7 Things to Know About Buying a New Microwave

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Nasozi Kakembo)

If your microwave is starting to go (or you never had one to begin with), you may find yourself unsure of where to start. Fun fact: Shopping for a microwave oven can be just as complicated as shopping for an actual oven. (At least microwaves are a lot cheaper!) Study up on these seven pointers and your head won’t explode when you start your search.

1. There are a few types you’ll be choosing from.

Countertop microwaves are the ones commonly found, well, on countertops. They plug into one of the precious outlets along your backsplash, and can be positioned wherever they make the most sense. Then there are over-the-range microwaves, which float over your range (again, duh), maximizing kitchen space, but they often don’t ventilate as well as a true range hood, so if you’re a cook who does most of your work on the stove, this might not be the best option. There are also wall microwaves and microwave drawers, which can help free up counter space.

Countertop microwaves are the most accessible and reasonably priced, starting near $20 and topping out at a few hundred dollars. The others get more expensive and, depending on your handiness, usually call for a professional install.

2. One size doesn’t fit all.

The handy appliance comes in everything from .5-cubic-feet to 1.5-cubic-feet models. You want to consider how much space you have, as well as what you’ll be putting inside it. Measure your go-to dinner plates before you go shopping — or better yet, bring one with you to make sure it’ll fit inside.

3. Some touch pads are easier to use than others.

Larger buttons might be easier for your tired eyes to read. Beyond that, some microwaves have special buttons for things like popcorn, frozen pizza, or just to add 30 seconds to the cook time. If there are certain buttons you use all the time on your current machine, make sure they’re on the new one you’re looking at (or else they’ll be sorely missed).

4. The wattage matters.

The higher the wattage, the better your microwave will function. You want a microwave in the 900- to 1000-watt range to make sure you have enough power to heat and defrost anything in your freezer efficiently and thoroughly. Cheaper versions that have 700 or fewer watts will take much more time, and will have a hard time heating things evenly.

5. A convection microwave can be a game-changer.

Convection microwaves are a thing! And they’re totally just smaller versions of the similarly named ovens, while also having nuking power. These microwaves can cook a chicken, bake a cake, roast veggies, and heat up frozen soup. If you do a lot of cooking or entertaining, you may want the option to be able to use your microwave as an oven for smaller stuff while your main oven does the bigger jobs.

6. Sensors can save time and energy.

Splurging on a fancier microwave that has sensors is actually a smart way to keep your energy consumption (and some messes) at bay. The machine cooks just as long as necessary, so you don’t have to run it for four minutes if the job was done in two, or get up to check it every 30 seconds. This can also keep meals from exploding in the microwave, which will keep cleaning it much easier.

7. This is a great place to save money by buying used.

The average microwave lasts 10 years — and some can function well for years beyond that. This means that all of those machines that move into college dorm rooms or into two-year leases, but then don’t have a place to live when a new apartment has a built-in microwave, can all be purchased used. Amazon is a great resource for finding used options.

Have you purchased a new microwave lately? Which one did you get?