Shopping for a microwave isn’t a simple proposition as it might sound. With so many types, sizes, brands, and prices, choosing the right fit can be next to impossible if you’re not armed with the right information.
Microwaves can be broadly categorized as countertop, commercial, built-in, or over-the-range units. Each of these types comes in varying sizes, prices, wattage, weight, oven capacity, and functionality.
To help you find the right fit for your needs, we’ll review the various sizes of each microwave type in this article. We’ll also be taking a look at the characteristics of each size, category, and what that means for functionality, so be sure to stick around to the very end. Let’s dive right in.
Countertop Microwave Sizes
Countertop microwaves are the cheapest and most common of the three microwave types (built-in, over-the-range, and countertop). Other than being pocket-friendly, they’re popular because they don’t need a professional to install—simply unpack and plug in, and you’re all set.
Countertop microwaves come in three sizes. Let’s take a deeper look at each:
Small Countertop Microwaves
True to their name, these are the smallest countertop microwaves. That means they have the smallest oven capacity of the three countertop microwave sizes, making them ideal for small kitchens or any other application that involves less than three users.
Small countertop microwaves also come with the least variety of features. This means you’d be better off restricting their usage to cooking basics, such as frozen veggies, popcorn, tea, instant rice, warming leftovers, or any other form of cooking that doesn’t require much oven capacity, cooking power, and functionality.
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To make up for these shortcomings, small countertop microwaves are the most portable and cheapest of the three types of countertop ovens. They also require the least kitchen space, making them ideal for small apartments.
Having reviewed their strengths and weakness, let’s examine some of the defining characteristics of small countertop microwaves:
Size and Cooking Capacity
Typically, small countertop microwaves’ exterior width averages between 15 inches (38.1cm) and 19 inches (48.3 cm). As for the external height and depth, both range from 10 to 14 inches (25.4cm to 35.6cm).
The cooking capacity of any given microwave simply means its internal oven size and dictates what it can realistically accommodate. Small countertop microwaves typically have a cooking capacity of less than one cubic feet. The most popular size is 0.9 ft.³ (25485.2 cm³), but some microwaves can be as small as 0.5 ft.³ (14158.4 cm³).
Weight and Wattage
Small countertop microwaves are the lightest of all types because they’re designed with an emphasis on portability. Typically, they weigh between 20lbs (9.1kg) and 30lbs (13.6kg).
The wattage of a microwave is a measure of its cooking power. In simpler terms, it’s the amount of energy it needs to heat up the food. Generally, the higher the wattage, the faster the microwave will heat food, and the more evenly it’ll cook (and vice versa).
The wattage of small countertop microwaves ranges between 600 and 1100 watts, with most options averaging 700-1000watts. While such a low wattage means slower and uneven cooking, the upside is that it helps keep the electricity bill low.
Cost and Functionality
Small countertops microwaves are the least costly of all microwave sizes. Low-end options cost about $60, while their high-end counterparts may be priced as high as $300. However, the most common price for a standard countertop microwave is about $80.
In most small countertop microwaves, a glass turntable comes standard to rotate the food as it heats up for even cooking. Also included are functionalities such as configurable power levels, defrost, and express cooking. As for the finish, it’s mostly plastic, even though some options may come with stainless steel finishes.
Keep in mind that some small countertop microwaves may have more features than these, but these usually come at a premium.
Medium Countertop Microwaves
Medium countertop microwaves have a significantly higher wattage, oven capacity, and more features than small countertop microwaves. Understandably, they’re also more expensive than small countertop models.
The best thing about medium countertop microwaves is that they strike a good balance between value for money and convenience. That is, they pack the most of the important features of larger models and still come in a more portable size and favorable price. They’re also the most common microwave size, meaning you won’t struggle to find something within your budget.
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You can use medium countertop microwaves for basic microwave applications like warming food, as well as major tasks such as defrosting large chunks of meat. They cook faster and more evenly than small microwaves and can serve a family of 5.
There aren’t many disadvantages to medium countertops. The only potential drawbacks are that they may not be able to serve extremely large families and that they usually take slightly longer to cook than large countertop units.
