Microwaves are a phenomenally popular appliance. Since 1994, when just 67% of households had a microwave, ownership has increased rapidly, to 93% in 2018 – that’s more than the number of households with a toaster.
Despite their ubiquity, microwaves can be quite an investment, and since even the smallest models take up a substantial amount of kitchen space, it’s important to have a clear idea of how you’ll use a microwave before buying so you can find the best microwave for you.
We tested microwaves for every requirement to make sure you find the perfect fit. Find more buyers’ advice below.
Swan Retro Digital Microwave Cream, 20 L, 800 W, 6 Power Levels Including Defrost Setting, SM22030CN
£89.33 FREE Delivery in the UK.
Simple, retro design
Brighten up your kitchen with this retro-styled microwave. The footprint is small and at just 20 litres this is not a microwave for families but one to sit beautifully in any small kitchen. It comes with several added extras, including a range of auto-programmes including defrosting by weight between (0.1 and 2kg) and 12 simple auto cooking programmes, each with further choices.
Swan SM22036GRYN, Nordic Digital Microwave, Wood Effect Handle, Soft Touch Housing and Matt Finish, 800W, 20 L, Slate Grey
£99.99 FREE Delivery in the UK.
Microwaves are notoriously monochrome, so this has a real point of difference. Its diminutive size makes it a good option for smaller kitchens, although its 20-litre capacity matches its footprint, so we wouldn't recommend this for larger families.
Russell Hobbs RHMD714B-N 17L 700w Scandi Black Digital Microwave with 5 Power Levels, Wood Effect Handle & Dials, Clock & Timer, Automatic Defrost, Easy Clean, 8 Auto Cook Menus
Small but punchy
The Russell Hobbs Scandi Microwave has some brilliant features, including eight auto-cook settings and various handy shortcuts. The soft-touch wood effect handle and dial, matt grey casing and mirrored door look lovely and are subtle enough to suit any kitchen décor.
At just 700W, the Scandi may take a little longer to cook, but if you want a small, functional, good-looking microwave, then this is the one.
£270.00 & FREE Delivery
For bigger households
The Sharp combination microwave oven will easily hold large plates and oval dishes – the downside being that the turntable won’t easily fit into a small sink to be cleaned. It's simple to get to grips with thanks to the straightforward manual and we were particularly impressed by the detailed baked potato setting.
Lots of cooking functions
Tech lovers will enjoy experimenting with the many cooking functions that come with this modern microwave. The design has a particular focus on healthy cooking, with settings including quinoa, spinach and grilled salmon. Overall, the reasonable cost means this is great value for such an impressive, multi-functioning machine.
Impressive in its simplicity
It has few added extras but above average cooking prowess. Its defrost option impressed, evenly defrosting a chicken breast without leaving frozen patches, as did the preset baked potato function. Instructions are very clear and detailed, meaning extras are easy to use.
Bosch Home & Kitchen Appliances HMT84M451B Serie 4 Freestanding 900W Microwave Oven, 25 litre, Stainless Steel
A family-friendly appliance
Bosch is a heritage brand and its ‘Invented for Life’ label carries some heft, so we'd expect this to endure the test of time. It's a utilitarian machine with intuitive buttons and simple presets, although spud lovers should be aware there's no baked potato option. However, we used pack instructions to blast a potato and the results were good.
Hotpoint MWH 338 SX Combi Microwave Oven and Grill, 30 auto cooking programmes, 360 mm turntable, 33L, 900W, Stainless Steel
A stand-out microwave
Offering microwaving, grilling and a convection oven, it’s got everything the average kitchen might need in one. It does the basics very well but comes loaded with settings and functions, including dough-rising and butter-softening. The ‘Dual Crisp’ function produced excellent results when we tested bacon. Overall, this was our favourite microwave: a robust option that can do pretty much everything except the washing up.
Stylish, powerful, and super-quiet
There are ten programmes and 40 settings behind its seemingly simple interface covering all bases and a shortcuts menu of super-useful settings from melting butter and chocolate to a handy 30 second time increase while cooking.
