Are you shopping for a new microwave and feeling overwhelmed by the choices?
In this comprehensive guide, I break down the pros and cons of the ten most common types of microwaves.
I also provide a comparison chart, so you can review the options side-by-side.
By the end, you’ll know which type of microwave is best for you.
Use the links below to navigate the guide:
- Types of Microwaves: Comparison Chart
- Countertop Microwaves
- Over-the-Range Microwaves
- Low Profile Microwaves
- Under-the-Cabinet Microwaves
- Under-the-Counter Microwaves
- Built-In Microwaves
- Convection Microwaves
- Microwave and Oven Combinations
- Wall Oven and Microwave Combinations
- Smart Microwaves
- Bottom Line: Which Type of Microwave Is Right for You?
If you only have a minute, this chart highlights the pros and cons of each type of microwave.
|Countertop Microwaves||Budget-friendly, no installation||Takes up counter space|
|Over-the-Range Microwaves||Dual-purpose (microwave/vent), frees up counter space||Limited vent power, increased risk of spilling hot food|
|Low Profile Microwaves||Same as over-the-range, plus a sleek design||Same as over-the-range but smaller with fewer models to choose from|
|Under-the-Cabinet Microwaves||Frees up counter and cabinet space, allows for a stronger vent above the range||Limits the use of the countertop directly below|
|Under-the-Counter Microwaves||Easy access, keeps counter space free, allows you to choose a stronger vent above the range||Difficult installation, loss of drawer/cabinet space|
|Built-In Microwaves||Customized, keeps counter and cabinet space free, option for a larger microwave||Difficult installation, fewer models available|
|Convection Microwaves||Food cooks more evenly in less time, more control over the temperature||Cost, learning curve when using convection|
|Microwave and Oven Combination||Ability to grill, broiler, and air fry||Large, expensive|
|Wall Oven and Microwave Combination||Streamlines the look of your kitchen||When one fails, you have to replace both|
|Smart Microwaves||Advanced functionality through wi-fi||Cost, can be hacked|
A countertop microwave allows you to place this fast-cooking appliance wherever you want — even outside the kitchen.
The size options make it easy to find a model that fits your space, whether you need a compact model or have room for a larger appliance.
Let’s examine the pros and cons of countertop microwaves.
Countertop microwaves are the most affordable. Plus, they are easy to install. In fact, installation is as simple as plugging the appliance into an electrical outlet.
Countertop microwaves are highly portable. All you have to do is unplug and pick them up.
They are also readily available. You can buy them at major retailers, home stores, big box stores, and discount shops. There is no need for a special order.
Since they sit at counter height, they are accessible for most people. There is no need to lift anything above your head or bend down.
Countertop microwaves come in multiple sizes ranging from 1 to 2 cubic feet.
And they offer a range of features from basic controls to air fry modes and humidity sensors.
The major downside with countertop microwaves is that they take up valuable countertop space.
If you prefer a minimalist look in the kitchen, this type of microwave can make your space feel cluttered.
Here are the dimensions of several top-selling models to give you a better idea of the amount of space they occupy.
|Toshiba||.9 cubic feet||16.1″D x 19.2″W x 11.5″H|
|Black+Decker||.7 cubic feet||13″D x 17.3″W x 10.2″H|
|Panasonic||2.2 cubic feet||18.44″D x 18.5″W x 10.94″H|
|Farberware||.7 cubic feet||12.99″D x 17.3″W x 10.14″H|
|Commercial Chef||.9 cubic feet||14.7″D x 19.3″W x 11.2″H|
|GE||1.0 cubic feet||16.6″D x 20.6″W x 11.88″H|
However, since they’re portable, you can place them on any hard surface near an electrical outlet or store them in a pantry or cabinet.
An over-the-range microwave sits directly above your cooktop.
This type of microwave saves valuable counter space and offers convenient features like built-in lighting.
Let’s examine the pros and cons of an over-the-range microwave.
