Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Maddy Biddulph

Countertop vs over-the-range microwaves: Which is best for your kitchen?

Countertop vs over-the-range microwaves.

Mr. Appliance's President Ron Shimek told Top Ten Reviews: "Countertop microwaves offer flexibility in placement, are portable, generally more affordable, and easy to replace. However, they take up valuable counter space and take longer to cook food."

"By contrast, over-the-range microwaves save counter space, provide built-in ventilation and lighting for your stove, and enhance kitchen aesthetics. Drawbacks include installation complexity and reaching over a hot stove to use the microwave."

Microwaves are a quick and convenient way to prepare meals, heat up leftovers, defrost food and save energy. But when it comes to making a purchase, which is better: countertop or over-the-range microwaves?

With so much choice, deciding which is the best microwave for your home can feel overwhelming. To help simplify things, this feature compares two bestselling types - countertop appliances, like the Toshiba WSI-EM22AST, and over-the-range ones, like the GE JVM6172SKSS.

While both microwaves essentially do the same job - cooking and defrosting food - they have slightly different features, and which one you buy will depend on your kitchen space, budget and needs.

Ron Shimek, President of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly Company, told Top Ten Reviews: "Since countertop microwaves don’t usually have their own dedicated electrical circuit, they are smaller in wattage and do not cook as much as an over-the-range microwave. Countertop microwaves also take up a lot of countertop space. 

"Over-the-range microwaves are two appliances in one: a microwave and a vent hood. Because they have their own dedicated electrical circuit, they are often more powerful, which lets them cook faster."

If you are lacking counter space, or prefer to centralise your appliances, an over-the-range microwave like the GE JVM6172SKSS might suit you best. It needs a professional installer and is hard to move if you buy a new house, but it draws smoke and odors from cooking before exhausting it back into the room or outside.

If you have a lot of counter space, a countertop microwave like the Toshiba WSI-EM22AST could be a good option. As the name implies, these freestanding units sit on top of your kitchen counter. This type of appliance is ideal for renters because they don't need any venting hookups or installation. Just check on the size as the Toshiba model in particular is not as compact as most countertop microwaves.

But how do the two microwaves differ in design, features, performance, and price? Which one is better suited to you and your needs? Keep reading our countertop versus over-the-range microwaves guide to find out.

Countertop vs over-the-range microwaves: Design

Countertop microwaves tend to be fairly compact (typically 21–24" x 16–20" x 13–15") and, as they are freestanding, they are a good choice for students in dorm rooms, renters or people who don't want to spend time and money installing the appliance in their kitchen. 

The big selling point with these is you can put them wherever you have space in your kitchen, and move them around. All you need is a plug socket and some space above them for ventilation. They are also easy to take with you if you move house.

If you are really limited on space you can choose one of the best compact microwaves, but bear in mind the internal capacity, which can range in size from 0.5 cubic feet (should fit a 10-inch plate) to over 2 cu. ft. (big enough for large cookware).

However, countertop microwaves eat up valuable surface space that could be used for food prep or storage. So if you have a small kitchen you might prefer to save square footage and invest in an over-the-range microwave instead.

You’ll save a ton of counter space, which can make way for one of the best air fryers

(Image credit: Pexels Photo)

As the name suggests, over-the-range microwaves sit above a range of cooktop, and they double as a vent - effective working as two appliances in one. That's why they are often a big favourite for home cooks.

They tend to be bigger than countertop appliances, falling between 29-30 inches so that they can fit snuggly above your oven. These units range in depth and height, dependent on model type.

While even the best over-the-range microwaves can be fairly effective at getting rid of steam, heat, smoke, oil and odors from your cooking, they aren't nearly as powerful (or as quiet) as a separate vent hood, so bear this in mind before making a purchase.

Another downside to over-the-range microwaves is that getting food in and out isn't that easy, particularly for kids or shorter adults, who might struggle to reach the machine. This runs the risk of causing an injury or spilling hot food. Countertop microwaves on the other hand are easy accessible. 

Verdict: If you want an appliance that is quick to set up, easy to use and move, as well as budget-friendly, a countertop microwave like the Toshiba WSI-EM22AST is your best bet. It's straightforward, user-friendly and does the job well. 

However if you want to save space and improve ventilation while cooking, an over-the-range microwave like the GE JVM6172SKSS is a sound investment. It doubles as a hood vent, and means you are saving vital counter space in your kitchen.

Countertop vs over-the-range microwaves: Features

When it comes to features, countertop microwaves function as just a microwave, while over-the-range models double as a hood vent for kitchen stoves, providing air circulation and overhead lighting.

Countertop microwaves tend to be cheaper so they are more budget friendly, but that often equates to fewer features.

One of the main areas to look for when buying either a countertop microwave is wattage (cooking power) with models ranging from 500-1000 watts. The higher the wattage, the quicker the food cooks.

Another consideration is whether you want a microwave that has automatic defrost, quick start, presets that take the guesswork out of how long to cook your food, and sensors, that calculate cooking time based on the amount of steam coming from your meal or snack. The Sharp R-1874T Microwave has one of the top sensors in the business and we talk about it in more detail in our guide of the best over-the-range microwaves.

You might even want to consider a multi-purpose microwave, that doubles as a convection oven like the Breville Combi Wave 3-in-1, a toaster or rotisserie. But as expected, extra features like this add to the price tag (you can find the Combi Wave 3-in-1 online at Breville). 

Parents might also want to opt for a model that has a child safety lock.

(Image credit: Pexels Photo)

When it comes to over-the-range microwaves, you'll also want to think about wattage, features, and mounting options, and you'll find these models come with a cooktop light. Then the main consideration is the ventilation.

