The 4 Best Microwaves of 2024 | Reviews by Wirecutter

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Most countertop microwaves are basically the same. China Hot Air Fryer and Mechanical Air Fryer price

The 4 Best Microwaves of 2024 | Reviews by Wirecutter

Really. Most of them are just variations of the same cheap-but-decent machine, built by the same manufacturer (Midea) in the same factory with the same core components. You can’t count on any to last for more than a handful of years before a crucial part breaks and it becomes unusable.

The Toshiba EM131A5C stands out a little from this mass of low-cost clones simply because it looks nicer and has a few useful features that you don’t usually get at this price.

This midsize microwave looks better and has a few more useful features—including a mute option, automatic reheating, and a door handle instead of a button—than similar ovens.

If your countertops are a little tight on space or you want to save some money, this slightly smaller version of our favorite Toshiba works well and has most of the same great features.

This is the only countertop microwave we tested that clearly outperformed the mass of cheaper models, and it doesn’t have a handle. Otherwise, the features and controls are pretty similar.

A handle is easier to clean and less likely to break than a push-button design, but harder for some people to use.

Speed and consistent heating cost more, but if you’re mainly reheating leftovers or making popcorn, you won’t need them.

Most microwaves are low-cost clones—small features like mute buttons and auto-reheat are what set better ones apart.

The average lifespan of a microwave is six to eight years, but many break sooner than that.

This midsize microwave looks better and has a few more useful features—including a mute option, automatic reheating, and a door handle instead of a button—than similar ovens.

If your countertops are a little tight on space or you want to save some money, this slightly smaller version of our favorite Toshiba works well and has most of the same great features.

The Toshiba EM131A5C is usually the most affordable microwave that has a full stainless (or black stainless) front finish, rather than the typical glossy black plastic with partial stainless trim. This model also has a door handle, which is easier to open and to clean than the button-style release on most cheap microwaves. Best of all, you can mute the microwave—a rare feature that lets you stealthily reheat midnight snacks without waking up the rest of the house. Like most microwaves, the Toshiba also has a number of express-cooking options, and it heats food quickly and pretty evenly.

You could also consider the Toshiba ML2-EM25PAE. It has most of the same features as the EM131A5C, but it’s a bit smaller and doesn’t have a sensor for auto-heating modes.

But these Toshiba microwaves likely won’t work better or last any longer than other microwaves you’ll find for a similar price. There’s a ton of evidence that they’re essentially the same microwaves as most models sold by GE, Whirlpool, Sharp, Amazon, Magic Chef, Black+Decker—the list goes on.

This is the only countertop microwave we tested that clearly outperformed the mass of cheaper models, and it doesn’t have a handle. Otherwise, the features and controls are pretty similar.

Okay, not all microwaves are carbon copies of one another. Panasonic still makes some of its own ovens, and the models with inverters are really good, including the midsize Panasonic NN-SN67HS. In our testing, it heated faster and more evenly than every other microwave. We aren’t convinced that the Panasonics will last any longer than the mass of cheap Midea clones, and if you’re just making popcorn and reheating leftovers, you might not notice the superior performance anyway. The core microwave comes in most of the common sizes, from compact to extra-large, and in a few different finishes and control styles.

Writer Liam McCabe covered appliances for Wirecutter. Michael Sullivan is a Wirecutter senior staff writer who covers kitchen equipment, including toaster ovens, air fryers, and food processors.

We’ve been evaluating microwaves since 2014. For this guide, we did the following:

A microwave is the quickest way to warm up leftovers and drinks, and it’s the method of choice for heating Lean Cuisine entrées and Hot Pockets, popping bags of Orville Redenbacher, and preparing other prepackaged, heavily engineered delights. Microwaves offer an easy way to steam vegetables and to melt chocolate or butter. Some people even know how to cook full meals from scratch in a microwave (a trend back in the ’80s, sort of like Instant Pot meals today).

Microwaves are cheap and versatile, so it’s no surprise that most people have one—specific estimates (PDF) can vary, but at least 90 percent of US households have one, and that’s not even counting all the workplaces that have microwaves.

We focused on countertop microwaves in this guide because, frankly, that’s the kind most people seem to be looking for when they Google “best microwaves.” We have a separate guide to over-the-range microwaves, if that’s what you’re after.

