How to Use a Microwave – A Complete Step-by-Step Guide

Another interesting fact about microwaves is you are just expected to know how to use one. Thinking back, I was never taught how to use a microwave. I think I learned how to use a microwave by watching my parents push buttons. 

For those that are new to microwaves, or just like to have the most information possible, I’ve created a blog post on how to use a microwave. This post is going to start at the very beginning, unboxing beginning. In this post, I will walk you through every step in using a microwave including features, oven capacity, wattage, etc. 

After reading this post, you will be able to use every feature on your microwave and teach others how to use theirs. 

The Microwave

For this post, I will be using a Whirlpool WMH53521H Over the Range Microwave. This microwave has 1000 watts of cooking power and 2.1 cubic feet of oven capacity. 

This microwave includes the following features (which I will cover more in-depth later in this post):

  • Sensor cooking
  • Fingerprint Resistant
  • Microwave presets (one-touch cooking)
  • +30 Seconds
  • Auto Adapt Fan
  • Adjustable cooktop lighting

And much more.


The microwave wattage is how the food is cooked. Microwaves are generated by a magnetron, then those microwaves bounce around the microwave until it comes in contact with your food. Once it contacts your food the energy converts into heat via the water molecules.

This is a very basic explanation of how a microwave cooks your food. If you want a more in-depth discussion on watts, click here.

In general, the higher the watts, the better because watts determine the amount of time it will take to cook your food. Ideally, you want to purchase a microwave that is a minimum of 900 watts.  For more information on wattages, click this link.

Domestic microwaves have a wattage range of 550 to 1700, our 1000 watts is right in the middle of that range. 

Oven Capacity

Oven capacity is the size of the microwave box. Oven capacity is measured in cubic feet and can be calculated by multiplying the length, width, and height of the inside of the microwave. Oven capacity is important because the bigger the microwave, the more you can cook at one time. More importantly, the turntable is a wide 14 inches. More on the importance of turntables later in this guide. 

Also, in most cases, the larger the larger the oven capacity, the more watts included in the microwave. The oven capacity for domestic microwaves ranges from 0.5 to 2.5 cubic feet. Our microwave is 2.1 cubic feet, which is a very good size.


This microwave is installed over-the range. This means that the microwave is installed above our stovetop/ oven and into the cabinets/ wall. Over-the-range microwaves require a special install kit for anchoring into the wall and cabinets. 

Microwaves are placed in three places: countertop, over-the-range, and built-in. There are subtle differences between the three including price, weight, and functions. Countertop microwaves are the least expensive while built-in microwaves are the most expensive. 


This microwave is a Solo microwave oven. There are three types of microwaves: solo, grill, and convection. Solo microwaves are considered to be the most basic type. These microwaves are good for defrosting, reheating, and cooking basic foods like rice and pasta. These microwaves are not designed for cooking eats or baking.

For a complete breakdown of the differences between the three types of microwaves, click here


Our microwave was built by Whirlpool which is known for its appliances. Founded in 1911, Whirlpool makes everything from washing machines to microwaves. For a list of the best 12 microwaves, and 1 brand I will never buy again, click here.

Now that we know the microwave, lets start the step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Before Removing the Microwave

Before taking out the microwave, read the owners manual. This manual has very important information that can be the difference between life and death. Usually the owners manual is included at the top of the box, or you can look it up online.

To find the owners manual online, simply do a web search of the model number. For example, I found my owners manual by typing in the following model number “WMH53521HZ.”

Before moving on to the next step, make sure that your new microwave is compatible with the outlet you are connecting your microwave. For example, my outlet must meet the following requirements

  • A 120V, 60 Hz, AC-only, 15- or 20amp electrical supply with a fuse or circuit breaker

You will need a voltage meter to verify the amps and volts of your wall outlet. 

Other important warnings may include:

  • Compliance with FCC rules and regulations
  • State warnings
  • Safety instructions
  • and possible precautions

Step 2: Removing the Microwave

In this section, we are going to verify the location, connect the microwave, and remove all packaging. 


The microwave used for this guide is an over-the-range microwave, so we need to remove the old microwave and mount. Also, remove any objects that stored in the cabinets as they may get damaged when installing. If you are buying a new over-the-range microwave, I recommend having a professional install it. 

If you are setting up a countertop microwave make sure you are placing the microwave on a clean, flat surface. Installing the microwave on a surface that is not flat/ level is hazardous to the microwave, food, and people around the microwave. In addition, your microwave may need additional ventilation, check the owners manual for the exact amount of space needed. 