Having reviewed their main strengths and probable drawbacks, let’s take a look at the distinguishing traits of medium countertop microwaves:
Medium-sized countertop microwaves come with a more-than-decent cooking capacity, with units ranging between 1ft.³ (28316.8 cm³) to 2ft.³(56633.7 cm³). The standard cooking capacity is about 1.6 ft.³ (45307 cm³), which more than most families need for typical day-to-day microwave applications.
Size and Weight
Typically, medium-sized microwave units are 24 inches (61cm) wide, 16 inches (40.6 cm) deep, and 14 inches (35.6) tall. Note that these are the external dimensions.
As for the weight, it ranges between 30lbs (13.6kg) and 50lbs (22.7kg).
Wattage and Price Range
While most units average between 1000 and 1100 watts, some options can use as low as 800 watts, while others may require as much as 1300watts.
The price of medium countertop microwaves varies greatly, mainly based on the number of features included. Basic models can be as cheap as $60, while high-end units may cost as much as $800.
As is the case with price, the features of medium countertop microwaves vary greatly. Most basic units come with features similar to those of small countertop microwaves, while high-end options pack additional features that you might not find in a standard, medium-sized countertop microwave.
For instance, some come with inverter cooking technology, which replaces the standard magnetic coil used to cook food with an inverter for better energy efficiency and quicker cooking.
Depending on the price range, a medium countertop microwave may come with the following features:
- Sensor cooking
- Grill function
- The aforementioned inverter technology
- Push-button door opener
- Easy to clean interior
Large Countertop Microwaves
As you’d expect, large countertop microwaves come with the highest wattage and cooking capacity of the three sizes of countertop microwave units. That means they cook faster and heat food more uniformly than any other countertop microwave size. They can also accommodate the largest food sizes for extended periods, making them ideal for heavy-duty microwave applications in large families.
However, such operational excellence means a higher price and electricity bill. Large countertop microwaves also take up more space, making them unsuitable for those with small kitchens. Lastly, they aren’t as common as their medium-size counterparts, meaning it might take a bit of shopping to find one.
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With the pros and cons covered, let’s take a look at the defining characteristics of large countertop microwaves:
Size and Weight
The exterior of large countertop microwaves is usually 35 inches (88.9cm) tall, 18 to 24 inches (45.7cm to 61cm) wide, and 18 inches (45.7cm) deep.
As for the weight, it ranges between 50 and 70lbs (22.7kg to 31.8kg)
Oven Capacity and Wattage
The cooking capacity of countertop microwaves is usually over 2ft.³ (56633.7 cm³), with most options averaging 2.2ft.³ (62297.1 cm³). This capacity is large enough to accommodate a whole chicken or a small turkey.
The most common wattage in large countertop microwaves is 1250 watts, with 1200 watts being the lower limit and 1400watts the upper limit. Such a high wattage means faster cooking than any other size unit, but that comes at the expense of higher power consumption.
Price Range and Features
The least affordable of the three types of countertop units, large countertop microwaves are usually priced between $150 and $300.
Large countertop microwaves pack virtually the same features you’d find in their medium-sized counterparts but come with more cooking presets.
The features list includes:
- Inverter cooking technology
- Grill function
- Auto-adjust power levels and cooking time
- Convection cooking
- 10 more presets for cooking common foods
Countertop Microwaves Comparison Table
For at-a-glance comparison, here’s a table capturing the most important differences between the various sizes of countertop microwaves:
|Microwave size||Height in Inches||Width in Inches||Depth in Inches||Wattage||Oven Capacity in Cubic Feet||Weight in Pounds|
Rather than sit on kitchen countertops, built-in microwaves are usually installed in base cabinets or walls. Where these microwaves are installed is mainly what sets them apart from the countertop and above-range microwaves. It’s also what gives rise to one of the biggest advantages of built-in microwaves: saving valuable kitchen counter space.
Speaking of advantages, built-in microwaves also add an elegant, modern touch to kitchen interiors, especially if you choose the oven color with your decor theme in mind. Depending on the kind of look you’re going for, some of the crafty ways you can use a colored built-in microwave to complement your kitchen decor include:
- Recessing it into one of the walls to create a neat, cohesive, space-saving look.
- Adding a microwave trim kit to the shelving, your unit sits on for a finished look.
- Using a brightly-colored microwave to add exciting color pops in unexpected places.