We found evidence that most countertop microwaves sold in the US are manufactured by just one company, Midea. We confirmed with Midea that it makes and sells Toshiba, Comfee, and Black+Decker ovens. We’re also confident that GE, Whirlpool, Sharp, Breville, Insignia, Magic Chef, Hamilton Beach, and others also sell microwaves that were originally built and probably designed in large part by Midea, though all parties that we contacted declined to comment. But here’s why we think Midea is the original manufacturer.

The first clue is that at a given capacity, there are usually at least four different models with the same wattage and dimensions. They have identical contours inside the oven and identical patterns in their ventilation grates, too. They sometimes have the same FCC ID (to be sold in the US, any piece of hardware that can create radio interference, like a magnetron, needs one). And some of them say plainly on the rear label that they’re manufactured by Midea.

Import records (which are public information) also confirm that Midea supplies microwaves to those brands.

We took the covers off of some microwaves (please don’t do this at home), and the similarities were even more striking: Many of them use the same magnetron (the key component in the oven that creates the actual microwaves), transformer, and capacitor. We usually found a Midea logo printed on the interior-facing side of the control panel, too.

Some brand representatives we spoke with said generally that they work with a “factory partner,” though none would confirm a relationship with Midea specifically.

None of this is to say that all microwaves are truly identical. Although the cheapest models are essentially generic ovens designed and assembled by Midea, some brands do play a part in their microwave designs.

A Breville representative told us that although the company uses some of its factory partner’s standard components (without explicitly confirming or denying that the partner is Midea), it is “actively involved in component design and fabrication,” a process that often includes visiting sub-suppliers and working directly with tool makers on various components. Breville also performs “additional quality control measures above and beyond the standards normally used by our factory partner.”

GE (again without confirming a relationship with Midea) told us that it’s also involved in some of the aspects of the design and does additional quality-control testing.

Even among microwaves that are intended to be identical, Schiffmann said there can still be functional differences from unit to unit. But for the most part, you can expect the Midea-made microwaves from all the brands we’ve listed, of a given size and power rating, to be very similar.

What about the other microwave suppliers? Galanz is purported to be the world’s other mega-microwave-manufacturer (and it’s based about a 30-minute drive away from Midea). Galanz may have a big foothold worldwide (40 percent as of 2013, according to the book Brand Breakout), but it seems to have a small share of the American market these days, mostly supplying bottom-tier brands like RCA. LG and Samsung each make their own microwaves. Panasonic makes its own mid-range and high-end countertop units, though its budget models seem to be made by Midea.

Our goal is to recommend countertop microwaves in each of the most common sizes, and those with the most useful controls and cooking features, and preferably decent performance and reliability.

More than 100 microwaves were available when we conducted testing, but because many of them are copies of one another, we narrowed our test group and tested 18 of them.

You should get whatever size you need, depending on your cookware and counter or shelf space.

We chose to focus first on midsize microwaves because they seem to be the best-sellers at most retailers. They have enough capacity (1.1 to 1.4 cubic feet) to easily fit a common 12-inch dinner plate or 9-inch square casserole dish with handles, but they have a small-enough footprint (about 2 square feet) that they’ll fit on most countertops. They usually claim to have around 1,000 watts of cooking power, which is what the cooking directions on packaged foods are calibrated for, so you shouldn’t have to fiddle with the cook times too much.

We also looked closely at several compact microwaves, which have 0.7 cubic feet of capacity. They have a physical footprint that’s about 25 percent smaller than that of a midsize model, but they still have enough room inside to fit most dinner plates. Compact microwaves are popular with people who have a small kitchen or live in a dorm room, and also with those who don’t want to spend much on a microwave. The downside is that they have only 700 watts of cooking power, and we’ve found that you’ll usually have to cook for about 30 percent longer to heat food as thoroughly as with a larger, stronger microwave.

Bigger models are widely available, too—as large as 2.2 cubic feet, with twice the physical footprint of a compact model and plenty of room for a 13-by-9-inch casserole dish with handles. Most people won’t need such a big machine, and as such, most brands don’t use their best-looking designs or coolest features for these extra-large monsters. But these microwaves typically use the same core components as midsize models and will perform similarly. (Larger models tend to have higher advertised wattage, though they often use the same power supply. We’re not certain why this is the case, but it could have something to do with the fungible nature of power ratings in microwaves.) But where it’s relevant, we’ve linked to some large and extra-large versions of some of our midsize picks.