Once the location has been confirmed remove the microwave from the box.

Remove Packaging

Now that the microwave has been removed from the box, remove all packaging. There will be a combination of styrofoam, plastic, and cardboard on both the interior and exterior of the microwave. In addition, there may be additional plastic covering the plug. Finally, ensure there is no styrofoam in the vents or plastic on the bottom of the microwave. 

Also, remove the glass turntable, and cooking rack from the microwave. Again, make sure there isn’t any additional packaging material in your microwave. At this point, you should consider wiping down the interior of the microwave and the glass turntable before continuing. 

Now that all of the packaging is removed, and the microwave is clean, put the turntable and turntable ring back inside of the microwave. 

Connect the Microwave

Before connecting the microwave, review the owners manual once again. Your owners manual will contain useful warnings to ensure that you reduce the chances of electrical shock or burning down the house. For example, my manual states the following:

  • Plug into a grounded 3 prong outlet
  • Do not remove ground plug
  • Do not use an adapter
  • Do not use an extension cord

“Failure to follow these instructions can result in death, fire, or electrical shock.”

Let’s quickly discuss a few of these warnings.

Do not remove ground plug: Microwaves and many appliances have plugs that include 2 flat prongs and a rounded prong. The warning states do not remove the rounded plug. The ground prong can help prevent a fire or electrical shock. 

Do not use an adapter: There are adapters available that convert three prongs into two. These adapters simply accept the three prongs from one side and output two prongs on the other side.

Do not use an extension cord: extension cords should not be used for a few reasons. First extension cords can be a tripping hazard. Second, a spark can occur if an extension cord is yanked out of the outlet while the microwave is in use. 

Now that we’ve followed the directions from the owners manual, it’s time to plug in our microwave and complete the initial setup. 

Initial Setup

In this section, we will install the turntable and configure basic settings. 

Install the Turntable

If you have not already done so, reinstall the turntable. In most cases, there is a ring (or triangle) that has rollers or wheels on them. Place that ring in the microwave first. Next, place the glass turntable in the microwave.

Depending on your microwave, the turntable may need to be placed in grooves. Place the turntable in those grooves. Failure to align the turntable correctly will result in the turntable falling off track while the microwave is running. 

Configure Basic Settings

Next, you should see a flashing display requesting that the clock is configured. Using the keypad, enter the current time. Depending on your location, you may have the option to configure 12 or 24-hour clock settings. 

Also, your clock may have additional settings to configure. For example, if you have a smart microwave, you may need to connect the microwave to Amazon Alexa. Follow those setting and prepare and set up the microwaves features. 

Setup and Test Features

In this section, we will review all of the features included with this microwave. Note that your microwaves’ features may be different than the features discussed. 

This section will cover the following features:

  • Microwave presets (One-touch cooking)
  • Express cooking
  • Defrost
  • Steam/ Simmer
  • Warm hold
  • Reheat
  • Soften/ Melt
  • Cook time
  • Cook
  • +30 seconds
  • Control lock
  • Timer
  • Fan
  • Light

Microwave Presets

Microwave presets (also known as one-touch cooking) is a feature in which your microwave cooks the item based on programming by the manufacturer. The manufacturer programs cooking power and time based on recommendations from the foods’ manufacturer. This Whirlpool microwave has an additional feature called “Genius Sensor”. 

The Genius Sensor automatically weighs the food then recommends a cooking time. For example, when I cooked microwave popcorn I placed the bag in the microwave and pressed the popcorn button. The microwave weighed the bag, displayed the weight, then suggested a cook time. Then the microwave gave me a one-minute warning, it displayed the time left of the microwave counting down from 60 seconds.

In addition, to the popcorn button, this microwave has 6 additional presets:

  • Potato
  • Dinner Plate
  • Vegetable
  • Pizza
  • Frozen entree
  • Beverage

Express Cooking

The express cooking feature allows you to quickly start your microwave by pressing one button. This feature is like presets in that it only requires the press of one button, but the difference is that the express cooking is based on the number on the keypad and not the food. 

For example, if you press a number on the microwave, usually 1-6, the microwave will begin cooking for that length of time at full power. The microwave will not use the genius sensor during express cooking. 


The defrost button thaws frozen food in a fraction of the time needed using other methods. Microwaves can defrost foods in three ways: auto defrost, weight-based defrost, or manual defrost. Defrosting usually requires the mcirwoave to reduce the power level to safely thaw the meat.

