How Much Space Is Needed Around the Refrigerator?

Refrigerators need to have 2-3inch clearance on the sides and 2in clearance in the back and above. The side clearance is added so that its door or doors open easily. Its back clearance is recommended for proper ventilation which also avoids mold formation.

Manufacturers and retailers often omit crucial refrigerator installation information. This is typically due to each brand having its approach to making fridges and refrigerator ventilation.

However, these measurements are important to correctly fit your refrigerator to its sides and the wall as it might not even fit correctly when measurements aren’t taken correctly.

A few common issues are associated with not leaving side, back, and top refrigerator clearance.

  • The refrigerator doesn’t fit

If you only measure the width of the fridge without adding in a bit of space your fridge might not open. You need to leave a bit of space on each side of the fridge. More space might be needed for a French door fridge or a refrigerator with 2 doors which open to the sides.

  • The doors don’t open

The issue of doors don’t open properly is the first sign that you need more space for your fridge. Doors should not bump against furniture or kitchen cabinets as they should open easily. This is only possible when there’s a bit of clearance to the sides.

  • The refrigerator sits sticks out more than the rest of the furniture

The refrigerator typically sticks out more than the rest of the furniture. But this can be bothersome when the difference is considerable. Ideally, it’s only the refrigerator doors that stick out as they need to open. But modern kitchen cabinets are made in the same depth as the fridge.

  • Poor coil cooling due to low ventilation

Coil ventilation is ideal for efficient cooling. A refrigerator that isn’t cooling efficiently is a refrigerator that can be troublesome for food storage.

  • Reduced refrigerator energy efficiency

Reduced efficiency can sometimes void the warranty. In other cases, it may even lead to premature servicing intervals. We’ve just seen how these intervals are expensive in Sub-Zero refrigerators or similar high-end brands and even mid-market brands.

  • Mold starts to form behind the fridge

One of the biggest issues often overlooked by manufacturers is mold growth whenever there’s insufficient refrigerator clearance. The defrost drains direct water on the floor, often behind the fridge. Frequent defrosting eventually leads to issues such as high humidity. Without proper ventilation achieved by properly adjusting the fridge with back wall clearance mold will start to grow behind the fridge.

How much space does a refrigerator need for the wall?

Refrigerators need at least 2 inches of wall clearance behind them. Proper airflow behind the fridge is ideal both for the cooling coil and for the fridge’s thermostat.

We’ve seen how the ambient temperature can turn freezers into refrigerators. We can also conclude freezers need at least 2 inches of clearance to the wall behind them.

How much space does the refrigerator need on the sides?

The sides of the refrigerator need anywhere between 3/8” to 2 inches in clearance. Some refrigerators with thicker doors might need a bit more clearance. It’s best to check with the recommended manufacturer’s recommendations for exact measurement indications.

How much top clearance is needed for a refrigerator?

Up to 2 inches are needed for top refrigerator clearance. These inches have a lot to do with moving the fridge in and out of its position (primarily made by moving the fridge on wheels or by tilting the fridge). You can’t tilt a fridge when there’s no top clearance.

Do refrigerators need space on the sides?

In theory, refrigerators don’t need space on the sides. Numerous fridges work well with no side clearance. This is due to the fact they have calculated efficiency and because they don’t overheat.

Refrigerators primarily need side clearance for the doors to open easily and for them to be easily be moved back and forth.

However, some refrigerators need side clearance. These are typically large or commercial refrigerators. It’s best to check the instructions manual to see just how much space is needed for refrigerators with side cooling.

Can you put the refrigerator next to a wall?

Most refrigerators can be put right next to a wall. This can be a back wall or a sidewall. However, putting the refrigerator right next to a wall will often create a space of poor ventilation.

The defrost drain is often located at the back of the fridge. This space needs to be cleared and easy to access to clean and to allow proper ventilation and quick drying. However, refrigerators that run properly typically heat the wall. This means water drops aren’t likely on the wall as they attach to cold surfaces first.

The bad smell associated with a poorly ventilated defrost drain is a more likely scenario. However, all of these measurements are different from one refrigerator to another.


You typically need around 2 inches around the sides and at the back of the refrigerator. Some of this clearance is solely based on the doors having sufficient space to open while other recommendations are based on proper refrigerator running capacity.

For example, Samsung refrigerators come with the recommendation of leaving 3/8” inches for installation purposes only. Samsung refrigerators are mainly recommended with this side clearance for maneuvering and not for ventilation.

2 inches of clearance represents a large gap. This is an issue for almost all kitchen fridge spaces. However, it might be necessary when it comes to installing a fridge by the book.

Now, what happens when professionals install your refrigerator? Professionals typically don’t recommend any side clearance for refrigerators. They will install your refrigerator with 2 inch back wall clearance at most.

Some professionals don’t even bother with the back clearance either since many refrigerators have ventilators in the front. Top and bottom vents practically start to eliminate the need for side clearance in new refrigerators.

It was old refrigerators that triggered the side and back clearance recommendations that many still use today as a frame of reference for maneuvering the fridge and opening its door or doors easily. Most likely new refrigerators don’t need any space around them as clearance isn’t needed for front-facing vent refrigerators of the new generation. The space is added so that you can take out the fridge without help when needed.