Simplified Microwave Buyer’s Guide for Homeowners

Microwave Buyer's Guide

It’s not uncommon for Americans to spend a lot of money on microwaves each year (more than 1.8 billion dollars!), but with so many options available in the market, it can feel a bit overwhelming to make a decision.

After all, some microwaves can be a bit pricey, so I’m sure you want to invest your money wisely and avoid being stuck with cold food or other annoying issues.

Luckily, you’re in the right place to find all the answers you need. I’ve spent over 7 years repairing and covering all sorts of appliances, and I’m excited to share all my tips for finding the perfect microwave.

In this article, you’ll learn about the different types of microwaves and what factors you should consider when buying one. I’ll also give you tips on which features to look for (and which ones to avoid), as well as answer your most common questions about buying a microwave.

Read on to find the microwave that’s just right for you!

Types of Microwaves

If you want to make the right choice, it’s important to understand what are the different types of microwaves out there.

Keep in mind that it’s not only the design that can differ between microwaves. Their features and functionality can also vary quite a bit, which can impact your final decision.

The 5 main types of microwaves are:

Countertop Microwave

These are your standard microwaves, commonly seen everywhere around the world. No installation is required – just plug in and get cooking.

Countertop microwave
Countertop microwaves can vary in size and features.

Countertop microwaves are very easy to move. They are also great if you have a tight budget, as they are more affordable than other models.

Even though it’s the cheapest option, you can still find some amazing models that come packed with amazing features, giving you great value for your money.

Over-The-Range Microwaves

These microwaves are intended to “blend in”, as they are installed above your range, so you can keep your valuable counter space clear.

They also act as a vent, eliminating smoke and steam coming off from the range below.

Please note that the venting will never be quite as good as a dedicated hood, but it can help to improve air quality in your kitchen.

Over-the-range microwaves have different venting options: external venting and recirculating venting. Either of these options is ideal for a kitchen without ventilation.

Bear in mind that it might be hard for everyone at home to reach an over-the-range microwave. These types of microwaves may also be dangerous when handling hot food.

Built-In Microwaves

These microwaves are installed straight into your cabinet space, or even onto a shelf on the wall.

Built-in microwaves have a modern design that will give your kitchen a sleek and stylish appearance.

They are ideal for smaller kitchens where space is very valuable. Bear in mind that they usually come with more features than other types of microwaves, so their price tag can be a bit higher.

Microwave Drawers

These microwaves are also known as “under-counter microwaves” and are embedded into kitchen cabinets as drawers.

Microwave drawers open by sliding the drawer in and out, rather than a swinging door. Image from Lowe’s.

Removing or adding heavy objects is much easier with drawer microwaves because they’re typically installed at waist height, which is great news for anyone who may be a bit shorter or physically impaired.

These microwaves have a sleek design and modern features. They are also great if you have limited space in your kitchen, but they are a bit more expensive than other types of microwaves.

Convection Microwaves

These microwaves aren’t just for heating up your food, they can also act as a regular oven by letting you bake, broil, and roast food.

Convection cooking is available in any microwave type. Whether you prefer a countertop model, a drawer option, or even a built-in or over-the-range style.

They have a standard heating element – with fans to move the roasting hot air around. Just like a conventional fan oven.

As you probably imagined, convection microwaves are fantastic for smaller kitchens as a 2-in-1 appliance, or if you also want a second, smaller oven to tackle quick bakes and side dishes. (Just remember it needs pre-heated, too!)

Bear in mind that these microwaves can be more expensive than other models due to their design and multiple features.

Microwave Buying Considerations

Now that you know what are the different types of microwaves, it’s time to dive deeper into the factors to keep in mind when making a purchase decision.

#1 Kitchen Layout

The first thing you should think about when making a decision is your kitchen space and layout, as this can determine the type of microwave you need.

For example, if you’re like me and like keeping your kitchen looking tidy, or you have limited counter space, you might want to get a microwave that can be embedded or mounted under a cabinet.

You might also want to think about your kitchen style. If you have a modern and trendy kitchen, a built-in, or drawer microwave might be the way to go.

