Microwaves are one of the most useful kitchen appliances we have. They can cook, reheat, and defrost food in a matter of minutes—all while leaving your hands free to do other things. But that doesn’t mean they’re without risk.
In fact, one of the biggest dangers is that you might not have enough ventilation for your over-the-range microwave.
Do over-the-range microwaves need ventilation?
Yes, over-the-range microwaves do require ventilation. The ventilation system helps to get rid of the extra heat, steam, and smoke made by cooking. If the ventilation system is not installed properly or is not functioning well, it can lead to a buildup of moisture and odors in the kitchen, which can cause damage to the microwave and create an unpleasant cooking environment.
Most over-the-range microwaves come with a built-in ventilation system that includes a fan and a vent that exhausts air to the outside of the house through a duct. This helps to remove steam, smoke, and other cooking odors from the kitchen.
To make sure the kitchen has enough air flow, it’s important to make sure the ventilation system is set up correctly and is working well. If you’re unsure about the installation or functioning of your over-the-range microwave’s ventilation system, it’s best to consult a professional.
Why do microwave ovens need ventilation?
Microwave ovens use microwave radiation to heat up food. When heat is produced inside a chamber like in a microwave oven, the air inside begins to build up.
This air needs to be released and so most microwave ovens have an outlet for it to come out of.
These vents can be located on the sides or even the top of the microwave and it allows the air to escape.
This is important because if the vents are not working properly, then your microwave oven will be inefficient and unsafe for use!
It’s important to read the instructions manual so that you can understand how to install microwave ovens so that they will ventilate properly.
There are different types of vents that can be used and it’s important to know the pros/cons for each type before making a decision on which one you want to be installed in your home.
What are the risks and dangers of not having proper ventilation in your over-the-range microwave?
Build-up of dangerous gases and chemicals
Without enough air flow, gases and chemicals from cooking can build up in the kitchen and make it a dangerous place to be. For example, carbon monoxide and other harmful fumes from burning food can build up, posing a risk to the health of those in the household.
Increased risk of fire
If there isn’t enough ventilation, smoke and steam from cooking can build up and catch fire if they aren’t properly let out.
Poor air quality
If the kitchen doesn’t have enough ventilation, smells from cooking can linger, making the air dirty and making it an unpleasant place to live.
Health risks associated with microwave emissions
If your over-the-range microwave is not properly ventilated, it can emit harmful microwave radiation that can be a health risk for those in the household.
Increased energy costs
If the microwave doesn’t have enough air flow, it might not work as well, which would make it use more energy and cost more to run.
Poor cooking results
A lack of proper ventilation can affect the cooking results, leading to unevenly cooked or burned food.
Increased risk of damage to appliances
If there isn’t enough air flow in the kitchen, moisture and cooking fumes could damage the microwave and other appliances.
Increased risk of home safety hazards
The lack of proper ventilation can create a safety hazard in the home due to the buildup of gases, increased risk of fire, and other risks associated with poor ventilation.
How should an over-the-range microwave be installed?
- Determine the appropriate location for the microwave: The microwave should be installed above the stove, so choose a location that provides enough clearance for the microwave and that is close to an electrical outlet.
- Install the mounting bracket: Most over-the-range microwaves come with a mounting bracket that needs to be installed first. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to ensure the bracket is properly installed.
- Install the support bracket: Depending on the model, you may need to install a support bracket to hold the microwave in place. This is typically installed at the back of the microwave and attached to the wall.
- Mount the microwave: With the mounting bracket and support bracket in place, lift the microwave onto the brackets and slide it into place. Secure the microwave to the support bracket and adjust the level as needed.
- Connect the electrical wiring: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to connect the electrical wiring. If you’re not comfortable doing this yourself, it’s best to hire a professional electrician.
- Install the ventilation system: Connect the ventilation duct to the microwave and secure it in place. Make sure the duct is properly routed to the outside of the house and that the vent cap is properly installed.
- Test the microwave: Turn on the microwave and test that it’s working properly.
How does an over-the-range microwave oven’s external ventilation system work?
Over-the-range microwave overs are usually installed and permanently attached to the wall. This means that they are not able to move around and ventilate as well. This is why it’s important for them to have an external ventilation system installed on their sides or top of microwave ovens so air can escape.
An externally vented microwave uses a fan that is installed outside of the home. These fans can also be included within the model microwaves themselves. The fan pulls air from inside and pushes it out through a vent on top or the side, depending on where you have your microwave located in relation to an exterior wall (if there is one).
The pros are that this type will work with any size kitchen because they can be mounted anywhere as long as it’s at least 30 inches away.
External ventilation systems work great because it’s a natural way to remove cooking smells and it’s also quieter than an internal vent.
The benefit of external venting forces most of the moisture, heat, odor, and particles to go directly outside.
