November 18

Are Old Microwaves Safe? | When Is the Time to Get a New One?


Author: Ana Stanar and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

Are old microwaves safe for use in households? You might have taken good care of your microwave since you purchased it and maintained it in good condition. However, electrical devices can start acting up once their usability years come to an end.

How then do you know if your microwave ovens need a visit from a qualified repair technician? Furthermore, what are the signs that you need to point out to know that it's time to get another microwave? Read on to get clear details on how to take care of yourself and your family when dealing with an old microwave.

Woman in pink shirt in front of a microwave

Are Old Microwaves Safe? - Can an Old Microwave Be Dangerous?

Technicians often build microwave ovens to be entirely contained within the oven cavity, thus not posing a danger to users. However, damage and risks occur, keeping you in danger of exposure. To prevent such risks, make sure that you do not use the microwave when any parts are broken or missing. Also, make sure that you keep all of its safety features intact. It will help you save money on repairs and replacements.

There is no reason why your vintage microwave - see new retro designed ovens - should be unsafe if you genuinely care for it. But, if the microwave door seal, hinges, and rubber seal worsen, it will cause microwave radiation to leak out. You should purchase a microwave leakage tester, available in electrical and homecare stores, to detect microwave oven leaks. A microwave leakage tester is very affordable compared to purchasing a new microwave like these ovens under 200 dollars.

Do Old Microwaves Leak Radiation?

Microwave ovens leak non-ionizing radiation, but there is no need to worry about this. The amount of radiation leaking from a microwave oven is too small to pose any health hazards. However, exposure to a large amount of radiation over a long time could burn human tissue. Also, if the lens of your eyes gets exposed to high levels of radiation, it could cause cataracts as they are sensitive to intense heat.

The electromagnetic spectrum of a leaking microwave is hard to detect because it has a short wavelength. You can find many ways to reduce the amount of radiation that comes from your microwave. The FDA also recommends that you should not stand against your microwave while heating food.

blue nostalgia microwave

How Do You Know When a Microwave Is Unsafe?

Your microwave, like many home appliances, was not designed to last. It will need to be replaced at some point. When is the question? Here are several warning signals that it's time to shop for a new microwave.

Burning Smells, Smoke, and Sparks

If you experience these signs, you need to unplug and switch off your microwave. That means your microwave needs an immediate upgrade or replacement. 

Making Obnoxious Sounds as It Heats  

Your microwave should be almost quiet while heating meals, producing only a mild vibration. Something is wrong if it becomes noisy and creates buzzing, grinding, or rattling sounds.

The Glass Door Doesn't Seal

The microwave door should be completely sealed when you close it. This is a vital safety element that helps to control electromagnetic radiation. However, it is time to replace your microwave if it's cracked, damaged, or excessively worn.

Woman in pink shirt opening a microwave

Meals Aren't Heated Properly

Microwaves are appealing because they reduce cooking and heating time. Something might be wrong if your microwave is heating food slower than usual, or not at all. Give your microwave a test if you think its wattage is starting to diminish. Heat a cup of water for approximately two minutes on high power. Suppose your meal isn't becoming hot, it's time to invest in a new microwave.

The Keypad Is Not Working

Microwave cooking requires the use of a keypad. If it doesn't respond to the cooking time, start button, or power setting, things aren't looking good and you might have to clean the keypad. However, if it doesn't work, it might be time for a new one.

It's More Than a Decade Old

Microwaves are designed to last for up to ten years. Even if yours has been around for a decade and appears to be in good operating shape, it may be time to upgrade as technology advances, and most appliances become significantly more energy efficient.

Red nostalgia microwave

Can a Broken Microwave Give You Radiation Poisoning? 

Non-ionizing radiation lacks the energy per photon required to rip electrons from atoms or disrupt chemical bonds, resulting in cancer and radiation sickness (see 'Does Microwave Cause Cancer?'). But, it does mean that you have to take extra precautions when using it. If you use your microwave according to the guidelines and rules, there is no health risk posed to your life.

There are specific steps you can take to ensure that you don't get exposed to electromagnetic radiation produced by your microwave and its general safe operation:

  • Ensure that you and the children are not always standing against your microwave when you turn it on. Standing near a microwave gives you direct exposure and less protection from radiation than when you're farther away.
  • If the door on your microwave oven does not close due to damage or warping, you should not use it.
  • When heating water and other liquids in your microwave oven, take no more than the time specified in the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Use mild detergent and water to clean the glass door, inside, and the outer edge of the microwave oven cavity.
  • Do not use microwaves for baking.
  • If you notice that your microwave is giving off excessive heat, stop using it right away.
  • When the microwave door opens but continues to work, you should turn it off immediately.
  • You should adhere to the manufacturer's booklet's instructions for recommended operating procedures and safety precautions for your microwave oven. For more information about microwave oven use and radiation, always contact the FDA Consumer Health Information Staff.

Is a 10-Year-Old Microwave Safe?

You can safely use your 10-year-old microwave oven. The only thing you need to watch out for is addressing any damage that could lead to problems like leakage when you heat food. It would help if you considered replacing or upgrading your microwave after ten years. Even if it is old and works fine, there are some things to look at.

First, check the seals around the glass door. If one is loose, then there may be a problem with the appliance. If you are looking to save money, you should consider buying a new microwave. You should know that the cost of purchasing a new microwave is usually more affordable than upgrading the older one every time damage happens.

Another reason is that you may not be able to find a replacement part for your existing vintage microwave. With the advancement in technology, there is a need to create new microwave cooking appliances that are far more energy-efficient than the older ones.

How Can I Tell if My Microwave Is Leaking Radiation?

Some microwaves leak radiation that can cause severe burns and cataracts without your notice. According to research done by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, cataracts can lead to blindness and other eye damage. Be on the safe side by using the following affordable and most straightforward means to test your microwave if it has any leaks:

Detect the Leaks 

You can use objects that react to microwaves, including:

  • Light bulb powered to a voltage divider. 
  • Affordable consumer-grade microwave testers - quite fine for your preliminary test, but results are frequently less accurate.
  • Expensive professional-grade microwave tester - it is a high-end tester required for a professional setting and can set you back several hundred dollars.

Dim the Lights in the Room 

You can darken the room if you're using a light bulb so you can see its glow. However, if you're utilizing a microwave testing device, you can skip this.

Old white microwave

Heat a Glass of Water in the Microwave 

This is like operating an empty microwave, which exposes the magnetron to high power levels that might destroy it (see new 1100 watt ovens). However, a modest glass of water will reduce the damage risk, leaving enough microwave leftovers you can use to check for your leaks. If you are using an old microwave, this method will work best for you.

Moving an Object Around Inside the Microwave Cavity 

Maintain a distance of at least 5 cm between the microwave light bulb or tester, the handle, and the microwave's surface. Move the object at a slow pace around the microwave's door seal and areas that appear damaged.


It's also important to note that even if there are no visible signs of leakage, that doesn't mean that the magnetron is in good condition. Your microwave might still be working fine, but if you want to ensure it does not have any leaks, it might be worth checking it out.

You should also try to get a second opinion from someone who knows better, like a qualified repair technician. If you don't have anyone else handy, ask your local electrical and hardware store to recommend a reputable company.

About the author

Ana Stanar

An Art Teacher, entrepreneur, and a mother of three, Ana considers cooking a form of art - pleasure for all senses as well as a process that requires creativity, passion and devotion. Since she leads a busy life, Ana just loves testing various kitchen appliances for Kitchen Gearoid, especially those that save her time while preparing food and cooking but also make every meal a masterpiece!


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