Best Cheap Microwave Ovens
Our buying guide recommends the best cheap microwave ovens, including midsize and compact models costing less than $100.
What We Considered
Regardless how many features are bundled into today's microwaves, they must perform reliably. According to the scores of reviews we pored over on sites such as Best Buy, Walmart, Home Depot, Amazon, and Target, consumers are satisfied if the appliance accomplishes the basic tasks of heating, cooking, and defrosting foods thoroughly and quickly. The models we researched pass this test with particular ease. There are, nevertheless, several specifications and features to take into account when choosing the particular model that best serves the needs of your individual household.
Power is associated with size, to a degree, and with cooking/heating speed. The more power, the more molecular activity in the food and the faster it warms or cooks. Midsize countertop microwave ovens generally run on 1,000 watts, sometimes a bit less, sometimes a bit more. Full-size variations often use 1,100 or 1,200 watts of power and a handful climb as high as 1,650 watts. Compact models make do with 600 to 800 watts. Of our top picks, the Frigidaire FFCM1134L is the most powerful at 1,100 watts; its 1.1-cubic foot counterparts all come in at 1,000 watts. Of the more compact microwaves we looked at, the Sunbeam SGB8901 is a 900-watt machine, while the diminutive Magic Chef MCM770 and Westinghouse WCM770 have just 700 watts of power.
Operating at full throttle often is unnecessary, and the most practical cheap microwave ovens come with 10 power levels that suit different cooking tasks. Each setting represents the amount of time that the magnetron (the component that converts electrons into microwaves) cycles on and off. At level 5, say, the unit produces microwaves 50 percent of the time and is otherwise passive. The Frigidaire FFCM1134L stands out for its multi-stage cooking ability, allowing users to program it to shift power levels during the cooking cycle.
A rotating glass turntable is standard on today's countertop microwaves and promises more even heating/cooking. In midsize models (and some compact models), the turntable is large enough to hold a dinner plate; most measure 12 to 13 inches in diameter. Turntables also have the advantage of being easy to remove and wash. Most rest on a ring or little feet set into the floor of the oven, so the turntable may slip out of alignment; the Westinghouse WCM770 receives some criticism along these lines. Some pricier models come with a recessed turntable, which keeps it secure and leaves more internal space for food.
While we don't consider this a deal-breaker, noise is a common but low-grade complaint about budget microwave ovens. Reviews contain minor grumbling about buzzing, popping, and humming sounds. The beeps emitted at the end of a cooking cycle irritate some consumers, and a particularly petulant notification system can be added to the list of strikes against the Sunbeam SGB8901. The Danby DMW111K also has a fair share of users – especially late-night snackers -- who lament that even opening the door as soon as food is done does not circumvent the five-beep finishing salute. On the other hand, many consider a beep in the middle of a defrost cycle a welcome reminder to stir, rotate, or break apart the food, and others say food is easily forgotten altogether with machines that don't offer some sort of intermittent alert after cooking.
We Looked At
Dimensions and Capacity.
Microwave ovens aren't particularly small appliances, and budget models are designed to sit atop a counter or table. Figure on a footprint of about 20 inches across, 15 inches deep, and 12 inches high, with plenty of deviation from the norm. Models with stainless steel exteriors may run slightly larger. Capacity ranges between 0.9 cubic feet and 1.5 cubic feet, which is considered large enough to accommodate the demands of a multi-person household. Our top pick, the Westinghouse WCM11100, boasts that it can handle microwaveable cookware up to 12 inches, and several users, like this one on Amazon, remark on its generous capacity and ability to fit most standard-size plates and food items.
Compact microwave ovens, intended for dorm rooms, offices, and tiny kitchens, tend to be about 17 inches across, 14 inches deep, and 10 inches high, give or take an inch or so on any dimension. The usual capacity is 0.7 cubic feet. Two good buys in this segment are the Magic Chef MCM770 (starting at $55) and the Westinghouse WCM770 (starting at $57). We recommend them for the same reasons as the best models on our list: value for the money.
Space-saving alternatives -- over-the-range models that double as range hoods, microwaves built into cabinets, and microwave oven drawers -- are either mid- or full-size units. Unfortunately for frugal consumers, the prices easily reach into the high triple digits.
Important note: A microwave oven's stated capacity can be misleading. Consumer product experts point out that the usable space is actually less than the specified capacity. It's a good idea to test out a favorite piece of microwave-safe cookware before making a purchase, even if that means going to a store with vessel in hand. When deciding where to place the microwave oven, make sure there's clearance above and around the unit; figure on a minimum 2 inches in the back if the microwave will be sitting in a cabinet.
Presets and Defrost Functions.