Since most microwaves perform very similarly, we put greater importance on a microwave’s controls and design, particularly these four features:

Express buttons: We found a wide consensus that the most important, must-have feature on any microwave is an Add 30 Seconds button. For some people, it’s the only button they ever use. Nearly every microwave has one, but a few don’t, and we didn’t seriously consider those models. Buttons that automatically start longer cook cycles, usually from 1 through 6 minutes, are also common and well liked. We favored models that started their express cycles with a single press, rather than the ones that added to the timer and then waited for us to press start.

Door handle: Handles are easier to clean than push buttons (which can get gunk stuck in the gaps around the edges), and they aren’t as susceptible as buttons to jamming or breaking over time. But we still recommend models that have a push-button design, which are easier for many people to use. (ADA-compliant microwaves generally do not have handles.)

Mute option: This was an essential feature in our main pick—some of us inveterate midnight snackers have faced the ire of housemates jolted awake by the piercing beeps at the end of a microwave cycle. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, this is an uncommon feature, and not all of our picks have it.

Sensor reheat: It’s far from a must-have feature, but sensor reheat is a handy shortcut that takes some guesswork out of reheating your leftovers. The sensor works by measuring humidity, so when your food starts steaming, the microwave knows it’s done. A sensor cook option (for things like cooking vegetables, baking potatoes, or heating frozen entrées) is fairly common as well, and a few have sensor defrost settings, though we didn’t pay much attention to either option.

A child lock, turntable memory (which returns the tray to its original position so your mug handle is in the right spot), and eco mode (which turns off the display when it’s not in use) can all be handy, too. But they come standard on most microwaves now and didn’t affect our picks. Likewise, nearly all microwaves let you adjust the power level. Some of our readers have strong feelings about how timers and interior lights should work, but they weren’t a factor in our picks.

There’s nothing wrong with food-specific presets or defrost modes, and if you find them useful, that’s great. But we wouldn’t recommend picking a new microwave based on its presets. They don’t make the microwave do anything special—they’re just shortcuts for pre-programmed time and power-level settings, and those programs vary from model to model, so they might not work quite like you expect. You can always manually input your ideal cook times and power levels.

Cooking performance did not play a big role when it came to making our picks. We found that any (non-defective) microwave was perfectly adequate for warming drinks and leftovers, cooking frozen meals, or popping bags of popcorn. The strongest, most consistent microwaves aren’t substantially better for those common tasks, and they don’t make microwaved food taste any better. So for most people, any run-of-the-mill microwave will heat stuff just fine. But we did pay more attention to performance for our upgrade pick, so that’s the better choice for people who want or need faster, more even heating and are willing to pay extra for it.

In our testing, we found that most models had a predictable heating pattern (hot spot in the center, cool inner ring, warm outer ring) that was imperfect but adequate for most of the common microwaving tasks. Some higher-priced models do heat more evenly across the turntable, which can be useful for cooking larger trays of food.

We also found that the heating speed basically tracks with the advertised wattage. In our two-minute test, all of the 1,000-watt models raised the temperature of a bowl of soup by a similar amount, and each of the compact, 700-watt models raised it noticeably less, while a 1,200-watt model raised it noticeably more. Your individual results may vary for a few different reasons, though most people will just learn to adjust their cook times to suit their particular oven.

A few brands sell models with a supposedly superior power-regulating mechanism called an inverter, which changes the way that power-level settings work. Basically, inverter microwaves can deliver continuous cooking when set to lower power levels, as opposed to regular transformer-powered microwaves, which cycle between periods of full power and zero power. Purveyors of inverter microwaves claim the technology is more efficient, helps preserve flavor and nutrients, and makes them better for delicate tasks like defrosting meat. An inverter model we tried did as poor a job of defrosting meat as any other microwave, and its food still tasted like it had been made in a microwave. It’s fine if a microwave has an inverter (our upgrade pick has one and had the most even heating of those we tried), but don’t expect it to change the flavor of your food.

Convection cooking is available in some pricier microwaves, but up until very recently, these combination ovens have been quirky, niche appliances that most people don’t need. We discuss convection microwaves below.

We can’t promise that we’re recommending a reliable, long-lasting product. Sorry.

After looking at user reviews, reliability data (there’s not much of it), and class-action lawsuits, as well as talking with some experts, we’ve concluded that you can’t count on any countertop microwave to last for more than a handful of years before a crucial part breaks and it becomes unusable. One paper claims that the average lifespan of a microwave has shrunk from 10 or 15 years in the ’90s down to six to eight years today. It’s not uncommon for them to break down even sooner. “The manufacturing has gotten really crappy,” said Schiffmann, the microwave expert who has worked in the industry for 50 years. (Though, for what it’s worth, professor Aaron Slepkov told us that his students do “terrible things” to microwaves in their plasma experiments, but have found that they’re harder to destroy than you might think.)