Over-the-range microwaves are multi-purpose appliances. They function as a microwave, provide overhead lighting for your cooktop, and have a built-in exhaust vent to manage steam and smoke while you cook.
With most brands, you can vent the steam and smoke outside or filter and blow it back out into the kitchen.
And, because they are attached to the wall, they don’t take away valuable counter space. They are also built underneath cabinets to avoid eliminating extra storage.
Finally, because of its height, this type of microwave makes it difficult for young children to access the appliance and its controls.
A microwave vent is less powerful than range hoods or exhaust systems. They are also smaller. Large exhaust hoods and vents cover a wider area and offer more suction.
If you have one pot going, a microwave vent will suffice. However, some lower-end models can’t keep up with a cooktop full of pots and pans. Your kitchen can quickly get steamy or smoky.
Some high-end models have more powerful venting technology, but the downside is you’ll have to spend more.
Accessibility is another issue to consider. Some people may not be able to reach the microwave.
There are also a few hazards you’ll want to avoid:
- Lifting food overhead can be unstable, causing spills
- Lifting heavy bowls or plates with food could cause muscle strain in people with motion restrictions or injuries
- If you have a glass top stove, you could accidentally drop a bowl or plate when taking it out of the microwave, which could crack the glass.
Of course, wear oven mitts or heat-resistant gloves when removing hot food from the microwave.
And, if you have a glass top stove, consider getting a hard cover to protect the glass if something falls.
Another downside is that it’s inconvenient when someone is using the cooktop. It can be challenging for multiple people to cook simultaneously because you’re working next to each other.
Finally, unless you have the skills to do it yourself, you’ll need to hire a professional to install it.
According to HomeAdvisor, an over-the-range microwave costs between $150 to $700 to install. It will require a dedicated outlet, venting, and cabinetry to hide the exhaust pipe and power cord, which may increase the cost even more.
A low profile microwave is a compact appliance that fits over your range. These microwaves are shorter but usually the same width as traditional over-the-range models.
However, they have greater depth. A low profile microwave is not flush with surrounding cabinetry — it sticks out.
Let’s get into the pros and cons of low profile microwaves.
You get all the upsides that come with having a traditional over-the-range microwave.
Additionally, you’ll have more space between your cooktop and the exhaust system. That is key if you have tall stock pots or pressure cookers.
Since the microwave’s profile is much thinner, it gives your cooking area a sleek, modern look.
Low profile microwaves come with all of the cons of traditional over-the-range microwaves. But they also have a significant downside: limited vertical space.
The average height of over-range microwaves is 16 inches. Low profile microwaves are around 10 inches tall. Tall bowls and cups may not fit, and sauces are more likely to splatter on the ceiling of the microwave.
An under-the-cabinet microwave is an excellent option if you want more counter space. It’s similar to an over-the-range model, except the counter is directly below instead of a cooktop.
These microwaves are sometimes called suspended microwaves.
Here are the pros and cons of under-the-cabinet microwaves.
This is an excellent option if you are looking for a space-saving design.
Under-the-cabinet microwaves are much like over-the-range models, except you don’t need the venting and exhaust pipe. That makes for an easier and less costly installation.
Plus, since these microwaves fit under standard cabinets, they’re slightly lower. That makes them more accessible.
Under-the-cabinet microwaves are lower than over-the-range but still higher than countertop models. Shorter people and children may have a difficult time reaching them.
And even though they are slightly lower, you still risk spilling hot food or dropping a dish.
Since they’re installed under a standard cabinet, the countertop under the microwave has limited vertical space. For example, you can’t place tall canisters or appliances like a tall stand mixer or blender under the microwave.
An under-the-counter microwave is an excellent space-saving option. It fits underneath a kitchen counter or under a kitchen island counter, freeing up valuable space.
And, even though they’re compact, various capacities (sizes) are available.
Some are called drawer microwaves because they open like a drawer instead of the traditional hinged door models.
Let’s look at the upsides and downsides of owning an under-the-counter microwave.
