The Essential Guide to the RV Microwave (and Is Convection Better?)

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Nothing beats the convenience of a microwave when you want gummy pizza, overheated hot chocolate, or limp, lifeless eggs.

I kid. Properly used, a microwave can do almost everything! And it’s great for a quick, warm snack after a long day of hiking and exploring.

If you’re considering upgrading or replacing your RV microwave, you’ve come to the right place!

How Does an RV Microwave Work?

This is one article where I’m NOT going to explain how something works! If you can’t sleep at night without understanding how microwaves work, check out this page from InterestingEngineer.com.

Keep reading to learn if there’s a difference between RV microwaves and household microwaves.

RV Microwaves at a Glance

Typical size ranges include:

  • Small: 0.7 – 1.0 cubic foot, 700 – 1000W
  • Medium: 1.0 – 1.5 cubic foot, 1000 – 1500W
  • Large: 1.6 – 2.2 cubic foot, 1500 – 2000W

If your microwave is on a 15-amp circuit, you’re limited to 1,500W or less.
If your microwave is on a 20-amp circuit, you’re limited to 2,200W or less.

RV microwaves are available in three styles:*

  1. Over-the-range
  2. Countertop
  3. In-cabinet

Some RV microwaves can function as multiple styles depending on how they’re set up.

Mostly, style designation has to do with venting.

  • In-cabinet microwaves typically vent air out the front via a louvered trim kit and front-facing duct.
  • Over-the-range microwaves vent out the top or back.

What’s the Difference Between an RV Microwave and a Regular Microwave?

Actually, there isn’t a big difference between an RV microwave and a regular house microwave. You could plug your RV microwave into your kitchen outlet, and it would work just fine. And vice versa.

Both microwaves have rotating turntables. Please note that you might need to physically remove and store the turntable for travel! Or wrap it in a towel and place it back inside the microwave. Otherwise, it can bounce around the RV and cause damage.

If you’re using a countertop microwave, you’ll need some way to anchor it to the countertop. You can either use screws and brackets or “sticky putty,” a common trick among RVers.

Both types of microwaves run only on 120-volt alternating current (120V AC) electricity! You know this as just ol’ regular shore power.

  • Microwaves make heat. And that heat has to go somewhere. If your RV microwave is mounted inside a cabinet, then you must have somewhere for hot air to escape out of the cabinet! Normally, this is accomplished with a louvered trim bezel.
  • Microwaves don’t cook food. They heat water.* The microwave radiation heats the water molecules inside your food. It’s the hot water, not the radiation itself, that cooks your food. That’s why cooking meat in a microwave makes it so bland; the meat doesn’t have a chance to brown at high temperatures like it does when roasting or grilling.

*Technically, microwaves do heat other elements besides water, but it’s the water that does most of the work.

Actually, when you understand that a microwave cooks by heating water with electromagnetic radiation, the foibles and quirks of a microwave start to make sense.

That’s why you can’t put metal inside a microwave. It will block the waves from reaching the food in the first place!

That’s also why foods can cook unevenly. Parts of your food will varying water content will cook at different temperatures. And why overcooked food can explode! Water is literally boiling into steam inside your food. It’s trying to expand 1,700 times its volume!

Now, I haven’t talked about convection microwave ovens yet – and that’s a game-changer! See the next section for more information.

Is It Safe to Use A Regular Microwave Instead of an RV Microwave?

If you’re interested in replacing your RV microwave, you might be wondering if you can use a regular microwave or have to get a specialty RV microwave?

Short answer: Yes. A regular microwave will work in an RV just fine!

Longer answer: Yes – but with caveats!

  • Some regular microwaves can easily trip a breaker. RV microwaves are usually designed so they never pull more than 20, 30, or 50 amps, depending on the model. Try to substitute a microwave with the same wattage requirements as your RV microwave.
  • Leave room for heat to escape! If you are mounting your microwave inside a cabinet or above the range, you’ll need to leave a gap clearance (usually at least 1-2 inches on all sides). If you’re a crafty DIYer, you might be able to modify the OEM trim kit and heat duct to fit your new microwave!
  • In theory, RV microwaves are supposed to be better designed to withstand the shaking and shock of the RV interior. Personally, I’ve never seen any evidence that RV-specific models last longer than regular microwaves. So I wouldn’t pay this any mind.

Basic Microwave Safety Protocol

  • Don’t operate a microwave with the door open or any part of the door or gasket damaged.
  • Do not heat food in closed containers, baby bottles, or tall bottles with narrow necks. All containers should be marked “microwave-safe.”
  • Liquids can be overheated beyond the boiling point. Be very careful when stirring liquids, inserting utensils into liquids, or removing liquids from the microwave!
  • Regularly clean your microwave to reduce the fire hazard.

