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There are eight types of microwave ovens in the market: commercial, combination, convection, over-the-range, under-counter, built-in, wall, and smart microwave ovens.
Understanding each type’s features, kitchen usability, installation needs, and sizes will give you a clear understanding of which type to buy and whether you need another kitchen appliance instead of a microwave.
For instance, you may prefer to get a microwave oven versus a convection oven based on the cooking method and outcome of cooked foods. A microwave oven bounces electromagnetic waves to vibrate the food particles, whereas a convection oven circulates hot air using a fan. (Although some microwave ovens come with both cooking options.) A microwave also heats foods that have already been cooked, whereas a convection oven can also cook foods. You can also check out our guide on the best convection oven for you.
Knowing the different microwave ovens available in the market, including their strengths and weaknesses, can help you determine the type to choose for your kitchen.
What are the different types available for microwave ovens?
The different types of microwave ovens are commercial, combination, convection, over-the-range, under-counter, built-in, wall, and smart.
The following list includes the different types of microwave ovens available in the market:
- Commercial microwave oven
A commercial microwave oven is a larger-sized microwave oven with more cooking capacity than a standard countertop unit.
Commercial microwaves are often used by restaurants, cafes, hotels, grocery stores, cruise ships, and other foodservice businesses.
You can convert a regular household/residential microwave into a commercial model by adding an internal rack or base plate on top of its turntable. While these solutions are not ideal because standard models can only handle small loads, they come in handy if you need cooking power without the expense of buying a new, more expensive unit.
There are two primary categories of commercial microwave ovens: countertop units (also known as compact or portable microwave ovens) and wall-mounted or built-in models.
- Combination microwave oven
A combination microwave oven is a microwave oven that combines oven and microwave technology; it can do more than reheat food.
A typical combo unit has a fan on the back and heats food by moving hot air around inside the oven via convection and conduction; this makes it different from most standard microwaves, which only use convection.
A combination microwave oven works the same way as a regular microwave, except the former has more options like grilling or baking.
There are two types of combination microwaves: the built-in and portable kinds.
A built-in microwave sits flush with your kitchen cabinetry as if the cabinets were an appliance themselves. A portable combination microwave typically has four wheels and is smaller than a standard microwave oven. You can move it around at will to wherever you need extra cooking power, such as when preparing Thanksgiving dinner or other large meals.
- Convection microwave oven
A convection microwave oven is an oven that microwaves and bakes simultaneously.
A convection microwave oven is similar to a traditional microwave in how it cooks food, except that it has a heating fan and piping system that circulate hot air around the food as it cooks.
The advantages to having a convection oven over traditional microwaves include crisper food and faster cooking times.
- Over-the-range microwave oven
An over-the-range microwave oven is an appliance that hangs right above the cooking range. It is a standard microwave built into the cabinet space above a stove.
A fan unit in the back of the oven blows air out of the front to keep the microwave cool, while ventilation comes from the stovetop or range hood.
Not all over-the-range microwaves are installed above the range hood. Some are also placed over other stoves such as natural gas or propane.
This type of microwave features the following:
- automatic cooking functions,
- digital displays and control panels on both sides (for easy access),
- multi-speed fans with separate switches for each fan speed,
- variable light intensity for lighting (in addition to overhead lights),
- humidity controls (instead of the typical vent settings), and
- expanded metal grills on both sides.
Over-the-range microwaves typically require professional installation because they are often larger than countertop microwaves. They must be vented, allowing heat to escape and cool the oven compartment.
The ventilation fan requires space above your stove or cooktop to ventilate your kitchen effectively. This means installation is often more complicated than swapping out an ordinary model for another regular one. When purchasing this type of microwave, be sure that you're aware of all the specific requirements for installing it before purchase and installation.
- Undercounter microwave oven
An under-counter microwave oven is an appliance that goes directly underneath the counter.
An under-counter microwave oven – also called a built-in or flush mount – is installed into the cabinetry of your kitchen, giving it a seamless appearance and hiding the unit away by closing the cabinet door over it.
Undercounter microwave ovens are as easy to use as other types, but many have additional features for convenience and cooking flexibility.
The most significant difference between built-in microwaves and those you'll find on store shelves are their size, power output, and intended use. The standard units are meant to sit on over or under a countertop, providing service for an entire family or small business. Undercounter units are smaller, more efficient, and designed with the needs of a single person or a couple.
- Built-in microwave oven
A built-in microwave oven is an appliance integrated with the rest of the kitchen space.
