The keypad on the Panasonic NN-SE785S is a confusing jungle of icons, which makes it difficult to clearly identify functions. (Below, the icon that looks like weeping asterisks turns out to mean defrost, for example.) There’s not even a numerical pad to set the time for cooking; to do that, you have to go through an icon-based menu, then press an up or down arrow half a dozen times or more to set the time. Though it has a sleek design, our testers felt this model was unnecessarily complicated.
Over-the-range microwaves give you the convenience of quick reheating without sacrificing counter space. This 1.9-cubic-foot model from Whirlpool is available in multiple colors and finishes, including fingerprint-resistant stainless steel. Featuring 1,000 watts of power, it's also equipped with a 300 CFM ventilation system to keep odors and smoke from your cooktop under control. Customers particularly love the inclusion of the three-speed fan. Reviewers found installation to be fairly straightforward, but some noted that the instructions for all the settings aren't very clear.
This is a great microwave for power users who want complete control over their cooking — those often frustrated with overcooked leftovers or constantly sticking their finger in to check for cold spots. We didn’t mind spending a little extra time learning the features and extras we came to value, but it could be overkill for the average user looking for a familiar design.
Power settings are commonly implemented, not by actually varying the effect, but by repeatedly turning the power off and on. The highest setting thus represents continuous power. Defrost might represent power for two seconds followed by no power for five seconds. An audible warning such as a bell or a beeper is usually present to indicate that cooking has completed.
Performance aside, simply using this microwave is a lot of fun. The buttons and dials have a satisfyingly crisp click to them, similar to punching letters on a typewriter. The Breville also features some extra convenience with a designated noise level button for one-push incognito mode, and a button labeled “A Bit More” that adds 20 seconds to the cook time.
The most shocking revelation in all of our research was the fact that among the hundreds of microwaves for sale today, many have completely identical hardware. Like, exactly the same—except for slightly different keypads and brand-name badges. This is because most of the microwaves in the world are produced by only a handful of manufacturers. But we also learned that even if the housing looks exactly the same, the way the models are programmed can still make a big difference in performance between seemingly identical microwaves.
We looked for small microwaves around 0.5 cubic foot and midrange models between 0.9 and 1.6 cubic foot. Unless you really need a turntable big enough to spin a 13-by-9-inch casserole dish or two small plates, we found that models over 1.6 cubic foot had too big a footprint for most spaces. Most people use microwaves for reheating leftovers, so there’s no reason to have an oven cavity that’s large enough to fit a 20-pound turkey. That said, you’ll want to measure the diameter of your dinner plates before getting a microwave to be sure they’ll fit.
Consumer household microwaves usually come with a cooking power of 600 watts and up, with 1000 or 1200 watts on some models. The size of household microwaves can vary, but usually have an internal volume of around 20 liters (1,200 cu in; 0.71 cu ft), and external dimensions of approximately 45–60 cm (1 ft 6 in–2 ft 0 in) wide, 35–40 cm (1 ft 2 in–1 ft 4 in) deep and 25–35 cm (9.8 in–1 ft 1.8 in) tall.
Direct microwave exposure is not generally possible, as microwaves emitted by the source in a microwave oven are confined in the oven by the material out of which the oven is constructed. Furthermore, ovens are equipped with redundant safety interlocks, which remove power from the magnetron if the door is opened. This safety mechanism is required by United States federal regulations.[60] Tests have shown confinement of the microwaves in commercially available ovens to be so nearly universal as to make routine testing unnecessary.[61] According to the United States Food and Drug Administration's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, a U.S. Federal Standard limits the amount of microwaves that can leak from an oven throughout its lifetime to 5 milliwatts of microwave radiation per square centimeter at approximately 5 cm (2 in) from the surface of the oven.[62] This is far below the exposure level currently considered to be harmful to human health.[63]
We stuck to countertop microwaves in this guide because they're widely available and affordable, and don’t require any special installation. If you’re in the process of remodeling your kitchen, you might be looking for an over-the-range (OTR) microwave based on the dimensions that will fit the existing slot above your range. OTR microwaves feature a vent fan underneath the cooking chamber, with the option to send the air to a duct or recirculate it through a filter, depending on your kitchen’s configuration. While OTR models are an excellent way for homeowners to save counter space, they’re more expensive than most countertop models and must fit specific space constraints. We plan to review OTR microwaves in the near future.
Spinach retains nearly all its folate when cooked in a microwave; in comparison, it loses about 77% when boiled, leaching out nutrients. Bacon cooked by microwave has significantly lower levels of carcinogenic nitrosamines than conventionally cooked bacon.[44] Steamed vegetables tend to maintain more nutrients when microwaved than when cooked on a stovetop.[44] Microwave blanching is 3–4 times more effective than boiled water blanching in the retaining of the water-soluble vitamins folic acid, thiamin and riboflavin, with the exception of ascorbic acid, of which 28.8% is lost (vs. 16% with boiled water blanching).[47]