These types of appliances use a vent fan to remove steam, smoke and odors from your range, and most can be vented to the outside of your home or re-circulated back into the kitchen. If you opt for outdoor ventilation just be aware that the fans used in these kind of appliances aren't as powerful as ones found in a regular range hood. 

More expensive over-the-range microwaves use linear (rather than circular) fans, which tend to be quieter, while cheaper ones combine the vent and cooling fan, making them much louder when turned on. 

Verdict: If you want an affordable, fuss-free microwave with basic features then countertop models will probably suit your needs best. On the other hand, if you're short on space, a cooking fan, like the aesthetic of having an over-the-range microwave built into your kitchen, and/or need some extra ventilation, then the latter option is the way to go.

(Image credit: Future)

Countertop vs over-the-range microwaves: Performance

Countertop microwaves have the benefit of being at counter-level so are accessible for most people. All you need is a plug nearby and you are good to go. Over-the-range microwaves on the other hand are higher up, so getting food in and out isn't always practical, particular for shorter people or children. There's a risk of spilling hot food and injury.

These types of kitchen appliance are cheaper than over-the-range but tend to be reliable and easy to use. Meanwhile, the design of over-the-range microwaves doesn't allow for a big or powerful fan, meaning they don't always filter and move air efficiently. This can also make the ventilation very noisy, certainly noisier than a standard wall hood, which also offers better air filtration. 

When considering fan speed and performance, look at the CFM, which stands for Cubic Feet per Minute - the measurement of the velocity at which a range hood can move air. The highest rating you will normally find with an over-the-range microwave is 200-400 CFM.

Verdict: When it comes to performance, both countertop and over-the-range appliances perform well as microwaves, with the latter packing a meatier punch when it comes to power. But it's the noise and ventilation on over-the-range models that are slightly lacking in efficiency compared with a separate wall hood.

(Image credit: Pexels Photo)

Countertop vs over-the-range microwaves: Care & Maintenance

If you want to know how to care for your microwave then countertop ones are generally easier to clean because they are more accessible at waist height. 

Knowing how to clean a microwave is simple: put a small bowl of water and washing up liquid, vinegar or lemon juice, on the turntable, and set it to one minute. Once steamed, you can use a clean cloth to wipe the inside, then the outside. 

This is particularly quick and easy if the model has a flat control panel, like the Toshiba WSI-EM22AST, rather than physical buttons that stick out.

Because over-the-range microwaves are above the cooker or hob they tend to be harder to reach and maintain, but you can clean them in exactly the same way as a countertop model. And of course, these cleaning hacks for microwaves will help.

(Image credit: Getty)

However as well as the inside and out, you need to clean the grease filter monthly to avoid build up and allow the exhaust fan to do its job properly. Unlike the grease filter, the charcoal filter can't be cleaned and needs replacing roughly every six months. This is needed to help minimise odors during cooking.

Verdict: If no-fuss maintenance is a priority, a countertop microwave is the better choice. It is easier to reach, and doesn't require such a deep clean as an over-the-range one, which needs monthly filter cleans.

(Image credit: Pexels Photo)

Countertop vs over-the-range microwaves: Price

While countertop microwaves take up more space, they tend to be cheaper than over-the-range ones, plus there are no installation costs. The price tag varies depending on the design, features and size, and they average in price from $50–$400, like the higher end Panasonic NN-SD372SR.

By contrast, over-the-range microwaves are generally more expensive, starting at around $200 for a budget appliance, $400 for midrange like the Frigidaire Gallery 1.7 Cu. Ft. Over-the-Range Microwave (Best Buy) to more expensive models like the LG LMHM2237ST (Best Buy), which we ranked 'best overall' in our guide to the best over-the-range microwaves. Equipped with top-of-the-range Sensor Cook technology and a powerful fan, this microwave is a stand-out model that thoroughly and evenly cooks food.

(Image credit: Future)

It's important to note that you will also have installation costs on top of the price of the appliance, which can vary. 

As you'd expect, over-the-range microwaves on the higher end of the price spectrum tend to be more durable and have better features than cheaper models.

Verdict: As with most appliances, the more you spend the more features you can expect. If you're on a budget and have the space, a countertop microwave does the job well, is portable and easy to take with you if you move house. However if you want a space-saving appliance, an over-the-range microwave is a good option. Bear in mind as well as the cost of the appliance, you will need to factor in installation costs.

(Image credit: Pexels Photo)

Countertop vs over-the-range microwave: Our verdict

Choosing between a countertop and over-the-range microwave ultimately comes down to a few factors: space, budget and personal situation.

If you have enough counter space, and don't want to spend too much on a new kitchen appliance, then a countertop microwave will be the best option. This type of machine is portable - ideal for renters, students and for when you move house - plus it doesn't require any construction to mount it and set up the ventilation.

Over-the-range microwaves take up less counter space, but they can be more expensive, and come with extra installation costs, which may vary. If you are a tenant you won't want to jeopardise your lease by drilling into the walls and making holes for ventilation, so in this instance a countertop microwave will be a better choice. 

However if you are homeowner, have a friendly landlord who is willing for you to make changes in your home, want to save counter space or like the aesthetic of having your appliance built into the wall - an over-the-range appliance is the way to go. They also provide ventilation which home cooks will appreciate (although bear in mind the fans in these appliances are not as powerful as standalone hood vents).

In summary, countertop microwaves are convenient, affordable and easy to set up and use. Over-the-range microwaves require some construction, but are a neat way to save space while tying into the aesthetic of your kitchen design. 

On a tight budget? Check out our buying guide if you're considering investing in the best cheap microwaves of 2024.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.