The downside of external vent systems is the installation costs and they can be more expensive than an internal system. You need to hire a professional for this job, which will cost about $500-$600 on average in most cases (depending on where your home’s located and the complexity of the job).
The cons are that the fan can still be noisy, especially if you have your microwave in close proximity to where people will sit or stand while they’re eating their food (like near the kitchen table).
How does a microwave recirculating filtration system work?
Over-the-range microwave ovens also come with one other major type: recirculating and filtration.
This method of ventilation recirculates the air and brings the heat back into the kitchen.
These ductless compartments cycle the air and pull it through a filter before making its way back into the kitchen.
Some of these filters are equipped with a charcoal filter that can remove odors and other particles from the air.
The pros of this type are: it’s quieter, there is no need for a venting system to be installed in your home (which means less construction).
They’re easier on energy usage than traditional ventilation systems because you don’t have any ducts or vents running through them.
What types of ventilation systems are available for over-the-range microwaves?
There are two main types of ventilation systems available for over-the-range microwaves:
This type of ventilation system uses a duct to vent smoke, steam, and cooking odors to the outside of the home.
The best way to get rid of smoke, steam, and smells from the kitchen and keep them from coming back into the house is to use external ventilation.
This type of ventilation system uses a filter to get rid of smoke, steam, and cooking smells before sending the air back into the kitchen.
Even though recirculating ventilation isn’t as good as ventilation from the outside, it can be a good choice when ventilation from the outside isn’t possible or practical.
Which is better for microwave ventilation? External or recirculation/filtration?
Different events require different forms of maintenance.
External ventilation systems for microwave ovens often have to conform to building code and standards in order to be safe and effective.
As explained earlier, the costs of hiring a professional to come in a built the external ventilation system is expensive. These builders will likely use materials made of galvanized steel, stainless steel, or copper. There also needs to be a smooth interior to where the gas vents to the outside. This method requires installing ducts through the home so that the air can exit.
It also means that the place you choose to vent your microwave will the only place you can have your microwave. It won’t be easy to move since external venting will be limited to only one place in the kitchen.
Plenty of rules and regulations are in place to make sure that the external ventilation system is safe and effective. But the benefit here is that you get to enjoy the ventilation for a really long time with very little worry from maintenance.
If you were interested in using a charcoal filter for circulating vents, this would be an easier install.
The downside to this is that you will lose its effectiveness over time. These filters need to be replaced every six months. But this all depends on your cooking styles. If you cook more often using the microwave, then you will need to replace the filter more often.
Since there’s not much construction involved in this method, you won’t be forking over a ton of money for professional installs.
You’ll only have to worry about filters. Some microwave models will allow you to buy filters that are washable. However, washing filters will have their limits, and eventually, you’ll need to replace them.
Take for example how KitchenAid recommends that if you want to reuse your aluminum filters, you’ll have to wash them using degreasing detergents, then dry with a paper towel. You can also wash your filters in a dishwasher.
However, it’s important to check with the manufacturer before washing your filters through the dishwasher.
What’s the difference between duct and ductless ventilation?
The main difference between duct and ductless ventilation is how they handle air circulation.
Duct ventilation, also known as external ventilation, uses a duct to vent smoke, steam, and cooking odors to the outside of the home.
The ductwork can be installed through an exterior wall or through the roof of the home.
People think that duct ventilation is the best way to get smoke, steam, and smells out of the kitchen and keep them from going back into the house.
Recirculating ventilation, which is what ductless ventilation is also called, uses a filter to remove smoke, steam, and cooking smells from the air before sending it back into the kitchen.
The air is pulled into the vent, passed through the filter, and then released back into the kitchen. While ductless ventilation is not as effective as ducted ventilation, it can be a good option in situations where external ventilation is not possible or practical.
How do you tell if your microwave is vented outside?
To tell if your over-the-range microwave is vented outside, you can follow these steps:
- Look for an external vent on the outside of your home, usually located near the kitchen area. This is where the ductwork for the microwave should terminate.
- Check the underside of the microwave for a vent. If there is a vent, it may be connected to ductwork that leads to the external vent on the outside of the home.
- Turn on the microwave’s vent and listen for airflow. If the vent is vented outside, you should be able to hear the air moving through the ductwork.
- Check the manufacturer’s instructions for your microwave. They should indicate whether your microwave is vented outside or recirculates the air back into the kitchen.
If you’re unsure, consult with a professional
If you’re unsure of how to go about installing a ventilation system for your microwave, the best thing to do is consult with a professional.
In fact, it doesn’t need to be a third-party source. You can also contact the manufacturer of your microwave oven.
Some brands will be able to provide you with great information about which ventilation method is best to use for their specific oven.
