Here are the best affordable countertop microwaves we researched, in order:
- Toshiba EM131A5C Microwave Oven with Smart Sensor
- Toshiba EM925A5A Microwave Oven
- GE 1.1 Cubic-Foot Mid-Size Microwave
- Sharp Carousel 1.1 Cubic-Foot Mid-Size Microwave
- Magic Chef 1.1 Cubic-Foot Countertop Microwave
- AmazonBasics Microwave, Small, 0.7 Cubic-Foot 700W
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
BEST OVERALLToshiba EM131A5C Microwave Oven with Smart Sensor
Although Toshiba sells a range of highly-rated microwaves in just about every size you could think of, this 1100W, 1.2 cubic-foot unit is the true Goldilocks of the bunch—not too big and overpowered, not too small and weak, but just right. It’s also the least expensive model of the Toshiba series that still offers a smart sensor, which can adjust cook time and stop automatically based on how much steam your food releases.
With 10 power settings and a handful of useful presets on a large, easy-to-read digital display, the EM131A5C has everything most people are looking for in a microwave. Reviewers particularly love its convenient one-touch controls, mutable buzzer, fingerprint-proof front panel, and door that opens with a pull, rather than a push button. And unlike our previous top pick from Sharp, this Toshiba has an interior light that actually stays on.
Despite its discount price point, the EM131A5C is attractively built and available in a stainless steel or slick black stainless finish, so it won’t stick out like a sore thumb in stylish kitchens. Pick one up for under $100, and you’ve got yourself a great deal.
- Useful presets
- Smart sensor
- Good size
- Nothing we could find
How We Tested
I’m Cassidy Olsen, Reviewed’s kitchen and cooking editor. While I don’t think I can call myself a recent college grad for much longer, I’ll cling to the title right now to explain that, even though I love to cook, I have been heavily reliant on microwaves for much of my eating over the past five years. Though there were reports of millennials killing microwaves, the kitchen standby remains an essential part of daily life for millions of people, myself included.
From reheating leftovers to popping popcorn to almost melting a bunch of plastic Easter eggs my housemate hid in ours as “part of a joke,” my microwave has long been a steadfast companion, always there to help me out when I simply don’t have the time or energy for other cooking methods. Thanks to the appliance team at Reviewed, I’ve also learned about how microwaves, toaster ovens, and other essential kitchen appliances all work, which informed my research and choices in this roundup.
Unlike almost every other product we include in roundups at Reviewed, we don’t currently test microwaves. Why? Because aside from the inevitable dud, microwave performance is very predictable—and most models are made by a handful of the same manufacturers. So instead of hauling dozens of microwaves into our offices at Reviewed, we decided to read hundreds of user reviews, research price and model history, and consider what most people need in their kitchen in order to write this roundup, which was initially published in 2015 and fully overhauled in 2019.
For this update, I carefully chose each of our winners based on criteria of affordability, size, wattage, and usefulness of features, in addition to evenness of heating and durability as reported in user reviews. Overall user scores and brand history were also taken into account.
How Much Should I Spend on a Microwave?
A microwave can cost you anywhere from $20 to $2,000, which suggests an equally wide range of performance and quality. But as it turns out, very expensive microwaves aren’t inherently better than the ones that go for around $100, because most microwaves are made by a handful of manufacturers and the core technology is all the same.
If you’re drawn to super high-end design, covet a ton of crazy features, or want a unit that’s built into your cabinetry, you will need to spend at least a couple hundred dollars on a microwave. But if you’re just looking for a countertop unit that will heat and defrost evenly and has some useful bonus functions, we suggest choosing a unit from this roundup that will cost you under $100. Your small appliance budget would be much better spent on a nice multi-cooker, air fryer, or fancy pizza oven.ADVERTISEMENT
What You Should Know About Microwaves
What Size and Wattage is Right for Me?
The two key microwave specifications are interior size, measured in cubic feet, and wattage. When you’re shopping for a new unit, you’re guaranteed to see these specs listed before anything else. Of course, external dimensions also matter so you know if the microwave will actually fit in your kitchen, but you’ll need to go digging for those details in the product description.
Microwave sizes generally range from 0.5 to just over 2 cubic feet. We find that most models over 1.5 cubic feet are needlessly big—unless you plan to cook turkey dinners in your microwave, or reheat entire casserole dishes, you won’t need that much space. If you have a large dish to reheat, the oven will almost always give you better results, anyway. Compact microwaves (between 0.5 and 0.9 cubic feet) are great for smaller kitchens, dorms, and anywhere you need to conserve counter space. Ultimately, buy whatever size suits your needs, and make sure to compare the exterior dimensions to your actual space before you invest, but remember that bigger isn’t always better.
Wattage is usually related but not directly proportional to size—you can expect large microwaves to also have higher wattages. People often believe that the higher the wattage, the better the microwave is, but we’ve found that isn’t always the case. Even though we recommend a baseline of 900-1000 watts for mid-sized microwaves, there are compact microwaves in this roundup with just 700 watts each that heat evenly. A microwave can be overpowered, meaning the high wattage can quickly overcook food.ADVERTISEMENT
Generally, the higher the wattage, the faster your microwave cooks. So if you’re only using your unit for basic tasks or don’t care about lightning speeds, don’t be afraid of lower wattages. Choose the microwave that balances size and wattage to suit your needs.
