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My children always leave silverware in the microwave and all of my microwaves stopped working. Is there a microwave if you accidentally leave silverware in that will not cause sparks?

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    Not an answer, but important: "all of my microwaves stopped working" is a relatively lucky outcome. If your children regularly put metal inside the microwave oven, it could easily result in a house fire.
    – Stef
    Jan 7 at 14:27
  • Whether you see sparks or not you're still damaging the magnetron. Look into a June, which everything except a microwave. Then they can just burn themselves instead. juneoven.com
    – Mazura
    Jan 7 at 15:33
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    Have you investigated whether it is due to negligence because kids are kids, or intentional because watching sparks is fun?
    – PTwr
    Jan 8 at 7:37
  • No microwave but there are other types of ovens such as steam-driven which do not have this issue.
    – JimmyJames
    Jan 8 at 15:50
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    Consider that the manual almost certainly warns against putting metal in the microwave, and that it's unlikely that the manufacturer's insurers will pay out if something goes wrong when an oven is abused. Keep doing this and you are at risk of losing your house- and possibly your family. Your problem: fix it. Jan 9 at 8:52

6 Answers 6

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The sparks you describe are inherent in the microwave technology. There isn't any microwave oven that can avoid the sparks. Worse, there is a risk that the microwave will fail in a way that's way more dangerous to silently stop working. So, if you want to have a microwave oven, you absolutely have to make sure it will be used without metal inside.

As a side note, by asking about a microwave "without sparks", you're looking for a technological issue to a social problem, and such strategies usually don't work. You probably need to address the problem at a different level, together with your family.

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    there is a risk that the microwave will fail in a way that's way more dangerous to silently stop working I'm an engineer, and would love to hear about this failure mode. Seriously. Jan 8 at 19:07
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    @Glorfindel, you can put metal in the microwave under the right conditions, but figuring out the right conditions requires a degree in the subject. It's far safer just to tell everyone "no metal".
    – Mark
    Jan 9 at 1:38
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    @rumtscho, it should be possible to design a microwave that can detect the sparks and shut itself off, just like how my microwave can detect that it's being run empty and shut itself off (also a dangerous situation).
    – Mark
    Jan 9 at 1:41
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    Re: "you're looking for a technological issue to a social problem": But the only reason it's a social problem is that we don't have a technological solution. If the OP could buy a microwave that didn't have this problem, then it wouldn't be a social problem anymore. (In that case it would be no different than, say, the kids always leaving silverware in the fridge.)
    – ruakh
    Jan 9 at 8:44
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    While I agree that in this particular instance there is not technological solution to the social issue, in general there are plenty of instances where a technological solution to a social issue is the by far best and easiest solution.
    – quarague
    Jan 9 at 9:25
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Purchase a 120V 20A (or if in a different locale, 220-250V 10-15A) Key Switch (or Locking Switch) and install it (or have it installed) on the circuit for the microwave. Do not allow the children to have keys.

Locking Key Switch Locking Key switch UK/Aus format

Or, simply don't have a microwave oven at all until they become responsible.

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    Can you add a link to this "key switch". Never heard of it (perhaps it is called something else in my country?).
    – sfxedit
    Jan 6 at 22:57
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    An electrical switch, with a lock and key. Pictures incoming.
    – Ecnerwal
    Jan 6 at 23:38
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    One common way to handle kids not having access to things they can't yet use responsibly is to put the thing at a height they can't reach. Sometimes kitchens have high cabinetry with a space specifically for a microwave oven. That space is generally high enough where you need to be of an adult height to reach.
    – JoL
    Jan 7 at 20:15
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    Or alternatively, only let them use non-metal cutlery and dishes.
    – David K
    Jan 8 at 19:44
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    Or you could get a lockout device designed to enclose and make unusable the plug. Unplug the microwave and lock the plug into a sturdy plastic tight fitting case with a padlock. These are usually used in industry to make it safe to work in a position where turning a machine on or energising a cable could injure a worker.
    – bdsl
    Jan 9 at 11:13
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No, there are no microwaves that can detect if a metallic container has been placed in it. (The sparks are caused due to the presence of metal cutlery or metal in a vessel).

Please teach your kids to not use any metals in a microwave as it can cause a fire. Emphasise this strongly to them that they may burn down the house if they are not careful about this. Set aside some glass bowls and plate and teach them to use only these vessels in the microwave. Also teach them to never open the microwaves when it is running as these are harmful to us (may cause burn injuries or make us sterile).

While modern ovens have a system to stop the microwave when the microwave door is opened, I recently experienced a failure where this system wasn't activated. The microwave was still active and didn't stop and it actually damaged the touch button circuitry on the oven as these metallic parts suddenly became exposed to the microwave. Luckily I heard the crackling sounds of sparks within a few seconds and immediately switched of power, and escaped harm, and only had to spend money on repairing the microwave.

P.S: Some microwaves come with a "child lock" feature. Maybe you can consider these to ensure the young kids cannot use the microwave without adult supervision.

(If you are not sure how to talk about this with your kids, please ask for tips from https://parenting.stackexchange.com/ ).

