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9 Microwave Problems You’ll Regret Ignoring

Updated: Nov. 29, 2021

Unless you want to damage your microwave beyond repair or start a fire in your home, trust us on this—and take care of these issues ASAP.

Close-up Of A Microwave Oven With Adhesive Notes Showing Broken Text

When your small appliance has big problems

Whether you use it every day or a few times a week, your microwave is easily one of the most convenient appliances you own. And the minute it stops being convenient and starts acting funky is the minute you ought to address the problem—not just because you need to pop that popcorn or heat up your leftovers, but because it might be a sign of a serious issue that could irreparably damage your unit or even lead to a fire. These are the problems you shouldn’t ignore, according to experts. If you do find yourself in the market for a new microwave, make sure you know which home-appliance brands are the most (and least) reliable.

Astonished Man Standing In Front Of Burning Oven With Smoke Around Kitchen

A burning smell

“A burning smell (and smoke) is a sign something is amiss with your microwave and you should immediately turn off and unplug it,” says Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company. This could be as minor (for example, caked-on food burning to a crisp), or it could be a more serious wiring or electrical issue. Either way, ignoring this issue can ultimately result in a fire. For that reason, Shimek says that you should “definitely call an appliance repair technician right away, as they can help to diagnose the problem.” Don’t miss these other hidden things in your home that may be a fire hazard.

Look inside the microwave food white bowl, In a warm atmosphere and empty top space for text. - Non color ceramic is applicable
chanida pp/Shutterstock

Caked-on splatters

Not cleaning food splatters can make for a very time-consuming chore down the road, but it can also shorten the life of your microwave. “While these may seem harmless, over time microwave splatters can turn rock-hard and even burn the walls of this small appliance,” says Shimek. “To extend the life of your microwave and keep it running in top shape, make sure you wipe it down with a warm cloth daily. This will remove residue on the inside of the microwave that can keep air from circulating inside the machine, which is how it heats food.”

Man in the kitchen

Weird sounds while cooking

All microwaves have a low and steady “hum” while they cook, but if yours starts making other weird noises, it’s time to investigate. Any sort of rattling, clanking, or louder-than-normal sound could be a sign of an electrical or motor issue. And this is important to check out sooner rather than later since continuing to run your microwave could cause sparks or a fire. While you’re at it, make sure that you’re not microwaving anything you shouldn’t.

Close-up Of A Man's Hand Adjusting Temperature Of Microwave Oven

A malfunctioning display or buttons that don’t work properly

If your microwave display screen flickers or blinks, or the buttons seem stuck or finicky, it’s time to diagnose the problem. It may just be a temporary circuit-board issue that can be reset by unplugging and plugging the microwave back in, says Appliance Service Station. Or it could be an electrical issue, which is greater cause for concern since that puts the device at risk for sparking or smoking, notes SFGate. By the way, this is when your appliances are most likely to break down.

Side View Of A Young Woman Using Microwave Oven In Kitchen

A door that doesn’t close completely

Speaking of the exterior, if the door of your microwave won’t close, then it’s important to address the issue right away. Having the door sealed tightly ensures that all radiation stays inside, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). The cause could be as simple as a loose screw or a piece of food impeding closure, or it may be time to replace your microwave. Here are some tips on how to fix 10 everyday appliances for free.

Kitchen home appliances cooking reheating plate bowl dish meal dinner of cooked spaghetti pasta with Bolognese tomato meat sauce in microwave oven
ML Harris/Shutterstock

Sparks or fires

If you accidentally get a piece of metal in your microwave or leave a spoon in your leftovers while cooking, that’s one thing. Simply remove the item ASAP and continue cooking. Sparks that seem to come from nowhere, however, are a sign of a serious electrical issue and can potentially cause a fire. This is especially true if sparks are accompanied by smoke or shaking. It’s best to just say sayonara to your microwave in this case, especially if it’s older, and especially if it’s covered by warranty anyway.

Young woman using microwave oven in kitchen
New Africa/Shutterstock

Cooking takes longer than normal

If you’ve noticed your food isn’t warming up as quickly as usual, or if it’s heating unevenly, it could be a sign that your microwave is on the fritz. “If your food seems to be cooking too slowly, test [your microwave’s] power by placing one cup of water inside and turning the microwave on for two minutes. If the water isn’t piping hot when you take it out, it may be time to replace the unit,” says Shimek. Reduced heat is generally the result of a poorly functioning magnetron or a circuit board, notes SFGate, which requires the help of a technician to fix. But before you fork over money for a repair, know which appliances are cheaper to replace than to fix.

Detail of male hand while using the microwave

Cooking takes faster than usual

Conversely, Shimek says that if you notice that food is getting way too hot in no time at all, it could also be a sign that your microwave isn’t functioning properly. This could be an issue with the magnetron or circuit board, which requires technician assistance. It’s also possible that you’re using non-heatproof or non-microwave safe dishes, which absorb excessive amounts of heat, or that you’re microwaving foods that you shouldn’t. In either case, you risk burning yourself or even causing a small food explosion.

microwave in kitchen

Your microwave is just getting old

Microwaves have a lifespan of seven to ten years, so if yours is reaching that threshold, it might be time to replace it. Keeping an old device around—especially if it’s exhibiting any of the above issues—isn’t worth the potential danger. Fortunately, new microwaves are relatively inexpensive and you’ve got plenty of options to choose from, as well.