Reheating that leftover piece of pizza. Melting butter for Mum's secret biscuit recipe. Nuking Gremlins when you've accidentally fed them after midnight. Whatever you use them for, microwaves are handy items to have in any kitchen.
Whether you're upgrading a microwave that's been around since we bid that unfortunate gremlin farewell, or buying one for the first time, we'll show you what to look for before you make your choice.
Note: This guide is for microwaves that DON'T act as an oven as well – those are covered in our convection microwaves buying guide.
Zap your electricity bill
It's no surprise that a microwave can speed up your cooking time, but it can also save you money. Microwaves are more energy efficient than stove tops and ovens when performing most types of cooking, and their running costs can be as low as $10 a year.
There's a huge range of microwaves to choose from, so which one is right for you?
How much to spend
Microwaves range in price from $149 to $650 - we even reviewed a $60 ALDI model once. It's a big price gap, so what are you getting for those extra dollars? Usually it's brand name and design elements (who knew red paint was so expensive?). If those are important to you, prepare to front up the extra cash.
Of course, you don't want it to fail in its first five years, so reliability is also important.
What to look for
Many kitchens now have a dedicated space for a microwave – you'll need to measure that gap and look for something that fits. If you don't have a spot carved out, the microwave is going to take up your precious bench space, so think about how much you're willing to sacrifice.
Not so micro
Most microwaves are around 50cm wide, 30cm high and 40cm deep.
- Your microwave will need about 10cm space around the sides for ventilation, and 20cm at the top, where the vents are usually located.
Interior dimensions are important, too. Will your microwave-safe dishes actually fit inside? Don't be shy about taking them into the store to check.
Look for easy-to-use controls and good instructions on the display. The best microwaves won't require you to refer to the instruction manual. Some have a quick-access user guide inside the door, which can help.
A bright interior light and large transparent viewing window lets you check your food as it cooks. Many models have poor visibility through the door. Where possible, ask the store to power up the microwaves you're considering to make sure visibility is good.
Check there aren't too many gaps or crevices inside or outside the microwave that could trap food and grease. Control pads are easier to clean than dials and buttons. Stainless steel may look flash but it's harder to keep clean.
Automatic defrost prompts you to enter the weight and type of food, the oven then calculates defrosting time.
Sensor programs take automatic functions one step further by measuring vapours emitted by the food to control the cooking time.
This is a single button that delivers a 30-second or one minute burst of power, which can be increased in increments. Particularly handy for reheating.
This allows you to increase or decrease the programmed time without stopping cooking.
This setting performs a sequence of functions, such as defrost, cook and then leave to stand.
Child safety lock
This gives you a sequence of buttons to activate and deactivate the microwave.
The digital timer can be used to time other kitchen tasks or cooking times.
Keep in mind that all microwaves beep during or at the end of operation. Some also have cooling fans that can continue operating when cooking has finished.
What about that inverter thingie?
Inverter technology for microwaves has hit the market in the last few years. An inverter adjusts energy usage based on need. A normal microwave on medium power will heat on full power for half the time, then turn off for half the time, whereas an inverter will continually heat using 50% of its power and won't need to turn off. It's not essential and isn't relevant to performance, so you can ignore the hype.
Microwave safety: radioactive nonsense
Microwaves are a safe method of food preparation if used correctly, and the food is just as nutritious (more so in some cases) as with any other cooking method. Microwave ovens stop as soon as you cut the power off and open the door. Microwaves don't remain in the food and make it radioactive.
All microwaves sold in Australia must pass specific requirements about leakage in accordance with relevant Australian standards. Leakage is possible if you have a poorly fitting or damaged door, so you should have it inspected by a qualified technician.
Microwaves range from $149 to $650.