A Whirlpool® microwave installed over a gas range

How do microwaves work to cook your food?

From making popcorn on movie night to a quick reheat of yesterday’s leftovers, microwaves are a kitchen staple that help keep your day moving. Learn how they use electromagnetic waves to heat food, as well as different methods to prepare food in the microwave and key information about microwave safety.

How do microwave ovens work?

A diagram showing how microwaves work A diagram showing how microwaves work

Microwaves cook by causing the molecules in food to vibrate, which creates heat. The different parts of a microwave work together to cook food properly. There are 3 contributing factors to this process:

  1. A main component called a magnetron generates electromagnetic waves inside the microwave.
  2. These waves pulse back and forth through the microwave’s interior.
  3. The waves then bounce off the interior's metal walls to penetrate and heat food.
A hand selecting a popcorn setting on a microwave A hand selecting a popcorn setting on a microwave

How do microwaves cook food in comparison to ovens?

Microwaves cook by using electromagnetic waves, which are absorbed into the molecules of water, sugar and fat in food. This action causes them to vibrate, which creates heat to cook food fairly evenly, from the inside out. Learn more about the history of the microwave and how this technology was first invented.

Convection microwaves do this as well, but also have another function that lets you use your microwave in a similar way to a small oven. In a microwave convection oven combo, an extra heating element and fan circulate hot air around the cavity, letting you bake and roast foods like a green bean casserole or a whole chicken right in the microwave. Learn more about convection microwave cooking.

In comparison, conventional ovens use hot, dry air to cook food via conduction, from the outside in. This migration of heat from the outside of food towards the center allows for a crisp exterior, while keeping the interior moist. Learn more about the differences between microwaves and convection ovens.

Cooking tip: Lean on your microwave to reheat, boil, melt, steam and more. Some microwave models even offer Steam Cooking, letting you make foods like microwave eggs, rice, steamed vegetables, green beans and fish.Learn how to use your microwave properly for steaming. Microwaves with Sensor Cooking track progress and automatically adjust cook times so you don’t have to. And to get the most out of your kitchen, learn how to properly defrost everything from proteins to produce in your microwave.

A Whirlpool® microwave installed over a range A Whirlpool® microwave installed over a range

Microwave safety

Whirlpool brand microwaves are certified and meet safety performance standards. When used in accordance to Whirlpool’s owners manual that includes important safety, operating, care and cleaning instructions, microwave ovens are safe for use.

However, it is important to choose microwave-safe containers when cooking food, as there are safety issues with some materials. Learn what materials you can and can’t microwave and how to determine if glass is microwave safe. Cleaning up food splatters and greasy smudges on your microwave is another simple step that can help maintain it and keep your kitchen looking its best. Explore step-by-step instructions on how to clean your microwave inside and out and even learn how to clean a microwave filter.

Selection tip: There are multiple microwave types to fit any kitchen and lifestyle. Get the flexibility you need with countertop models that can sit on the counter or be installed into a cabinet using a trim kit. Over-the-range models free up counter space while providing venting and lighting for your cooktop surface. In particular, Low Profile Microwave Hood Combinations offer a two-in-one solution that not only fits and vents like a hood1, but also frees up counter space. Learn more about choosing the right microwave for your family.

Find the right fit for your kitchen

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1. Based on 24" minimum install for undercabinet hoods and Low Profile Microwave Hood Combination.
2. Steam accessory available separately.