What Happens if There’s a Hole in Your Microwave?

If you enjoy hot piping food and can’t stand dealing with meals that are anything less than steaming, then you’re definitely a human, as few other species worry about the temperature of their food as much as we do. Secondly, you probably own a microwave oven, which is arguably the best kitchen appliance for rapid food preparation. Imagine, flat pack of popcorn kernels + 3 minutes = delicious bag of fluffy butter goodness. Frozen dinner + 3.5 minutes = gourmet Salisbury Steak and mashed potatoes (well, gourmet might be overdoing it…)

However, what if your beloved microwave develops a hole somewhere in its structure? Will the microwaves escape the framework and wreak havoc on your house? Or on your health??

How does a microwave oven work?

As is true with visible light (the light we can see with naked eye), microwaves (the waves present in microwave ovens) are also a type of electromagnetic wave. However, microwaves do not require any medium to travel, i.e., they can travel through a vacuum.

A microwave oven consists of an object called a magnetron, which produces microwaves when it receives electricity from the power supply. Another component called the wave guide then projects the waves produced by the magnetron into the main compartment of the oven, i.e., the space where you put your pizza (and other food). The waves possess a great deal of energy, so when they strike the inner surface of the oven, they reflect and rapidly move to strike another face of that surface.

microwave oven working

The waves continue bouncing back and forth continuously.  When these waves fall on the object inside the oven that you are intending to heat up, they agitate the water molecules (or moisture) present in the object, thereby heating up the food or object.

This is basically how every microwave oven works.

Hole in microwave

If your microwave oven has a hole in it, will the microwaves that are continuously bouncing back and forth on the walls of the oven escape the oven and leak out into the kitchen?

wavelengthAs we just discussed, microwaves are a type of electromagnetic radiation, and since it is a wave, there must be a ‘wavelength’ associated with it.

Wavelength is the distance between two consecutive ‘crests’ or two consecutive ‘troughs’ of electromagnetic waves. The wavelength of visible light, i.e., the light that a naked human eye can see, is in the range of 390 to 700 nanometers.

Now, the wavelength of the microwaves in the oven is roughly 12 centimeters or 4.7 inches. Therefore, for any of the microwaves to escape the interior of the oven, the hole would have to be 4.7 inches in diameter. If the hole is smaller than this, then the waves won’t leak, but if the hole is larger, then you might have some issue with a leakage of waves.

However, even if the waves leak out, it is highly unlikely that they will cause any damage, as microwaves are non-ionizing in nature and do not carry much energy as individual waves in open space. If they escape, the microwaves would dissipate (or die out) quickly in air, not causing any harm, and likely going unnoticed by anyone in the house, at least until they went to heat up their dinner and found a huge hole in the side of the microwave!


  1. Microwave – Wikipedia
  2. Cavity Magnetron – Wikipedia


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About the Author:

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spends a lot of time watching movies, and an awful lot more time discussing them. He likes Harry Potter and the Avengers, and obsesses over how thoroughly Science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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