The Toshiba EM131A5C-BS handles all your basic tasks and balances counter space with a roomy capacity. Available in either black or silver stainless steel, this countertop microwave has an interior capacity of 1.2 cubic feet while measuring just over 20 inches wide and 17 inches long. Its 1,100 watts of power can be adjusted with 10 power settings, and customers agree that it cooks food evenly and quickly. The unit also is equipped with sensor cooking and two defrost settings, though some people found that not all of the pre-set cook modes worked as expected and the microwave defrosted too aggressively for some meats. Still, this Toshiba countertop microwave has a solid reputation for being easy to use and reliable.
Updates writer Eleanor Ford has used a secondhand Toshiba EM925A5A-BS for about seven months now. Even with the previous life of this microwave, our pick has lived up to its reputation. “It’s never failed to do what I expect a microwave to do, heats evenly, doesn't scorch, and is significantly more quiet than any other microwave I’ve used (including my parents’),” Eleanor said. They also noted that the small size allows the microwave to sit on a shelf rather than take up valuable counter space. Eleanor also said that the only notable downside is that they find it difficult to locate the kitchen timer button.
Direct microwave exposure is not generally possible, as microwaves emitted by the source in a microwave oven are confined in the oven by the material out of which the oven is constructed. Furthermore, ovens are equipped with redundant safety interlocks, which remove power from the magnetron if the door is opened. This safety mechanism is required by United States federal regulations.[60] Tests have shown confinement of the microwaves in commercially available ovens to be so nearly universal as to make routine testing unnecessary.[61] According to the United States Food and Drug Administration's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, a U.S. Federal Standard limits the amount of microwaves that can leak from an oven throughout its lifetime to 5 milliwatts of microwave radiation per square centimeter at approximately 5 cm (2 in) from the surface of the oven.[62] This is far below the exposure level currently considered to be harmful to human health.[63]

Microwave ovens heat food without getting hot themselves. Taking a pot off a stove, unless it is an induction cooktop, leaves a potentially dangerous heating element or trivet that will stay hot for some time. Likewise, when taking a casserole out of a conventional oven, one's arms are exposed to the very hot walls of the oven. A microwave oven does not pose this problem.


Like most microwaves we tested, the Toshiba wasn’t great at defrosting meat. This model doesn’t beep to remind you to flip the meat halfway through heating, so if you forget, the results are pretty unappetizing. The ground beef we attempted to defrost in this Toshiba remained partially frozen in the center, while the edges were slightly cooked. For that reason, we don’t ever recommend using a microwave for defrosting meat unless you absolutely have to. It’s always best to thaw meat in the fridge or under cold running water. That said, we still think the defrost mode is great for quickly thawing frozen bread or bagels.

