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What size inverter do I need for cooking in a van?

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Ever wondered what size inverter you need for cooking in your van? Eliot Prince of www.wattalot.com explains what size inverter you need for cooking in a van in this article.

We’re all becoming increasingly reliant on electronics. That includes in our vans and other homes on wheels.

It’s almost impossible to escape!

If you’re like me, you’ve tried to pack up your van and head off-grid for as long as possible.

But eventually, you’ll find the need to use electricity to enjoy life.

For me, that usually comes in the kitchen for either food storage or cooking.

Solar panel in the sunshine

What kitchen appliances can you run in your van?

When spending long periods in your van, you might be thinking of adding luxuries like microwaves, fridges, and coffee makers.

These are all examples of appliances that need AC electricity, just like you get from the mains at home.

The only problem is that your deep cycle batteries can’t supply this directly. 

Deep cycle batteries store direct current (DC) electricity, while most home appliances run using alternating current (AC) electricity.

But don’t worry, you can easily use a power inverter to make the conversion from DC to AC, plus increase your voltage from 12V to 120V/240V.

Using a power inverter enables you to run any electronic appliances you use at home (as long as you have a big enough battery).
Once you understand your campervan’s kitchen power consumption, you can then pick the right size power inverter for all your kitchen gadgets.

Photo of a small coffee machine on the floor of a van

What size inverter is best for cooking in a van?

You will need at least a 1000 watt inverter to run common kitchen appliances. You might even need a bigger 1500 watt or 2000 watt inverter depending on what you plan to run.

To work out the correct size, you will first need to know how many watts your electronics use. There are 3 ways of finding this out:

  • Check the user manual or technical specification. You might also find a sticker on the device detailing the power consumption.
  • Use a wattmeter to get a live power reading. These are great little devices you can attach to any appliance to check the wattage. It’s awesome to have if you’re using an inverter.
  • Do the maths. To calculate wattage use the formula Volts x Amps = Watts.

Once you know the total wattage of the appliances you want to run simultaneously, you should add 20% to the final figure. This is the minimum inverter size you require.

Here’s an example.

Let’s say you want to run a 700W microwave, a 40W mini-fridge, and charge a 5W phone at the same time. This is a total of 745 watts.

Next, we add 20% by multiplying by 1.2.

745 x 1.2 = 894 watts.

So you need an inverter with at least 894 watt capacity. (Closest to this would be 1000 watts.)

Photo of a 1000 watt inverted installed in a van

What type of inverter is best for cooking in your van?

Go for a Pure Sine Wave Inverter

One other thing to consider is the type of power inverter. You can choose between pure sine wave and modified sine wave.

I always recommend pure sine wave. This is because it more closely replicates the electricity you get from the main grid. While they are more expensive, it allows you to run a much wider range of kitchen appliances like microwaves and refrigerators.

The other option is modified sine wave which is cheaper. These inverters have a much sharper step in voltage which is not suitable to run sensitive or inductive appliances. In simple terms, you can’t efficiently run cooling devices like fridges or cooking equipment like microwaves.

Instant pot plugged in a campervan kitchen

What can you run off your inverter in your van?

Now you understand what size inverter you need for your van kitchen, let’s look at what you might want to run. We’ll also look at the average wattage of these devices.

One thing to mention is that different models of appliances can range massively in power consumption. 

For campervans, it’s always best to look for low wattage options or travel sized gadgets. This helps to reduce the amount of energy your batteries need to supply.

Here’s a handy table you can quickly reference:

ApplianceAverage Wattage
LED Lighting5 – 10
Smartphone Charging5 – 10
Fan30 – 60
Mini-Fridge40 – 60
Slow Cooker50 – 200
Microwave600 – 1000
Small Blender / NutriBullet600 – 1000
Toaster800 – 1600
Coffee Machine1000 – 1500
Induction Hob300 – 2000
Image of an empty usb blender

Which appliances should you avoid in your van?

There are a number of appliances I will always avoid trying to use in a van. This is simply due to the sheer amount of power they suck up. While you might be able to get a big enough inverter to run them, you will find power hungry devices will deplete your batteries super quickly. 

You can generally find low wattage options for these devices which would be better when using off-grid power. What I want to discuss here are the normal domestic sizes that you’ll find in your home kitchen.

Kettle

It is generally best to boil water using a gas hob when living off-grid. This is because a domestic kettle uses an enormous amount of energy to operate. You will find that a modern kettle uses between 1500 and 3000 watts! That means an amperage of 125 to 250 from a 12V battery. Even if you only run the kettle for 5 minutes it will still suck up 10Ah or 20Ah of your battery. So it’s probably not best to be using a kettle to make cups of tea or prep cooking water.

Induction Hob 

I have listed an induction hob on the list above with a wattage of between 300 and 2000 watts. But think very carefully about using one to cook with. That wattage is for a small lower powered single hob. You could run it at 300 watts but the cooking temperature would be impossibly low. In general, a regular induction hob is going to use over 2000 watts when cooking on a decent heat. So it’s going to be better to stick to gas for frying your bacon.

A meal garnished with lime wedges cooking on an induction hob

Domestic Fridge (or freezer)

You want to avoid a normal home fridge at all costs. They have large compressors in them that draw a lot of power. You will find that they have a running wattage of at least 200 watts. Now, this doesn’t sound huge but remember you need to have it plugged in 24 hours a day. Adding to this, each time it cycles on to do some cooling it draws a quick spike in power. All of this adds up to a demanding toll on your battery supply. You should look at RV fridges specially designed with 12V operation or a low powered mini-fridge.

 

A 12v fridge with the door open in a campervan kitchen

Which inverter to choose for cooking in a van?…

I hope this article helps you understand what size inverter you should pick for your campervan.

Put simply, you need to add up the total wattage of all the devices you want to run at the same time. Then add 20% to find your minimum inverter capacity.

Happily, the size of an inverter is measured in wattage so it will be easy for you to pick out.

And remember, just because your inverter is powerful enough to run an appliance, doesn’t mean you should! Take the time to think about how much battery power it will use, it’s not always worth it. 

If you need some more tips for which equipment you need in your van kitchen for cooking, then these articles may interest you.

The best fridge for a van kitchen.

Oven ideas for vanlife.

This was a guest post by Eliot Prince.

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