We're reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Why Does A Microwave Rotate The Food? (Explained!)

Antonio Forde
Updated: July 4, 2024
6 min read

Most microwaves available in the market have turntables that spin as food is cooked or warmed. 

Find out why the tray rotates and what it does to your meal.

Here’s Why Microwaves Rotate the Food:

Microwaves have trays that rotate to ensure that food cooks simultaneously and uniformly. They work on the principle of radiation, where waves produced penetrate uncooked food and heat up the molecules within. For heat to get distributed evenly, rotating the food is necessary.

Do Microwaves Need to Rotate the Food?

Yes. Microwaves ovens with turntable features need to rotate food to ensure that every meal turns out perfectly cooked.

Microwave ovens have magnetrons or vacuum tubes that generate microwaves, then released via the waveguide or metallic cavity.

Microwaves are electromagnetic radiation that cooks food by heating up the molecules.

Once released, these waves bounce off your oven’s walls and pass through the container until they reach the food inside.

They seep in the food, causing the molecules to vibrate until all the parts are thoroughly cooked or warmed up.

The rotation of the microwave oven is essential so that these waves spread consistently at all angles.

Waves trapped inside the oven encounter interference, resulting in hot and cold spots.

If there is uneven distribution, the wave interference causes cold spots inside the oven walls. 

The food that is positioned in these areas will remain cold. This is the reason why there are certain parts of your meal that are not heated enough after using the oven.

Cold spots can be prevented by controlling the movement of the food. 

With your food placed on the turntable, you are guaranteed that your meal is cooked uniformly throughout.

The tray can spin 360° turns or alternate 180° clockwise and counterclockwise motions.

Whichever direction it does rotate should not matter, as long as it does turn. I explained why microwave turntables switch directions here.

If your oven’s turntable is broken, no need to worry. Your food will still get cooked, but you need to manually move or stir it to distribute the heat evenly.

While microwaves with turntables are designed to work by spinning, there are units without this function.

Instead of rotating trays, oven models like these have stirrers or rotating reflectors.

These features work just like turntables in a way that they spread microwaves consistently and efficiently.

Why Do Some Microwaves Not Spin?

There are several possible reasons why your microwave is not spinning as it should. These can be resolved with quick troubleshooting.

Microwaves need regular cleaning and maintenance for optimum performance. If the tray is not turning, it may be due to an obstruction in its path. 

If you have not been cleaning your appliance at least once or twice a week, as you should, there are bound to be food particles stuck under the turntable.

These crumbs are preventing the tray from moving.

You should remove the tray and the roller guide underneath and wash them in warm soapy water. This way, any rubbish stuck will loosen and be easier to remove.

Another probable cause of your microwave not spinning is a problem with the turntable motor.

If you do not know anything about repairs, you should contact a professional to avoid accidents. But if you have the know-how, you can do some damage assessment.

You will need a multimeter to check for continuity in the motor. If there is no continuity, you will need to replace the turntable motor.

An issue with the drive coupler may also lead to the turntable to stop spinning.

Most ovens have a coupler driven by the motor located under the turntable. The most common is the three-sided coupler, which you can easily detach from the motor shaft.

If the coupler is broken or stripped out, it will prevent the tray from turning. To check for damage, gently pull out the coupler. If there is wear and tear, getting a replacement should solve the problem.

You should also examine the roller guide for any issues. This ring has three wheels spaced out around the perimeter under the microwave tray.

A roller guide allows the turntable to rotate when the appliance is running. If the tray is not spinning, it may be because of a broken or damaged ring.

Most of the parts of a microwave oven are easy to repair or replace. You can readily buy a drive coupler or a rolling guide from any appliance center.

Can I Use a Microwave Without a Turntable?

Definitely. There should not be a safety issue with running the microwave with the missing tray.

You can still use your microwave without a turntable as long as the door glass remains intact.

Frequent usage of the microwave typically results from wearing and tearing. This is inevitable. You probably need to have it replaced when your turntable gets cracks and breaks.

The good news is that you can still use the microwave oven without the spinning tray. You just have to keep in mind several things.

Microwaves with turntable functions should work sans spinning tray, but not as efficiently with one present.

The rotating tray ensures that the food is cooked evenly every time. If the tray is missing, you need to do what it was designed to perform.

You should manually replicate what the turntable does automatically.

While cooking or reheating, you will need to manually rotate the food to make sure every portion gets adequately heated.

This requires a bit of trial and error to work.

You can turn the food in one-minute or half-minute increments until everything is evenly cooked. The goal is to avoid cold spots that leave portions of the food uncooked and inedible.

If the food comes straight from the refrigerator, cold spots can encourage bacterial spread and result in food poisoning.

This is the same principle as cooking on the stove, where you stir food or move the container to even out the heat produced.

There is no exact science to this, so results may not always be satisfying.

In some oven units, there is a function that stops turntable rotation. This allows you to put a dish or container that is too big into the microwave.

If the pot is large and the turntable rotates, the movement will cause it to fall out of place and create a mess. 

The button will stop the rotation, but you still need to move the dish manually to evenly heat up the food.

Why Do Commercial Microwaves Not Have Turntables?

Commercial microwaves do not have turntables because they do not need to. 

These ovens are built differently from regular domestic appliances, as they are designed to withstand heavy usage and higher food volume.

Microwave ovens without revolving trays tend to have spacious interiors. You can fit different shaped containers and cook more than one dish at a time.

These ovens are built to hold larger quantities of food. Turntables are useless in commercial units since the dishes are too big to rotate. 

Moreover, commercial microwaves allocate heat distribution efficiently. Food is cooked evenly without moving or turning, like in household microwaves.

They also usually contain flat ceramic bases that are easier to clean and maintain.

Without the turntable or the rotating motor, these flatbeds are less hassle to keep tidy. Food splashes also tend to be minimal since there is no spinning involved.

This is incredibly convenient in commercial settings where most people do not have time to clean ovens every after use.

Specifically crafted to meet the demands of a specialized kitchen, commercial microwaves can endure hours of daily usage. 

Heavy usage can take a toll on microwaves with turntables. Since they are usually designed for light loads, units like these can easily break down with constant heavy use.

Commercial units run on between 900 to 2200 watts of power. Compared to turntable oven models with less, the energy difference can considerably speed up cooking times.

This is important to serve the food faster and keep up with the demand of hungry customers.

Commercial microwaves also include several power settings. With a fully programmable control panel, they can cook large quantities of food.

Even without the turntable, food is cooked fast and consistently every time.


Scientific American

Science ABC

Wise Geek

Written by
Antonio Forde
I'm the head-writer @ Ask The Home Geek (or, in plain English, I'm the guy writing & editing the majority of the content here). Current learning project: Korean.
Have any questions? Write us a message.
Antonio Forde
I'm the head-writer @ Ask The Home Geek (or, in plain English, I'm the guy writing & editing the majority of the content here). Current learning project: Korean.