The real cost of using your microwave

Microwave ovens are an incredibly handy cooking appliance, letting us zap up a hot meal in a matter of minutes. But surely this must use incredible amounts of electricity, right? Well you may be pleasantly surprised to know that it’s not nearly as costly as you might think. In this article, Canstar Blue takes a look at how much electricity a microwave uses to see what it could be adding to your bill.

How much does it cost to use a microwave?

Using a microwave generally costs between 0.1c and 0.62c per minute depending on its power level, as well as the rate you pay on electricity.

Microwave power is measured in watts. It refers to the maximum output a microwave is capable of when cooking on high temperatures. Most modern microwaves are between 600W and 1300W. Generally speaking, the higher the wattage, the faster and more evenly it will cook.

Most microwaves will also include a power setting. The ‘High’ setting is usually the default, which is again the microwave’s maximum power output. Depending on the microwave’s functionality, this power level can be manually reduced.

As the below table shows, microwaves operating on lower power levels are cheaper to operate per minute.

The cost of using a microwave

Setting Power Cost per minute 2 minutes 5 minutes
Low 200W – 399W 0.1c – 0.19c 0.1c – 0.38c 0.5c – 0.95c
Medium / Low 400W – 499W 0.19c – 0.24c 0.38c – 0.48c 0.95c – 1.2c
Medium 500W – 699W 0.24c – 0.33c 0.48c – 0.66c 1.2c – 1.65c
Medium / High 700W – 799W 0.33c –0.38c 0.66c – 0.76c 1.65c – 1.9c
High 800W – 1300W 0.38c – 0.62c 0.76c – 1.24c 1.9c – 3.1c

Assumes usage rate of 28.7c/kWh

Alert readers will have noticed there is a catch-22 here. Sure, you can try to save money by reducing your microwave’s power level, but this also means the microwave will take longer to cook, cancelling out any savings.

The cost of microwaving our favourite foods

Food Cook time Cost
Microwavable meal 7 minutes 3.7c
Potato 5 minutes 2.63c
Reheating leftover spaghetti 4 minutes 2.1c
Frozen meat pie 3 minutes 1.58c
Softening butter 5 seconds 0.03c

Assumes microwave power is 1100W and usage rate 28.7c/kWh.

Regardless, if you’re trying to save money on electricity, adjusting your microwaving habits doesn’t seem to be the way to go about it. Even a hair dryer uses more electricity by the minute than a microwave.

The cost of leaving a microwave on standby

A modern microwave in standby mode consumes around 3W of electricity, costing 0.08c per hour. If left on standby for 24 hours a day, this will cost you 2.06c per day, or $1.98 per quarter at a usage rate of 28.7c/kWh. While that isn’t much, it is still money wasted.

Standby power contributes up to 10 per cent of the standard household electricity bill. So while unplugging the microwave alone won’t get you much closer to that European holiday you’ve been saving for, it is worth getting into the habit of unplugging all unused appliances wherever possible.

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