Microwaves have come a long way since the single-function on/off-button days. Even budget countertop microwaves boast preprogrammed one-touch settings for edibles like baked potatoes, fresh vegetables, pizza, or hot beverages. These one-touch buttons are an alternative to cooking/heating with power levels and eliminate the guesswork in deciding how much power to use. Some microwaves have more such buttons than others, and the Sunbeam SGB8901 and both the Magic Chef models we researched are particularly flush with presets. The larger one even has an autocook option for bread.
One of the great advantages for home cooks is using a microwave to thaw dinner straight from the freezer. It's not unheard of, however, to wind up with cooked edges on a lump of frozen ground meat and a partially frozen midsection after the end of a defrost cycle. Always remember to remove the food from its packaging and move it around (flip it over, break it up) throughout the defrosting process. Defrosting is best done at 30 percent power, and virtually all countertop microwaves have a defrost function that lets users choose time or weight as the determining factor.
Another set of buttons that add convenience to these appliances are express keys that allow quick access to standard cook times (e.g., just press 1 for one minute of cooking) and time-add buttons that tack on 30 to 60 seconds of extra zapping if needed. The latter of these functions are particularly popular, and some users express more than a little dissatisfaction with the Westinghouse units for their inability to easily tack on additional time.
Although consumers are delighted with the advances in microwave functionality, they're not so thrilled with a perceived decrease in durability that seems to plague inexpensive models. In our reading of reviews, we noted that glowing comments about even the best budget microwaves often are tempered by reports of limited lifespans. A rash of durability issues relegated the Sunbeam SGB8901 to the "think twice" bucket. Even our top picks are dinged occasionally for problems such as error codes on the display, a heating function that suddenly cuts out, a turntable that stops rotating, or total system failure shortly after purchase. These breakdowns are particularly irksome to consumers who report having replaced a unit that functioned without problem for 15 years and more. A long and productive period of service may be one of the sacrifices required when buying an inexpensive microwave oven.
For the price, the Westinghouse WMC11100 (starting at $78), delivers value. Reviews on sites such as BestBuy.com say it's roomy enough to hold full-size dishes and heats and defrosts with plenty of oomph. The 1,000 watts powering this midsize countertop microwave oven are sufficient for warming up frozen dinners in the allotted time, according to one review on Amazon, despite package recommendations to use at least 1,100 watts. Users like the no-frills simplicity that doesn't demand a whole lot of thinking, the ability to change preprogrammed times or heat multiple cups of coffee or tea, and a size that fits most anywhere. The Westinghouse WMC11100 garners a solid 4 or 5 stars on Amazon, Walmart.com, and BestBuy.com.
The biggest complaints about the Westinghouse WCM11100 concern two missing features: express buttons, which would let consumers press 1, say, and instantly get one minute of cooking, and a time-add button for 30 or 60 extra seconds. The absence of the latter is so irritating to some reviewers that they seem ready to ditch the unit. Reports surface here and there about problems with build quality, notably bubbling of the plastic over the keypad and untimely demise, occasionally right out of the box.
The Westinghouse WCM11100 is a 1.1-cubic-foot microwave oven that runs on 1,000 watts of power and holds a round turntable measuring 12.5 inches across. There are 10 power levels, six one-touch buttons (potato, popcorn, pizza, beverage, frozen food, reheat), and a speed button for defrost and another for defrosting by weight. Users also can choose specific cook times. The door is controlled with a push button that can be locked for child safety. The digital clock/timer is an LED display. The footprint of this oven is a bit larger than comparable units, measuring 21.3 x 16 x 11.8 inches, and it has a total weight slightly exceeding 35 pounds. It's backed by a one-year warranty and comes in white, black, and stainless steel.
There's nothing special about this model, but scores of satisfied users don't hanker for anything special -- they just want an appliance that reheats, defrosts, and cooks up a few treats, and the Westinghouse WCM11100 does just that.
Considering the price, frugal consumers who expect a microwave oven to do more than just reheat food are surprised at the features and performance of the Frigidaire FFCM1134L (starting at $93; available on Amazon). Boasting 4.2 stars out of 5 from over 1,200 reviewers at AJ Madison, this midsize countertop model scores points for a turntable that can accommodate a normal-size plate or baking dish, along with express-time and 30-second buttons. The auto defrost does the job without any hiccups, note reviews on Amazon, and food generally heats or cooks as prescribed. That goes for thick slabs of bacon as well as kernels of corn. Some users also say the quality and performance exceed that of other models they have owned, particularly in terms of speed and even results.
The Frigidaire FFCM1134L is not without its faults. Reviews on the company site and elsewhere grumble about the absence of a light when the door opens and others fret about loud noises due to what they consider to be flimsy build quality. Plenty of users complain that the 23 touchpad buttons are hard to read, and some report that the life expectancy is weeks or months. One review says the microwave oven randomly stops before time has expired, requiring another push of a button.
