Microwave buying guide

Microwave buying guide

Julie, Interior Designer, Manchester

Guide written by:

Julie, Interior Designer, Manchester

Microwaves are practical kitchen appliances, that can heat up your leftovers and defrost frozen food. Combination appliances with hot air and/or grilling functions can even be used to prepare entire meals. Read on to discover what to be aware of when buying a microwave.
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How does a microwave work?

Microwave ovens heat food and drinks using electromagnetic waves.

The so-called magnetron sends out microwaves equidistant to each other, which are then reflected by the oven walls of the appliance. Water molecules contained in the food start to vibrate. The friction between these molecules generates heat, which spreads through the food.

Although this microwave technology heats food up quickly, there are disadvantages: not all food contains the same amount of water. Tomatoes are heated more quickly than potatoes, for example. Hotspots appear in areas where microwaves overlap one another, making the food or drink exceptionally hot in these areas.

These two factors explain unevenly heated food, with some areas being piping hot, whilst others are still cold. The microwave plate is intended to prevent hotspots by rotating the food in the oven, but this is not a perfect solution. Therefore, always ensure to stir your food so that you don't burn your tongue!

An increasing amount of manufacturers are using inverter technology. In summary, inverter microwaves ensure even heating and prevent hotspots, so delicate food is protected when being defrosted or heated. These microwaves are also available without turning plates, providing more oven space.

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What types of microwaves are there?

Microwaves vary depending on their function. In addition to your standard microwave, there are also models that serve as ovens or steam cookers. Microwaves also vary in terms of how they're installed.

Solo microwaves

Solo microwaves

Standard microwave ovens are increasingly being referred to as solo microwaves. These microwaves solely offer the classic microwave function and don't have grill or steam cooker modes. They are easy to use and cheaper than the more advanced models. If your kitchen is already fully equipped and you only need a microwave to heat and defrost, then a solo microwave is perfectly appropriate.

Combination microwaves

If you wish to use your microwave to prepare various types of meals, a combination microwave is your best option. A 3-in-1 microwave combines grill and hot air modes, with the ordinary microwave function. Defrost, reheat, bake, steam and grill functions can be operated separately, or in combination with others.

Microwaves with grills

Microwaves with grill functions

A microwave with a grill function is equipped with one or multiple heating elements. Just like a conventional oven, the grill function heats meals from above (and with a double grill, also from below). Meals such as pizza or lasagne can therefore be grilled from above. Meat, fish and vegetables can also be cooked on the grill plate, which comes with most microwaves with a grill.

Microwaves with ovens

Microwaves with ovens

The term hot air is usually associated with ovens. Microwaves with hot air functions heat air in the oven with heating rods. A hot air fan evenly distributes the heat so that cakes, bread and casseroles are baked the same as in an ordinary oven. Some manufacturers term these appliances as microwaves with oven functions.

Microwaves with steam cookers

Microwaves with steam cookers

Cooking your food using steam is a particularly healthy approach. Preparing meals using a steam cooker preserves nutrients and vitamins better, and prevents food from drying out. The steam cooker function is perfect for cooking vegetables, meat or fish.

Built-in microwaves

Built-in microwaves

A built-in microwave fits in perfectly with your kitchen units. In contrast to other built-in appliances, microwaves cannot be hidden behind kitchen cabinets due to the danger of overheating. As a result, ventilation slots must not be obstructed. When purchasing your microwave, make sure that the size of the appliance matches your kitchen measurements.

Freestanding microwaves

Freestanding microwaves

A stand alone microwave, also referred to as a freestanding microwave, can be placed anywhere in the kitchen. If you would like to equip your kitchen with a microwave after it has been designed, a freestanding microwave would be your best option.

A disadvantage of freestanding microwaves is that they take up space on your kitchen surfaces. This is particularly inconvenient if your kitchen is already equipped with a toaster, kettle and coffee machine. If you have a large kitchen, using a microwave stand would be a good solution. For small kitchens and kitchens with minimal kitchen surfaces, it is best to secure your microwave on a wall mount.

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Choosing the right microwave size

Choosing the right microwave size

In addition to the exterior measurements, the internal capacity of a microwave oven should also be considered. Choosing the right size depends on the space available in your kitchen.

