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'House Hazards' Shows Us Why Metal And Microwaves Don't Mix

I was watching House Hazards this afternoon and was shocked by the team's microwave experiments and explosions, which evoked kitchen memories from my childhood. I can distinctly remember the day I left my fork on a plate of leftover pasta I was reheating. An innocent mistake by a 13-year-old. I remember when terrifying lightning bolts and sparks flashing in the microwave. My mother moved across the room with nearly inhuman speed to rip open the microwave door and breathlessly chide me, "You can NEVER put metal in the microwave. EVER." Boy was I traumatized! Many of us have similar childhood stories, or perhaps more recent (no judgement) memories of an accidental metal and microwave combination. Never seen the sparks fly before? Check out what the cast of House Hazards caught on camera when they zapped some foil wrapped potatoes in the wave.

Here's How Microwaves Work The clip above demonstrates how microwaves work to heat organic matter, like food. The magnetron technology (the same science used in military radar systems) creates short, high frequency radio waves that cause the water, fat and sugar molecules in food to vibrate quickly, generating heat as energy waste. This heat, in turn, cooks your food. The problem with these tiny-but-powerful waves comes when they encounter inorganic materials, like metal, which reflect the energy and may send arcs of electrical discharge shooting out against the walls of your microwave. If the metal is thin and/or has pointed edges or creases, it increases the potential for sparks and may set fire to your food/microwave if it heats up enough.

Strangely enough, there's a catch to this science. Flat, thick metal is relatively innocuous in the microwave, as it simply reflects the radio waves without heating or sparking. That's why the walls of a microwave are almost always made of metal, and why the thin sheet of metal in your microwaveable frozen pizza reflects the microwave's energy to crisp up the bottom of the crust. Whoa! The exceptions to the metal and microwave rule are few, and since mother always knows best, we can all make life a little bit safer by keeping the two apart.