The first commercially available microwave oven, known as the “Radarange,” was introduced in 1947. While the technology was impressive, the appliance was almost 6 feet tall and weighed 750 pounds, so it couldn’t be easily incorporated into the average American kitchen. Luckily, in the decades since, microwaves have shrunk considerably, and today compact models are available that are suited to small kitchens. According to The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), 96 percent of Americans now own a microwave.
While choosing the best small microwave might seem like a simple decision, there are actually a number of considerations to weigh. This guide will explore several important features to look for as you shop and will provide choices by category for some of the top products on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: Toshiba EM131A5C-BS Microwave Oven
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: BLACK+DECKER EM720CB7 Digital Microwave
- UPGRADE PICK: Toshiba EC042A5C-SS Countertop Microwave Oven
- BEST SMART: GE JES1097SMSS Smart Countertop Microwave
- BEST WITH INVERTER: Panasonic Compact Microwave Oven
- BEST DESIGN: GE JES1072SHSS Countertop Microwave
- BEST RETRO: Nostalgia RMO4IVY Retro Countertop Microwave Oven
- ALSO CONSIDER: Cuisinart CMW-100 Stainless Steel Microwave
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Small Microwave
While it’s easy to assume that all compact microwaves offer similar performance, a number of factors affect their functionality, including type, power capacity, dimensions, settings, availability of additional features, and more. Keep reading to learn about some of the most important features to consider when choosing the best small microwave for your kitchen.
Choose from several types of microwaves:
- Countertop models are the most popular, with two-thirds of Americans opting for this style. They simply need to be plugged into an electrical outlet, so installation is a breeze. They can be moved around as needed. Most small microwaves on the market are of the countertop variety.
- Over-the-range (OTR) microwaves are mounted above the stovetop and include an exhaust fan to double as a range hood. Shopping for an over-the-range microwave can be tricky because it must fit perfectly in the available space. Professional installation is generally recommended.
- Under-cabinet microwaves are similar to over-the-range models but are not suspended over the stove.
- Built-in microwaves are installed flush with kitchen cabinets for a cohesive aesthetic. While they do save on counter space, they tend to be expensive and are difficult to install.
- Convection microwaves circulate hot air to speed up cooking times. They also have advanced capacities for browning and crisping.
Microwave capacities are measured in cubic feet. Capacities generally range from 0.5 to 2.2 cubic feet. Those looking for a small microwave should consider models with capacities of 1.3 cubic feet or less. Microwaves with a 0.5-cubic-foot capacity are still large enough to accommodate a standard 10-inch dinner plate.
While capacity does influence a microwave’s dimensions, it’s not the only figure to consider. Some models are made with bulkier siding, increasing their size even if the interior capacity remains the same. Countertop microwaves are typically between 18 and 24 inches wide, 14 and 16 inches deep, and 9.8 and 13.8 inches tall.
Microwave power capacities range between 500 and 1,200 watts. Higher wattage means that food will cook more quickly and evenly. Keep in mind, however, that higher wattage is associated with higher price points. Microwaves with less than 700 watts may cook food slowly or unevenly. Most prepackaged foods assume a power capacity of 1,000 watts when providing cooking instructions. Smaller microwaves generally have lower power capacities. Look for a compact model with a power capacity of between 700 and 1,000 watts for the best results.
Most microwaves are powered by transformers, but some upgraded models feature inverters for more consistent cooking. Transformer-powered microwaves cycle between full power and zero power at lower settings, while inverter microwaves maintain a constant temperature.
When shopping for a microwave, consider its interior features:
- Nearly all microwaves include turntables that rotate food to guarantee even cooking. Ensure that the turntable of a compact microwave is large enough to hold your household’s dinner plates. Look for a model with a turntable that can be removed and hand-washed or put in the dishwasher.
- Some microwaves come with interior racks, allowing you to cook two or more dishes simultaneously. These racks are removable and may be dishwasher safe or may require hand-washing.
