How Bad Is It to Look Into the Microwave While It's On?

It's very tempting to stare into the microwave and watch our food cook, but is it healthy? Our friends at Self explain if we should stop this common habit.


Since it feels like everything we do nowadays is basically guaranteed to give you cancer, you've likely been told at one time or another that it's not safe to look into the microwave while it's on.

Fortunately for those of us who can't help but stare longingly at our leftovers as they spin just out of our reach, we're here to put the old wives' tale to rest.

"I don't think there's any harm in looking at what's inside the microwave oven while it's cooking," Thomas Steinemann, M.D., clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and professor of ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve University, tells SELF.

"I have never seen or heard of anyone ever with an eye injury related to using a microwave."

Neither has John Drengenberg, an electrical engineer at UL, a company that tests and certifies home appliances for safety. (You probably have about 125 things in your home with a tiny "UL"-in-a-circle stamp of approval.)

"Nobody has ever proven that anybody has had their eyes damaged by looking at a microwave," he tells SELF. "UL has been testing microwave ovens since the 1970s. It doesn't happen. There's no body of reports of that happening."


It's understandable that the fear exists. After all, we are talking about a machine whose sole function is to blast radiation at your food.

And the eyes — along with the reproductive organs — are among the parts of your body most susceptible to this type of radiation, Drengenberg says.

A big reason for this is that microwave ovens work by exciting the water molecules in food so that they vibrate, which creates the heat that cooks it. And your eyes are like little water balloons that see. What's more, the eye — particularly the lens — is generally very sensitive to damage. Overexposure to radiation, including microwave radiation, can lead to clouding of the lens, known as a cataract.

But microwaves are designed to keep radiation in, so there's really no danger of exposure.

The door seals, the oven won't turn on if the door isn't closed, and the window contains a metal mesh barrier with holes small enough to prevent the microwave frequencies from getting through. As long as the door is in good condition and the seal is tight, no radiation can escape.

So go ahead and stare. It won't put the food in your face hole any faster, but it won't hurt you, either.

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