With a capacity of 2.2 cubic feet, the stainless steel GE Profile microwave boasts a smooth easy-to-clean control panel and a large interior, making it a great model for big families. Seriously, you can heat an entire casserole or pizza on the 16-inch turntable and still have plenty of room to spare. It cooks evenly so you won't find a cold spot in the middle of your ziti and delivers perfectly steamed veggies.
Any object containing pointed metal can create an electric arc (sparks) when microwaved. This includes cutlery, crumpled aluminium foil (though some foil used in microwaves is safe, see below), twist-ties containing metal wire, the metal wire carry-handles in paper Chinese take-out food containers, or almost any metal formed into a poorly conductive foil or thin wire, or into a pointed shape.[57] Forks are a good example: the tines of the fork respond to the electric field by producing high concentrations of electric charge at the tips. This has the effect of exceeding the dielectric breakdown of air, about 3 megavolts per meter (3×106 V/m). The air forms a conductive plasma, which is visible as a spark. The plasma and the tines may then form a conductive loop, which may be a more effective antenna, resulting in a longer lived spark. When dielectric breakdown occurs in air, some ozone and nitrogen oxides are formed, both of which are unhealthy in large quantities.
Direct microwave exposure is not generally possible, as microwaves emitted by the source in a microwave oven are confined in the oven by the material out of which the oven is constructed. Furthermore, ovens are equipped with redundant safety interlocks, which remove power from the magnetron if the door is opened. This safety mechanism is required by United States federal regulations.[60] Tests have shown confinement of the microwaves in commercially available ovens to be so nearly universal as to make routine testing unnecessary.[61] According to the United States Food and Drug Administration's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, a U.S. Federal Standard limits the amount of microwaves that can leak from an oven throughout its lifetime to 5 milliwatts of microwave radiation per square centimeter at approximately 5 cm (2 in) from the surface of the oven.[62] This is far below the exposure level currently considered to be harmful to human health.[63]
Here at the Strategist, we like to think of ourselves as crazy (in the good way) about the stuff we buy, but as much as we’d like to, we can’t try everything. Which is why we have People’s Choice, in which we find the best-reviewed products and single out the most convincing ones. (You can learn more about our rating system and how we pick each item here.)