Once you’ve thought about the layout and style of your kitchen, it’s time to measure the space where you plan to put the microwave. This way, you’ll make sure it fits perfectly.

Measure microwave space
Measure the designated area to make sure your microwave fits perfectly.

To do it, you’ll just need to grab a measuring tape and write down the height, width, and depth of the area and refer to these measurements when browsing for a microwave.

Don’t forget to keep in mind the installation requirements. Some microwaves, such as over-the-range, drawer, or built-in units, can be more complicated to install (compared to a countertop microwave).

#2 Size & Capacity

It’s also important to think about the size and capacity of a microwave to make sure it meets your food needs and fits perfectly in the area you previously measured.

Microwaves typically come in three different sizes: small, standard, and large. When choosing the perfect microwave size, you need to think about your family size and how you plan to use it.

For example, if you have a large family or often have friends over, a large microwave might be the way to go.

If you’re not sure which microwave size is right for you, check the following table:

Small (0.5 – 0.9 cubic feet)Standard (1.0 – 1.6 cubic feet)Large (1.7 + cubic feet)
UsageMinimal cooking needs, such as simple reheating leftovers or defrosting.Cooking, reheating, and defrosting larger dishes, such as casseroles.Extensive cooking needs, such as cooking whole turkeys, or multiple dishes at once.
Size of family1-22-44+
You can find the capacity and size of a microwave on the manufacturer’s website

Bear in mind that the size and capacity of a microwave may vary depending on its type. The chart provided above is meant to be a general reference.

When buying a microwave, please keep in mind that it needs some breathing room. This way, you’ll prevent heat buildup and make sure the unit works correctly.

Try leaving at least 3 inches (7.6 cm) of space behind and on each side of the microwave, and avoid placing things on top of your microwave to prevent any safety hazards.

#3 Features

When buying a new microwave, you’ll come across different features, which can make the purchase decision a bit complicated.

Don’t worry, though. I’ve tested all the available features to help you decide which ones are really worth the investment and which ones you can pass on.

The features I recommend looking for when buying a new microwave are:

  • Sensor cooking: This feature senses moisture and humidity levels emitted from your food and automatically adjusts the cooking time for the best results. It also helps you save money on your energy bills!
  • Tray or turntable: It is a rotating glass plate that helps to ensure your food is evenly heated. Although this is a pretty common feature, I recommend double-checking that the microwave you’re planning on buying has it. Trust me, you don’t want to be stuck with cold food!
  • Auto Defrost: This feature automatically adjusts the microwave’s power to defrost your food without cooking it, which comes in handy when you’re in a hurry. Bear in mind that you should always cook your food immediately after thawing it in the microwave to avoid health issues.
  • Steam cooking: If you don’t own a food steamer, this feature will be your best friend. With this setting, you’ll be able to easily prepare vegetables, rice, fish, and even eggs.
  • Child lock: If you enable this feature, the control panel will be automatically locked. This way, you’ll keep your kids from accidentally pressing any buttons.
  • Quick controls: These shortcut keys allow you to prepare a specific food, such as popcorn or leftovers, with just the touch of a button. This way, you won’t have to guess how long to heat something up.

Now that you know what are the best features to look for when buying a new microwave, it’s time to talk about the ones you can skip.

There are some modern microwaves that connect to your Wi-Fi network and other smart devices, allowing you to control them through your phone (some of them even have voice recognition!).

Although this feature may sound appealing to some people, I personally think that it can be a waste of your hard-earned money. There are great microwaves available without the added cost of this technology.

There are also some microwaves that have a self-cleaning feature, which can be handy if you have a big family or a convection microwave. But, if that’s not the case, you can save some extra money and easily clean it yourself.

#4 Wattage

You should also consider wattage when making a purchase decision, as this indicates the cooking power of the microwave, which affects how quickly and evenly your food cooks.

According to Energy Sage, on average, microwaves use about 600 to 1000 watts of electricity. However, some models (like those used in restaurants) can have up to 1200 watts.

And as you can imagine, the higher the wattage, the faster and more evenly your food will cook.

