Microwaves may not be the most exciting of appliances, but it pays to do a little research before buying a new one to ensure it works for your needs (and you don’t get stuck with one that won’t fit your dinner plate inside).
It can be a minefield, especially if you’ve had your current microwave for years. You may find prices have gone up – £40 is about as low as it gets for microwaves these days, but you’ll need to spend nearer £65 to get more than just the most basic, no-frills model.
Prices can run into hundreds of pounds for combination microwaves, which can bake, roast and grill as well as microwaving – making them more like a second oven.
If you don’t want anything fancy, you don’t need to splash out. We’ve found some cheaper microwaves that excel at everyday tasks and look smart too. But you might miss out on some useful features or extra interior space.
Get to our top picks by checking our reviews of the best microwaves for 2020, or read on for tips on picking the right model for your home.
1. What do you mostly use your microwave for?
If you know what you’re mainly going to be using your microwave for, this will dictate what kind of model you should be looking at.
There are three different types of microwave:
- Microwave only (sometimes called ‘solo’ microwave) A basic microwave that heats and defrosts food.
- Grill microwave Has a built-in grilling element, which is ideal for crisping up the tops of certain dishes.
- Combination (combi) microwave Can roast, bake and grill food in the same way as a conventional oven, as well as microwaving food for speedy heating or defrosting.
The more cooking options you add, the more it’s likely to cost you.
If you rarely use your microwave for anything more than heating up ready meals and defrosting frozen bread, you’d be best opting for just a simple microwave.
If you fancy more oven space and are willing to spend more, a combi microwave could be handy.
2. How much do you want to spend?
You don’t need to pay over the odds for a decent microwave. We’ve uncovered some cheap microwaves that do the job brilliantly on a budget, plus some pricier models that failed to impress. So think about what extras you really need.
Budget microwaves (£50 or less)
The cheapest microwaves are usually on the small side and don’t have any sort of advanced settings.
This does mean that as a rule they’re pretty easy to use, although don’t expect any auto-cook or defrost programs.
Take a look at our microwave reviews to see which cheap microwaves we recommend.
Mid-range microwaves (£50-£200)
The more you pay for a microwave, the greater the range of features and accessories you can expect.
Pricier models tend to have a wider selection of auto-programs for one-touch cooking, digital displays and slick touch panel controls. You’ll find some grill and combi models at this price point, giving you more scope for adventurous cooking.
You should get a little more space to play with too – with larger plate sizes accommodated. Some models may even be flatbeds, meaning there’s no turntable so it’s easier to fit in larger or rectangular dishes.
Premium microwaves (£200+)
Spending more than £200 on a microwave usually means you’re getting more of a mini second oven, expanding your cooking space and options.
As well as more interior cooking space, you may get extra cooking racks and oven-style drop-down doors, making it easier to remove hot dishes.
You should also keep an eye out for features such as one-touch sensor cooking, which does all the hard work for you and just requires you to pop in your meal and push a button.
Bear in mind that these models will usually take up more worktop space, so might not be suitable for a compact kitchen.
Splashing the cash on a microwave doesn’t always guarantee good results, so be sure to check out our microwave reviews before you buy.
3. What size microwave do you need?
Microwaves come in a variety of sizes, and the amount of space on the inside will dictate how much you can cook at once.
We’ve found some microwaves that will struggle to squeeze in a 28cm-wide plate, whereas others will accommodate a 40cm-wide baking dish without any issues.
If you just want to reheat the odd meal for one or two, a small interior might not be as much of an issue. If you regularly reheat larger batches, though, you need to make sure you won’t struggle to fit your plates in.
In our tests, we measure the width of a plate that will fit through a microwave’s door without tilting it to one side and spilling your food.
4. How much worktop space do you have?
The bigger microwave you need, the more space it will take up on your worktop. This won’t be an issue if you have a roomier kitchen, but anyone tight on space will need to check that their chosen model isn’t too large.
Most models are similar in height, so this isn’t something you’ll need to worry about too much. You need to make sure you have enough clearance space between the top of the microwave and any cupboards, though (usually at least 10cm, although it can vary between models, so check before you buy).
There is a lot of variation in size from one microwave to the next though, so make sure to take note of this to avoid your chosen model protruding too far onto your worktop.
The smallest microwaves are only around 30cm deep, while most are in the 35-45cm range. The largest combi models can be more than 50cm in depth, so you may find they take up most of your worktop.
If you’re really limited on worktop space, it may be worth considering a built-in microwave that can be installed directly into your kitchen cupboards.
5. Do you want auto-cook programs?
If you’re trying to make mealtimes as quick and painless as possible, you may want to consider a microwave with a few different auto programs.
These are designed to help you whip up meals at the touch of a button, saving you the time and effort of working out exactly how long you need to cook something for, or coming back to check on it multiple times.
The most common auto-programs we see are for dishes such as jacket potatoes, pizza, and sometimes meat and fish. Most microwaves will also have a button for your movie night popcorn.
If you opt for a pricier model, though, you can usually expect to see some more unusual options in there such as quinoa, legumes and even specific settings for baby food.
Some microwaves have ‘multi-step’ programming, which allows you to defrost, then heat a meal and perhaps even grill the top at the end for a perfectly browned finish.
Auto programs are most common with combi microwaves – take a look at our combi microwave reviews to see which models we recommend.
6. Do you prefer digital controls or a simple twist dial?
Lots of people have a preference on how they would like their microwave to look – usually to make sure it’ll fit in with the rest of their kitchen.
If you prefer a simpler approach, you may be better off opting for a microwave with basic manual control dials. There are usually at least two – one for the power level and another for the cooking time. These are usually found on cheaper microwaves, and should be fine if you just want to re-heat the occasional meal.
Digital touch controls look a little sleeker, plus they usually mean your microwave has a few more advanced features such as auto-cook and auto-defrost programs.
For those who are after something in the middle, we’ve tested a number of microwaves that have both dial and button controls. Usually, you use the buttons to select the power level and the dial to set the timer.
This gives you a few more options to play with, without being overwhelmingly complicated.
For more choosing advice, see our full microwave buying guide.
What you can’t check before you buy
Our extensive microwave tests check the things you can’t do yourself, such as how evenly the microwave cooks or reheats food, and whether the food is left perfectly moist or shrivelled round the edges.
We also check if a microwave loses power when used for several meals in a row, so you don’t end up waiting around twice as long for the final one.
Check our microwave recommendations for our top picks.