Auto defrost: auto defrost works like one-touch cooking, simply press auto defrost, enter the weight and press start. Some microwaves may require you to enter the food type (meat, poultry, seafood) before pressing start. 

Weight-based defrost: weight-based defrost requires you to do a little more work. With weight-based defrost, you must enter in the weight, as well as food type.

Before using defrost, review the owners manual for the maximum weight for your microwave. 

Steam/ Simmer

As the name implies, the steam feature allows you to steam food. Usually, the feature is limited to a few preprogrammed foods. To use the steam/ simmer feature, simply add water to the rice, noodles, or vegetables and press the steam button. The button microwave will walk you through the steps of selecting the correct food.

Here is a brief list of foods used with the steamer function:

  • Rice
  • Asparagus
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Zucchini

Review your owners manual, or the associated website to determine the amount of water and food needed. 

Warm Hold

The warm hold feature can be used to keep cooked food warm until it is ready to be served. This feature adjusts the power level to 10%. In addition, this feature has the option to configure a cooking cycle. The warm hold feature will end when the door is opened.

This feature comes with a food poisoning warning. The warning states “that food should not sit in an oven longer than one hour before or after cooking. Doing so can result in food poisoning or sickness.”


The reheat feature is designed to cook food that has already been cooked before. Usually, this food has been cooked and placed in the refrigerator. The purpose of this feature is to get the food is an internal cooking temperature of 160 degrees. 

This feature requires the food to be covered, but include a venting at a corner to allow the steam to build. To use this feature, simply press the reheat button. The microwave will begin and end automatically. 

This feature varies greatly by brand, check your owners manual before using this feature. 

Soften/ Melt

Cook Time

The cook time feature is used for manual cooking. To use this feature simply press the cook time button, then enter the time you want to cook. Now you have the option to configure the cooking power, by pressing cook power, or press start to cook at 100% cooking power. The microwave will cook for the amount of time entered, then beep when it is finished.

Cook Power

Cook power adjusts amount of watts used to cook your food. Pressing the cook power button allows you to configure the power levels between 10 – 90%. To adjust the cook power, simply enter in the number that corresponds with the precent. For example, the number 5 corresponds with 50% power.

Cook power use a bit of “black magic” to achieve the users’ request. Because microwaves without inverter technology are unable to accurately adjust the power level, the magnetron turns off for a portion of the cooking time. For example, if you adjust the power level to 50%, the magnetron will not emit microwaves for half of the time. 


The cook feature automatically cooks your food using the genius sensor and the weight of your food. To use this feature, simply press cook, and the microwave will begin cooking. Like the one-touch cooking feature, you will receive a countdown timer once the cook time reaches one minute. 

Note that some microwaves will ask for a weight, and others may require you to press start before the microwave will begin.

+30 Seconds

The plus 30 seconds feature will add 30 seconds to the end of the current cook time, or start the microwave to cook for 30 seconds. When you use this feature to start the cooking time, the microwave will cook on full power. In most cases, you can press this button at any time. Also, you can add 30 seconds as many times as you’d like.

Control Lock

The control lock feature, also called child lock, prevents anyone from opening the microwave. This lock can be enabled while the microwave is working, or while the microwave is in standby mode. Also, this feature may include a small lock (this microwave has the words “control lock). 

To use this feature, press and hold the control lock (clear/ off) button for 3 seconds. Once this feature is enabled, you will see a lock or the words “lock” on the display. If anyone attempts to open the microwave with the lock enabled, you will see a “lock” error message.

To unlock the microwave, press and hold the control lock (clear. off) button for three seconds. The lock icon will then disappear. 

Note: this feature behaves differently depending on the brand, review your owners manual to learn how your control lock feature works. 


The timer feature is one of three features that does not involve actual cooking. This feature counts down a user-specified time then beeps when the requested time is achieved. For example, if you are baking a cake, and the cake needs to back for 20 minutes, you can set the microwave time for 20 minutes.

This feature works in the background of the microwave, which means you can also use the main features while the timer it’s running. If the timer expires while the microwave is running, you will hear a beep and a notification that the timer has expired. 


The fan feature is another feature that does not have an impact on microwave cooking. This feature is exclusive to over-the-range microwave ovens and is used when you are cooking with the stove/ oven. This feature helps to disperse the heat or steam build up from using the oven/ stove. The benefit of this feature is that it helps to prevent the smoke detector from alarming and it pushes the air out.

