You purchase a microwave oven about as often as you buy other major appliances—which isn't very often. If you're interested in buying a microwave, there are some important factors to consider first, so you get what you need and want.
It's a good idea to think about things like what you cook, how often you use it, and the size of the microwave you need. Make a list of these features and take it with you to the store so you can easily compare models and make an informed decision.
You'll also want to buy the best appliance you can afford while staying within your budget. You can compare models online and use a service like Consumer Reports to research appliances before heading to the store.
What You Cook
The first consideration in buying a microwave is determining how you'll use it. Some people rely on this appliance, while others use it only on occasion or for specific tasks. No matter which category you fall into, there's a good microwave for you.
- If you are a light user, your microwave is used primarily for melting and reheating or perhaps making popcorn. You won't need lots of fancy features, so don't pay for them.
- If you enjoy experimenting with products and use your microwave to prepare entire meals—even spaghetti or meatloaf—look for the latest innovations and more variable features.
- If your children use the microwave, ease of use and safety features become more important.
A higher wattage will cook foods faster, which is good if you use the microwave often. The power output of most microwaves falls between 600 to 1200 watts.
Recipes that are written for the microwave usually specify a power of at least 800 watts so the foods cook evenly. This would be a good base for the majority of households, other than one that plans on only light usage.
Countertop vs. Over the Stove
Where are you going to put the microwave? It's a big decision for such a small appliance. You have the choice of countertop or a built-in model, which is generally mounted over the stove.
Countertop models are the most popular—you just plug them in and start cooking. It's also nice to have the flexibility to move the microwave around as you reorganize and it can be taken with if you move. Newer types of countertop microwaves put the controls on the door, so there is more capacity in a smaller footprint, which is perfect for small kitchens.
Built-in microwaves require professional installation, though they are usually more powerful. Over-the-stove microwaves can have fans built in, include more options and features, and save valuable counter space.
For heavy users and larger families, you might even consider both an over-the-stove microwave and a smaller one that fits on a shelf in the kitchen.
Once you start shopping, you'll be amazed at the features microwaves have. It can be overwhelming at first and you may not need all of them, but some are nice to have.
- Sensor cooking: Cooks the food based on the humidity in the oven. It does this by measuring the moisture released from your food.
- Preprogrammed cooking: Starts the oven with one touch: you add the food, tell the appliance what you are cooking, and hit "start."
- Programmable cooking: Lets you select various power outputs and the timing for complete control.
- Combination microwave/convection ovens: Like the convection oven option in a range, these units are better at circulating air inside. This allows you to brown and crisp food, as well as cook it. That's something you don't get out of the average microwave.
Other possible features you will come across include minute-plus options, automatic one-touch defrost, perfect popcorn features, and more. If you have children, a safety lock should be included so they don't put something in the microwave that they shouldn't.
Size and Your Family
The larger your family, the larger your microwave should be. A family of four will probably want a family or full-size microwave, while a couple or single person may only need a compact or mid-size oven, depending on how much you cook with it.
The size ranges for microwaves include:
- Compact: 0.5 to 0.8 cubic feet
- Mid-size: 0.9 to 1.3 cubic feet
- Family: 1.4 to 1.6 cubic feet
- Full-size: 1.8 to 2.0 cubic feet
What you cook also has a bearing on the size you choose. If you cook casseroles, for instance, make sure that the dishes you use will fit inside the appliance with room to spare.