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    "may make us sterile" - Source? IIRC, microwaves can only cause damage via heat. You might be thinking of ionizing radiation like X-rays or gamma rays.
    – wjandrea
    Jan 7 at 21:53
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    The risk of microwaves is in heating, not ionization. Visible blue or violet light you can see (like the blue sky) is closer to causing ionization induced DNA damage than microwaves. It is when you get to ultraviolet (more "violet" (high frequency) than violet we can see) that each individual photon has enough energy to cause ionization damage to most chemicals (DNA is a chemical). Microwaves are more "red" (low frequency) than the red we can see. They are more "red" than the heat you feel from a fire, which means they can heat/burn below the sensitive layer of skin that would have warned you.
    – Azendale
    Jan 8 at 0:04
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    Ok, let's accept that it is impossible to detect metal object inside the oven by the oven itself, but couldn't it be possible for a microwave oven to detect the first spark?
    – mrq
    Jan 8 at 9:44
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    @sfxedit This is true, but misleading. Heat stress reduces fertility, and microwaves heat things (see testicular function in rams, ovarian function in cows). That's possibly all there is to it. I'm pretty sure that article in your comment is blogospam, given how many times it gives somewhat-contradictory variations-on-a-theme answers in the Q&A format.
    – wizzwizz4
    Jan 8 at 14:23
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    @sfxedit Those studies either have low sample sizes (n≈8) or massive power (e.g. SAR 1.46 W/kg) which would induce heating, and there conspicuously aren't negative results. Here's a (more recent) systematic literature review which concludes (with limitations): “Scrotal hyperthermia and increased oxidative stress might be the key mechanisms by which EMR affects male fertility. However, these negative effects appear to be associated with the duration of mobile phone use.” I still think a regular oven is just as bad as a microwave oven.
    – wizzwizz4
    Jan 9 at 0:11
0

Sparks are created because of the sharp edges in conductors (like metals). The inside of a microwave itself is made of metal, but there are no sharp edges, therefore it is OK. You cannot avoid having sharp edges in utensils, but you can avoid them in so-called microwave-safe food bowls. Also, you can use utensils made of ceramic materials instead of metals. You can tell them apart and find in the store because the ceramic ones are not silver, but white.

Moreover, it would be better advised to increase the supervision of the children because they currently are heading a path straight to a set of Darwin awards. May be harsh to put it that way, but this is a serious hazard and you definitely need to hear it from someone with no sugarcoating. I have never heard of that causing a house fire, but these sparks create extremely high temperatures that enable the formation of many carcinogenic chemicals in the food, like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). In those temperatures, even the gases in the air inside the microwave react to form harmful nitrogen oxides and ozone, inhalation of which causes acute pulmonary injuries and can be fatal. Good stuff! Or maybe not. Just be more careful please, microwave ovens are not toys.

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With current technology, cooking food with steel-based silverware in a microwave oven will almost always yield sparks. Thus, changing your microwave oven to another microwave oven is currently not an option.

But what is an option is changing you silverware. From what I've researched, you can change to "silverware" made of wheat straw starch. According to the product description, such "silverware" is microwave safe (I have not tried such products myself). Here is an example of this product from the Enormous Ever-Expanding Evil Empire (no affiliation): https://www.amazon.com/Reusable-Portable-Tableware-Biodegradable-Dishwasher/dp/B09ZQFPS5D

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  • that listing is inconsistent as to the materials (some places saying "wheat straw", others "wheat straw starch", others "wheat straw + starch + PP", and others "Polypropylene, Stainless Steel"). On that basis I don't think it's a reliable exemplar of this concept and would not trust it in my microwave
    – Tristan
    Jan 9 at 16:26
  • @Tristan That seems to be a typical Amazon screw-up. I've learned to ignore everything in database fields in Amazon, as they are often wrong. Instead, go with the "About this item" information provided by the manufacturer/seller, which states "Made of natural wheat straw starch pp food grade material. Microwave and dishwasher safe." Jan 10 at 3:05
  • the only mention of stainless steel is in the database fields true, but sections entered by the seller (e.g. the title of the listing, the about this item section, and the full product description) are still inconsistent on whether the pp (presumably polypropylene) or starch are mentioned, as well as whether this is wheat straw + starch or wheat straw starch. Even discounting the mention of stainless steel, it is impossible from this listing to be confident in what this item is made from
    – Tristan
    Jan 10 at 10:19
  • @Tristan Here is a blog that mentions some details if you are interested: ecotero.com/eco-friendly-utensils/… Jan 10 at 15:17
  • I'm not doubting that such cutlery exists, I'm saying the link is a pretty poor example given the inconsistency in description of the amterials
    – Tristan
    Jan 10 at 15:19
-3

As someone always leaving silverware in microwave (despite my parents demanding not to do so) I see no foolproof method to do so. What I learned is to always make sure silverware will not touch microwave walls. But there are rare situations where food becomes burned (black) in contact with silverware.

You have to be persistent with reminders so your children will learn correct behavior.

My suggestion would be to keep microwave cover lid microwave cover lid in microwave and demand using it when heating. This mostly prevents contact of silverware with microwave walls. Having it in microwave forces everyone to do at least something with it and if kids leave it outside you can spot it easily and demand better behavior.

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    This still requires parenting (ie, you have to police the use of it). The solution is to actually parent the kiddos instead of letting them misbehave.
    – stanri
    Jan 8 at 7:45
  • @stanri My suggestion does require some action from children - they have to at least put the microwave cover lid somewhere. Depending on kitchen maybe they will just put it aside but there will be evidence (I do not expect them to put it back inside). But generally I agree. As I said, I always put silverware inside despite being parent myself.
    – Piro
    Jan 8 at 8:08
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    I fail to understand the emphasis of "contact of silverware with microwave walls". Metal need NOT touch microwave walls to lead to sparks (and subsequent house fire), so why emphasize this? Jan 8 at 10:07
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    @MatthieuM. I think such suggestions are because liklihood for sparks / arcs increase when metal are nearer - What Happens When You Put Metal in a Microwave?. Nevertheless this isn't safe as metals can still damage the microwave oven as it reflects the microwaves.
    – sfxedit
    Jan 8 at 12:13

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