Since one company (Midea) assembles most microwaves, all of the brands it supplies are likely to be similarly reliable. If you have a bad experience with a Sharp, you’re just as likely to have a bad experience with a Toshiba, certain GE and Panasonic models, and loads of others.

There’s no sign that the microwaves from other manufacturers are any better. The average user ratings for Panasonic and LG ovens are the same or even a bit lower than those for Midea-made models. Galanz and Samsung models have lower ratings and more complaints about reliability than the others.

What we know so far makes us pretty skeptical that spending more on a microwave today will ever turn out to be a better long-term value. Schiffmann said that even if you spend hundreds on an oven, “it’s not a guarantee it’ll be all that much better” than the cheap, run-of-the-mill models. The higher-end ovens do have higher-quality mechanical parts, like the door latch and turntable motor, and probably stricter quality control, so fewer duds may make it out of the factory. But it’s unclear whether the electronic components and craftsmanship at the core of the microwave—power supply, wiring, magnetron—are any different than those of the cheap models, or subject to the higher-quality standards.

On top of all that, most brands are hit-or-miss when it comes to honoring their warranties. Repairs are possible, but it’s usually cheaper to just buy a new low-end oven.

(Though microwaves aren’t really built to last, they’re generally safer than other types of cooking appliances. So when we say they aren’t reliable, we don’t mean that they’re hazardous to own.)

We ran a handful of cooking tests, from heating trays of frozen mac and cheese to defrosting store-bought burger patties, but there were three tests that gave us the clearest takeaways.

The most telling was the marshmallow heat map, a test we’ve used for years. It gives us a great sense of the hot spots you’ll get on a mostly flat plate. We cut a piece of parchment paper to the size of each turntable, covered it with mini marshmallows, and heated it for two minutes on high. Most models performed similarly on this test, with noticeable but not dramatic hot and cool spots, though there were some outliers on both sides.

We did another heating test to get a sense of the hot spots you might find with a taller food container, or a big pile of food. We filled 1-quart takeout soup containers with instant mashed potatoes, chilled them to refrigerator temperature (about 37 °F), heated one container in each microwave for 2 minutes, then took 12 temperature readings with an instant-read thermometer throughout the container. We learned that, basically, any microwave will struggle to consistently heat a big pile of food, with some spots getting much hotter than others—no microwave is well suited to this task, not even the ones with consistent coverage across a flat plate of food.

Finally, we nuked a can of vegetable soup in a ceramic bowl for two minutes and then checked the temperature to get a sense of the microwave’s heating speed. Most models of a given power level performed similarly to one another. We did see some differences from model to model. In retrospect, we could’ve just used water (that’s the industry-standard method for measuring power, it turns out).

Beyond the cooking performance, we also made notes on controls, build quality, and general usability.

This midsize microwave looks better and has a few more useful features—including a mute option, automatic reheating, and a door handle instead of a button—than similar ovens.

If your countertops are a little tight on space or you want to save some money, this slightly smaller version of our favorite Toshiba works well and has most of the same great features.

Of all the midsize microwaves built by Midea around the same core components, the Toshiba EM131A5C is our favorite.

It has a handful of useful features that are uncommon in this popular size and price range. There’s the door handle (instead of a button), which is a little easier to open and to clean. The Toshiba EM131A5C also has a mute option to shut off the beeping whenever you press a button, or when the cycle ends. And the brushed stainless (or black stainless) finish is a better match for modern kitchen appliances than the run-of-the-mill glossy black finish that you’ll find on most inexpensive microwaves. Some people also appreciate that the interior light turns on when you open the door.

The EM131A5C also has the other popular features you’ll find on most microwaves, including the all-important Add 30 Seconds button, and one-touch express controls from 1 to 6 minutes. The microwave’s lock function prevents kids from accidentally operating the machine (you simply hold the stop/cancel button for 3 seconds to lock or unlock the door). And you can use the sensor reheat function to take some of the guesswork out of warming up leftovers.

Most of the typical preset programs are here as well, though the shortcut buttons bring up cryptic sub-commands that aren’t very self-explanatory. You’ve also got your regular one-through-10 power level adjustment, time cook, kitchen timer (though it won’t run concurrently with a cooking program), and so on. The EM131A5C also has a programmable multistage cooking function and a memory function, though we don’t think most people use these very often, if at all.