Helpful tips on using and installing a microwave
I wanted to give you some advice on how to go about installing a ventilation system for your microwave. The advice I provide below is not exhaustive, but it should give you a good overview of what to do.
1. Start with reading the manual
Reading the manual can give you great insight into what type of ventilation system you should use. You may also find that the manual will provide instructions on how to install a vent or filter for your microwave. You also get the benefits of understanding what to do and what not to do when using and your microwave.
2. Don’t install microwaves near flammable objects or devices
Keep microwaves away from flammable objects. You don’t want to install a microwave right next to a device that creates an open flame for example.
3. Make sure the range microwave is a good distance from the stovetop oven
It’s important to leave a good distance from the over-the-range microwave to the stovetop oven. This gap will help prevent the heat from the stove from traveling up to the microwave and possibly damaging the microwave.
On another note, the gap in between can give you enough space to avoid accidentally burning yourself.
4. Use microwave-safe containers to cook your food
Microwave-safe containers have a property that allows them to survive not being melted by the waves produced by the microwave.
5. Clean out your microwave regularly
It’s important to make sure you keep food and liquids from building up in the microwave. This will help prevent any bacteria from growing and keep your food safe to eat!
It will also stop rust from forming and this will otherwise damage the microwave and cause health and safety issues for you and your family.
6. Don’t use the microwave if you can’t close the door
Microwaves use radiation to cook your meals. If your microwave door happens to be damaged or not closing properly, don’t force it to close or try some way to rig it closed. If it happens to open, while the microwave stays on, you’ll likely be exposed to radiation.
7. Don’t cook with metals in the microwave
Electrons from microwaves have a way of bouncing off of metal and this can cause sparks. This is a fire hazard so it’s best to avoid cooking with metals in the microwave.
8. Microwaves can overheat water
It’s called “superheated water” and it can seriously injure you if you didn’t know your water was scolding hot. This water may not be boiling but it can erupt causing burns.
9. Microwaves use a form of radiation to cook
There has been a lot of research done with exposure to microwave radiation, however, none of the conclusions are conclusive.
It has been a ton of this question studied in mice but ultimately there’s a lot of yes’s and no’s. At this point, we don’t really know.
10. Clean the vents
Keeping the vents clean is an important first step in having your microwave function longer. I recommend wiping it down once every month so that the dust and particles are cleared from the vents and not obstructing any of the air and heat flow.
How often should the filter of an over-the-range microwave be changed?
The frequency of changing the filter of an over-the-range microwave depends on the type of filter used and how often the microwave is used. Here are some general guidelines:
If your over-the-range microwave has a charcoal filter, it should be replaced every 6–12 months, depending on how often the microwave is used. The charcoal filter helps to absorb cooking odors but can become saturated over time, reducing its effectiveness.
If your over-the-range microwave has a grease filter, it should be cleaned regularly, ideally after every 30 hours of cooking time or at least every 2 months. The grease filter catches grease and oil from cooking. Over time, it can get clogged, which makes the ventilation system less effective and slows down the flow of air.
Can you replace a microwave with a range hood?
Replacing a microwave with a range hood is possible, but it requires some considerations.
First, make sure there are enough vents to get the smoke and steam from cooking out of the house.
Then ensure that there is an electrical power source near the installation site.
You’ll also need to measure the space to make sure the range hood fits right and be ready to make any changes to the cabinets or hood that are needed.
Some installation work may require a professional installer to ensure everything is done correctly. Replacing a microwave with a range hood can be a good option for those who want more ventilation or prefer the look of a range hood.
Does the vent have to go outside?
In most cases, a range hood or over-the-range microwave vent should be ducted to the outside of the home. Venting to the outside helps to remove smoke, steam, and cooking odors from the kitchen and prevents them from circulating back into the home.
However, some range hoods and over-the-range microwaves can be configured for ductless operation. In this case, the venting system has a filter that gets rid of smoke and smells before sending the air back into the kitchen. Even though ductless operation is possible, it might not get rid of smoke, steam, and cooking smells as well as venting to the outside.
Even though venting to the outside isn’t always required, it’s usually best for the kitchen’s ventilation and air quality.
My final thoughts
The microwave is a modern invention that has become an integral part of the kitchen. It’s used for everything from cooking to reheating food and beverages.
Most microwaves need ventilation in order to function properly. If your microwave doesn’t have any vents on the top, back or sides, it may not be working correctly.
Ventilation of microwaves helps to keep the air inside fresh and clean.
Other interesting articles:
- The Dangers of Microwaves (How They Harm Your Health and How to Safely Use Them)
- How Long Can You Leave the Rice Cooker On? (We Forgot to Turn It Off Over the Weekend)
- Yes, a Blender Can Grind Meat (Safety Do’s and Safety Don’ts)
- How to Clean Parts of your Rice Cooker in the Dishwasher (Without Damaging Them)