Modern microwave ovens use either an analog dial-type timer or a digital control panel for operation. Control panels feature an LED, liquid crystal or vacuum fluorescent display, in the 90s brands such as Panasonic and GE began offering models with a scrolling-text display showing cooking instructions, numeric buttons for entering the cook time, a power level selection feature and other possible functions such as a defrost setting and pre-programmed settings for different food types, such as meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, frozen vegetables, frozen dinners, and popcorn.
All microwaves use this same core technology, but today, there are many models available that come with a variety of additional features. For instance, many products have pre-programmed settings to cook common foods, as well as various cooking methods, such as steaming and grilling. Depending on what size and features you want, you can spend anywhere from $20 to $2,000 on a new microwave. 
The effect of microwaving thin metal films can be seen clearly on a Compact Disc or DVD (particularly the factory pressed type). The microwaves induce electric currents in the metal film, which heats up, melting the plastic in the disc and leaving a visible pattern of concentric and radial scars. Similarly, porcelain with thin metal films can also be destroyed or damaged by microwaving. Aluminium foil is thick enough to be used in microwave ovens as a shield against heating parts of food items, if the foil is not badly warped. When wrinkled, aluminium foil is generally unsafe in microwaves, as manipulation of the foil causes sharp bends and gaps that invite sparking. The USDA recommends that aluminium foil used as a partial food shield in microwave cooking cover no more than one quarter of a food object, and be carefully smoothed to eliminate sparking hazards.[58]
Panasonic uses a supposedly superior power-regulating mechanism called an inverter, which can deliver continuous heating at varying strengths—50 percent power, for example, means continuous delivery at 50 percent of the unit’s max. Most other manufacturers use a cheaper and more common technology, a transformer, which means that it delivers 50 percent power by cycling between periods of full power and zero power. Panasonic’s inverter technology is supposed to cook more evenly, but Franke told us, “I’ve never found that [an inverter] necessarily means the oven performs better.” The Panasonic models we tested cooked potatoes and frozen meals well, but they overcooked the edges of frozen ground beef using the defrost mode. In the end, we don’t think paying more specifically for inverter technology is worth it.
The second problem is due to food composition and geometry, and must be addressed by the cook, by arranging the food so that it absorbs energy evenly, and periodically testing and shielding any parts of the food that overheat. In some materials with low thermal conductivity, where dielectric constant increases with temperature, microwave heating can cause localized thermal runaway. Under certain conditions, glass can exhibit thermal runaway in a microwave to the point of melting.[41]
Any form of cooking will destroy some nutrients in food, but the key variables are how much water is used in the cooking, how long the food is cooked, and at what temperature.[44] Nutrients are primarily lost by leaching into cooking water, which tends to make microwave cooking healthier, given the shorter cooking times it requires.[45] Like other heating methods, microwaving converts vitamin B12 from an active to inactive form; the amount of conversion depends on the temperature reached, as well as the cooking time. Boiled food reaches a maximum of 100 °C (212 °F) (the boiling point of water), whereas microwaved food can get locally hotter than this, leading to faster breakdown of vitamin B12. The higher rate of loss is partially offset by the shorter cooking times required.[46]
Frequently used microwaves need to be cleaned at least once per week, because any food remnants stuck to the walls can get overheated and cause damage to the microwave itself. A simple trick (courtesy of Wirecutter deputy editor Christine Cyr Clisset) is to nuke a bowl of water for a few minutes on high: The steam will loosen most gunk, and you can wipe it out with just a plain paper towel or a sponge. For cleaning the outside of a microwave, Good Housekeeping recommends spraying cleaner onto a towel and not on the actual surface, where it can get into the perforations and damage the internal elements.
“What is microwave radiation? Is it dangerous? Are microwaves safe?” We see these questions a lot, so let’s clear it up once and for all: this type of electromagnetic radiation can be dangerous at high levels, but we’ve been using microwaves for decades, and it’s never been a problem. This is because, from the mesh door to the locking mechanism, microwaves are specifically sealed to prevent radiation from escaping, and the design works really, really well. However, if your oven door is damaged or if you think something is wrong, call a contractor and have them test radiation levels. It only takes a few seconds, and then you’ll know for sure.
The most shocking revelation in all of our research was the fact that among the hundreds of microwaves for sale today, many have completely identical hardware. Like, exactly the same—except for slightly different keypads and brand-name badges. This is because most of the microwaves in the world are produced by only a handful of manufacturers. But we also learned that even if the housing looks exactly the same, the way the models are programmed can still make a big difference in performance between seemingly identical microwaves.
The AmazonBasics Microwave brings Alexa voice control to the kitchen, so you can call up cooking times, power levels, and even popcorn reorders via Amazon Dash Replenishment. We’re skeptical about the usefulness of features that you can otherwise do with one finger, and the 700-watt model’s 0.7-cubic-foot capacity won’t heat foods as fast as our top pick and may be too small for some people.
Another hazard is the resonance of the magnetron tube itself. If the microwave is run without an object to absorb the radiation, a standing wave will form. The energy is reflected back and forth between the tube and the cooking chamber. This may cause the tube to overload and burn out. High reflected power may also cause magnetron arcing, possibly resulting in primary power fuse failure, though such a causal relationship isn't easily established. Thus, dehydrated food, or food wrapped in metal which does not arc, is problematic for overload reasons, without necessarily being a fire hazard.
This affordable microwave receives high praises for its compact size. “It works excellently, had a small footprint so it fits perfect on our countertop,” one reviewer writes. “It’s fairly small but very well constructed. Especially if you don’t have tons of space in the kitchen.” While some purchase the appliance for college dorms or small apartments, one reviewer shares it’s a great size for the office: “We needed a microwave that fit in a fairly small space. This one fit the bill. It is used on a regular basis here at work, and we have had no problems with it to date.” While it lacks the bells and whistles of other, more expensive models, such as sensor technology and “softening butter” presets, “if you are looking for a simple microwave, this is it,” writes one commenter.

To find out what makes a great microwave, we spoke to Sharon Franke, former director of the Kitchen Appliances and Technology Lab at Good Housekeeping; appliance expert Chris Zeisler of RepairClinic.com; cookbook author Leslie Bilderback, who wrote Mug Cakes: 100 Speedy Microwave Treats to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth; and product managers at both Panasonic and GE. We also read reviews from Good Housekeeping and CNET.