In our testing, the EM131A5C was a thoroughly average performer, with a predictable pattern of hot spots and heating power. Though its advertised capacity is a little bit larger than that of some competing models, it has the same 12.4-inch turntable, which is plenty of room for a standard dinner plate or 9-inch square baking dish.

The Toshiba is covered by a one-year warranty, and the claims process is easier than what most manufacturers offer. Rather than asking you to ship a defective microwave to a repair center, which can cost almost as much as a new microwave, Toshiba will instead issue you a refund check in four to eight weeks, according to a representative we spoke to. You’ll need to provide your original receipt, cut the power cord on the oven, and send a photo of the severed cord and the model number label in order to receive the refund. Contact Toshiba’s customer support center for more information.

For what it’s worth, if you know what you’re doing and can take the appropriate safety precautions to disassemble and work on a microwave, it’s actually quite easy to find spare parts for the Toshiba microwave at Embark. (We’re not going to link to it, because of how hazardous it is to work on these things.)

We also like the Toshiba ML2-EM25PAE (or whichever model of the 900-watt, 0.9-cubic-foot Toshiba is available). It shares most of the same traits as the slightly larger model, but it has slightly less power, no sensor, and a tighter oven cavity that might struggle to fit the largest dinner plates. This smaller model was actually the main pick in this guide for a while, and we changed the order only because more people seem to want a slightly bigger microwave than this one.

If you want a smaller or larger microwave, there are plenty of Midea-made models in other sizes, sold under different brand names.

We’ve read a few dozen anecdotal reviews about problems with Toshiba microwaves, ranging from minor stuff like the interior light flickering to big stuff like complete breakdowns or oven fires (though, based on our research, microwave fires are mostly the result of user error, and typically don’t have much to do with the oven itself). It sucks when a microwave doesn’t last, but we really don’t think you have any better option.

As we’ve covered, one manufacturer makes most microwaves (including the pricier ones from several more prestigious brands). We took the cover off the Toshiba to compare it to Black+Decker, Insignia, and Panasonic models of a similar size, and what do you know—they all used the same magnetrons and power supplies, and all had a Midea logo printed on the back of their control panels. Any problems you might have with this Toshiba are the same problems you’d have with nearly any other microwave in this size, and you shouldn’t count on any of them to be more reliable.

If you have a problem under warranty, the claims process may or may not go smoothly. We’ve heard complaints about Toshiba’s voice mailbox being full when people have called to make claims, or that the reps have tried to give them the runaround without issuing a refund. But that’s typical for the industry these days, based on our experience. (Even if you think you know of an appliance brand that has consistently great customer service, we’ve probably heard at least a few bad stories about it.)

This is the only countertop microwave we tested that clearly outperformed the mass of cheaper models, and it doesn’t have a handle. Otherwise, the features and controls are pretty similar.

If you want a microwave that heats faster and more evenly than the mass of generic Midea-made clones, without a huge added cost, consider one of Panasonic’s inverter microwaves.

In our testing, the midsize Panasonic NN-SN67HS browned our marshmallow heat map consistently across the turntable, without the obvious hot spots that we saw with nearly every other microwave. It also got a tray of frozen mac and cheese about 10 degrees hotter than other microwaves during the normal cooking time. The “official” results from our soup-heating test were unclear; the liquid got only slightly hotter overall than competing models made it, but the bowl itself became unbearably hot, suggesting that the Panasonic had more power than other models (and that we should use a different bowl next time).

It also has a push-button design instead of a handle, which may be easier for many people to use.

Panasonic inverter models lack some of the express controls we like to see: There’s a Quick 30 button, and More or Less buttons you can push while it’s running to adjust the time by 10 seconds, but apart from those you’ll need to enter a specific time and then press start. They’re also on the loud side, with a whooshy mid-range tone that can drown out conversations (which isn’t a problem with most microwaves).

It’s hard to tell whether these mid-range Panasonics are more or less reliable than Midea-made models. The average owner ratings at Amazon for the older SN686S model tend to be a little bit lower, though Amazon ratings are hard to trust these days. Many of the one-star reviews are related to poor packaging rather than performance or reliability, though there are not-infrequent complaints about the H98 error, which means the power supply or magnetron has died. If you need a repair under warranty, you’ll likely have to pay to ship the oven to Panasonic’s repair center, which can be expensive.

