Microwaving Cell Phones: What Happens?

Here’s what happens to your cell phone in a microwave.

When you microwave your cell phone, metal absorbs microwave photons, which creates an electric current in the metal, producing tons of heat.

Plastics melt, and hazardous chemicals vaporize, so the heat causes damage and makes for a very unsafe experience.

Don’t microwave a cell phone.

If you want to learn in detail what happens to your phone in a microwave, then you’re in the right place.

Let’s jump right in!

Table of Contents

Very Bad Things Happen to Your Cell Phone in the Microwave (Don’t Do It)

Have you ever seen a video of someone microwaving a cell phone? 

It gets pretty intense pretty fast. 

If you haven’t seen it, don’t rush to try it for yourself just yet. 

If you’re not already familiar with what the microwave does to a phone, you should probably spend a few minutes here and learn the essentials.

Let’s make it as easy to follow as possible. 

What happens when you microwave your cell phone?

In the simplest terms, microwaving your cell phone will damage the device. 

How the device is damaged and how badly is surprisingly hard to predict. 

Even one second of microwaving your phone can completely destroy it, but it could conceivably survive the short burst. 

The longer the microwave runs with your phone in it, the worse things get. 

After a few seconds, your phone is likely destroyed completely.

Please, do not rush out to experiment and see how tough your phone is. 

Microwaving your phone is dangerous. 

For starters, it represents a serious fire hazard (we can get into the why’s in a bit). 

Even if things don’t explode into dangerous flames, there are components of your phone that are toxic, and vaporizing them is a bad idea.

Chlorine, bromine, and cadmium are some of the most prominent dangerous elements in your phone. 

They can be vaporized when hot enough. 

They can also leak onto and coat the bottom of your microwave. 

It’s a bad idea to eat any of these chemicals. 

So, if a phone somehow does get cooked in your microwave, scrub it extremely thoroughly afterward (and maybe consider replacing the microwave oven).

What Physically Happens to the Phone in the Microwave?

Now that we’ve established that microwaving a phone is bad let’s get to the more important question. Why? 

Some things that get microwaved barely warm up. 

Other things spark or catch fire. 

What’s going on in there?

How Does a Microwave Work?

We can start by talking about what a microwave oven really is. This is an electric device that produces a high concentration of electromagnetic radiation. That already sounds intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.

Electromagnetic radiation is the scientific term for light.

To be more specific, the light you can see makes up a small portion of all electromagnetic radiation that exists.

Anything outside of the visible spectrum (what you can see with the naked eye) is still EM radiation, but it is invisible.

A microwave oven produces electromagnetic radiation called microwave radiation, hence the name.

Physically speaking, microwaves behave just like light, but they remain invisible to the naked eye.

In either case, you would describe a single wave as a photon (known as a particle of light), and the radiation is best described by how fast it vibrates, often denoted as a frequency.

Scientifically, microwaves are defined as a specific frequency range of EM photons, between 1 and 300GHz.

For comparison, visible light vibrates roughly 10,000 times faster than microwave radiation. This means that microwaves have less energy in them than particles of light that you can see.

For the most part, microwave radiation doesn’t actually do a whole lot. The majority of things that exist in your life don’t interact well with these frequencies. It mostly comes down to size.

Most things you can see are the wrong size and shape, at a structural level, to absorb large amounts of microwave energy.

But, there are some key exceptions. Metals and water can absorb tons of microwaves, and that’s what all of this comes down to.

We’ll get into metals in a minute.

First, we need to discuss water. Water actually resonates with microwaves.

That means that they absorb the radiation and it causes the individual water molecules to vibrate.

That vibration translates into heat energy.

So, when you microwave food, you’re trying to heat up the water in the food with the microwaves.

This principle of resonance is why most foods heat up very quickly as compared to when you bake them.

The microwave energy goes through the parts of the food that don’t interact with them, and they rapidly heat the water that is present.

How Do Induction and Resonance Affect Your Phone?

The other set of stuff that can absorb a lot of microwave energy is metals. 

Not all metals will do this, but most of the ones you come across do. This is because most metals are very good conductors of electricity, and this can lead to electromagnetic induction.

When a metal absorbs microwave photons, the process creates an electric current in the metal. This is why a fork will spark when you microwave it. The induced currents create a ton of heat very quickly.

In regards to your phone, there are a lot of small metal circuits and components in there. They absorb microwaves, and currents are induced. 

The phone isn’t designed for these currents, so they get too hot very quickly. The heat damages the circuitry. 

Plastics melt, and the hazardous chemicals that are inside of the phone can vaporize. 

Ultimately, the phone heats up much, much faster than food, and that extraordinary heat causes damage and makes for a very unsafe experience.

What Happens to Your Phone When the Microwave Is Off?

As bad as it is to cook a phone in a microwave oven, there’s a little-known trick that you can use to actually protect your phone. 

You can take advantage of the shielding in the microwave to do two potentially useful things.

This comes back to how water interacts with microwaves, sort of. 

You see, the human body is mostly made up of water. 

If your microwave oven was leaking out tons of those waves that heat up water, they would be insanely dangerous. 

So, they are very heavily shielded, and it’s why you don’t feel any warmer when you eagerly press your nose against the glass window to watch your hot pocket get nice and crispy.

The shielding used by your microwave oven is called a Faraday cage, and it can do things besides protecting you from microwaves. It can also protect your phone from just about anything involving radiation or electricity.

The Faraday cage blocks pretty much all electromagnetic energy from passing through it. It also prevents currents from passing through its shield.

What that means for your phone is that you can block all signals by putting your phone in a microwave (don’t turn it on!). 

Your phone primarily works by using microwave signals (don’t worry, they are nowhere near concentrated enough to cook you). 

You can see why a shield designed to block microwaves would stop signals to and from your phone.

You can also use the microwave oven to protect a phone (or other electric devices) in an electrical storm. This is extra useful when you’re in a camper, boat, or other location that isn’t as safe from lighting as the typical house.

Long story short, if you absolutely need to block all signals to and from your phone, or if you’re worried about lighting surges, you can put your phone in the microwave. 

Maybe you should also unplug the microwave, so you don’t forget about the phone and accidentally cook it.