- An interior LED display light lets users monitor food as it cooks.
Controls and Settings
Microwaves come with a variety of settings and cooking presets:
- An “Add 30 seconds” button is handy for food that just needs a little longer.
- Auto-defrost settings optimize thawing times based on the weight of the food being defrosted.
- Cooking presets for specific foods—like popcorn or pizza—automatically choose a cooking time and power setting.
Look for a model with large, clearly marked buttons. A backlit LED display provides improved visibility in low-light conditions. Smooth control panels are easy to wipe clean, while interfaces with buttons or knobs can accumulate dirt and require more extensive cleaning.
Many modern microwaves feature smart sensors that detect moisture levels in the food you’re cooking to regulate cook times and prevent overcooking.
More high-tech smart microwaves connect to Wi-Fi networks and can be controlled using a smart-home assistant, smartphone, or tablet. Some models allow users to scan the barcodes of prepackaged foods and then search their internal databases to determine cook times.
Some microwaves include other features to increase safety or improve functionality.
- A child lockout feature forces users to input a code before use to prevent young children from using it.
- A silent mode eliminates all auditory alerts, which is perfect for quiet late-night snacking.
- A grill function sears the outside of the food.
- A delay start time allows users to program a cook time in advance.
- An eco-mode setting reduces standby power usage.
While some of the most affordable microwaves have simple black or white plastic finishes, most high-end models feature stainless steel exteriors. Match your microwave to your fridge, stove, dishwasher, and other kitchen appliances for a consistent aesthetic. Alternatively, choose a model with a colorful retro finish to create a visual focal point.
Our Top Picks
The top picks take into account the abovementioned features to consider when shopping for the best small microwave, in addition to overall quality and value. Read on to discover some of the top options on the market in a variety of categories.
Toshiba’s EM131A5C-BS model is compact, affordable, and has an 1,100-watt capacity with a number of additional features that set it apart from other microwaves on the market. The add-30-seconds button and one-touch express controls from 1 to 6 minutes allow for quick cooking. Use the mute setting to prevent beeping when a button is pressed and when the cycle ends. Choose from two defrost settings: custom defrost and 1 auto defrost. It features a door handle rather than a button, which many users find easier to keep clean.
This model has a 1.2-cubic-foot capacity, with external dimensions of 20.5 inches by 17.1 inches by 12.8 inches and internal dimensions of 13.07 inches by 15 inches by 9.5 inches. The turntable has a 12.5-inch diameter. Choose from two colors: brushed stainless steel or black stainless steel. As an added safety feature, a lock function prevents children from using the microwave unsupervised.
This BLACK & DECKER microwave is affordable and ultra compact, making it perfect for small apartments and college dorm rooms. It features a 700-watt power capacity, 10 power settings, and 30-second express cooking. Defrost by either time or weight. Choose from six auto-cook presets for popcorn, pizza, potatoes, frozen vegetables, beverages, and dinner plates.
While this model has a 0.7-cubic-foot capacity, larger versions with 0.9-, 1.1-, and 1.4-cubic-foot capacities are also available. The smallest model has external dimensions of 17.3 inches by 13.0 inches by 10.2 inches, internal dimensions of 12.05 inches by 11.97 inches by 8.11 inches, and it includes a removable 10-inch glass turntable.
Toshiba’s four-in-one countertop appliance functions as a microwave, air fryer, broiler, and convection oven. The air fryer crisps up french fries, nuggets, and wings using minimal oil, the broiler toasts and browns, and the convection oven heats at temperatures up to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. The functions can be used independently or in conjunction with one another to cook a wide variety of dishes. The microwave uses an inverter and includes Genius Sensor Cook, Turbo Defrost, and settings for specific foods. A safety lock and silent mode are also available.
Its capacity is 1.2 cubic feet, with external dimensions of 22 inches by 13.4 inches by 17 inches and a 14.2-inch glass turntable.