Built-in microwaves are irremovable and mounted inside the cabinetry and surrounding walls. They include vents that run through the ceiling and outside of your home.
This type of microwave oven offers multiple benefits. You do not have to bend down low to use it, and it takes up less counter space. It can be vented into your cabinetry or through the roof, and there is more consistent airflow around the unit, allowing it to run better. These microwaves are usually designed with lower wattage, so they will last longer than an under-counter microwave oven because they don't get as hot inside.
Built-in microwave ovens typically offer more installation options than built-ins with different mounting options. However, they are bulky and stick out from the wall, taking up more space and making it harder to install cabinets above or below them.
- Wall microwave oven
A wall microwave oven goes on the wall.
This microwave oven is suitable for those who do not have adequate counter space for their small kitchen. A wall microwave oven frees up counter space and offers ample room for cooking.
A wall oven is also easy to install; you can install it yourself and do not require an expensive contractor's expertise.
Wall microwaves are considered aesthetically pleasing because they blend nicely with décor, unlike traditional microwaves, typically silver and bulky.
- Smart microwave oven
A smart microwave oven is an appliance with smart controls. It is a regular microwave enhanced with computer processors and new cooking capabilities. These ovens may cook food at different power levels (50%, 75%, and 100%).
Smart microwave ovens can download up-to-date recipes from the internet and read RFID tags on sealed food packaging, adjusting cooking times accordingly and ensuring that they thoroughly cook food on time.
What are the different ways to use a microwave oven?
The different ways to use a microwave oven include:
- Heating frozen meals
- Reheating leftovers foods
- Making a poached egg
- Soaking beans
- Rehydrating bread
- Disinfecting sponges
- Baking potatoes
- Cooking bacon
The typical uses of a microwave include heating frozen meals and reheating leftovers foods. Other surprising uses include the following:
Make a poached egg. To make a perfectly poached egg, pour boiling water into the microwave-safe bowl and add a dash of white vinegar. Crack your eggs into the bowl, carefully pierce the egg yolk using a toothpick, and cover the bowl with cling wrap. Cook the egg in the microwave for 30 seconds at full power. Remove the bowl, flip the egg, then put it back into the microwave for another 20 seconds. Voila – a perfect poached egg for your Eggs Benedict!
Soak beans. You can use the microwave if you need to soak beans and lentils overnight but forgot to do it. Place beans or lentils into a bowl and fill it with water until fully covered. Add a dash of bicarbonate soda and microwave at full power for ten minutes. Leave the bowl inside the unit in the next 40 minutes, and you'll have perfectly soaked beans or lentils.
Rehydrate bread. Cover stale bread with a damp kitchen towel. Zap repeatedly in the microwave in ten-second bursts until you’re satisfied with the quality of the bread.
Disinfect sponges. You don’t have to bin dirty sponges in the kitchen after more than five uses. Just put them in a water-filled bowl with a drizzle of vinegar or lemon juice. Microwave the bowl for a minute at high power. You’ll have disinfected sponges ready for use again.
Bake potatoes. If you need to bake potatoes quickly and you think the oven would take longer, then you can prick the spuds on all sides using a fork and place them in a microwaveable bowl instead. Cook at high power for a couple of minutes. Remove the potatoes from the bowl and turn them over, cooking for two minutes.
Cook bacon. If you’re aiming for extra crispy bacon, wrap the strips or slices of the meat in kitchen towels. Zap them in for two to three minutes. Enjoy some crispy bacon for breakfast!
While there are many uses of a microwave oven, this kitchen appliance requires thoughtful operation and extra care to make it last longer.
What sizes do the microwave ovens come in?
Microwave ovens are designed in various sizes that range from a compact microwave (29.2 x 48.5 x 41.7 cm) to a combination and built-in microwave unit (59.5 x 59.4 x 54.8 cm).
Here are the approximate sizes of each type of microwave oven (h x w x d):
Commercial microwave oven: 37 x 46.5 x 60 cm
Combination microwave oven: 45.8 x 59.6 x 56.2 cm
Convection microwave oven: 39.1 x 50 x 48 cm
Over-the-range microwave oven: 29.7 x 51.7 x 38.5 cm
Undercounter microwave oven: 45.6 x 59.5 x 56 cm
Built-in microwave oven: 59.5 x 59.4 x 54.8 cm
Wall microwave oven: 46 x 59.6 x 40 cm
Smart microwave oven: 31.3 x 55.5 x 43.9 cm
The ideal size of a microwave oven depends on the amount of food you want to cook at one time. Smaller microwave ovens are better suited for microwaving a single meal or plate of food at a time. Larger microwave ovens can hold larger, family-sized microwave oven meals.
