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Of the four appliances in the typical kitchen suite, the microwave is the least expensive. So you might not give it as much thought as you would when buying a refrigerator, range, or dishwasher.
But buying a microwave from a reliable brand increases the likelihood that it will last longer, so you won’t be prematurely putting a broken countertop model on the curb or tearing out an over-the-range microwave that no longer functions.
Consumer Reports has identified the brands of microwaves most likely to last—and those most likely to develop problems or break—based on our members’ experiences with 57,712 over-the-range (OTR) microwaves and 49,866 countertop microwaves purchased new between 2009 and 2019.
Six brands of countertop microwaves and three brands of OTR microwaves received high marks for reliability from our members. And based on their experiences, we cannot recommend three brands of countertop microwaves and four OTR brands.
To calculate predicted reliability, we ask our members about the products they own and use that data to make projections about how new models from a given brand will hold up over time. We also ask members how likely they are to recommend their microwave, with that question serving as the basis for our owner satisfaction rating. Models from brands that receive a Fair or Poor rating for reliability aren’t eligible to be recommended no matter how well they perform in Consumer Reports’ tests.
To come up with the Overall Score that you’ll see in our microwave ratings charts, we factor in both predicted reliability and owner satisfaction with the results of the performance tests we conduct in our labs. For microwaves, that includes marks on all the tasks you’d expect from your appliance—fast and even heating, even defrosting, controls that are intuitive and easy to use, and quiet operation.
“Calculating an Overall Score for microwaves offers consumers a clearer direction of what to choose,” says Simon Slater, CR’s associate director of survey research.
Here are the details.
An over-the-range microwave is a strategic choice if you’re short on counter space and like the fact that it doubles as a range hood (though typically an underpowered one). Replacing an OTR model can be a bit of an ordeal because you have to unbolt it from the wall and cabinets. So when your old one breaks, you’ll want to install a new one from a reliable brand.
OTR microwaves from Electrolux, Samsung, Jenn-Air, and Magic Chef develop problems or break at a higher rate than their competitors, according to our survey. “None of these brands can be recommended by Consumer Reports at this time,” says Adam Troy, a senior research associate.
Better bets are OTR microwaves from Frigidaire, Hotpoint, and Whirlpool, brands that earn a Very Good rating for predicted reliability. Several models from Whirlpool and Frigidaire make our list of top OTR microwave picks. Currently, there are no Hotpoint OTRs in our ratings, though we’ve tested them in the past.
Thirteen other brands fare well enough on predicted reliability to retain their eligibility status, including GE, Kenmore, and LG, and you’ll find several models from those brands on our current recommended list.
Three brands earn a Very Good rating for owner satisfaction—LG, Sharp, and Signature. No brand earns an Excellent rating on that measure. Of those three brands, only LG makes our recommended list. And though we do test Sharp microwaves, none performed well enough to merit a recommendation. At the moment, there are no Signature microwaves in our ratings.
The Most Common OTR Flaws
The most frequently reported problems? Excessive noise and control panels that don’t work properly. Five percent of the OTR microwaves had a problem with noise or a broken or faulty control panel.
After that, the two most common problems reported for OTRs by our members were microwaves that fail to heat food adequately and doors that don’t lock or close correctly. Members also reported problems with turntables, interior lights, exhaust fans, and cooling fans, but to a lesser degree.
Electrolux, in particular, stands out for having three of these problems and is among the more likely brands to have problems with control panels, doors, and interior lights.
Other brands that stand out in our survey for having specific problems include:
We also asked our members what they like about their OTR microwaves. Overall, members were most likely to rate their microwaves Excellent for appearance and quick keys. More than 45 percent of OTR owners gave each of these attributes a big thumbs-up, on average, and owners of microwaves from KitchenAid, Bosch, Sharp, and JennAir were especially enthusiastic about the way they look in their kitchen. And although noise was the least liked attribute, with only an average of 20 percent of members rating their microwaves as Excellent for quietness, those same four brands fare better than others on that attribute as well.
Consumer Reports tests microwaves for performance, including whether or not a microwave heats evenly and how noisy it is when operating on the highest setting. To avoid problems, opt for a model that aces these tests. There are plenty to choose from.
Countertop microwaves make up a larger part of the market, but they require a fair amount of countertop real estate. Large countertop microwaves are typically about 2 feet wide, a foot high, and about a foot-and-a-half deep. Smaller models have a smaller footprint but tend to be underpowered and generally do not perform as well in our tests.
Microwaves from Maytag, Avanti, Breville, Jenn-Air, LG, and Toshiba stand out as the most reliable brands. Of them, only Maytag earns an Excellent rating; the other five brands earn Very Good reliability ratings.
Based on performance, of those six brands, two models from LG make our recommended list, and models from Toshiba and Breville earn Very Good ratings overall. The one model from Avanti is a subpar performer. Currently, there are no Maytag or Jenn-Air countertop microwaves in our ratings.
Panasonic, which earns a middle-of-the-road Good rating for reliability, is one of only two brands of countertop microwaves to receive an Excellent rating for owner satisfaction. (Breville is the other brand.) Nine of the 14 Panasonic models we tested perform well enough to make our list of top microwave picks. Panasonic was one of 18 brands in our survey to earn a Good rating for reliability, but none of the others do as well in satisfaction. Three brands receive a Poor rating on that measure—Avanti, Black+Decker, and RCA.
Three brands of countertop microwaves—RCA, Westinghouse, and Whirlpool—receive a Fair rating for predicted reliability. As a result, microwaves from those brands are not eligible to make our recommended list. At the moment, we have one model from each of those brands in our ratings, but none perform well enough to be recommended even without reliability factored in. For Whirlpool, this contrasts with the brand’s showing in our OTR ratings, in which the two top models are from that brand.
Most Common Countertop Microwave Flaws
Complaints about countertop microwaves are similar to those about OTRs. Failure to heat food properly and excessive noise top the list. Each affects 5 percent of the countertop microwaves owned by our members.
The next most common problems are control panel buttons that break or don’t work properly, doors that don’t lock or close correctly, and turntables that stop turning.
Here are the brands highlighted in our survey for specific problems:
When we asked our members what they liked about their countertop microwaves, they were most likely to give them an Excellent rating for their quick keys as well as how well they heat drinks, with about 40 percent of members giving this mark on each attribute, on average. Breville was a standout on both measures, and marks for Black+Decker and Danby were meaningfully worse.
The quietness of microwaves garnered the fewest Excellent ratings—15 percent. Breville, however, stands out as being noticeably better than other brands on this score.
As a group, countertop microwaves tend to be a bit noisier than over-the-range models, although in our microwave tests, none earn a Poor rating. In our heating evenness tests, most countertop models earn an Excellent or Very Good rating, with the exception of small microwaves, which earn mediocre scores at best.
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- Samsung, for having broken controls.
- Magic Chef, for being too noisy.
- Dacor, for turntables that stop turning.
- Farberware, for having excessive noise.
- GE, KitchenAid, Panasonic, and Whirlpool for having doors that don’t close or lock properly.
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2020, Consumer Reports, Inc.