The defining feature on these Panasonic microwaves is supposed to be the inverter, which is more energy efficient and supposedly helps it work better for “delicate” tasks like defrosting, cooking vegetables, or even braising meats. But we couldn’t find evidence that it’s really effective in that regard. When we tried the auto-defrost feature, which allegedly relies on the inverter to adjust the power levels to some degree, it still cooked the edges of our meat and left a cold spot in the center, like any other run-of-the-mill microwave. Even if the inverter does help with some tasks, it doesn’t mask the fact that food has that soggy, cooked-in-a-microwave texture. “I’ve never found that [an inverter] necessarily means the oven performs better,” said Sharon Franke, who tested dozens of microwaves during the decades she worked at Good Housekeeping.

Panasonic makes its mid-range inverter microwaves in several sizes and finishes, with some variation in the control panels. We confirmed with a Panasonic representative that the midsize and larger models all use the same core components—the oven cavity is just a different size. We tested the extra-large NN-SN966S and found a few modest performance differences, which is not a surprise since the geometry is different. But otherwise, they’re very similar microwaves, down to the control scheme.

Panasonic also makes some higher-end inverter models with the Cyclonic Wave feature (video), which is aimed at evenly distributing the microwaves throughout the interior. We haven’t tested this feature, but we think the mid-range models already do well in this respect.

Cheaper Panasonic models, without the inverter, are most likely manufactured by Midea. There are plenty of shipping records indicating that Midea supplies microwaves and microwave parts to Panasonic of America, and when we disassembled a lower-end Panasonic, it was made from the same core components as other models we know are made by Midea.

LG manufactures its own microwaves, and its NeoChef series looks promising, with strong ratings from Consumer Reports as well as from owners, and specs that are similar to those of the Panasonic inverter models that we like. The only obvious downside is that these NeoChef models aren’t as widely available as other microwaves, and LG itself suggested that its smaller models (compact and midsize) can be hard to find.

Samsung makes its own microwaves, too. The company’s general approach to appliance design is present in its microwaves: Make it sparkle on the showroom floor, load it with features that seem useful (all but its very cheapest model have some kind of grill or convection feature), and don’t worry too much about making it reliable (the owner ratings for Samsung’s microwaves are well below the average for the category). We tested the Samsung MG11H2020CT, whose “grill” feature (basically an exposed ceramic heating element at the top of the cavity) is not nearly as effective as a toaster oven. The microwave itself was average in our tests.

Breville makes high-end microwaves with big control panels, knurled dials, soft-close doors, and an extensive list of pre-programmed settings. There’s no doubt that these have several higher-quality parts than the other ovens we’ve covered. If you like the aesthetics and control scheme, and you have some extra money, we’re not going to try to talk you out of it. The soft-close door is especially luxurious. However, in our testing, we found that the performance was just run of the mill. The Smooth Wave slightly outperformed an average microwave, though it wasn’t as fast or consistent as the Panasonic NN-SN67HS, which is usually at least $170 cheaper. (We also tested a convection microwave, the Combi Wave.) We’re pretty sure that these are Midea-made microwaves, and we aren’t sure one way or the other whether the electronics are actually more durable than those of the cheaper models.

Most of the affordable microwaves sold by GE are most likely made by Midea. The popular 1.4-cubic-foot GE JES1460 has a flimsier door than anything else we’ve tested. But otherwise, all the mainline models seem largely identical to units from less-prestigious brands. They’re fine if you can get them on sale—the JES1072 even used to be a budget pick in this guide (we removed it due to a few reports of sparking incidents, though based on what we know now, it was almost certainly not a GE-specific problem, and is arguably normal microwave behavior).

We did notice that at least a few GE models recommend only a few inches of clearance on all sides of the microwave, whereas cheaper brands recommend 8 to 12 inches behind and above the oven to prevent overheating. We’re not sure whether the oven design is different (they sure didn’t look like it when we disassembled them), or if GE is just comfortable being a little looser with the guidelines. Also, we’re not sure whether higher-end GE Profile models (which cost $350 and up) are substantially different from the cheaper models—we haven’t tested them.

The Whirlpool countertop microwaves we looked at for this guide were almost certainly made by Midea, and they are fine if you see them on sale. There’s nothing special about any of them—except, that is, the 0.5-cubic-foot Whirlpool WMC20005YW mini-microwave. It’s bigger in person than it looks in pictures, but its rounded back allows it to be placed in a corner, with the door and controls still facing straight out. This is as small as microwaves get.

Sharp is yet another made-by-Midea brand these days, and none of its current models are noteworthy; they’re fine on sale.