- Combining kitchen accessories and decor elements with a pastel-colored microwave to create a vintage look.
- Grouping your microwave with other kitchen appliances to create contrast.
Additionally, built-in microwaves are safe for homes with children, the elderly, or short people because you can make them child-proof through simple programming and install them such that no one in your family has to reach above to access food.
Also worth mentioning is that built-in microwaves come in various sizes and power levels, making it easy to find a snug fit for any drawer space.
Like any other type of microwave, built-in units also come with their fair share of drawbacks. Perhaps the biggest issue is that they lack some of the features you’d find in a large or medium countertop unit like a turntable, grill function, inverted cooking, and convection cooking. There’s also the fact that they’re quite expensive and that they require professional installation.
With the pros and cons covered, let’s review the defining features of built-in microwaves:
Size and Weight
Usually, the external dimensions of built-in microwaves vary with the drawer space size. On average, most units measure 30 inches (76.2cm) wide, 26 inches (66cm) deep, and 15 inches (38.1cm) high.
As for the weight, it ranges between 50 (22.7kg) and 100lbs (45.4kg).
Oven Capacity and Wattage
While some units may be larger, the typical oven capacity of built-in microwaves ranges between 1ft³ (28316.8cm³) and 2ft.³ (56633.7cm³).
The wattage of microwave drawers also varies. Most units range between 800 watts and 1000 watts, with some consuming more than 1500 watts (e.g., FRIGIDAIRE FPMO3077TF runs on 1750 watts).
Price Range and Functionality
The least affordable type of home microwaves, built-in units cost between $700 and $2000. Note that this doesn’t include the installation cost.
The highlight features of built-in microwaves include child-safe mode, interior LED lights, auto defrost, soften/keep warm/melt modes, single-touch open/close, a variety of power settings, cooking pre-configurations for common foods, and easy-to-clean oven interiors.
Keep in mind that the list of features may vary across brands.
An over-the-range (OTR) microwave is usually a 2-in-1 unit that combines a range hood with a microwave oven. These units are usually installed over a cooktop or range and come with all the necessary mounting hardware for quick, hassle-free installation.
The biggest selling point of OTR microwaves is that they save valuable kitchen counter space. Also worth mentioning is that they come with a ventilation system to help keep your kitchen free of excessive heat, toxins, and steam that usually accumulate with frequent coking. This eliminates the need to purchase and install a range hood, something that you’d have to do with a countertop unit.
The included vent system of an OTR microwave can also help reduce energy costs. By getting rid of the heat and moisture that usually come with heavy-duty cooking, it reduces reliance on your HVAC system, thus helping run down your electricity bill.
Last on the list of pros, over-the-range microwaves are safe to use in homes with small kids. Due to the placement of OTR microwaves (high above the counter), you won’t have to worry about kids accessing the unit when you’re not around.
But while this kind of placement makes over-the-range microwaves kid-safe, it also makes them hard to use for short people. Another issue you might have with an over-the-range microwave is that it can be tricky to keep an eye on what you’re cooking if it’s placed in a tall pot. With such pots, you also have to be careful when taking out the food not to spill it on yourself.
Having looked at the pros and cons, let’s take a deeper look at the defining characteristics of over-the-range microwaves:
Size and Weight
The exterior of OTR microwaves is usually 15 inches (38.1cm) tall, 30 inches (76.2cm) wide, and 16 inches (40.6cm) deep. That said, these dimensions may vary depending on the size of the cabinet space you’re looking to fit your unit.
As for the weight, it averages between 50 and 65lbs (22.7kg to 29.5kg).
Oven Capacity and Wattage
The oven capacity of OTR microwaves varies greatly and can be anything from less than 1 ft.³ (28316.8cm³ ) to over 2ft.³ (56633.7cm³).
Since the size and capacity of OTR microwaves differ greatly, the wattage also varies, with most units averaging between 600watt and 1200watts.
Price Range and Functionality
An over-the-range microwave without a fan can cost anything from $50 to $300. With the fan included, the price range goes up to $200-$500, with high-end options costing more than $500.
