricity fast. That’s maybe not a huge deal if you’re at a campground connected to a source of electricity, but what if you’re boondocking?
Well, your options are a big battery bank, solar panels, a generator, or charging the battery bank with a dc-dc converter while driving.
The last issue to consider is that regular fridge doors aren’t that secure when driving. If your fridge door flies open, all the cold air can exit, and all the food inside will come flying out and make a mess! Yes, that has happened to most of us.
Fortunately, it’s really easy to come up with a stopgap fix, but you will have to concoct something that fits your situation.
2. Absorption Fridge
If not a regular fridge for your motorhome, then you’ll probably consider a specialty fridge, aka an RV fridge.
The first of these is the absorption fridge, also known as a three-way fridge since it can be powered on propane, as well as 12 volts and 120/220 volts.
The fridge features a gas flow heat exchange system instead of an energy-sucking compressor. In fact, you will only have to tap into your 12-volt power to keep the gas valve open, ignite the flame, and power the lights. If you haven’t read my other article, maybe the fact that a propane-powered fridge needs to be connected to the battery to run might come as a surprise, and in that case, I suggest you check it out.
Absorption fridges don’t run that well on 12-volt power, and that’s why you usually only power it on 12-volt while driving, and the engine generator runs it for you.
Compared to a regular fridge, you needn’t have any concerns about an absorption fridge fitting in your caravan. These are RV fridges, so they will fit, at least if you choose the correct size.
Although you would think that with so much happening behind the scenes, you would hear an absorption fridge, that’s surprisingly not the case. These fridges run nearly silently for more comfortable drives in your motorhome and better-quality sleep at night.
You don’t have to stress using 12-volt power from your batteries or adding extra solar power with an absorption fridge. These fridges are perfect for boondocking since you can power them on propane when you don’t have an electrical hook-up.
If you do run an absorption fridge on 12-volt power, you’ll notice a huge power drain that can deplete your batteries quickly. It’s certainly more than a compressor fridge and even worse than a regular one! If you powered it solely on a 100 AH lithium battery, the power would only last seven to nine hours!
Another issue with absorption fridges is that they require ventilation so the gas in the gas flow heat exchange system can travel efficiently. And that’s why all RV’s have two big ventilation holes behind the fridge or where it was initially installed.
Oh, and did I mention that absorption fridges can be expensive? It’s true! I looked at the prices of 25 different RV fridges in my other article. They cost about $1,000 on average, with many retailing for between $1,500 and $2,000. Some are even closer to $6,000!
Your absorption fridge should be completely level to function. If the fridge is tipped or tilted even a little because you’re parked on uneven terrain, it won’t work correctly, it could get damaged, and it might not keep your food cool.
Although I ran an old absorption fridge while my motorhome was tilted so much I could barely stand up inside, and it worked, but it was 20 years old or so, and it’s something you should avoid as far as possible.
Especially for more extended periods. All the absorption fridge manufacturers are warning about this, so there is a solid reason for it; so try to get as level as possible or at least consider staying just a short time if you can’t; otherwise, it can get expensive to replace it.
3. Compressor Fridge
The last type of RV fridge we’ll look at today is the compressor fridge.
This refrigerator is also referred to as a two-way fridge since it can run on either 12 or 120/220 volts.
As the name compressor fridge might insinuate, this appliance features a built-in compressor unit. And is not to be confused with a regular fridge which also can have a compressor. When we talk about RV compressor fridges or 2-way fridges, they work on 12 volts as well, unlike a regular one that only works on 120/220 volts
Rather than prevent heat accumulation as an absorption fridge does, a compressor fridge uses its compressor to keep the fridge contents nice and chilled actively.
Compressor fridges are also much more affordable than other types of motorhome fridges. The more expensive models are about $2,000, which isn’t terrible.
Running an RV-compressor fridge on 12 volts is the option that consumes the least amount of energy and can with ease be powered with most RV electric systems; a smaller battery bank and solar panel will go a long way.
With just a 100 AH lithium battery, you could power a 45watt 2-way fridge for almost 5 days without charging, which you can read more about in the second half of this article, where I compare the energy consumption of the different types of fridges as well as how much a solar panel or DC-DC charger charges your battery.
Unlike a regular fridge and an absorption fridge, neither of which will work efficiently on uneven terrain, a compressor fridge is designed for level and unlevel ground alike.
The low temperatures a compressor fridge can reach make for very efficient cooling.
As if all that wasn’t cool enough (pun intended!), if your compressor fridge is especially powerful, it can create conditions so cold that the fridge can operate like a freezer!
When a compressor fridge is running, you’re going to hear it. It’s a loud appliance that can keep you up at night.
You might also need solar panels to power the batteries that keep the compressor in the fridge operating.
How to Choose the Right Fridge for your Motorhome
I recommend those three types of fridges for a motorhome, RV, or caravan, but you only need one. How do you choose?
Here are the factors that are the most important:
- Does the fridge fit in your RV?
- Do you have the means to power the fridge without pulling too much power?
- Can you boondock/wild camp the way you want with your fridge?
- Is it efficient at cooling?
The fridge that checks the most boxes for you, so to speak, is the one you should use in your RV!
I have written much more articles on this subject that I think you will find interesting and helpful for choosing the next RV fridge. You can find those in the motorhomeking blog category – fridges.