This is a 1.1-cubic-foot model with 1,100 watts and a 12.5-inch turntable. There are several one-touch buttons (popcorn, beverage, potato, fresh vegetable, reheat), buttons for defrost and auto cook, and 10 power levels. Users can add 30 seconds in increments, choose a multi-stage cooking option that shifts power levels midstream, and defrost by time or weight. The clock/timer displays with an LED readout, and the door can be locked to keep kids safe. The Frigidaire FFCM1134L weighs just over 27 pounds and measures about 20.3 x 14.8 x 12 inches on the outside. It comes in white, black, and stainless steel and is backed by a one-year warranty.
A bit more complicated than other budget microwave ovens, the option-rich Frigidaire FFCM1134L is a good deal for the price. Its performance hits the mark.
Magic Chef HMD1110 Review
Users get good performance for a very modest price with the Magic Chef HMD1110 (starting at $70). Several reviewers report buying this countertop microwave oven to replace a costlier model that broke down after a short time and say they won't feel ripped off even if this one doesn't last long. Other qualities also draw consumers to the Magic Chef HMD1110. It includes all the convenience features people want and need and it's sized right for singles or small families, users say. One reviewer notes on Amazon that it accommodates a 13-by-9-inch baking pan, albeit one without handles. Reviews on Home Depot's website, where the Magic Chef HMD1110 has collected an average of 4.1 stars out of 5 from more than 450 reviews, say it heats well, pops popcorn adequately, cooks evenly, and is a breeze to operate. One consumer who initially purchased the appliance to heat coffee now uses it for many different foods, and others comment appreciatively that the machine beeps a mere three times at the end of a cycle rather than droning on.
Complaints about the Magic Chef HMD 1110 are relatively mild. Several reviews grumble about sticking doors after a few months of use. And a few say it starts developing cracks in the bottom about a year or so into its active life. Concerns about durability crop up here and there, but all in all, the spin on this appliance is quite positive.
The Magic Chef HMD1110 powers up its 1.1 cubic feet of interior space with 1,000 watts and offers users 10 power levels. There are four one-touch cooking buttons (popcorn, pizza, beverage, and dinner plate) and five auto-cook options (bread, soup, baked potato, and fresh and frozen vegetables). Users can choose to defrost by weight or time and add 30 seconds to cook times in increments. The exterior dimensions measure about 20.3 x 14.8 x 12 inches and the weight is just shy of 30 pounds. The oven includes a child safety lock, comes with a one-year warranty, and is available with a white or black finish.
The Magic Chef HMD1110 is one of the cheapest 1,000-watt microwave ovens around and works better than consumers might expect for the price.
This may not be an appliance consumers love, but reviewers say the Danby DMW111K (starting at $70; available on Amazon) is easy to use, features all the right functions, boasts a small footprint, is easy to clean, and does its job for a low price. Consumers posting reviews on Walmart.com generally express pleasant surprise at the value. They say this midsize countertop model is well constructed and gets hot enough to cook foods quickly. It earns a solid 4 stars out of 5 from over 150 reviewers.
The Danby DMW111K is the butt of a few of the usual complaints about durability and noise. Some users report fluctuations in power level and units that die after several months. Others assert it's just too loud during operation. One gripe in reviews on Walmart.com and the Home Depot website concerns the push button for the door, which some users say is hard to press or occasionally sticks. A few report that the housing is thin and dents easily.
Like many midsize microwave ovens, the Danby DMW111K cooks with 1,000 watts of power and has a capacity of 1.1 cubic feet. There are six one-touch cooking options -- popcorn, potato, pizza, frozen vegetable, beverage, and dinner plate -- and 10 power levels. Express buttons let users set the time from 1 to 6 minutes and add time in 30-second increments. Users also can choose to defrost by time or weight. This model features a clear glass turntable, an LED timer and clock, and a child safety lock. It measures about 20.2 x 15.6 x 12 inches on the outside and weighs 32 pounds. It carries a one-year warranty and comes in black, white, and stainless steel finishes. The sleeker, "designer" stainless steel model sells for slightly more.
A good, basic, reliable microwave, the Danby DMW111K is large enough to take care of leftovers and other microwave needs for a small family.
Sunbeam SGB8901 Review
Available at Target
The Sunbeam SGB8901 (starting at $50; available on Amazon) is best suited for users with a small kitchen and/or no need for special features. It's fine for reheating leftovers and warming up frozen dinners, but reviewers generally considered this a "starter" microwave oven. They say it's very user-friendly. One consumer tells of buying a unit at a thrift store and figuring out how to use it without a manual. The Sunbeam SGB8901 garners lukewarm support in reviews on Target.com and Amazon, where the pro faction says it's plenty hot, leaves no cold spots, and is priced right. Others note it fits where space is limited and heats as well as a more powerful appliance.