Which Presets Matter?
All microwaves operate on the same basic principle: A magnetron generates microwaves, which excite the water molecules in food and cause them to heat up. Newer microwaves offer preset buttons that promise to perfectly cook and reheat all kinds of foods, but—surprise—pressing a button only controls the on and off interval of the magnetron.
When you set a time, your microwave heats up your food at full power for the time you enter on the keypad. But when you press a button like Defrost, Popcorn, or Potato, most microwaves simply alternate between 0 and 100 percent power for a predetermined period of time that can vary from model to model. Find a microwave that includes the presets you use most often, but don’t stress about finding one that has them all—they’re not critical.ADVERTISEMENT
One preset that we actually find rather useful is the sensor cook option. Sensor controls on your microwave generally adjust the cook time based on the amount of steam the food gives off, while newer and more expensive models use even more precise technology to determine when food is done cooking. If you want to take the guesswork out of microwaving something, consider a unit with a sensor cook option, like our top choice from Toshiba.
Other Affordable Microwaves We Tested
Toshiba EM925A5A Microwave Oven
This 900W, 0.9 cubic-foot Toshiba is one level below our top pick, but we think it’s another great option for those who don’t have the space or cash to spare for a larger microwave. The EM925A5A has the same one-touch controls, mutable buzzer, fingerprint-proof front panel, and pull-open door that we love on the EM131A5C. It also comes in the same stainless steel and black stainless finishes. All it’s missing is the sensor cook option, which is reserved for more expensive models.
This Toshiba is currently the number-one best-seller in countertop microwave ovens on Amazon, and it’s easy to see why—reviewers praise its convenient size, fast cooking times, and easy-as-pie controls. While it falls below the 1000-watt threshold that we think guarantees even cooking, users and other review sites note it heats very evenly. Toshiba microwaves also have a great track record for durability. For the price, you can’t do much better.
- Good size
- Easy controls
- No sensor cook
- Low wattage
GE 1.1 Cubic-Foot Mid-Size Microwave
This mid-sized stainless steel GE microwave has over 1,000 five-star reviews on Best Buy for its simplicity, even heating, and attractive design. Its interior light comes on (and stays on) whenever the microwave is open or running, and its control panel features 12 helpful functions, including the somewhat uncommon weight defrost function. Just enter the weight of meat you’re trying to defrost, and it will get you where you’re going without leaving frozen spots or cooking it through.
As a 1.1 cubic-foot microwave with 950W, this unit is somewhat underpowered, but it isn’t a cause for many complaints in user reviews. One issue owners do seem to have? The magnetron tends to buzz louder than expected.
- Useful presets
- Buzzes loudly
- Slightly underpowered
Sharp Carousel 1.1 Cubic-Foot Mid-Size Microwave
This popular Sharp microwave is an updated model of our previous winner, and we’re happy to see it’s still impressing users with its even, quick cooking. It comes with the multiple power levels and preset programs we would expect for a 1000W, 1.1 cubic-foot microwave, just no sensor cook option beyond automatic defrost. It’s light stainless steel exterior is sleek and friendly.
Unfortunately, Sharp hasn’t fixed the disappointing features we noted on the previous model. As many reviewers point out, the interior light doesn’t come on unless the door is closed and the microwave is running, which makes it hard to see the food when it’s going in and coming out. The control panel’s small, light gray lettering can also be difficult to read. But if you’ve got great vision and a well-lit kitchen, it’s a worthy microwave to consider.
- Good size
- Strong wattage
- Hard to read
- Bad interior light
Magic Chef 1.1 Cubic-Foot Countertop Microwave
According to reviewers, this mid-sized microwave from Magic Chef is “built like a tank,” and we can’t find any evidence to the contrary. It’s basic in both appearance and performance, with a shiny black exterior and almost retro-looking control panel, but it gets the job done. One thousand watts and 1.1 cubic feet are enough power and space to handle most microwave tasks, except perhaps cooking an entire chicken. With 10 power levels and essential presets, it has what you need and nothing more.
Well, except solid lighting. Like the Sharp, this Magic Chef’s light doesn’t stay on when you open or close the door. Less to break, but harder to see.
- Built to last
- Strong wattage
- Poor interior light
- Old-fashioned design
AmazonBasics Microwave, Small, 0.7 Cubic-Foot 700W
This popular compact microwave from AmazonBasics has one feature that sets it apart from every other affordable model we researched—it’s a smart device designed to be used with Alexa. On one hand, this is a unique bonus feature that allows the microwave’s display panel to stay uncluttered, because you can select from dozens of preset options using just your voice. On the other hand, it’s another thing that can break, and many reviewers note that it isn’t all that useful. If you have to physically walk over to your microwave to put food in and take food out, what’s the hassle of just pressing a button to start it?
Amazon’s 700 watt, 0.7 cubic-foot microwave seems capable of popping popcorn and reheating coffee and basic leftovers, but reports of uneven heating and other performance issues abound in user reviews. For a small and low-powered microwave, this isn’t surprising, particularly because it seems most of the development cost went into its smart capability. And what’s the benefit of having tons of options through voice controls if the actual appliance can only handle basic tasks? This unit is worth checking out if you adore Alexa and only need a microwave for the most basic of tasks, but otherwise, you’d be better off going with another model.