OTR microwaves have most of the features you’d find in a large-sized countertop unit. While the list may vary with brand, price, and size, some of the common features of over-the-range units include:
- Convection cooking
- Grill function
- A number of pre-configurations for cooking common foods
- An auto weight function for defrosting
- Inverter cooking technology
While the compact size of commercial microwaves makes them look like plug-in countertop units, they’re significantly more expensive and more powerful. Typically, they’re designed for commercial foodservice applications, where cooking speed and efficiency are critical.
Interestingly, they often come in a smaller size than large countertop microwaves, mainly because they’re meant to be used in commercial kitchens where space tends to be limited.
Commercial microwave ovens are usually categorized by two of the most important factors to consider when shopping for such units: wattage and cooking power. We have light, medium, and heavy-duty commercial microwaves, each with different characteristics that affect operational efficiency.
Let’s take a deeper look at each type.
Light Duty Commercial Microwaves
Light duty commercial microwaves average about 1000watts in terms of energy consumption. While they’re still more powerful than typical residential units, they’re the weakest of commercial microwaves.
As such, they are best suited to food service establishments that require microwave cooking about 50 times or less. Typical applications include:
- Wait stations: occasional warming of soups, desserts, beverages, and rolls.
- Break rooms: warming frozen meals, packed lunches, and beverages
- Concession stands: heating food that’s gone cold
- Breakfast bars: occasionally heating leftovers, muffins, oatmeal, and various beverages
In terms of oven capacity, light-duty commercial microwaves average between 0.3 – 0.8 cu.ft. In commercial microwaves, cu.ft. denotes a unit’s interior dimensions in cubic feet. This figure is calculated by multiplying the length, width, and height in inches and then dividing that value by 1728. The higher it is, the more a unit can accommodate.
With their 0.3 – 0.8 cu.ft. oven capacity, light-duty commercial microwaves can accommodate most small oven-friendly china dishes and ¼ and ⅙ size high-temperature food pans. They can also fit most bowls, mugs, small plates, measuring cups, and ramekins.
Medium-Duty Commercial Microwaves
Medium duty commercial units come with a higher wattage ranging from 1,200 watts and 2000watts for faster cooking than their light-duty counterparts. They also have a longer service life and can be used more frequently (up to 150 times per day).
Such functionality means you can use these units in commercial applications such as:
- Convenience stores: heating pre-packed food, sandwiches, and snacks
- Bakeries: defrosting and quick baking some items and melting butter.
- Cafes: warming beverages, baked goods, and some lunchtime items
In terms of cooking capacity, medium-duty commercial microwaves range between 0.8 – 1.0 cu.ft. This is large enough to fit most ⅓ and ½ size high-temperature food pans, oven-friendly plastic takeout containers, medium-size plates, and bowls.
Heavy-Duty Commercial Microwaves
Averaging between 2000 and 3000 in terms of wattage, these are the most powerful of commercial microwaves. They are also the most durable and can cook faster than both light and medium-duty commercial units, making them ideal for foodservice establishments that need to use a microwave more than 200 times a day or more.
Such capability makes heavy-duty commercial microwaves perfect for applications such as:
- Quick service restaurants: high-volume heating of entrees with quick turnaround times
- Cafes: high-speed heating of large portions; constantly holding to minimize waste
- Catering companies/commercial kitchens: fast cooking and heating mass-produced food, steaming vegetables and seafood, melting cheese, heating, and/or defrosting entrees.
To support such heavy-duty applications, these units come with the largest oven capacity of the three types of commercial microwaves, ranging from 1.2 – 1.6 cu.ft. To put things into perspective, this is a large enough room to fit most oven-friendly plastic muffin trays, full-size high-temperature food pans, standard plates, dishes, and other similarly-sized items.
That does it for today’s post. Hopefully, we’ve covered enough details about the various microwave types and their sizes to help you choose the right fit for your needs.
But just in case you missed a few points, here are the highlights:
- Countertop microwaves are the cheapest and least powerful, making them ideal if you’re on a budget and looking for a light-duty solution.
- Built-in units, on the other hand, are a great choice when you want to save on kitchen space while also adding an elegant, modern touch to your kitchen interiors.
- Commercial microwaves are a great fit for foodservice businesses due to their great combination of cooking speed, operational efficiency, and compactness.
- As for over-the-range units, their main selling point is a placement that helps save kitchen counter space, and a ventilation system that reduces energy consumption.