Hamilton Beach, Oster, and Danby microwaves all appear to be made-by-Midea microwaves that are fine if you find them for a low-enough price.

Farberware is a bit of a wildcard—we haven’t tested any of its microwaves, we couldn’t find any records of shipments to Farberware in import records, and some of the reviews for its microwaves cite different problems (noise, mostly) than we’re used to hearing about regarding Midea models. We don’t know exactly how they compare to the legion of other cheap, decent microwaves out there.

Finally, you’ve got your microwaves made by Galanz, the other giant microwave manufacturer in China. These very affordable models bear the lowest-tier brand names, like RCA and Avanti. We tested an RCA RMW733 model, and even though its lack of an Add 30 Seconds button was grounds for dismissal on its own, we also found that it had a severe hot spot in the center of the turntable and cold spots everywhere else. You might save $15 with one of these microwaves, but we don’t think it’s worth it.

If you’re short on counter space, replacing a microwave and a toaster oven with a convection microwave combo seems ideal. But in the past, these combos have had fewer heating elements than even basic toaster ovens, so packaged foods and baked goods don’t turn out as crisp and delicious. (In fact, older versions of these combos couldn’t make decent toast at all.) But some newer models appear to have fixed these issues and even added air fry—we hope to evaluate some of these going forward.

We haven’t spent much time looking into microwaves that can be installed in a wall or cabinet, including drawer-style microwaves. An over-the-range (OTR) microwave is a microwave and a range hood combined into one appliance, installed over your stove. We cover these in our guide to over-the-range microwaves.

Every year we hear from a few of our readers who tell us that the microwave they bought based on our advice caught fire for an unexplained reason. We looked into it, and the gist of it is that microwaves are a lot less likely to catch fire than other cooking appliances—and when they do, it’s usually because something got overcooked, or there was something in the microwave that shouldn’t have been there.

If you have lingering suspicions about microwave radiation, there’s really nothing to worry about—it’s safe for your family and your food. Schiffmann explained that microwaves are exceptionally weak compared with visible light (which is a form of radiation itself). The doors are designed so that microwaves rarely ever leak, and even when they do, the total energy that could escape over the lifetime of your oven is equivalent to a “single Christmas tree light,” Schiffmann said. The personal safety risks are minute (but beware of superheated liquids), and microwaving won’t destroy the nutrients in your food to any greater degree than other types of cooking, either.

If you’re planning to keep your microwave on a shelf or in a cabinet cutout, check the installation guidelines first. Some models recommend leaving huge gaps—8 to 12 inches—around the rear and top of the machine.

The simplest way to save your microwave from an early death is to avoid slamming the door. That’s because microwaves have a dual kill switch in the latch to make it impossible for the microwave to turn on if the door is open or even compromised. That’s a good thing—but it means that the latch is a vulnerable point of failure. Do yourself a favor and be gentle with it.

Don’t run your microwave empty. Without food to absorb the microwaves, some of them will travel back up the waveguide to the magnetron and start to overheat it—though magnetrons generally have a thermal cutoff switch that kills the power when it gets too hot.

The simplest way to save your microwave from an early death is to avoid slamming the door.

Frequently used microwaves need to be cleaned at least once a week, because any food remnants stuck to the walls can get overheated and burn. A simple trick we’ve used 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. (We also have more detailed advice on how to clean your microwave.)

Generally, you should avoid placing metal in the microwave.

Microwaves with reheating sensors need to be able to detect the steam coming off your food, so if you cover your food, it needs to be with something porous. It’s fine to use a paper towel or loose plastic wrap.

If your microwave is broken, it’s dangerous to try to repair it yourself unless you have the proper equipment and know-how. The capacitor inside the microwave retains a high-voltage charge that can kill you if you touch it, even if it has been unplugged for several hours. The magnetron has a ceramic ring on it that often contains beryllium, which can cause a terrible illness if it cracks and you inhale any of the dust (though it’d be hard to make this mistake accidentally). Since repair can be a hazardous task, most brands will not send you parts under warranty to fix a microwave yourself, even if it’s just the light bulb.

If your microwave bites the dust, first check with your local trash-disposal company to see whether it will take it. If it won’t, look for a recycling center near you. (Just be sure to call in advance to confirm it accepts microwaves.)

Your new microwave might not work exactly like your old one. It could heat faster or slower than you expect, or the presets might be programmed differently. This can happen even if you stick with the same brand—or even the same model—that you’re replacing. As frustrating as that may be, it’s easier to adjust to your new machine than to find a clone of the old one.

