A refrigerator (often called a "fridge" for short) is a cooling appliance comprising a thermally insulated compartment and a heat pump - a mechanism to transfer heat from it to the external environment, cooling the contents to a temperature below ambient. Refrigerators are extensively used to store foods which deteriorate at ambient temperatures; spoilage from bacterial growth and other processes is much slower at low temperatures. A device described as a "refrigerator" maintains a temperature a few degrees above the freezing point of water; a similar device which maintains a temperature below the freezing point of water is called a "freezer". The refrigerator is a relatively modern invention among kitchen appliances. It replaced the icebox and the icemaker, which had been a common household appliance for almost a century and a half prior. For this reason, a refrigerator is sometimes referred to as an "icebox". Freezers keep their contents frozen. They are used both in households and for commercial use. Most freezers operate around minus 18 °C (0 °F). Domestic freezers can be included as a compartment in a refrigerator, sharing the same mechanism or with a separate mechanism, or can be standalone units. Domestic freezers are generally upright units, resembling refrigerators, or chests, resembling upright units laid on their backs. Many modern freezers come with an icemaker.
Commercial fridge and freezer units, which go by many other names, were in use for almost 40 years prior to the common home models. They used toxic ammonia gas systems, making them unsafe for home use. Practical household refrigerators were introduced in 1915 and gained wider acceptance in the United States in the 1930s as prices fell and non-toxic, non-flammable synthetic refrigerants such as Freon or R-12 were introduced. It is notable that while 60% of households in the US owned a refrigerator by the 1930s, it was not until 40 years later, in the 1970s, that the refrigerator achieved a similar level of penetration in the United Kingdom.