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Can Microwaves Harm You?

A lot of people worry about the safety of microwave ovens and I often receive messages on that subject, so I thought I’d publish this article, in the hope that it’ll put everyone’s mind at rest!

We’re all aware of the light beaming down at us every day from the Sun, and most of us know that white light is made up from different colours, which we can sometimes see in the spectrum of a rainbow.

What fewer people are aware of is that the visible spectrum is just a tiny part of the much bigger electromagnetic spectrum.

Even though we can’t see them because of the limitations of our eyes, a lot of the other frequencies are harmlessly beaming around us all day long, totally invisible.

Now, not all these different frequencies that come from the Sun can get through the Earth’s atmosphere and fortunately most of the harmful ones are stopped before they get here.

I mentioned “harmful ones” and there are some (NO! Not microwaves!) which some of you will already be aware of.

If you look at the illustration below you’ll see the visible spectrum in the middle with red at one end, followed by orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet at the other end.

Electromagnetic Spectrum

As the wavelength gets shorter beyond violet, we get to ultraviolet which is the first of what’s called ionizing radiation. It does have a cumulative effect on the body as you’ll know if you like to lay in the sunshine, as it turns the skin brown. Too much ultraviolet and skin cancer can be the result.

Even shorter wavelengths beyond ultraviolet are X-rays and gamma-rays. X-rays have their uses as we know, but we can only have a limited exposure to them as the cumulative effect on the body is harmful.

So… what you need to remember is, that the electromagnetic spectrum is divided into ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. The dividing line is between violet and ultraviolet. Ultraviolet and shorter wavelengths. (Nasty!) Violet and longer wavelengths. (Nice!)

As the wavelength increases beyond red, we get infrared, microwaves and radio waves which are all harmless to us. At high power levels these do have a heating effect, but NOT a cumulative effect.

So if you could heat up your hand inside your microwave oven, you could damage it in the same way as if you plunged it into boiling fat! However if you just warmed your hand a little and then turned the microwave oven off it would soon cool down again, with NO lasting effect, in the same way as if you took your hand out of warm water.

As a side note, I should say that one of the reasons people worry is the use of the word “radiation” but it’s only used to describe the way the energy travels, in the same way that light radiates from a light bulb and heat radiates from a fire. Remember, there’s good (non-ionizing), as well as bad (ionizing) radiation!

A second side note now, as some people worry that even after you turn off your microwave oven, that somehow microwaves stay inside the food for a while. STOP IT! That’s just silly! That would be like your bedroom taking a few minutes to get dark after you turned off your bedside light.

The bottom line is this … If you’re standing in your kitchen, next to your microwave oven while it’s cooking, you’re in less danger from the microwaves than from the sunlight coming through the window!

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