Is A Hole In The Microwave Dangerous?

We all love our microwaves, but it’s important to know how they work. There seems to be an idea going around that a hole in the microwave is hazardous to your health. While there is some truth to this rumour, there is also a bit of fiction. People seem to think that it’s the equivalent of a small nuclear explosion, when in reality that’s not quite how microwaves actually work.

In theory, a small hole in your microwave shouldn’t cause you severe harm – but replacements are cheap, so it’s really not worth the risk.

Let’s talk a bit about how microwaves work and then we can give you a bit more of a clear explanation.

Microwaves Basics

First things first – a replacement microwave is cheap. If you’re concerned about your health, don’t risk it for £59.99, it’s not worth it. Nonetheless, we should talk about how microwaves work, as it’ll help clarify this a bit.

Microwaves are a type of electromagnetic radiation. They don’t require a medium (like air) to travel, meaning they can travel easily through a vacuum, just like air or anything else.

The thing that makes the microwave… uh… microwave, is called a magnetron. And no – it’s not the big bad Transformer guy, this is a part. The magnetron is what created microwaves. It does this by producing microwaves when electricity passes through it, releasing them into the main compartment through the wave guide.

Once these electromagnetic waves hit the inside of the microwave, they begin to bounce around the interior at high speed.

This movement agitates water molecules (which are present in pretty much all food to some degree), heating whatever is for dinner.

What About Holes?

Should a hole somehow occur in the microwave, you could technically allow microwaves to escape, should you run the device. And believe it or not, they’re called waves for a reason. You know how the ocean’s waves tend to crest at a high point and then slowly recede? Yeah – microwaves do the same thing… sort of.

If you were to physically see the wavelengths produced by the microwave, they would be roughly 12 centimetres long. This would tell you that (theoretically) any hole below 12 cm wouldn’t allow the microwaves to escape.

The problem with theory is that it’s hard to actually test this without punching a hole in my microwave. I’m dedicated to my work, but not quite that dedicated. There is the potential for a smaller hole to allow some amount of leakage, that doesn’t mean much on its own.

Microwaves are non-ionizing and electromagnetic in nature, so they’re not strong enough to do the kind of things that a nuclear generator could do if exposed to the radiation. Because they work like actual waves, microwaves tend to dissipate over long distances, rendering them relatively harmless in this theoretical scenario. That is assuming, of course, you’re not licking the microwave hole as it runs.

What Would Happen?

Well, a few things would start to happen should you run a microwave with a hole in it.

  1. Your wifi would go nuts and likely fail
  2. Your phone reception would mysteriously drop consistently
  3. Electronics like TVs would flicker and turn on/off

It would be like a budget horror movie’s spooky warning scene that it’s time to leave the house – because there be ghosts afoot! All jokes aside, there’s a reason for this.

A phone’s data frequency (it uses radio waves) is between .9 GHz and 1.8 GHz. This is pretty darn close to the frequency on which microwaves operate, making it very likely that you could have a ghost phone, should you choose to run a microwave with a hole in it.

Additionally, wifi is the same – because it operates on a similar frequency, it would have all sorts of issues. This (once again) assumes that for some reason the router is right next to your microwave.

Is There a Safe Limit?

Yes! Microwaves are heavily tested by government regulatory bodies for this very reason. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration of the US) capped the leakage limit at 5 mW/cm2. So if you have a hole that’s large (think fist-sized), then you could very well breach this permissible limit.

The eyes and testes are both extremely susceptible to microwaves due to the low blood flow and high water concentration in them. There were multiple studies done by Russians (and Americans, among others) on the effects of microwave radiation. They found close links between extended microwave exposure and headaches, fatigue, sleepiness, loss of memory, and changes to cardiovascular function.

So (again theoretically), don’t sit on the hole, or cosy up to it with your eyes for an hour or two, and you should be okay.

Again, though, microwaves are cheap – so just buy a new one, please. If not, there are a couple of things to do to keep it less dangerous.

  • Cover the hole with aluminium foil. This will help reflect the microwaves back
  • Keep an ice cube near the hole. If it melts really quick, stop using the microwave. Or, you know, play it safe and throw the thing out.

Final Thoughts

I’m not going to ask how it happened. I’m not going to question why you have a hole in your microwave. But if you do have a hole in it, it’s important to replace it. While in theory, the damage it could do is limited, it’s really not worth the gamble, is it? Sure, it may just mess with your home’s electronics (phone, wifi, TV), but it can also damage your eyes and reproductive tract if left to extended exposure.

Should you decide that you absolutely need to have the microwave run to make its last meal, take precautions. Don’t stand anywhere near it while it’s on, stand in a separate room. Cover the hole with aluminium foil, And keep a safety ice cube nearby (I can’t believe I just said that phrase) and watch how it melts. If it goes quickly, it’s likely best to stop using the microwave as soon as possible.