Air fryers vs microwaves, in this day and age, which one is right for you? Here they are, compared in 8 different ways.

Can you imagine coming home late one Friday night, and having to heat up your pizza on the stovetop? It sounds awful, and very time-consuming, doesn’t it? Fortunately, we have microwaves, so we don’t have to worry about that.

Since their invention in the 1940s, they have revolutionized the way in which we prepare and heat up our food, making the overall process much simpler and straightforward. All it takes is the pressing of a couple of buttons, and voilà!

And while microwaves have been the rulers of the kitchen for decades, that supremacy is now being challenged by air fryers.

Even if you don’t own one yourself, you’ve definitely stumbled across all sorts of online ads and trends showcasing how versatile and great they are at preparing the healthier alternative of your favorite snacks.

Which begs the question. Which one is better?

Well, there’s no simple answer, as it differs from person to person. It all depends on several individual factors such as your eating habits, the results sought, and your budget.

Below, I’ve prepared a compendium of the most relevant similarities and differences between both appliances, so you can make a decision based on what best fits your needs.

But before we look into them, it’s important to understand how each one works.

Are you ready? Let’s begin!

How Does a Microwave Work?

Although microwaves are neither new nor revolutionary technologies, most people still don’t know how they go about heating and cooking their food. The secret is in the water. Let me explain.

As you know, all foods are made up of molecules that give them their consistency, flavor, smell and temperature. The faster these molecules move, the hotter something becomes.

Microwaves are designed to interact through energy waves with the water molecules inside your food and accelerate them, thus generating heat.

Some materials, like aluminum and metal, cannot handle these waves, which causes a reaction that can make your appliance explode! So be careful.

This is, of course, a very summarized explanation of how these appliances work, if you want to learn more about the process you can find all the information you need through a quick Google search. It is fascinating.

How Does an Air Fryer Work?

Being air fryers a much more recent technology, it should come as no surprise that most of their users are not yet familiarized with how they work. Don’t worry, it’s simpler than a microwave.

Air fryers are equipped with a component called a “heating element” located at the top of the appliance’s body, next to their fan. This is responsible for transforming the electrical energy from your wall outlet into high temperatures.

After you activate your air fryer, the heating element gets to work and generates heat, which is then blown downwards and towards your food to cook it. The hot air recirculates throughout the entire cooking cycle and guarantees evenly fried meals.

But how exactly can hot air create that “deep-fried” finish? Simple, through the maillard reaction. This chemical process gives fried food and seared steaks their beautiful golden-brown crust.

The extreme dehydration caused by recirculating hot air breaks down your food’s amino acids, sugars and proteins, and gives it that nice finish we all love. The more you know, right?

What Will Be Compared?

Ok, so now that you’re an expert in the microwave and air fryer technicalities, we can move on to the actual comparisons. There are many elements that must be taken into account when trying to decide which appliance is best for you.

Some of the most relevant are:

  • Price
  • Versatility
  • Healthy recipes
  • Reliability
  • Ease of use
  • Ease of cleaning
  • Safety features
  • Durability

Hopefully, by the end of this list, you will have a clearer picture of what each appliance has to offer. They’re both wonderful, but they’re also quite different.

#1 Price

Best price tag
The cost of the item is always a good factor to consider before buying

This tends to be the most important factor to consider for most people. Both appliances are great, but no one wants to break the bank when it comes to either of them, and it’s understandable.

As you can imagine, as they move up the price tier, you get more features and sleeker designs. This should come as no surprise, as the exact same thing happens with any other kitchen appliance or product on the market. But, how much is too much?

If you’re not looking for anything flashy, you can get a decent microwave oven that does everything the more expensive ones do, for between $80-$100.

A model in this price range will include most of the features you’re already familiar with, and a 10-year warranty on the ceramic inside, which might not be the case with air fryers.

When it comes to the latter, more expensive models will boast extra features that could come in handy. While you can get a basic one for the same price as a microwave oven, you’ll probably be limited by capacity and options if you buy within the aforementioned price range.

That being said, maybe you don’t need all those extra bells and whistles. If you’re looking for an air fryer that prepares personal-sized servings, you should be more than covered with a basic model, whereas if you find yourself constantly in the need to prepare larger batches, an extra $100 could make a night and day difference.

Not to mention that you’ll have more cooking features at your disposal to take advantage of

#2 Versatility

If you’re already going to spend your hard-earned money on a kitchen appliance, you want it to open as many options for you as possible, right? This is where air fryers could start getting ahead.

While microwaves are great at reheating and cooking your food, you’ll most likely always end up with a bland consistency, which is great for soups and boiled potatoes, but not so much for onion rings, chicken parmesan, or french fries.

Air fryers on the other hand can do almost anything. Heating, “frying”, cooking, you name it!

These appliances are extremely versatile. In fact, with the right amount of ingredients and time, it’s quite hard to tell between regular, and air-fried foods.

Not to mention that air fryers are better at maintaining the nutrients inside your meals, than microwaves. And while the latter can be a little quicker at cooking your food, it could be argued that air fryers still take the cake.

With all the possibilities they open up for you, they’re definitely the best bang for your buck.

#3 Healthy Recipes

a bowl of healthy food
No-grease & a healthy meal cooked in the air fryer

This is another very important thing to consider when doing this comparison, as each option offers different possibilities that could appeal more or less to you depending on your specific needs.

When it comes to healthy recipes, microwaves and air fryers start to diverge. The former are great for heating and cooking your food in a fast and convenient way, but a no-grease chicken parmesan recipe will probably not turn out great.

