When Is A Microwave Unsafe To Use? 6 Warning Signs

Even the best microwaves don’t last forever, but when is a microwave unsafe to use? The good news is that it’s pretty obvious when something is amiss!

In particular, you should look out for these six telltale signs of an unsafe microwave oven:

  • Burning smells, smoke or sparks.
  • Poor cooking performance ie your food isn’t cooking through properly.
  • Unusual sounds from the microwave.
  • Unresponsive controls.
  • The age of the microwave.
  • Poor seal on the door.

Any of these problems by themselves are a good reason to think about replacing your microwave.

What do these issues really mean though, and why do they cause problems?

In the rest of this article I’ll cover them in greater detail, and also provide some tips on what to do next.

Burning Smells, Smoke Or Sparks

All three of these problems are a sign that your microwave is in need of urgent replacement. There’s no good reason to continue using a microwave that’s clearly malfunctioning like this.

If you notice any of these three issues, turn off the microwave immediately and disconnect it from the mains.

The most likely cause of these problems lies with the magnetron. This is a critical component of the microwave, so this is a huge sign that it’s time to replace the appliance.

Although it’s technically possible to repair a microwave, it’s not something you’ll want to attempt yourself. Repair costs aren’t cheap either, and so it’s definitely time to think about a replacement.

Poor Cooking Performance

The whole point of owning a microwave is to cook food efficiently and quickly. If it can’t manage that any more, it’s time to upgrade your appliance.

If you find yourself having to increase either the heat setting or the cooking time of a staple food, that’s a very clear sign that your microwave is simply wearing out.

If your microwave is still under warranty, then consider getting it serviced. Just be warned that once these problems start to occur, they typically come back again sooner rather than later.

If you’re not sure if the power’s going south, you can test it easily enough. A cup of water heated on the highest setting for two minutes should be close to boiling point.

If it’s not, start shopping around!

Unusual Sounds

Every microwave makes its own noises. Although it tends to hum away in the background, you’ll likely be well tuned-in to the various sounds of your own make and model.

If you start to notice buzzing or grinding noises, this may well be a sign that your microwave doesn’t have much more life left in it.

If you hear a rattle though, just check that the turntable hasn’t come loose from the rotating ring. Make sure it’s seated properly, and see if the sound goes away with that simple fix.

Make sure your microwave is clean as well! It’s by no means impossible for bits of food to get stuck in the rotating ring.

Microwaves need to spin freely too, otherwise you run the risk of your food not heating evenly.

Unresponsive Controls

If you’ve even a slightly modern microwave in your kitchen, chances are it uses a touchpad for the various settings.

If you’re struggling to add time increments or get the thing started, it might be time to look for a replacement microwave.

Try giving it a clean first though. Sticky bits of food can very easily get stuck in-between buttons, and a quick scrub with an old toothbrush might be all that’s needed!

A Poor Door Seal

If the door isn’t shutting and sealing properly, it’s definitely time for an upgrade. A good seal on the door is essential not just for user safety, but also to ensure that the food cooks properly.

It’s worth checking the integrity of all your kitchen appliances at least once per year. In the case of your microwave, take a closer look to see if any cracks or other signs of wear and tear are apparent.

The Age Of Your Microwave

I tend to think about replacing appliances around the seven year mark, but a microwave from a reputable brand should last up to ten years. 

After that point though you’re almost certainly losing something in performance. You’ll also be missing out on some useful new features that become standard for – even cheap – microwaves as time goes on.

As a rule, new microwaves are always better than old ones, so it’s always worth keeping an eye on the latest developments.

Frequently Asked Questions

Before I wrap things up, here are some answers to other questions that commonly crop up around this topic.

How Long Does A Microwave Typically Last?

Microwaves typically last for around seven years, although you may get a few extra years from yours if you take really good care of the appliance.

It also depends on how much punishment you put your microwave through! If you’re a large family household, making greater use of the appliance, that will inevitably wear it down sooner.

You should also, of course, make sure you not only clean the microwave regularly, but also avoid putting unsuitable items in it.

Do Microwaves Weaken Over Time?

Microwaves do indeed weaken over time, and this is due to a critical component inside the appliance: the magnetron.

This is the device that generates the oscillating waves that fill the microwave and cook the food. 

The more it’s used – over the long-term – the weaker the magnetron becomes.

What Usually Goes Wrong With A Microwave?

Following on from the last question, the first thing that usually goes wrong first with a microwave is its magnetron. That’s assuming the microwave is free from all other physical damage. 

If all else is well with your microwave though, it’s the magnetron that will likely prove the first point of failure – or under-performance, at least.

When Should You Replace Your Microwave?

After seven years of normal use, you’ll likely notice your microwave is under-performing. After ten years, you should definitely think about replacing your microwave!

Not only will you be missing out on the latest technology, there’s a good chance the microwave’s performance will start degrading by this point too.

If you notice any of the specific problems I’ve outlined in this guide though, definitely start shopping around!

Wrapping Up

Now you know what makes a microwave unsafe!

The six problems I’ve outlined in this guide aren’t equally severe, but if you notice smoke or sparks coming from the microwave you should stop using it immediately.

Consider the others a sign of bad things to come though. If you’ve encountered any of them, it might be time to retire your old appliance and start looking at other options.