Disgruntled users are quite pointed in their comments. They write about fires and sparks, burning odors, total breakdowns, and various malfunctions (display dies, interior light fails, interior walls chip, etc.) within a few months of even intermittent use. There are also more than a few reviews that ding the Sunbeam SGB8901 for producing only partially cooked food, although that complaint pales in comparison to reports that this appliance is a potential fire hazard.
Just at the cusp of a midsize model, the Sunbeam SGB8901's capacity is 0.9 cubic feet. It runs on 900 watts and features 10 power levels, as well as speed defrost, cooking by weight, a button to add time in 1-minute increments, defrosting by weight, and preset buttons for popcorn, potato, pizza, beverage, frozen dinner, reheat, fresh and frozen vegetables, and soup. The exterior measures 19 x 15.5 x 11 inches and the microwave weighs about 30 pounds. This model has a child lock and handle, rather than a push-open door, and comes only in black.
The low price of the Sunbeam SGB8901 holds great appeal but fails to compensate for an apparent lack of staying power and potential safety risk.
Other Products We Reviewed
The greatest benefit of a compact microwave oven like the Magic Chef MCM770 (starting at $55) is the size, according to reviews on the Home Depot website. People who live in an apartment, dorm, camper, RV, or boat, or any place where space is at a premium appreciate this peppy appliance but caution about its limitations; that is, it can't quite hold a full-size dinner plate. The second major plus is the low price, which means if it doesn't come home at the end of the school year, say, no one gets too upset. Reviews on Best Buy.com indicate that the Magic Chef MCM770 is easy to figure out and easy to clean. It also runs quietly. For students and others new to cooking, this is a good entry-level appliance. In reviews on both sites, this model earns 4.3 stars out of 5 from users.
The downside of minimal size is limited power -- a factor noted in several reviews on Amazon, where the Magic Chef MCM770 rates slightly worse. Users report that it takes a little longer to heat foods than a more powerful appliance, although others contend that it heats up just fine. A few reviewers express concern about condensation, which could damage the microwave in time. According to some users, the light weight of this unit forces them to hold it steady while opening the door to prevent it from flying off the counter.
The 0.7-cubic-foot Magic Chef MCM770 provides a maximum 700 watts of power and a choice of 10 power levels. There are eight one-touch buttons -- for popcorn, potato, beverage, pizza, soup, dinner plate, fresh vegetables, and frozen vegetables -- and six express-time buttons for durations from one to six minutes. Other convenience options include a defrost button and the ability to add 30 seconds in increments. The glass turntable measures 8 inches across and the exterior dimensions are about 17.3 x 14 x 10.2 inches. This model weighs 21.6 pounds, comes in black or white, and is backed by a one-year warranty.
The Magic Chef MCM770B does what it's meant to do for people who need a compact microwave for very basic functions.
The consensus opinion in reviews on Macys.com: The Westinghouse WCM770 (starting at $57) is ideal for dorms, small workspaces, and simple heating tasks. The compact size is a big draw, as is power that's sufficient for popping kernels in a bag of corn, heating ramen noodles, and warming up a cold cup of coffee or tea. Reviews on Wayfair.com, where this microwave oven earns an average of 4.6 stars out of 5, say it offers all the essential preset functions, heats food in a hurry, and generally meets expectations. Some reviewers also say the turntable seems large given the model's compact size. Young and old can easily master the control panel, users report.
The biggest complaint lodged against the Westinghouse WCM770 concerns the tendency of the turntable to wobble and scootch off the ring. Others contend that the turntable is too small, and doesn't turn as it should when holding a large bag of popcorn. The noise level when operating irritates some users, who express surprise that something so small could be so loud; the beep every 30 seconds after a cycle is complete has a similar effect, although there are consumers who find it helpful. The lack of express time buttons also disappoints a few reviewers. Reports about an early demise are offset by modest expectations given the price.
The Westinghouse WCM770 delivers up to 700 watts of power in a 0.7-cubic-foot appliance. It features six quick-cook buttons for common edibles (popcorn, potato, pizza, beverage, frozen food) and functions (reheat) and 10 power levels. Users can defrost foods by weight or time. There's an LED display and a lockout for safety. The door opens with a pull and the turntable is a bit larger than 9.5 inches. The outside dimensions are 18 x 14 x 10.3 inches and the weight is about 23 pounds. This model comes in white, black, and stainless steel (at a higher price) and carries the standard one-year warranty.
A few features short compared with other good compact microwave ovens, the Westinghouse WCM770 still earns solid reviews for meeting everyday food needs.