You don’t have to sacrifice counter space with an under-the-counter model.
These microwaves are also more accessible because you don’t have to be tall or reach over your head to use them. You will place food down into it instead of lifting it up.
It’s also convenient to open the drawer, stir a dish, then resume cooking.
In terms of design, an under-the-counter microwave offers a high-end look with a sleek, minimalist design because it is flush with the cabinetry.
Some models include safety locks if you’re worried about children accessing the controls.
Drawer-style models are expensive, especially if your kitchen wasn’t originally designed to include one. Most cost $1,000+ before installation. Other under-the-counter models will cost a few hundred.
Plus, you’ll have to factor in the cost of a professional installation. You may need to alter your cabinets and hire an electrician to install an additional plug.
In most cases, these microwaves are installed as the kitchen is being built or remodeled. But with some modifications, it’s possible to add one to an existing kitchen.
If you choose an under-the-counter option, you’ll also have fewer choices. The options are limited compared to countertop and over-the-range models.
In fact, Sharp holds several patents on drawer microwaves, so they are the only brand to make them (other brands offer drawer microwaves, but Sharp makes those).
Although under-the-counter microwaves save counter space, they take up drawer or cabinet space.
Regarding cleanup, if you spill something, it will fall onto the floor, and you’ll need a mop to clean it up. That can take more time and effort than wiping a spill from a countertop.
Built-in microwaves are more expensive than most models, but they offer a customized and seamless look that’s difficult to replicate with other types of microwaves.
The microwave is flush with cabinetry. It’s usually right above an oven or on a wall to itself.
Some built-ins have a traditional hinged door, while others have a drop-down door similar to an oven door.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of built-in microwaves.
You can install a built-in microwave anywhere in your kitchen — at eye level between your cabinets, in a kitchen wall, or over the oven.
Because you have a choice of placement, you can select the ideal height for your household.
A built-in microwave offers a sleek and custom look. And if you want it to blend in with the cabinetry, you can even have cabinet doors built to hide it when it is not in use.
One of the greatest perks? It frees up counter cabinet space.
The main downside of built-in microwaves is their expense. You need to consider the cost of the appliance plus installation.
According to HomeAdvisor, you’ll pay anywhere from $290-$5,000 to install a built-in microwave. The cost varies based on how much the cabinets need to be modified and whether electrical work is needed.
Modifying cabinets costs between $500 and $1,200 per linear foot, and adding outlets costs between $130 and $300.
Convection microwaves are similar to traditional microwaves because they heat food and liquids using electromagnetic waves.
However, they also have a heating element and a built-in fan that circulates hot air. The convection mode makes it possible to roast meat or bake cookies.
So, it is like having two appliances in one.
But what are the pros and cons of a convection microwave? Let’s explore them.
As mentioned, one of the greatest upsides to having a convection microwave is its dual usage. You can use it as a conventional microwave or a miniature oven.
Like a standard microwave, you can reheat, boil, and defrost, but you can also bake, roast, and make crispy foods like fries and chicken wings.
You can cook everything from TV dinners and frozen pizza to roasted chicken and muffins.
With a convection microwave, you also have precise temperature control options that you don’t get with a conventional microwave. You can pick an exact temperature versus just high or low settings.
If you have a busy lifestyle and need to save time, convection microwaves cook food quicker than conventional microwaves. Plus, food comes out crisp, browned, and more flavorful than a standard microwave can offer. It’s like using a traditional oven, but much faster.
You’ll pay more for a convection microwave than a traditional countertop microwave. However, there is a range of prices. Many are under $200, but some are well over $1,000.
And while traditional microwaves are simple to use, convection microwaves require a learning curve. You might accidentally burn food while learning the ideal cooking times and temperatures for the meals you cook.
There are multiple types of combination microwave ovens. Many offer a convection mode, but there are also models that grill, broil, and air fry.
It could be the perfect solution if you’re tired of juggling multiple appliances in your kitchen.
