Will I Destroy My Microwave If It Runs Empty?

A microwave is one of the simplest kitchen appliances to use: simply put food in a container or dish, place it in the microwave, punch in the correct cooking time, and let the microwave do the rest of the work. However, there are many curious individuals out there that want to know something about microwaves:  will the microwave be destroyed if it runs empty? The answer is yes.


Microwaves use microwave sound energy waves to heat up food or liquids. There has to be something inside the microwave to absorb these waves. Otherwise, the microwave will absorb the waves instead.  The waves will heat up the microwave’s cooking chamber, trying to find something to be absorbed by. The waves will eventually reach the microwave’s magnetron, which is the source for the microwaves. The magnetron cannot handle a huge amount of power, so it continues to send it to other parts of the microwave. Running a microwave with nothing in it will damage the magnetron and other parts of the microwave as well. In a worst case scenario, the microwave parts will overheat and possibly catch fire. The severity of the damage done to the microwave depends on how long it runs for, as well as how old it is. If it is run for a few seconds, no damage will happen. But if the microwave runs more than two to three minutes, minor damage will probably be done. Severe damage and/ or a fire will only occur if the microwave runs for a long period of time with nothing in it. The microwave will probably also have a shorter life if it continues to operate with nothing in it more than once. Older microwaves will be easier to damage, while newer ones will usually cool off in a short period of time after being used with nothing in it. Some newer models might even have special heat sensors that stop the microwave if it overheats. No matter how old or fancy your microwave is, do not try to run it without putting anything in it.

How to tell if your cookware is microwave safe:

Along with not running a microwave with nothing in it, it is also important to know what cookware is microwave-safe. Here is the test:

Place a glass measuring cup filled with water in or next to the dish you want to test.

Put both dishes in the microwave and microwave on high for 30 to 45 seconds.
If the dish remains cool but the liquid in the cup heats up, the dish is microwave-safe. If the dish heats up instead, do not use the dish in the microwave.

The following are not microwave-safe:

Any dish with metallic trim/lining/glaze
recycled paper products
some Styrofoam tray

Most glass, ceramic, and china dishes are safe to use.

Do not operate the microwave with nothing in it: this will cause damage to the internal parts. Also be sure to check whether a dish is microwave safe before using. Following these tips will ensure safe microwave operation.

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