One explanation for why this happens is that the advertised wattage might be different. If you replace a 1,000-watt model with a 700-watt model, you should expect the new one to take longer to heat things—it just doesn’t have as much cooking power, and you’ll need to increase the cooking times.

Individual units of the same microwave model might differ in measurable wattage by as much as 40 percent.

But there can be big differences even among microwaves with the same advertised wattage, according to Schiffmann. He explained that there’s no mandatory, industry-standard test to measure microwave power, so the advertised wattage might be based on different measurements from brand to brand. A 1,000-watt GE and a 1,000-watt Toshiba may not be designed to be equally powerful. The IEC, an independent standards commission, does have a test methodology to determine wattage, but brands are not required to follow it. (The Department of Energy repealed the mandate in 2010, writing that (PDF) the “procedure did not produce representative and repeatable test results.”)

On top of that, individual units of the same microwave model might differ in measurable wattage by as much as 40 percent, Schiffmann found in his own testing. That 1,000-watt Toshiba could be as wimpy as 800 watts or as strong as 1,200 watts, based on Toshiba’s own testing standard. In theory, a 700-watt microwave on the weaker end of that variance could take twice as long to heat food as an 1,100-watt microwave on the stronger end. It’s a side effect of cost-cutting, Schiffmann said, allowing wide manufacturing tolerances and limited quality-control performance testing (which you’d find in any busy factory).

All that said, in the real world, this means you might need to adjust the cook time by a few seconds. In our limited testing, we noticed some small power differences between models that were identical or largely identical, but it didn’t make a huge difference over the course of 2 minutes heating a bowl of soup or 5 minutes heating a tray of frozen mac and cheese. If your microwave is really struggling to heat much of anything from Day One, you probably have a defective model.

Ganda Suthivarakom, Jessie Kissinger, and Tim Heffernan contributed to previous versions of this guide.

The short answer: none of them. We found that most countertop microwaves are made by the same manufacturer, from mostly the same parts. And based on what we know from owner reviews, reliability data, class action lawsuits, and chats with experts, nothing seems to stand out as particularly reliable. A definite instance of “they don’t make ’em like they used to.”

Most countertop microwaves are variations of the same cheap, decent machine, so they all offer the same level of safety and are actually considerably safer than many other cooking appliances. As long as you buy a model that is UL certified (that includes all of them at this writing, as far as we know), it should be as safe as you can reasonably expect.

You need to replace your microwave only if it stops working entirely or starts taking so long to cook that it’s inconvenient (microwaves gradually lose their heating power over time). It could also be time to move on if your microwave starts to look or smell gross and a thorough wipe-down doesn’t help. Otherwise, there’s no need to upgrade. By the way, sparks are not a sign of a malfunctioning microwave.

Sharon Franke, former director of the Kitchen Appliances and Technology Lab at Good Housekeeping, phone interview, April 20, 2018

Bob Schiffmann, president of International Microwave Power Institute and owner of RF Schiffmann Associates, Inc., phone interview, March 9, 2020

Aaron Slepkov, associate professor, department of physics and astronomy, and head of Slepkov Biophotonics Lab group at Trent University, video interview, April 22, 2020

Mark Fischetti, Dinner and a Show—Working Knowledge on Microwave Ovens, Scientific American, November 1, 2008

Microwave Oven Radiation, FDA, December 12, 2017

Microwaves: Your Questions Answered, Healthline, June 20, 2018

Bill Hammack, How a Microwave Oven Works, Engineer Guy, YouTube video, June 26, 2012

Derek Muller, How Microwaving Grapes Makes Plasma, Veritasium, YouTube video, February 18, 2019

Microwaves, Consumer Reports Buying Guide 2020, pp.45-47

Liam McCabe is a former senior staff writer for Wirecutter, and has covered the wild world of appliances since 2011. After testing dozens of robot vacuums, he is neither worried about AI nor holding his breath for self-driving cars. He enjoys visiting factories and learning about regulatory loopholes, and has flooded our testing area only three times.

Michael Sullivan has been a staff writer on the kitchen team at Wirecutter since 2016. Previously, he was an editor at the International Culinary Center in New York. He has worked in various facets of the food and restaurant industry for over a decade.

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Multi Pressure Cooker Wirecutter is the product recommendation service from The New York Times. Our journalists combine independent research with (occasionally) over-the-top testing so you can make quick and confident buying decisions. Whether it’s finding great products or discovering helpful advice, we’ll help you get it right (the first time).