Countertop/compact models are more basic machines that don't offer the same degree of cooking flexibility as the full-sized appliance. They're designed for smaller operations where only one operator is responsible for all the cooking tasks – mainly reheating leftovers and pre-cooked foods from the supermarket.
Built-in/wall-mounted models are larger appliances that offer additional cooking functions and advanced features, which allow users o cook fresh foods just like a regular oven.
Basic countertop microwave ovens have one or two internal microwave racks, while most built-in microwaves have three internal racks. Mounting options include under-counter (built into the cabinets below), floor standing (permanently installed on casters), or wall mount (installed flush with the cabinet).
A portable combination microwave typically has four wheels and is smaller than a standard microwave oven. You can move it around at will to wherever you need extra cooking power.
What foods can be heated in different microwave ovens?
The foods that can be put into different microwave ovens include:
- Frozen meals
- Leftovers foods
- Beans and lentils
- Herbs and spices
What determines the best microwave oven type?
The best microwave oven type can be determined by the following: power, controls, size, ease of cleaning, design, auto-programming keys, convection capabilities, smart settings, noise, safety, brand, and price.
Power. You want to choose a microwave that meets your household’s power needs. Most under-counter microwaves have less than 1,000 watts output since they're built for home cooking. Over-the-range models will typically have more power (or BTUs) than standard microwaves. Sometimes these models feature 6,000 BTUs (compared to 1,200 for most countertop microwaves) as they're meant for heating and cooking.
Controls. Choose a microwave oven that has controls relevant for your household, office or restaurant. Most units have a sensor that will automatically stop the unit when your food is cooked, so there's no need to worry about it being in the oven too long or at the wrong temperature. Many also come with some signal indicating completion, such as a beep from the unit itself or your device if you used Bluetooth connectivity during setup.
Installation. Mounting options include under-counter (built into the cabinets below), floor standing (permanently installed on casters), or wall mount (installed flush with the cabinet). The critical thing in installation is to make sure your kitchen design will accommodate the size of your new microwave. It's easy to overestimate how much room you need without accurate measurements of your kitchen space.
Size. You want to choose a microwave oven that meets your household’s size needs. The size of your microwave depends on how much food you want to cook at one time using the microwave oven.
If you have one to four people in your household, you may want a smaller convection microwave oven between 21-30 liters in size. If you have four to six people in your home, you may wish to get a microwave oven between 25-30 liters. If you cook frequently or entertain a lot, you may want a microwave oven over 30 liters in size.
Undercounter units are smaller, more efficient, and designed with the needs of two or fewer people in mind than a standard countertop microwave. They come in 30-, 24-, 20-, 18- and 16-inch widths to fit most standard under cabinet depths of 15 inches or less. A commercial-sized microwave oven may be necessary if you use the microwave frequently.
Ease of cleaning. You may want to look into how easy it is to clean the unit. Does it have removable racks, which makes it easy to clean? Does it have dishwasher-friendly parts? It is much easier to clean a convection microwave oven than the other types because there's no oil involved. You can wipe down the inside of the unit when you're done.
Design. Microwave ovens come in all different designs, including material and color, so you can choose one that kits your kitchen look.
Auto-programming keys. Auto-programming keys reduce the time it takes to program the microwave oven. Programmable keys may include 15 or 30-seconds or popcorn.
Convection capabilities. A microwave oven with convection capabilities allows you to cook your foods in addition to reheating them. Undercounter microwaves tend to lack the grilling capability present in other types like the combination units, which makes them better suited for reheating food instead of searing or browning it like large commercial units might be used to.
Smart settings. Microwave ovens with smart settings allow you to control the timer and other features from your smartphone. Smart microwave ovens can download up-to-date recipes from the internet and read RFID tags on sealed food packaging, adjusting cooking times accordingly and ensuring that they thoroughly cook food on time.
Noise. Some microwave ovens are louder than others. Choose one with a decibel rating that works in your household.
Safety. Many of today's microwave ovens have built-in safety features that remind you when your food is done cooking.
Brand and price. The price of microwave ovens varies according to the type and brand. Recognized brands are known for quality and reliability but are on the higher end of the price range. Consider your budget and whether you'll use microwave ovens regularly or sparingly. Commercial microwave ovens are also more expensive than the other types used at home because of their capacity and power.
