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Microwave buying guide: how to choose in 3 steps

Are you thinking about buying a microwave? Whether you’re replacing an older model, moving to a new place or remodeling your kitchen, you’ll want to find the best microwave for your space, your family and your budget. If you’re not sure where to start, don’t worry – this guide can help you find a microwave in three easy steps to help you prepare your family’s favorite foods quickly and easily.

Black and silver countertop microwave with dimension markers infographic Black and silver countertop microwave with dimension markers infographic

Step 1: Find the right microwave size

When it comes to kitchen appliances, microwaves can vary distinctly when it comes to size, shape and installation options. Before you buy a new microwave, consider what size is the best fit for your home.

Specifications

Artisan® Series 5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer Artisan® Series 5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer Artisan® Series 5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer
Microwave Size Small Standard Large
Microwave Capacity 0.5 cu. ft. - 0.9 cu. ft. 1.0 cu. ft. - 1.6 cu. ft. 1.7 cu. ft. - 2.2+ cu. ft.
Family Size 1-2 2-4 4+
Typical Use Day-to-day essentials like reheating single-serving meals and ingredient prep Reheating dinner plates and cooking medium sized dishes for family meals Defrosting, cooking or reheating large dishes or multiple dishes at once

Microwave dimensions

Microwave dimensions measure a microwave’s height, width and depth, helping you determine if your space can accommodate the appliance you have in mind. Some configurations—like small countertop microwaves—require as little as 10–11 inches of height, 15–18 inches of width and 12–16 inches of depth. Larger models are usually found in over-the-range and built-in configurations, measuring anywhere from 10–22 inches high, 24–30 inches wide and 15–25 inches deep.

Green plate of nachos inside over-the-range microwave Green plate of nachos inside over-the-range microwave

Family size

In addition to the size of your kitchen, you may also want to take the size of your family into account. Unlike built-in or over-the-range models, some countertop microwaves won’t accommodate casserole dishes, platters and other larger serveware. On average, microwaves range in capacity from 0.7 cu. ft., which is suitable for most dinner plates, to 2.2 cu. ft., which is a better size for bigger cookware. It's important to consider what capacity you need to fit your dishes and suit your cooking needs.

Typical use

Before you decide on a microwave, think about how you typically use it. If you have a larger family or frequently entertain, you may want to invest in a larger microwave that lets you defrost, cook and reheat larger dishes.

Selection tip: Wattage is another important factor when choosing a microwave to fit your family's needs. Wattage indicates cooking power, with most models ranging from 500-1200 watts. The higher the wattage the more quickly it cooks foods. Most microwaves also offer a defrost setting that lowers the power between 20 and 30 percent. Learn more about safely defrosting foods in the microwave.

Over-the-range microwave above electric stove in light blue cabinetry Over-the-range microwave above electric stove in light blue cabinetry

Step 2: Select the best microwave type for your kitchen

Once you’ve decided on the right size, the next step in buying a microwave is figuring out which type is best for your family. Consider that microwave styles and installation options have changed drastically over the years and now include:

Type of Microwave

Installation Requirements

Average Size (in.)

Benefits

Countertop No installation required Height: 10" - 15"
Width: 15" - 25"
Depth: 12" - 20"
  • Flexible placement
  • Lower price point
  • Variety of capacities and features
Over-the-range Existing space over the range with ventilation capabilities and electrical connections Height: 17" (10" low profile)
Width: 30" (24" compact)
Depth: 15" - 18"
  • Vent air from the cooktop
  • Clear up counter space
  • Available in low profile models
Built-in Properly sized cabinet opening with dedicated circuit of 240V at 60Hz Height: 17" - 22"
Width: 24", 27" or 30"
Depth: 20" - 25"
  • Premium look and feel
  • High end features
  • Free up space on countertop and above range
Silver and black countertop microwave from Whirlpool brand cooking food Silver and black countertop microwave from Whirlpool brand cooking food

Countertop microwaves

These microwaves are easy to move and install – simply place them on your counter and plug them into a regular wall outlet. Some countertop microwaves—like select Whirlpool® microwaves—even come with trim kits that allow them to be converted into built-in models. Countertop microwaves can be an economical choice, and they come in a variety of sizes.

Low profile microwave from Whirlpool brand in brown cabinetry Low profile microwave from Whirlpool brand in brown cabinetry

Over-the-range microwaves

These microwaves combine two appliances into one by replacing your stove’s range hood, making them a great microwave option for freeing up counter space. These microwaves can come with convenient features, like sensor cooking on select Whirlpool® over-the-range microwaves, that make reheating even easier. Featured in this category are low profile microwaves, which have a sleek design, roomy interior, and provide more space above your cooktop.

Whirlpool brand combination wall oven and microwave with food inside Whirlpool brand combination wall oven and microwave with food inside

Built-in microwaves

Built-in microwaves, like wall ovens, are usually installed in a wall or among cabinets. Available in a range of sizes and power levels, built-in microwaves like these ones from Whirlpool brand are an excellent way to save space on your countertop. However, they do require professional installation – something important to consider when you’re buying a microwave.

Consider your layout when buying a microwave

Your kitchen’s layout is also an important factor – countertop microwaves may work for more spacious kitchens, while an over-the-range or built-in model may help maximize space in more compact areas. Over-the-range microwaves also feature fans and vents to help clear the air around your cooktop.

Close-up of microwave touch screen Close-up of microwave touch screen

Step 3: Microwave features to look for

Once you’ve decided on a kitchen microwave style that matches your layout, take some time to decide which features you need, such as pre-programmed settings, convection options or smart technology. Learn more about convection microwave cooking.

Smart technology

Microwaves with smart technology let you monitor cooking from your smartphone or other connected devices, helping you keep an eye on dinner from anywhere in the house.1

Convection cooking

Convection microwaves use an extra heating element and fan that help you bake or roast foods right in the microwave. If you often find yourself short on oven space, microwaves with convection cooking can make it easier to crisp or brown multiple dishes at once.

Person selecting settings on over-the-range microwave touch pad Person selecting settings on over-the-range microwave touch pad

Steam cooking

Prepare foods like vegetables, rice or fish in the microwave using steam cooking options. This microwave pre-set can often replace bulky cooktop steamers that are awkward or inconvenient during meal prep.

Fingerprint-resistant exterior

Often available in stainless or black stainless finishes, fingerprint-resistant exteriors are quick to wipe down and help prevent fingerprints and smudges from mucking up the microwave.

Close-up of microwave settings screen Close-up of microwave settings screen

Sensor cooking

Microwaves with sensor cooking track the cooking progress of foods inside and automatically adjust cook times to ensure food is ready to serve.

Tap touch controls

Without raised edges or curves to navigate, tap touch controls are as seamless to clean as they are to use. These controls can also add to a sleek aesthetic in the kitchen. 

If you’re trying to shop on a budget, you may find that buying a microwave with more basic functions is less expensive than purchasing one with high end features. No matter what you choose, make sure that your microwave can be easily used by everyone.

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Whatever the cooking task, find a Whirlpool® microwave to match

Whirlpool brand’s selection of kitchen microwaves includes countertop, built-in, over-the-range and low profile options with features that help make cooking and clean up fast and simple. No matter which model you need, you're sure to find the right fit for your family. Explore top picks, as well as our complete collection to find the right microwave for your home.

Learn more about Whirlpool® microwaves

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1 Whirlpool® appliance must be set to remote enable. WiFi & App Required. Features subject to change. Details and privacy info at whirlpool.com/connect.