Oven capacity is given in litres. Your required internal capacity will vary depending on whether you live alone and need to reheat leftovers, or you and your family regularly use the microwave to prepare meals.

The following table suggests the appropriate volume per household.

Household

Capacity

Single household

20 litres

2 person household

20-30 litres

4 person household

40 litres

A microwave with a hot air function that is replacing an oven, should have a volume of at least 40 litres.

Microwave programmes and settings

Microwave programmes and settings

Various manufacturers provide a wide-range of programmes and functions that ensure more comfort, safety and time efficiency.

  • The defrost function gently heats meals using a low heat setting.

  • The automatic function or intelligent cooking programmes that modern microwaves have, use an integrated weight sensor. Select the appropriate type of food and the microwave automatically sets the necessary cooking time, power level and cooking method.

  • The keep-warm-function makes it possible to keep meals warm until they are served.

  • The child lock feature locks the control panel to prevent children from running programmes inadvertently.

  • A digital display shows the programme and also usually the time. Some appliances have an energy saving mode, which turns the display off when the appliance is not in use.

  • The auto-clean or self-cleaning function uses hydrolysis (steam) or pyrolysis (heat).

Be aware that features such as digital clocks increase your microwave's energy consumption. If you already have a clock in your kitchen, you can save energy by choosing a microwave without this feature.

Energy consumption and efficiency

In contrast to other electrical appliances such as fridges, dishwashers and washing machines, there are no energy labels for microwaves that display the relevant energy efficiency grade.

To assess the energy efficiency of a microwave oven you should review its power, which is provided in watts. Most microwaves require 700 to 900 watts, large models and combination microwaves run on 1000 to 1600 watts.

Microwaves with inverter technology have a higher degree of efficiency (up to 75%). That means that by using the same amount of power, more energy is converted into microwaves than with appliances that have a high-voltage transformer (with an efficiency of up to 60%).

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How to dispose of an old or broken microwave properly

How to dispose of an old or broken microwave properly

To protect the environment, microwaves and other electrical appliances should be taken to collection points or recycling centres, so that they are disposed of properly. Most recycling centres have specific areas for electrical household appliances and other electrical waste. In some areas, old or broken electrical appliances can be collected at your home.

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How many watts for each food type?

How many watts for each food type?

Further information on using your microwave correctly can also be found in your appliance's operating instructions, these may vary depending on the manufacturer and device. For appliances with additional features such as microwaves with a grill, you should always consult information from the manufacturer.

An overview can be found in the following table, which you can use to orientate yourself:

Power in watts

Suitable for

900 to 1000 watts

550 to 850 watts

300 to 550 watts

180 to 250 watts

90 to 100 watts

Tips on caring for your microwave

Tips on caring for your microwave

To prevent unpleasant smells from developing in your microwave, you should clean it regularly. Taking care of your microwave correctly ensures it will continue to work for as long and as efficiently as possible. Ideally you should wipe down the entire interior with a wet cloth after each use. This will help to prevent food or liquids from drying in. If your appliance doesn't have a self-cleaning function, you can use everyday household cleaning products. Using steam is the most effective method of removing burnt in or encrusted dirt.

  1. Place a (microwave safe) bowl with water and some vinegar or lemon juice in the microwave.

  2. Turn the microwave on at the highest power setting and let it run for 5 minutes.

  3. After applying steam, stubborn stains become easily removable and can simply be wiped away using a wet cloth.

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More information

Further tips, tricks and buying guides for household appliances and designing your kitchen can be found here:

 
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Guide written by:

Julie, Interior Designer, Manchester

Julie, Interior Designer, Manchester

After years of DIY, renovation and designing, I decided to turn my passion into a career. Starting in 2006, in the South-West, I helped people with renovation or construction projects. My expertise and curiosity led me to look further into innovative ideas for myself and my clients. Indeed, to live your passion is also to transform the space you live in and the objects you use daily. My family love my creations and ideas that I bring into their lives! My favourite thing to do: use colour to brighten up interior space. But also tips to hide away clutter. Your home is just never big enough, is it? It is therefore a great pleasure to share my tips with you, so that you also can take as much pleasure as I do when starting up your next project!

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