A microwave oven, more simply referred to as a microwave, is a well-known kitchen appliance that heats food at an expedient rate, but how hot can a microwave get?
Microwave ovens fuse the science of radiation with the heating of a conventional oven.
Conventional ovens are known to reach temperatures of up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Microwaves can only heat food, so the appliance itself does not warm. The food can reach a temperature of up to 212° Fahrenheit.
A significant difference between microwave and conventional ovens is that conventional ovens get hot, and microwave ovens get food hot.
Microwave ovens generally heat any food to 212° Fahrenheit or less. This temperature is the boiling point of water.
Two hundred twelve degrees Fahrenheit is the highest heat any food in the microwave oven can reach.
Microwave ovens heat through radiation. Radiation heating or thermal radiation is the transfer of energy using electromagnetic radiation.
The magnetron, a particular surface heated within the microwave, pushes radiation to a singular point.
A magnetron is an electric component that can generate microwaves.
The microwaves work to force electrons, a magnetic field, and small pieces of metal known as cavity resonators to create thermal radiation and energy.
The electromagnetic waves, or microwaves, are transmitted by a magnetron or central power outlet, not to be confused with the appliance.
Magnetrons create electrons, and microwaves are then sent through an antenna.
The microwaves agitate the molecules in the food, water, fats, or sugars, enabling radiation heating to cook the food.
Note: Food cooked by microwave oven heats the outer portions of food through microwaves. The heat of the outer layers cooks the inner parts of food through the process of conduction.
212° Fahrenheit is the highest temperature a microwave oven can cook food.
Because a microwave oven does not heat up like a conventional oven, the microwave oven itself does not reach any temperature.
For this reason, microwave ovens are not hot to the touch like a stovetop element.
So, instead, we use the highest temperature that foods or any object in the microwave oven can get. The molecules on the inside of food are what get heated.
Most foods contain water in their interiors. The highest temperature many foods will reach in the microwave oven is 212° Fahrenheit.
Note: 212° Fahrenheit is the highest temperature a microwave oven will reach because this temperature is the boiling point of water.
Although a microwave oven itself does not heat to an internal temperature, there are times when a microwave oven can get too hot.
212° Fahrenheit is the standard maximum temperature of objects placed in the microwave oven.
However, the standard temperature of 212° Fahrenheit is not always the correct temperature.
In some cases, food can reach its maximum temperature sooner than 212° Fahrenheit. Food or foods in the microwave oven will most likely burn if this happens.
Tip: Knowing the correct temperature or timing associated with the food is vital to avoid burnt food in the microwave oven.
Another issue can occur if the heating source of the microwave oven can exude too much heat.
A microwave oven can institute an automatic shut-off or fail-safe feature if this is the case.
The microwave oven senses an outside temperature from its heating source and turns itself off.
Yet another microwave oven fail-safe is the microwave oven fan. Each microwave oven has a fan attached to it. The fan runs concurrently with the microwave oven’s heating source.
The purpose of the fan is to emit cooling waves that counteract the thermal radiation being produced inside the microwave oven.
If a fan fails to run, the microwave oven will not generate cooling properties and can overheat.
If the microwave oven overheats, there are a few troubleshooting steps that one can take.
- Unplug the microwave oven
- Replace or rotate the fan
- Replace the magnetron or heating source
But, these are all easy fixes. What happens when a microwave oven needs more attention because it’s sparking, there’s a fire or a fault?
The safest course of action to take if a microwave oven begins to spark is to remove the plug from the socket. After safely inspecting the plug, check for:
Metal, such as aluminum or tin foil, is in the microwave oven.
Microwave ovens create energy through microwaves. Metals conduct electricity.
Even in small amounts, metals such as aluminum can cause an electrical current to build and a spark to occur.
You should always keep foil coverings, silverware, and any other type of metal away from the microwave oven.
Peeling Paint on the Microwave Oven Rack Support
The rack support is a minor hook-shaped feature located inside the microwave oven.
The paint surrounding the rack support can begin to peel in an older microwave oven. In the event this happens, sparks can occur.
Although paint itself does not conduct electricity, the pieces painted over are often metal and conduct electricity creating a spark.
The Waveguide Cover is in Place
A waveguide is a small cover placed inside the microwave oven.
The cover protects the magnetron and helps guide the microwave currents inside the microwave oven.
If food gets caught in between the waveguide, the food can burn. The burnt food particles can cause sparks if not removed.
If a microwave oven or any items inside the microwave oven overheats, the result can be a fire.
In the event of a fire, one should:
- Unplug the microwave oven from the socket if it is safe.
- Do not open the door to the microwave oven. The fire should remain contained inside the microwave oven.
- The lack of air inside the microwave oven will suffocate the fire. Opening the microwave oven door can cause the fire to spread.
- If the fire looks as if it will spread, call 911 immediately.
- Avoid throwing water or any other chemicals on the microwave oven, but use a fire extinguisher if one is available.
To avoid starting a possible fire in the microwave oven, one should:
- Place approved foods in the microwave oven for heating
- Avoid metals in the microwave oven
- Clean the microwave frequently
Faulty Microwave Oven
A faulty microwave oven can result from an older unit, a poorly functioning or non-functioning fan, or a magnetron.
Not replacing any or all of these items can build to an overheated microwave oven.
Tip: Use microwave-safe or approved containers when heating food. This includes heat-proof glass, glass-ceramic, oven cooking bags, wax paper, and parchment paper.
If you’re wondering how hot a microwave get, the true answer is that a microwave oven does not heat itself like a conventional oven.
Instead, a microwave oven emits electricity and energy that heats the food inside the microwave oven.
The standard maximum temperature of food inside a microwave oven is 212° Fahrenheit.
Because microwave ovens do not have a maximum temperature, it is solely up to the food being heated in the microwave oven not to burn.
Most foods contain elements of water. The electric currents use the water in the microwave oven to heat the food from the outside.
When foods have less water but high temperatures or longer microwavable times are put into place, there is more chance that a microwave oven will overheat.
If a microwave oven is overheated and turned off, there are cautionary steps that one can take.
- Unplug the microwave
- Check the microwave oven for misaligned parts like the waveguide cover, fan, or magnetron
- Inspect the microwave oven for bits of metal
To prevent a microwave oven from overheating altogether, one should:
- Avoid using metals in the microwave oven
- Avoid heating foods to extreme temperatures or high microwave times
- Only use microwavable foods and dishes
- Regularly clean the microwave oven
How hot can a microwave get? Well, microwaves do not and will not be hot to the touch.
However, the microwave oven can overheat if certain obstacles are present.
If you remember the rules of the microwave oven and any foods placed inside, you shouldn’t have a problem.