Usually, microwaves have 2 fan settings, high and low. The difference between the high and low setting is how fast the motor moves the fan blades. In addition, some microwaves include an automatic fan setting. This fan will turn on when a certain temperature is reached.  


This feature acts as a night light for over-the-range microwaves, or an internal light for other types of microwaves. If you have an over-the-range microwave with this feature, then you are able to shine a light over the stove. This light may have two settings, high and low light, and it may have additional features.

If you have a countertop or built-in microwave then you have the ability to turn an internal light on and off. The benefit of this light is that you have the ability to see the doneness of the food you are cooking. 


This feature enables you to turn your turntable on or off. By default, this feature is set to “on” as it helps with even cooking. The only time you should consider turning the turntable off is when you have a dish that is too large for the turntable. Leaving the turntable on with a dish that it too big can result in damage to the microwave, turntable, or dish.

That is is for all of the microwave features, if you have features that are not included in this post, review your owners manual for directions on how to properly use them.


In this section, we are going to discuss the proper cookware for your microwave. We will discuss cookware you should and should not use.


Below are a few examples of cookware that is microwave-safe.

  • Browning dish
  • Ceramic glass
  • Glass
  • China
  • Earthenware
  • Paper towels, paper plates, napkins
  • Pottery and clay
  • Plastic wraps, bags, covers, and containers
  • Wax paper
  • Silicone bakeware 

To test if a dish is microwave safe, place the dish in a microwave oven with 1 cup of water. Next, cook at full power for one minute. If the dish is hot, but the water is cool, the dish is not microwave safe.

As always, you should follow your manufacturers recommendations when using dinnerware in your microwave.

Not Microwave-safe

Below are a few examples of cookware that is considered microwave save:

  • Metal cookware and bakeware
  • Straw or wicker
  • Gold, silver
  • Non approved meat thermometers
  • twist ties
  • Foil liners, 
  • Staples
  • Objects with gold or silver trim/ metallic glaze. 

Like the list of microwave-safe cookware, review your manufacturers’ websites or manual for a complete list of items that are not microwave-safe.

Cleaning Your Microwave

In this section, I will discuss the steps you should take to clean your microwave. I will discuss how often you should clean your microwave, and which products to use.

The microwave described above includes a feature called “CleanRelease Cavity Coating,” which is a durable nonstick coating that resists soil buildup. This feature usually means there is a ceramic coating in the microwave. Most microwaves do not include this feature.

How Often to Clean? 

The number of times you should clean your microwave will vary by usage, but you should clean your microwave a minimum of 1 time per week. Cleaning is important because it removes soil buildup. Soil buildup, or dirt, can have a negative impact on your microwave in a few ways. 

First, soil buildup can result in arcing in the microwave. arching is the little sparks that occur when your microwave is cooking. These arcs can result in smoke and/ or fire.

Second, soil buildup can result in covered vents. Covered vents can result in reduced cooking power and the microwave taking longer to cook your food. 

Third, leaving food in your microwave may lead to food poising. The food that is stuck in your microwave will loosen the next time the microwave cooks a meal. The food may fall from the top of your microwave into your exposed food.

How to Clean the Microwave?

There are a few different ways to clean your microwave, but they all have a similar concept. To clean your microwave, simply add water to a bowl, then place the bowl in the microwave. Cook that bowl of water. Once that has finished, remove the bowl and clean the microwave with soap and water. 

To clean the microwave, use a mild soap, water, and a soft cloth. Do not use any abrasive materials. Also, it is not necessary to use a microwave cleaner sold in stores.

For additional ways to clean your microwave, click here.

In addition to cleaning the microwave, clean these parts:

  • Grease filter
  • Door and exterior
  • Control panel
  • Turntable
  • Microwave cooking rack

Cooking Tips

Finally, here are a few tips to make cooking in a microwave easier

  • Always cover your food – Use a paper towel or a plate cover when cooking in a microwave
  • Spread your food out – Your food will cook much better, and faster if you have space between your food 
  • Cook short and stir – Your food will cook better, and more evenly if you cook for shorter periods of time and stir.
  • Cut your food – Like the tip above, cutting your food into small pieces will help your food cook faster and more evenly.
  • Always us defrost for thawing – Use the pre-configured setting for thawing food as it reduces the power level as necessary. 
  • Stick a fork in it – Using a fork will help prevent food from exploding in your microwave.
  • Follow your user manual – The user guide will have the best information for your microwave. Because microwaves differ across brands, always follow the guide that came with the microwave.