The humble microwave is often one of the most-used appliances in our kitchens. From warming leftovers to melting butter for baking to reheating that cup of tea that's been forgotten several times over, we rely on them to make life easier for us. Although there are also plenty of things you should avoid microwaving.
But microwaves that just don't do what they're meant to (or are so confusing to use that you find yourself avoiding them) take up a lot of space in your kitchen – and can leave a big hole in your wallet.
If you're not a fan of lukewarm food or complicated appliances, give these microwaves a miss. And to avoid buying a dud like these, check our expert microwave reviews before you buy.
Why have these microwaves scored so poorly?
"There are a few factors that contribute to a microwave receiving a low score," says CHOICE's kitchen expert Fiona Mair. She talks us through what makes for a mediocre microwave.
"We mark down microwaves that have controls which are difficult to comprehend, that don't have clear written labelling, and hidden functions within a function," Fiona says.
"With microwaves like these, you'll need to constantly refer back to the manual, which means you most likely won't end up using your microwave to its full potential."
CHOICE's kitchen expert Fiona Mair tests each microwave's reheating performance with the 'hedgehog' – an instrument with 12 needles that measure temperature throughout a quiche.
"Reheating is one of the most common uses for a microwave," she says.
"Low-scoring microwaves struggle with heating solid foods evenly, which means you'll end up with cold spots in your food.
"Nearly all of the low-scoring microwaves in our test performed poorly when reheating."
"Another factor that contributes to microwaves scoring poorly is visibility," Fiona says.
"Viewing the food cooking or heating in your microwave is essential for better control. The viewing window needs to be large enough and easy to see through with effective lighting. The low-scoring microwaves in our tests generally didn't have good visibility."
The worst performing microwaves from our tests
If you're new to CHOICE content, you might be surprised to learn that the lowest-scoring products aren't always the cheapest. In fact, in our microwave tests, some of the poorest performers were well-known brands.
When we pitted an $99 Kmart microwave against the $388 Smeg SA34MX in our splurge vs save: microwave edition, the Kmart model came out on top, despite being a huge $289 cheaper than the European brand.
Unfortunately, though, the opposite isn't also true: our list of the worst performers also includes a cheapo $89 microwave from Ikea.
You might be surprised to learn that some of the poorest performers were well-known brands
That's why it's so important to do your research before buying an appliance. Buy a cheapie and it could either be a bargain wonder or a dismal failure that'll die after a few months. Conversely, if you cough up extra dollars for a better brand, you could strike it lucky or be left out of pocket twice over when you have to replace it.
You can take the guesswork out of buying a microwave by checking our expert microwave reviews before you hit the shops.
Samsung ME6144ST: not the easiest to use.
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 68%
- Price: $259
While this Samsung scored a respectable 75% for cooking performance, it was let down terribly by its ease of use score – at 52%, its ease of use was rated 'Borderline' by our kitchen experts.
To rate a microwave's ease of use, our experts assess how easy and intuitive it is to operate, what the visibility is like through the door and with the light, and how easy it is to clean the microwave inside and out. This score makes up 30% of the overall score because no matter how well a microwave reheats your food or cooks vegetables, if it's hard to use and maintain, you're not going to have a good time owning it.
The ME6144ST is excellent at cooking broccoli, which is great if you're into eating leafy greens, but was terrible at reheating food – which is exactly what most of us use our microwaves for.
There are plenty of microwaves that we recommend around this same price point, so don't spend $259 on this one and end up saddled with a frustrating, poor-performing microwave. Check our expert microwave reviews to make sure you don't end up with a dud.
Read the Samsung ME6144ST review.
Sharp R395EBS: not great for, erm… cooking.
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 70%
- Price: $349
For $100 more than the Samsung ME6144ST, you can buy the Sharp R395EBS which performs… even worse? That doesn't sound like good value to us.
The Sharp scores better than the Samsung on ease of use but worse for cooking performance, and our experts found that it performed very poorly when cooking broccoli. The salad dodgers among us will be pleased to know that it did well when melting chocolate, however.
This microwave's test scores read like a manual on mediocrity: our experts said it was "only OK" on a number of tests, like defrosting mince, manually reheating solid foods, and visibility through the door. It's also not easy to keep clean, and its fan is pretty noisy even after you've finished cooking.
Read the Sharp R395EBS review.
Samsung Smart Sensor Microwave Oven ME6104ST1: not a very smart choice.
Samsung Smart Sensor Microwave Oven ME6104ST1
- CHOICE Expert Rating: 70%
- Price: $209
This Samsung is very hit-and-miss: it's great for cooking broccoli and defrosting mince, and it has a sensory cook function and fairly comprehensive instructions.
But it absolutely bombed when it comes to ease of use, scoring just 52%. Our kitchen experts said they couldn't see the food cooking inside the microwave, the digital display is faint so it's hard to see and it's a pain to keep clean. Plus it scored only "OK" for reheating, which is one of the most common uses for a microwave.
It may be cheaper than the Sharp, but that doesn't mean it's a good buy. This microwave definitely doesn't put the "smart" in "smart sensor".
Read the full Samsung Smart Sensor Microwave review.
The $490 Smeg SA34MX received the same score as the $79 Ikea Tillreda.
The tie breaker
These five microwaves tied for third-worst place, each scoring 71% overall. They range in price from $89 all the way up to $388, which just shows that more expensive doesn't necessarily mean better – and that you can't always rely on well-known brands to deliver the goods.
Of these, the Samsung received the highest cooking performance score – but also the lowest ease of use score. And the exxy Smeg received the lowest score for reheating, at just 44%. (At least it'll look good on your bench, right?)
- Smeg SA34MX ($388)
- Sharp R350EW ($309)
- Samsung MS40J5133BT ($259)
- IKEA Tillreda MM720C2CZ-PM0F ($89)
- Russell Hobbs 43L Family Size Microwave RHMO43 ($190)
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.