Let’s lay out the pros and cons of having a combination microwave.
These versatile appliances can function as a traditional microwave but can also:
- Air Fry
Many also offer a convection mode, making them an all-in-one appliance you can use instead of a conventional oven.
Microwave and oven combinations take up a lot of space you could otherwise use for storage.
The technology of these types of microwaves constantly improves, but to take advantage, you’ll need to buy a new model, which is costly.
And speaking of cost, combination microwaves are not cheap. So, be prepared to pay more than you would for a conventional countertop model.
If you choose a built-in combination microwave, you’ll need professional installation, which further increases the cost.
Wall oven and microwave combinations are two appliances stacked on top of each other, with the microwave usually on top. These units create a centralized area for baking, roasting, and reheating.
Although these appliances are one connected unit, the microwave and oven function separately with two doors.
The main advantage of wall oven and microwave combinations is that they streamline your kitchen’s look. Instead of having separate appliances in two areas of the kitchen, the oven and microwave are together.
In most cases, the microwave door swings down (just like a typical oven), which further unifies the look.
The biggest problem with wall oven and microwave combinations is that you have to replace both when one fails.
Compared to ovens, microwaves are cheaper, have a much shorter lifespan, and the technology evolves faster. So if your microwave breaks or you want to upgrade to the latest model, you’ll need to replace a perfectly good oven, too.
Additionally, because these are two-in-one units, they’re incredibly expensive.
Smart microwaves are the latest kitchen appliance to hit the market.
They provide many features promising to make your life easier, such as voice-activated controls and automatic cooking settings.
Let’s break down the pros and cons of a smart microwave.
These microwaves have smart features to help you prepare foods, monitor progress, and manage controls even when you are not in the same room with the appliance.
For example, here are some features of smart microwaves:
- Wi-fi connectivity
- Touchscreen interface
- App and voice assistant controls
- Programmed cooking
- Remote operation via a connected app
Most models offer customized cook times and have moisture sensors that prevent you from overcooking your food.
Smart microwaves are convenient, but the extra features mean extra cost. Although prices vary drastically by make and model, expect to pay more for the appliances with the most features.
Furthermore, when your wi-fi goes out, you’ll lose any functionality tied to its connectivity. And if you are not on a secure network, you risk your microwave getting hacked (even if that risk is low, it’s a possibility).
Now that you’ve learned the pros and cons of each type of microwave, the question is:
Which one is right for you?
Before I offer my advice, let’s quickly recap:
- Countertop microwaves are the most budget-friendly and are great if you have lots of counter space. Installation is as simple as plugging it in.
- Over-the-range microwaves function as microwaves, exhaust vents, and lighting for your cooking range. You’ll need a dedicated outlet and proper ventilation, which requires professional installation.
- Low-profile microwaves are great space savers because of their limited vertical height. They are typically placed over a range or under a cabinet or counter.
- Under-the-cabinet microwaves are similar to over-the-range models but are placed over a countertop instead.
- Under-the-counter microwaves are sometimes called drawer microwaves. They free up counter space and are more accessible.
- Built-in microwaves are some of the most expensive models because of the installation and customization options. Models are limited.
- Convection microwaves are two-in-one appliances that function as a microwave and a convection oven.
- Microwave and oven combinations offer lots of features like steaming and air frying.
- Wall oven and microwave combinations streamline the look of your kitchen, but when one fails, you have to replace both.
- Smart microwaves are wi-fi compatible and feature app and voice controls.
Bottom line — the right type of microwave depends on your budget, kitchen layout, and design preferences.
For example, over-the-range or under-the-counter models are the best options if counter space is limited. But a countertop model is better if you have plenty of counter space and limited cabinet space. Or, if you want a model that can perform multiple functions, a combination or smart microwave could be the best option.
I would not recommend buying a wall oven and microwave combination because microwaves and ovens have different lifespans, and replacing a working oven when the microwave fails (or vice versa) isn’t practical.
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