For convenience in the kitchen, nothing beats the microwave, which allows you to cook and reheat food from the inside out. After more than 100 hours of research and testing, we think that the Toshiba EM925A5A-BS is the best microwave for most kitchen counters. It’s easy to operate, has a number of express cooking options that heat food quickly and evenly, and even has a mute button so you can cook in silence.
It’s a good idea to clean your microwave regularly, even if you clean up spills or splatters here and there. To clean the inside, heat a microwave-safe bowl filled with water and a tablespoon of vinegar (white or apple cider will work) for several minutes. You want the inside to get steamy without the bowl of water to boiling over. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes before opening the door. Then, wipe the inside clean with a paper towel or use an abrasive sponge for any stuck-on food. Remove the turntable and either wash it by hand or in the dishwasher. Use an all-purpose cleaner for the exterior, but spray onto a paper towel or sponge first—not directly onto the microwave—to avoid it getting into the venting system. You should also avoid using bleach in your microwave.

Next, we tried defrosting a 1-pound portion of frozen ground beef in each microwave, using the automatic defrost setting on the models that had this feature. Some units gave prompts to flip the meat, which we did. When the time was up, we broke apart each block of meat with a fork to see if it was completely defrosted. None of the microwaves were particularly great at this task. Every model at least slightly cooked the edges of the ground beef we attempted to defrost. (Best practice is to slowly thaw meat in the fridge, or relatively quickly under cold running water.)
However, unlike the smaller model, this Toshiba has a learning curve to navigating the other controls. When you hit the sensor reheat button on the control panel, you’re given the option of choosing between several cryptic codes. By consulting the legend on the inside of the microwave, you’ll discover that these codes correspond to various commands: reheat, frozen pizza, frozen entree. Oddly, several of these commands already have their own buttons on the control panel, which means there are two ways to perform the same action. The Soften/Melt button also has a jumble of codes you have to scroll through, and you’ll need to refer to the legend if you want to decipher what they mean. While we didn’t find these commands intuitive, we don’t think they’re a dealbreaker since most people won’t use them that much anyway.
For years, there wasn't much innovation in microwave technology — that is, up until Amazon introduced its own AmazonBasics microwave that works with Alexa. Now, you can use your voice to command your appliance to heat foods and the built-in tech will know exactly how long and at what power level to use. It's also the most affordable microwave you can buy.

Toshiba makes microwaves in other sizes too: 1.2, 1.5, and 1.6 cubic foot, all of which have slightly different internal parts and control panels. However, after testing the 0.9 and 1.2 cubic foot models for this guide, we think the former is the best for most people because it’s simpler to use and takes up less space. You can’t fit a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish in the cavity of the 0.9-cubic-foot unit, but its 10.5-inch turntable is still wide enough to fit an 11-inch dinner plate or a 9-inch square casserole dish. At 900 watts, the 0.9-cubic-foot Toshiba also packs a lot of power for its size. It measures 19.1 by 16.1 by 11.5 inches, so it’s a nice midsize option that falls in between the two other microwaves we recommend. And while we realize the control panel looks straight out of the ’90s, the microwave is available in a stainless steel or black stainless steel exterior, so it will fit the aesthetic of most kitchens.


If you’re looking for a traditional microwave that won’t disappoint, this is our recommendation. It’s standard in visual design, and its 1.1 cubic feet internal capacity strikes a nice balance between conserving space and still fitting a reasonable amount of food. It won’t be the centerpiece of your kitchen; rather, it will simply blend in and do its job reliably well.
Direct microwave exposure is not generally possible, as microwaves emitted by the source in a microwave oven are confined in the oven by the material out of which the oven is constructed. Furthermore, ovens are equipped with redundant safety interlocks, which remove power from the magnetron if the door is opened. This safety mechanism is required by United States federal regulations.[60] Tests have shown confinement of the microwaves in commercially available ovens to be so nearly universal as to make routine testing unnecessary.[61] According to the United States Food and Drug Administration's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, a U.S. Federal Standard limits the amount of microwaves that can leak from an oven throughout its lifetime to 5 milliwatts of microwave radiation per square centimeter at approximately 5 cm (2 in) from the surface of the oven.[62] This is far below the exposure level currently considered to be harmful to human health.[63]