Are under-counter microwave ovens safe?
Undercounter microwave ovens are safe due to their “set it and leave it” feature. Many undercounter models have built-in safety features that prevent burning and notify you once the heating or cooking is complete.
However, as with any microwaves, under-counter units emit radiation and may not be best suited for areas at home where people spend most of the time, such as kitchens that is directly connected to family rooms, dens, and living rooms.
What is the average price for a microwave oven?
The average price for a microwave oven ranges between $50 to $400.
Smaller, countertop microwave ovens with less space are on the lower end of the range, whereas larger built-in microwave ovens with more room may cost even more.
Brands and the type of microwave oven may also affect the price, with commercial and built-in models costing more than a countertop and portable one.
What is the lifespan of different microwave ovens?
The average lifespan of a microwave oven is six to eight years.
The frequency of use of the microwave oven affects longevity. How often you use your microwave oven, including opening and closing the door, impacts how long it lasts. The motor sends waves through the appliance, and performance can decrease over time. The seal on the door can also wear down.
Regular maintenance, cleaning up spills immediately, and using the microwave oven according to the owner’s manual can help it last longer. This means carefully opening and closing the door and using the settings as designed.
The initial quality and material of the microwave oven make a difference in how long it lasts. Stainless steel microwave ovens last longer than plastic ovens.
How and where you install the microwave oven also affects its longevity rates. Installing your oven in an easy-to-reach place can reduce wear and tear.
How does microwave oven type affect the heating process?
Microwave oven types vary in their effect on the heating process.
You want to choose a microwave that meets your household's power needs. Most under-counter microwaves have less than 1,000 watts output since they're built for home cooking. Over-the-range models will typically have more power (or BTUs) than standard microwaves. Sometimes these models feature 6,000 BTUs (compared to 1,200 for most countertop microwaves) as they're meant not only for heating but also for cooking.
A microwave oven with convection capabilities allows you to cook your foods in addition to reheating them. Undercounter microwaves tend to lack the grilling capability present in other types like the combination units, which makes them better suited for reheating food instead of searing or browning it like large commercial units might be used to.
A convection microwave oven is similar to a traditional microwave in cooking food. But unlike other microwaves, this type has an additional feature: the heating fan and piping system that circulate hot air around the food while it cooks. This results in cooked foods with crispy outsides and moist, tender insides – much like they would if you deep-fried them!
Commercial microwave ovens are available as stoves or complete kitchen packages, including ventilation systems designed to work seamlessly with the electrical unit. While these appliances are intended for high-volume kitchens, some restaurants are interested in them because they don't require costly ductwork or hoods.
The way a combination microwave oven works is the same as your regular microwave, except they both have more options like grilling or baking.
A high-performance ventilation fan makes the over-the-range microwave work with your range hood. The fans are built to push out more air than they draw in, keeping excess heat from building up inside the oven cavity. This allows you to cook food at higher temperatures without overheating your kitchen or potentially damaging your appliance.
Over-the-range microwaves are usually lower wattage than built-ins, which means they use less energy but will take longer to cook things. They also have more consistent airflow around them while cooking because of how the venting system works, so they aren't prone to cold spots where food isn't heated evenly. This makes for more even cooking and heating.
Smart microwaves cook in various pre-programmed settings that sometimes take an average of 10 minutes to heat up or cook anything.
What effect does microwave oven type have on taste?
Microwave oven types vary in their effects on taste.
For instance, a convection microwave oven can produce crispy, deep-fried food without the oil because it has a heating fan and piping system that circulate hot air around the food as it cooks. This process results in crispy skin and moist, tender meat inside.
Some types like the combination microwave oven have grilling and baking features, which expands its use from mere reheating to cooking multiple dishes.
Is it better to use wall microwave ovens or convection microwave ovens in the kitchen?
Using a wall microwave oven may be better than a convection unit if you have a small bench space or kitchen.
Wall microwaves are best suited for kitchens with inadequate counter space or kitchens with limited storage room because they don't require much work surface or bench space.
Deciding whether it's better to use a wall or convection microwave ovens in the kitchen boils down to kitchen space and functionality.
Kitchen usability is considered when deciding between the two types of microwave ovens. It refers to the function and structure of kitchen appliances that make them easier to use.
If you prefer to use your counterspace for cooking preparations or for your other kitchen appliances that are bulky, then you may want to get a wall microwave instead of having convection microwave ovens.
A wall microwave oven saves room for other cook preps or other appliances while still giving you the option to use it whenever you need it.