For example, a microwave with only 700 watts of power will not be able to heat your food as evenly as a microwave with more than 1,000 watts.

If you’re looking for an effective microwave, I recommend looking for one between 800 and 1000 watts. This way, you won’t have to worry about cold spots ruining your meal.

Bear in mind that higher-wattage microwaves can impact your electricity bill.

#5 Price

Whether you’re replacing your current microwave or you’re a first-time buyer, I’m sure you want to get the most out of your budget.

Microwaves prices can vary depending on their type, features, brand, and design. Some models cost $100, while others can reach up to $3100! But the average is usually around $500.

Microwave price
When buying a new microwave, you should always prioritize what is most important for you and your family.

If you have a tight budget, a countertop microwave might be the way to go, as this model is usually more affordable than other types of microwaves.

Drawer microwaves, on the other hand, are typically the most expensive models due to their technology, features, materials, and design.

#6 Warranty

I also recommend checking the warranty of a microwave before buying it. This way, if there’s an issue with your appliance, you’ll be able to ask for a refund or free repairs.

Microwaves can last up to 8 years or more if they’re well-maintained. Unfortunately, the industry-standard warranty length for microwaves is 1 year.

Luckily, manufacturers usually offer extended warranties or protection plans for an additional cost. It usually extends the length of the current warranty or covers additional issues.

Microwave protection plans
A good protection plan will guarantee you customer support and free repairs (incl. shipping).

I recommend getting an extended warranty or protection plan if you’re planning on investing a lot of money in your new microwave.

To check the warranty of a microwave, you can go to the manufacturer’s website or ask the retailer.

#7 Reputable Brand

When it comes to microwaves (and any other appliance) brands have different levels of quality and value.

There is no specific brand that I recommend, but normally, large companies are held to a higher standard when it comes to getting things right.

For example, Americans seem to prefer Whirlpool, Electrolux Group, LG, Bosch, and Samsung.

That being said, there are smaller companies out there that are absolute gems. For those cases, it’s worth going and checking out their website and company profile, to get an idea if they’re authentic or not.

Choosing Your Microwave

Now that you’ve considered the 7 factors above, it’s time to make a decision.

Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to buying a new microwave. This decision will depend entirely on your needs and preferences.

This is why I recommend prioritizing the tips we’ve provided in this guide.

Start by thinking about what you need in a microwave. Do you want to save countertop space? Are you looking for an option that offers the latest features? Or are you concerned about the heating performance?

For example, if you want your kitchen to look stylish and don’t mind splurging a little, you might want to consider buying a built-in or drawer microwave.

Or, if you have limited space and don’t own an oven, you may benefit from a convection microwave that can be embedded. But, if you have a tight budget and enough counter space, I recommend getting a countertop microwave.

Once you’ve identified your priorities, start searching for different brands and models. Don’t forget to keep in mind the size, kitchen layout, wattage, reviews, price, and features

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Years Does a Microwave Usually Last?

This will depend entirely on how frequently it’s used, how well it’s maintained, and the brand. For instance, a microwave that is used for normal cooking and is well-maintained can last up to 8 years.

But, if a microwave is used frequently by a large family and not maintained properly, it may only last around 4 years.

What Are the Signs That a Microwave Is Going Bad?

If your microwave takes longer than usual to heat up your food or if it makes weird sounds as it operates, you may need to repair or replace it. A burning smell or a broken door can also indicate damage to the appliance.

If you notice any of these issues or experience a different one, please take action right away to prevent any safety concerns.

Is 900 Watts Enough for a Microwave?

As you learned in this guide, the wattage indicates the cooking power of your microwave and affects how quickly your food cooks.

A 900-watt microwave is typically powerful enough for most families and everyday tasks, such as reheating leftover foods.

Hi there! I’m Craig, and I’m the founder of Appliance Analysts. When it comes to appliances and anything electrical, I’ve always loved opening things up, figuring out how they work, and fixing them. This website is where I share free advice from myself and our experts to help our readers solve their appliance/HVAC problems and save money. Read more