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Microwave mistakes to avoid making

Are you guilty of these microwave missteps?

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Megan Arkinstall
Last updated: 07 September 2021
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Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

It's perhaps one of the handiest appliance in our kitchens, and it's pretty straightforward to use, right? But there are some common mistakes you might be making that are putting your microwave game off. Our experts put microwave etiquette under the microscope to help you fix any missteps.

1. Putting your microwave in the wrong place

Most modern kitchens have a dedicated spot for the microwave hidden behind built-in cabinetry for example, or under a benchtop and where it's best placed depends on how much you use it and how easily accessible it is. Do you have it out on the bench so you can easily get to it every morning (but where it takes up valuable space?), or do you have it hidden in the pantry where you barely use it and forget that it's there? 

Wherever it sits, be mindful that it shouldn't fit too snugly. Your microwave (whether standalone or built-in) will need about 10cm around the sides and 20cm at the top to allow for proper ventilation (convection microwaves need a little more), otherwise it can overheat and malfunction. 

Ensure your microwave door closes correctly with a good seal to reduce the risk of leakage

You should also ensure your microwave door closes correctly with a good seal to reduce the risk of leakage and to improve its performance.

2. Not covering your food

Ever unwittingly put something in the microwave for a quick nuke only to find a food apocalypse at the end? Yeah, it's happened to us all at some point. A simple fix for food explosions is to always cover your food with a lid, microwave-safe plastic wrap, or paper. CHOICE expert Fiona Mair adds that placing a lid on your food can also better assist with cooking "because it helps to hold moisture and even out heat distribution".

3. Not cleaning it properly

Are you guilty of leaving a spillage or splatter in your microwave, promising yourself you'll clean it up later? It's a big no-no. "Leaving food splatters in your microwave will slow down the cooking time as it cooks the residue as well as the intended food," says Fiona. Not to mention, it just looks gross.

So, clean up any spills ASAP by wiping up with warm soapy water. If there is built-up grime and grease, Fiona suggests popping a few slices of lemon in a bowl of water into the microwave on high for two minutes. Then simply wipe the interior with a microfibre cloth.

Leaving food splatters in your microwave will slow down the cooking time as it cooks the residue as well as the intended food

4. Buying the wrong type of microwave

The good ol' microwave has come a long way since its invention in the 1940s. Many now come with a huge variety of features including 'sensor cooking', which automatically controls the cooking time, and presets that allow you to do everything from roast a whole chicken to (apparently) cook perfect popcorn. 

With so many brands and models on the market at different price points, it can be tricky choosing the right one for you. Our experts have reviewed almost 40 different conventional microwave models (plus more convection models) to help you make the right choice. And there are a few budget options that outperform models that are much more expensive, so it's a good idea to check our expert reviews before you buy.

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The simplest way to avoid food explosions is to always cover your food with a lid, microwave-safe plastic wrap, or paper.

5. Not defrosting meat correctly

It's one of the main reasons we use our microwaves, but we often get it so wrong! There's nothing worse than ending up with partially frozen, partially cooked meat. Some microwaves have automatic defrost settings so the guess work is taken away: you enter the weight of the food and it will set the required defrost time for you. 

Some microwaves will also beep mid-cycle so you can check on the meat, and CHOICE expert Rebecca Ciaramidaro warns us not to ignore this: "It's your signal to turn the meat over and remove any sections that are already thawed out before they cook," says Rebecca. She also suggests you "freeze meat in smaller quantities to make defrosting more efficient". 

We know defrosting is something many people use their microwaves for, so our experts take this into account when giving each microwave we test a CHOICE Expert Rating. We score each microwave on how well it defrosts meat and a whole chicken, so if this matters to you, check our reviews before you buy

6. Putting hazardous packaging in the microwave

This is a common no-no. Plastic packaging (such as the packaging your meat comes in) and Styrofoam takeaway containers should never be placed in the microwave as these materials can leak chemicals and contaminate your food. And metal, aluminium foil and paper bags are hazardous as they can cause fire. 

Check your storage containers are microwave safe (this is usually indicated on the bottom of the container), otherwise they can warp or melt and release chemicals into your food. Fiona also warns that some microwave-safe containers are only suitable for reheating, not cooking or boiling.

7. Only using it to reheat and defrost

Many of us still use our microwaves to simply reheat last night's takeaway or defrost meat for tonight's dinner, but there's so much more to this essential kitchen appliance – from cooking vegetables to roasting a chicken to baking a cake. Before you get busy in the kitchen, check out these microwave cooking tips and 10 easy microwave hacks (including how to cook perfect rice, every time, and how to make your own heat pack).

"The best advice I can give is read your microwave's instruction manual. You will be amazed at what it can do to save you time in the kitchen," says Fiona. 

8. Using incorrect power settings

Do you just punch buttons on your microwave when cooking or reheating and hope for the best? CHOICE expert Rebecca says that using correct power settings for different foods will give you better results. And if you don't select a power setting, it will just default to 'High'. She warns against using the '30-second button' to quickly reheat food, as it will use the highest power setting and won't heat all food types evenly.

"It's best to use a lower power level when reheating foods; it may take longer but you'll get a better result." And, if you're doing something such as softening butter or ice-cream, or proving dough, a low setting is all you need. Find out about different microwave settings and which ones to use

Another handy hint: if you replace your microwave with a newer model, chances are you'll need to reduce cooking times, so check the manual before throwing a roast on.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE