Nearly every home nowadays has a microwave, and we love them for how easy they make mealtimes. But how safe are they from sudden explosions?
Microwaves cannot explode. While they can produce enough heat to explode the object inside, the microwave itself is safe from explosion. They are vulnerable to electrical issues that cause fires, though.
This article details the following:
- How a microwave works
- Materials that can and can’t go in a microwave
- Foods that can explode in a microwave
- How to care for your microwave
How a Microwave Works
A microwave oven, or more commonly named microwave, uses electromagnetic radiation to heat and cook food items by sending energy called microwaves into foods, specifically into sugars, water, and fats. A device called a transformer inside the oven is used to increase the household current, and then another device called a magnetron converts it into electromagnetic waves.
The microwaves are longer than infrared waves but shorter than radio waves. These microwaves are bounced around inside the space until they hit the food, where they become attached. They cannot penetrate very far in, so first, the outside of the food cooks from the microwaves, and the insides are cooked from the transferable heat, but of course, this takes much longer.
The rotating glass plate, or turntable, also helps produce an even cook because, inside the microwave chamber, the microwaves form static energy columns called standing waves. Rotation is necessary for the waves to reach the food uniformly. This is why, especially with older models that may not have a rotating plate, it is recommended to stir or move food as it cooks, to ensure an even temperature and cook.
Materials That Can and Can’t Go in a Microwave
The only things that should go into a microwave are foods, liquids, and microwave-safe containers, but sometimes there can be doubts about what is safe. Always read the packaging and instructions of food packets before putting them into the microwave and avoid putting sealed packets inside unless following the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Glassware or ceramics are generally microwaveable as long as they don’t have any metallic inlays or decoration.
Single-use plastics, such as yogurt or cottage cheese pots, and old or cracked plastic containers should not be used in the microwave. Non-microwavable plastics have the potential to melt and leave toxic particles in your food. Plastic bags such as freezer bags should also not be used unless otherwise deemed microwaveable by the manufacturer.
More durable plastics, such as Tupperware or a microwave cover, are okay. You might think that Styrofoam would be okay in the microwave, but it is still a type of plastic and should not be used either.
Hard metals should never be put inside a microwave because they intensify the heat and can cause fires. Aluminum foil can be used but should be as smooth as possible because any wrinkles can cause arcing, which causes electric sparks to shoot out, potentially causing a fire or damage to your microwave. Also, since the metal reflects the electromagnetic waves, it can even prevent your food from heating, so if in doubt, avoid using any metal.
Paper or Cardboard
Papers like a kitchen towel can be used in a microwave but always check the packaging information because items like paper plates have a thin plastic layer on their surface and should be avoided. Brown paper bags should also not be used as they cannot withstand large amounts of heat and cause fires. Cardboard is inadvisable to use in a microwave as it contains elements of glue and other materials.
Foods That Can Explode in a Microwave
Various items can explode in a microwave, but some are more prone than others. Food that has a seal can explode, which is why when you cook something like a potato, it is advisable to poke a few holes in the skin, to avoid the water inside the potato from heating into steam and exploding to release that steam.
Grapes, eggs, and hotdogs are also foods that should not be used in a microwave because they are more likely to explode and unable to handle the higher temperatures. Eggs especially should not be cooked, as you are unable to put holes in an egg before cooking it, unlike other food items that could explode.
Sauces, dips, or liquids are also at risk of explosion, so it’s advisable to place a lid or cover on top to reduce splashes or strains inside the chamber. Water can also explode in a microwave, and can be very dangerous, as it boils without any visible signs. When heating water, it should be carefully monitored and checked regularly to avoid burning.
How to Care for Your Microwave
Keep Your Microwave Clean
Particles of food can often get spattered inside the microwave, but this prevents the machine from working as efficiently, so always use a damp cloth to eliminate any remaining food. You can loosen tough stains by heating a measuring cup with two cups (450ml) of water on high power for a few minutes. You can also add some lemon juice to the water to leave your oven smelling fresh.
Once boiling, turn off the microwave and allow the cup to stand and cool before removing. The steam will help soften any remaining food or liquid and make it easier to clean. The glass tray can also be removed and washed separately. If hot, allow it to cool before putting in the dishwasher or washing up bowl.
It is recommended to clean the outside of the microwave and use a damp cloth to avoid attracting bugs or bacteria. It is important not to use too much water as this can seep into the machine and damage the working parts.
When cleaning any part of the microwave, it is important not to use harsh or abrasive kitchen cleaners. This Samsung MG14H3020CM is extremely easy to clean, given its smooth surfaces.
Never Use the Microwave Empty
Never turn on the microwave if the chamber is empty, as this can damage the magnetron inside or even the glass tray. A helpful tip is to leave a cup of water inside, in case the microwave is accidentally turned on. However, be careful not to leave water cooking too long in the chamber, because it can boil without bubbling and could cause burns if removed while still too hot.
Ensure the Door Closes Properly
If the door to your microwave doesn’t seal correctly, radiation could be escaping into the room, and the food will not be being cooked properly. Regularly check the seal of your microwave to prevent this from happening.
We generally think that a microwave oven is a safe and quick alternative than using a countertop stove or traditional oven. While that is mostly true and we have learned that microwaves do not explode, it is still important to exercise caution when using it to ensure no accidents. This also prevents exposing ourselves to damaging chemicals or radiation caused by improper use of the appliance.