The GE JES1097SMSS smart microwave connects to a Wi-Fi network and pairs with Google Assistant or Alexa for voice activation. It also features scan-to-cook technology, letting users scan the barcodes from prepackaged foods to set the time and temperature automatically.
The microwave has a 900-watt power capacity, a variety of presets, and it allows users to defrost by time or weight. Lock the controls by pressing the “off” button for 3 seconds. Its capacity is 0.9 cubic feet with exterior dimensions of 19 inches by 14.5 inches by 11.5 inches.
While many compact microwaves have reduced power capacities, this Panasonic model is an impressive 1,200 watts. Not only that, but it also uses inverter technology, ensuring that heating is even and consistent across all power levels. This functionality allows for a powerful turbo defrost setting to thaw frozen foods quickly. Along with the standard cooking presets, this model is a great pick for popcorn lovers because it provides specific settings for three standard popcorn bag sizes. The 15-sensor reheat options provide settings for oatmeal, omelets, quinoa, fresh vegetables, and more.
The microwave has a 1.2-cubic-foot capacity with external dimensions of 15.8 inches by 20.7 inches by 12.2 inches and internal dimensions of 9.9 inches by 13.9 inches by 14.4 inches.
GE’s JES1072SHSS model has a sleek, modern design that’s available in four finishes: stainless steel, black stainless steel, white, and black. The exterior measures 17.31 inches by 10.18 inches by 12.75 inches, while the interior measures 12.75 inches by 7.87 inches by 11.62 inches for a total capacity of 0.7 cubic feet.
It has a 700-watt power capacity. Cooking controls include auto and timed defrost, one-touch cooking, food-specific presets, an add-30-seconds button, and a reheat function. Express cooking options are available, ranging from 1 to 6 minutes.
Generally speaking, microwaves aren’t known for their eye-catching designs, but this model by Nostalgia Electrics evokes midcentury aesthetics. It’s available in four colors: aqua, ivory, jet black, metallic retro red, and seafoam green. The vintage-style program dial makes for a tactile user experience. Despite its retro look, the microwave is equipped with plenty of modern features. It has an 800-watt power capacity and includes 12 preprogrammed cooking settings as well as a delay timer.
The exterior dimensions are 19 inches by 15 inches by 11 inches, with a capacity of 0.9 cubic feet.
The Cuisinart CMW-100 has a 1,000-watt power capacity and features a unique two-stage cooking option, letting users defrost for a set amount of time before cooking at high temperatures. One-touch controls and presets allow users to cook popcorn, potatoes, bacon, and more with the push of a button. Twenty-five preprogrammed settings are included, which can be customized for your favorite dishes.
This model’s interior is 1 cubic foot, while the exterior measures 20.5 inches by 15.25 inches by 12.8 inches. It includes a 12-inch rotating turntable. A child lock prevents settings from being changed while in use.
FAQs About Small Microwaves
Ready to reheat? Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about microwaves.
Q. How do you know what size microwave to buy?
Choose a microwave based on your available counter space. Microwaves with capacities of 0.5 cubic feet can accommodate a standard 10-inch dinner plate, while a larger microwave is necessary to fit larger dishes and cookware.
Q. What can a smart microwave do?
Smart microwaves connect to a Wi-Fi network and can be controlled using a smartphone, tablet, or smart-home assistant device.
Q. Can any microwave go over the range?
No, only specially designed over-the-range microwave ovens should be placed above a stovetop to ensure adequate ventilation and heat resistance.
Q. How do you make a countertop microwave look built-in?
Many manufacturers sell trim kits that make standard countertop microwaves appear as if they’re built into kitchen cabinetry.
Q. Can you hang a countertop microwave?
To suspend a countertop microwave, you must purchase a microwave mounting kit.
Q. How do I clean my small microwave?
Clean a microwave by wiping down the interior surfaces with a damp rag or paper towel and then using a combination of baking soda and vinegar or a commercial cleaner to scour off grease and food stains.