Is it safe to operate a microwave oven with a broken window?

The outside window on my microwave oven broke today (by a baseball) can I have it replaced or just still use it? — R

The glass window itself isn’t important to the microwave oven’s operation, but the metal grid associated with that window certainly is. The grid forms the sixth side of the metal box that traps the microwaves so they cook food effectively. In principle, you can remove all the glass and still cook food, but I think that would be a bad idea. The grid isn’t very sturdy on its own and if it develops cuts or holes, it will allow microwaves to leak out of the oven. You want those microwaves to stay inside the box to cook the food and not to escape to cook you.

Even if the oven door has multiple layers of glass, those layers are there for your protection. If you touch the outside of the metal grid while the oven is on or get close enough to it through the last layer of glass, you’ll be able to absorb some microwave power and it’ll probably hurt. That’s because while the holes in the grid are too small to allow the microwaves to propagate through them and truly escape from the oven, they do allow an “evanescent wave” to exist just outside each hole in the grid. That evanescent wave dies off exponentially with distance beyond the hole, so it won’t travel around the room. But you don’t want to put your finger in it.

For inexpensive microwave ovens, you’re probably best off simply recycling the oven. I’m not happy about the modern everything-is-disposable state of appliances and equipment, but I can’t say that it’s cost effective to repair an oven that costs less than about $100. For more expensive microwave ovens, you can usually replace the window or the door. We have had a GE combination microwave and convection oven over our stove top for about 10 years and the door started to come apart about 18 months ago. I purchased a replacement microwave oven door over the web for $140 and installed it myself. It works beautifully. If you’re not handy or are concerned about microwave leaks, you should probably have it replaced professionally. But you can look up the parts themselves online at a number of web sites and get an idea of what the cost will be.

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