7 Things You Didn't Know About Microwaves

More than 90 percent of American households have a microwave, yet they still maintain a far-from-stellar reputation.

More than 90 percent of American households have a microwave, yet even though it gives and gives, it still maintains a far-from-stellar reputation due to outdated myths and college­-student dependency.

Here are seven reasons why the microwave remains the alluring little enigma it is.

1. The Microwave Was Invented In 1940s By Accident


“Oops, honey, I think I made bacon!” Photo: Ethan / Flickr

While standing in front of an active radar set working on magnetrons, Percy Spencer noticed the candy bar in his pocket had melted. Intrigued, Spencer, a leading expert at the time in radar tube design, decided to experiment. He ended up creating a high­-density, electromagnetic field within a metal box that would go on to live in infamy as the way we heat up burritos.

2. Popcorn Was The First Food Tested In a Microwave


To this day, microwaved popcorn is glorious. Photo: Jayneandd / Flickr

Once they built that magical box of microwaves, Spencer naturally had to test it, and his first choice could not have been more perfect: popcorn. It was a beautiful, bouncing success.


Sad egg. Photo: Luke Andrews / Flickr

The next day, he tried his second selection of food: an egg. It exploded, but not before a stunned engineer put his face just a little too close to behold the new machine’s wondrous power. Actually, that one might’ve just been a hilarious prank.

3. The First Microwave Cost $5,000


“It’s just $3.60 a day! … For many, many days.” Photo: Jamie / Flickr

Called the “Radarange,” the machine was unsurprisingly a bigger robotic beast than what we know today. Weighing 750 pounds and standing just under 6 foot tall, the first commercial microwave sold for $5,000 (or $52,628 adjusted for inflation). It was also far more powerful than today’s microwave, cooking a whole potato in 30 seconds.

4. Nobody Wanted To Buy One When It Came Out


“So I guess I’ll just hang by myself, then. It’s cool.” Photo: Ryan Clare / Flickr

Once they reduced the size for consumer use, people came running for the space-age technology. Or not.

According to Spencer’s grandson Rod, "The microwave oven eventually became known as Raytheon’s largest commercial failure, and the reason why was that, like so many other failures, they saw the cool technology but they didn’t understand the market.”

5. Microwaving Plastic­-Covered Food Can Give You Cancer; Standing Next To It Won’t


Might I also suggest you avoid microwaving angry birds? Photo: Ryan Li / Flickr

Putting plastics in a microwave is rarely a good idea since chemicals will leach into your food when the containers break down. In a 2011 Environmental Health Perspectives study, it was revealed that even “BPA-­free” plastics leach estrogenic chemicals that could cause cancer.

However, keep in mind that microwaves don’t come filled with cancer­-causing radiation, nor do they spill out into the air when you open the door. So feel free to stand in front of it while it zaps your leftovers back to life.

6. Nutrients Can Change In A Microwave, But They Don’t Decrease


I don’t know if a microwave diet is a thing, but I’m in. Photo: Danielle DeLeon / Flickr

Microwaves might make your food more healthy. “There is no specific harm of microwaving with regard to nutrient levels,” says David Katz, MD, director of Yale University Prevention Research Center. Some food particles, such as certain vitamins and omega-­3 fatty acids, can shift in their acute reaction to heat, but remain viable. Cooking vegetables in the microwave may even be better than traditional methods. When traditionally cooking vegetables, their nutrients sometimes leach into any water being used, but since you typically use much less water in a microwave, the food stays healthier than if you had cooked it another way.

7. Metal Can Be Okay Inside A Microwave, As Long As It’s Not Thin Or Sharp


But what about a bag of nails? Is a bag of nails safe? [Read: Don’t microwave a bag of nails.] Photo: Anton Olsen / Flickr

At times, it seems like if you so much as think about having any metal in a microwave, your house explodes. That’s not the case. Instead, it comes down to what kind of metals you put in there.

See, the appliance’s microwave radiation bounces around, attracting all the metal’s electrons. If they get caught in a dead end (like a fork) or a kink (aluminum foil), it creates a concentrated area of negative charge, which goes haywire once it hits air. Thicker, flat pieces of metal heat up slowly, so they aren’t really too dangerous, as they work much like the walls of microwaves themselves.

Things made of materials, such as ceramics or glass, won’t absorb radio waves at that frequency, so while they heat up, it’s not enough to go berzerk.