At best, you’ll be left with a mushy, steaming mess.

This is where air fryers really shine, as they can deliver the same results that deep-frying your favorite foods would bear, in a much healthier version, and with a fraction of the oil. This is something you simply cannot accomplish with a microwave.

If you’re someone who enjoys a healthy lifestyle and eating delicious foods that are not too caloric, an air fryer is definitely the right pick for you.

#4 Reliability

At this point, it might seem like air fryers are the clear victor, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we’re not even halfway through this list of comparisons.

When it comes to reliability, both appliances are great.

Technology has come so far, that even the most basic options within the $80-$100 price range will deliver the results you would expect, without giving you too much trouble.

It would be a lie to say that either option is more reliable than the other, as they both should have relatively long lifespans of optimal functioning, given that they are used under your manufacturer’s indications.

This only applies to reputable international brands, though, so don’t go buying a $40 knock-off to save some money. Remember, buy cheap, buy twice. Try to stick with the manufacturers you know, and ask your friends or family for recommendations.

Nothing’s as reliable as word of mouth!

#5 Ease of Use

More options mean more cooking possibilities, but it also means that you’ll have a very confusing, user manual read through session. You can’t win them all!

Depending on the sophistication of the appliance you buy, it could be easier or harder to use. While most of the models out there for both air fryers and microwaves are designed to be as user-friendly as possible, there might always be a learning curve.

This is completely normal.

Besides, we’re not talking about a vacuum sealer or sous vide accessory to cook a Beef Wellington. It’s just a couple of buttons and modes. I’m sure you can get the hang of either option in less than 10 minutes, maybe even less if you check your user manual and read along.

This should not be one of the main drivers to the decision you make, though, especially if you’re just looking into basic, cheaper models.

#6 Ease of Cleaning

Always clean your appliances after use

Ok, so this is where things start to diverge again.

While both appliances are relatively easy to clean and maintain, microwaves will usually demand less of you in this area.

Normally, to keep this appliance clean, all you need to do is put a napkin over your meals to prevent them from splashing and popping inside your microwave’s chamber, and give the tempered glass disk a good wash every couple of days.

This should be more than enough for proper maintenance.

Air fryers are a different story, though, as they will require you to remove their interior basket after cooking and give it a good scrubbing. If there are burned pieces of food stuck to the bottom, removing them might be somewhat challenging.

Leaving the part to soak in warm water for a couple of minutes could make the process simpler.

Now, I know that having to scrub off any excess food from your air fryer’s basket is neither the end of the world, nor extremely challenging, but when compared to maintaining your microwave, it’s definitely a bit more complex.

#7 Safety Features

Modern-day appliances are wonderful, to say the least. As the decades have gone by, manufacturers have implemented more and more safety features into them to both extend their lifespan, and protect you, the user.

This comparison is somewhat complicated, as we’re talking about apples and oranges here.

Some fancy microwaves have sensors and components that detect overheating, thus preventing fires and other consequences stemming from accidentally setting your food to cook for 30 minutes instead of 30 seconds.

You want a boiled potato, not a carbonized rock that will set your appliance on fire!

Air fryers, on the other hand, being much more modern appliances, have a higher number of safety features built into them. From alarms for overheating and failing fans, to failsafe mechanisms that won’t allow the machine to operate if any of its components are improperly placed.

This makes a lot of sense, as air fryers heat both your food, and the surrounding areas, whereas microwaves only heat the former, and maybe your plate, thus greatly reducing the risk of burning you in the process.

That being said, both appliances can be safely operated with caution, a pair of gloves, and proper heeding of your manufacturer’s indications.

#8 Durability

Lastly, let’s take a look at durability.

This will all come down to the manufacturer and model you choose. These appliances are not very expensive, but they’re not crazy cheap either, so you want them to last at least a couple of years, if not more.

Back in the day, appliances were built like tanks, and lasted for over 20 years, but between programmed obsolescence, and the ease of replacing them these days, your microwave and air fryer probably won’t last that long.

While both appliances should be made from quality components and built to last, their warranty coverage varies greatly. In the case of air fryers, you normally have 1 year of coverage from factory defects and other issues that might arise from the normal operation of your appliance.

And while this sounds great, when you compare it to your microwave’s whopping 10 years on the ceramic inside, the tables turn dramatically. It’s not that microwaves are more durable, they’re simply different technologies.

Even if your air fryer’s warranty is not a decade long, chances are, it will function adequately for many years. In the end, it all comes down to the purpose you want to give it, and the versatility you’re after.

In Summary, Which One Should You Choose?

Choosing between an air fryer and a microwave might sound simple, but it can actually be very challenging, especially when you’re not sure how one outperforms the other.

With so many options and price ranges out there, the chances of finding one you like is very high, but the defining factors will most likely always be driven by three elements: budget, durability, and versatility. And the neat part is that you’ll find both appliances somewhat similar in those areas.

In the end, it all comes down to your lifestyle, and the exact benefits you’re looking to get from your microwave or air fryer.

If you’re a person who loves healthier alternatives to your favorite snacks, an air fryer will be a godsend.

And if you’re someone who needs quick cooking times, long warranty coverages, and easy appliance maintenance, a microwave will be a life-saver.

In an ideal scenario, you should get both, as one will complement the weaknesses and strengths of the other and revolutionize the way you cook on a daily basis. That being said, if you only have about $100 to spend on a new appliance, take a look at your everyday routine, and your eating habits. You’ll find the right answer there.

Thank you so much for sticking with me all the way to the end. If you found this article useful, why not check out our other wonderful resources below?

Happy shopping!