Microwaves generated in microwave ovens cease to exist once the electrical power is turned off. They do not remain in the food when the power is turned off, any more than light from an electric lamp remains in the walls and furnishings of a room when the lamp is turned off. They do not make the food or the oven radioactive. Compared to conventional cooking, the nutritional content of some foods may be altered differently, but generally in a positive way by preserving more micronutrients - see above. There is no indication of detrimental health issues associated with microwaved food.[66]


The best size microwave for you will depend on how much space you have available and how much food you'll need to heat up at a time. If your space is limited or you're only heating food for one person, a 0.5 cubic-foot model may be a good choice. If you're furnishing a gourmet kitchen, you may want a 2.5 cubic-foot combination microwave-convection oven.
A microwave’s wattage tells you how much power it has, and more wattage means your food will cook faster and more evenly. You’ll typically see microwaves between 500 and 1,200 watts. Be aware that microwaves with fewer than 700 watts are generally underpowered and add time to the cooking process. These models are a good option for people limited by a budget, looking to save space, or willing to wait a few extra minutes. If you want a fully functional microwave to cook meat and vegetables, look for models with 1,000 watts or more.

Countertop microwaves are some of the most popular models, and there are many options to choose from. They are quick and easy to install—just plug them in—and you can move them around as needed, making them a top choice for renters. The main downside of countertop microwaves is that they take up valuable counter space, which can be frustrating if you have a small kitchen. 
Here at the Strategist, we like to think of ourselves as crazy (in the good way) about the stuff we buy, but as much as we’d like to, we can’t try everything. Which is why we have People’s Choice, in which we find the best-reviewed products and single out the most convincing ones. (You can learn more about our rating system and how we pick each item here.)
Volume control is one of the best extra features a microwave can have, but it’s pretty rare. Some models allow you to mute the beeping, but few microwaves let you adjust the actual volume. We also prefer models that stop beeping when the oven door is opened. It’s a small perk but one that many of our testers appreciated, particularly those who find the beeping annoying.
If you want a smaller microwave that still offers plenty of power, then this 1.1-cubic-feet, 1000-watt option from Samsung is a great pick. Customers love the modern black color scheme and the brushed stainless steel handle. The design of the control panel is also unique because it combines digital controls with a metal dial. The ceramic enamel interior is designed to wipe clean easily and resist grease, oil, and scratches. Online reviewers appreciate the unique LED display and say that one of the microwave's highlights is Eco mode, which allows you to turn the digital display off to conserve energy. One downside is that the microwave can be quite loud, according to current owners.
Microwave ovens don’t actually deliver heat to a food item the way a conventional oven does (via heated air); they work by using microwave energy to cause the water and other simple molecules in food to rapidly vibrate, which generates internal friction at the molecular level, heating the food from within. That’s why microwave ovens can heat things so quickly, and why they’re so good at steaming vegetables in their own juices—they don’t rely on the slow and uneven process of transferring heat energy from the air, the way a conventional oven does. But the microwaves aren’t delivered evenly, the way heated air in a conventional oven is. That’s why microwave trays rotate: so that, ideally, every section of the food item gets equal treatment. But the world doesn’t operate on ideals, and neither do microwave ovens. Almost inevitably, you’ll get hotter spots near the center of the oven, which may or may not matter depending on the size of the thing you’re microwaving.

From the late 1970s, Japanese companies such as Sharp Corporation manufactured low-cost microwave ovens that were affordable for residential use, leading to the rapid expansion of the microwave oven market in the 1980s. After Japanese dominance for much of the 1980s, with Sharp as market leader, South Korean manufacturers began entering the market in the late 1980s, with Samsung becoming a major microwave manufacturer.[18]

×