Budget-friendly and simple to use
This Beko model doesn't have the added functions or stylish finish of more expensive models, but it works very well and the cooking results were impressive. The display is clear, the buttons are tactile, timing is set with a dial rather than buttons, and the handle is sturdy and easy to pull, making this a great option for older or less dexterous users, or the less tech-savvy.
Sage The Combi Wave 3-in-1 Microwave Oven
As we have come to expect from Sage, with their intuitive technology, good looks and ease of use, this combi-microwave is no exception and more. Thanks to the well-written, logical instruction book of many preset programmes and cooking methods, it was one of the fastest to get up and running.
The Sage Combi Wave is a powerful oven, and timings need adjusting for those used to smaller microwaves which are easy to forget, as we discovered. However, other than that minor detail, we were delighted with this oven.
Panasonic Combi Microwave Oven 4-in-1
The Panasonic 4-in-1 Combi was both the largest and most expensive combi microwave on our test. Still, it comes with a wealth of programmes and presets, including 12 combi-cooking options and 36 auto programmes. This is the only combi to offer steam for healthy, nutritious and super tasty food. For its sheer size and power, the Panasonic is remarkably quiet, easy to use and will easily replace a regular oven for those with less space or supplement for those who need more capacity.
Panasonic NN-CD58JSBPQ combination microwave
Best for families
A microwave that's excellent value for money and an outstanding performer in the multi-cooker bracket, Panasonic really want you to get the most of out of this machine. Its unique functions – such as a ‘junior menu’ option for kids meals – give this the edge.
Wilko copper-effect microwave
Best budget microwave
This cheap-and-cheerful microwave is a great basic buy. Although it only offers microwave cooking, it’s simple and straightforward, and does the job well enough. Some of the preset options required a little tweaking, but it’s a great basic buy.
Different microwave types explained
Depending on what you want to use the microwave for, will depend on what you want to buy. Maybe you simply want to defrost meat, cook ready meals and prep the odd baked potato. You may also want your microwave’s performance to rival an oven’s in terms of crispness and water retention. Or do you want something which goes even further and will, in effect, replace your oven by offering grilling, microwaving and convection cooking in one?
Unless otherwise stated in the product title, most microwaves tend to be classed as ‘microwave-only’. This means they'll perform the basic tasks expected of them – heating up or defrosting food. If you don't fancy blowing the budget and you only need the basic features, then a classic microwave will serve you well.
A grill microwave goes one step further than a traditional model and is able to grill food, giving foods such as bacon that authentically grilled texture rather than making them dry out.
This is the closest you'll find to a traditional oven in microwave form. Depending on how much you fork out, some models will even be able to bake sponge cakes. What's more, they also have the ability to brown foods – so if you're trying to achieve a perfectly crisp baked potato, a combination microwave will certainly do the trick.
What we looked for in a microwave
Ease of use: we figure microwaves are mostly used by those who want to make life simpler. We looked for pared-down functionality, simple design and easy-to-follow instruction booklets.
Cooking versatility: we wanted to know if customising settings and using presets delivered equally good results. We also checked that these options were adequately explained in the instructions and simple to put into practice.
Defrosting: when we asked our visitors what they looked for in a microwave, defrosting was considered key. We looked for effective thawing – and presets were a bonus.
Moisture retention: we checked the food didn’t dry out before it had finished cooking.
Additional features: small features like a child lock or kitchen timer were appreciated, plus we looked at how well more prominent features such as grills and convection ovens performed.
Size: we assessed the size of the microwave and the space they took up in the kitchen, considering small machines for infrequent and basic use, and larger ones for families who will be reheating oven dishes. All the models we tested need to be installed a specified height above the floor, with plenty of room all around for ventilation.
How we tested microwaves
When asked, our readers told us their main reasons for using a microwave were defrosting, reheating meals and cooking porridge. So we blasted jacket potatoes to make sure they cooked through to the centre yet stayed moist at the edges. We defrosted chicken breasts, then went on to cook them, looking for a tender, juicy finish. Where applicable, we also grilled bacon and made recipes using the convection oven.
This is an impartial review written in accordance to the BBC Good Food editorial standards. All products were chosen independently by the BBC Good Food editorial team.