A special word on child safety: In some RVs, the microwave is mounted at chest height or lower, where kids can access them. You should use a microwave with child-lock features, such as a push-release paddle.

Is an RV Convection Microwave Worth It?

Photo Credit: General Electric

Alright, let’s talk convection microwaves.

Actually, the term is kind of a misnomer. A true microwave can’t cook by convection, because the air inside a microwave is almost never hot! The radiation mostly passes through the air.

A convection microwave is a combination microwave + convection oven. In convection mode, the microwave heats a heating element and then blows the hot air around the RV, similar to your convection oven at home.

In convection mode, you can bake, roast, broil, and explore other conventional heating techniques.

Once you go convection, you never go back. At least, not for pizza, vegetables, bacon, biscuits, and other food that should be properly browned.

Also, when using an RV convection oven in Convection Mode, you can use regular cookware like baking pans, glassware, and cast iron.

Yes, convection microwaves are wonderful. You get the best of both words: quick warming for the microwave, tasty cooking from the convection oven. If you’re a foodie, you need a convection microwave!

Great brands include:

  • GE Advantium
  • LG
  • Sharp
  • Furrion

Brands like Greystone, Highpointe, and Whirlpool are typically found in stock RVs.

The cost of an RV microwave varies from $100 for a small, 1.0-cubic foot, bargain basement model to $1,300+ for a high end, 2.1-cubic-foot, over-the-range convection microwave.

Can I Run My RV Microwave on Battery?

If you’re new to the RV-o-sphere, this might become as an unpleasant surprise:

Generally, no, you cannot run your RV microwave on battery power only!

A battery produces 12-volt direct current electricity. A microwave requires 120-volt alternating current electricity.

That means that (by default) you need to be plugged into shore power (at least 15 amp, preferably 30 amp) in order to operate your microwave!

For more on RV electrical, read my 101 RV Electrical Primer.

If you want to run your microwave when you aren’t plugged into shore power, you have three options:

  • An inverter
  • A generator

Running a generator to power your microwave is time-consuming and loud. There’s no sense leaving your generator on all day, so you’ll have to start and stop it every time you want to use your microwave! That also puts a lot of wear and tear on your generator.

For more information about choosing a generator, learn why I recommend an inverter generator.

Your second option – and the recommended solution – is to use an inverter.

An inverter transforms 12V battery power into 120V “shore power.” Pretty nifty!

Unfortunately, most RVs, except for big motorhomes and luxury 5th wheels, aren’t set up with inverters. You have to add one yourself.

You can learn more (actually, just about everything) about choosing an RV inverter here.

Plus, you’ll need to add several more batteries to your bank to handle the extra power draw!

This is because microwaves draw A LOT of power. A single battery alone isn’t enough. You’ll drain it too quickly, possibly causing severe internal damage. You need at least 220 amp-hours (preferably 300 or more) of battery power, plus a 1500W inverter (or larger, for some microwaves), to realistically operate your microwave while boondocking.

You can read my ultimate guide to RV batteries here (or here, if you prefer lithium).

Can I Remove My RV Microwave for Storage Space?

Some RVers prefer storage over warmed up food. If you don’t use your microwave and wish you could have the extra kitchen storage instead, fear not!

In most RVs, you can safely remove a microwave from a cabinet and use that space for storage. And removing or installing a microwave isn’t very hard!

  1. Remove the fasteners securing the microwave trim kit to the cabinet.
  2. Remove any fasteners securing the microwave body to the cabinet floor or frame.
  3. Unplug the microwave (usually not hardwired).
  4. Pull the microwave out of the cabinet!

You can then use the cabinet for storage. Make your own cabinet doors or string some stretch net across the opening.

Where Do I Get Repair Service for My RV Microwave?

If your microwave is damaged or not operating correctly, you can take it to an RV dealership or appliance repair facility near you. Because RV microwaves are very similar to house microwaves, a qualified appliance repair technician should be able to diagnose and fix any problems.

Be aware that RV manufacturers usually don’t cover the microwave! Instead, the microwave, like most third-party appliances, is covered under its own warranty with the OEM. So if you bought a Forest River camper, for instance, warranty claims would need to be submitted to perhaps Furrion or Whirlpool or whoever the microwave OEM is.

Ross

RV engineer by day, intrepid blogger by night (and occasionally weekends). This website is all about how RVs work, and sometimes why they don't. Bookmark pages that you find helpful, and join my email list for exclusive monthly awesomeness.