When you hear the word microwave, the popular kitchen appliance may spring to mind. In actuality, however, this term encompasses much more than that. Microwaves are all around us, produced naturally by the cosmos as well as from manmade sources.
Just as there are concerns associated with microwave ovens, however, there is also some concern that microwaves from these other sources may have negative health effects. In this guide, we will look at what, exactly, microwaves are. We will then dive into the question: are microwaves dangerous?
What are microwaves?
To answer that, it is helpful to first have some background knowledge. Microwaves are one frequency on the electromagnetic spectrum, which encompasses the frequency range of all electromagnetic radiation. At the center of the spectrum, you have visible, or optical, light.
On one side of the spectrum, the side with higher frequencies, you have ionizing radiation. These waves have a lot of energy and can cause extensive damage to cells resulting in cancer, radiation poisoning, and other health issues. In spite of the dangers, in small doses, such as with x-ray radiation, ionizing waves can be quite useful.
On the other side of the spectrum, with lower frequencies, you have non-ionizing radiation, which includes infrared light and microwaves. This type of radiation is characterized by its low energy and inability to cause an atom to split. Non-ionizing radiation does cause thermal heating to tissue, a fact that microwave ovens use to their advantage. Microwaves fall in the 1 GHz to 300 GHz range on the electromagnetic spectrum.
Are microwaves dangerous?
Although it may seem simple enough, this is really not a “yes” or “no” question. The answer is a little more involved.
Microwaves and other forms of non-ionizing radiation are generally regarded as safe, but there is mounting evidence that, in fact, that may not be the case. Technically, microwaves are a form of radiofrequency (RF) radiation. RF-EMF radiation is recognized as possibly carcinogenic to humans by the World Health Organization’s International Association for Research on Cancer.
In addition to cancer, this type of radiation is also associated with male infertility, miscarriages, and neurological problems. In those with a condition called Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS), even small levels of exposure can result in unpleasant symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and dizziness.
Although some issues, such as EHS, can be caused by even short periods of exposure, non-ionizing radiation is likely much more problematic when exposed over a long duration of time and at higher levels. With microwave radiation, the inverse-square rule applies: the closer to the source of radiation, the greater your exposure levels. Regularly standing directly next to your microwave oven while it cooks, for example, puts you at greater risk of experiencing health issues than standing ten feet away from it.
We can safely say that microwaves can be dangerous. Just not at all exposure levels and durations. The higher your exposure level and the longer amount of time you regularly spend exposed all factors into the equation.
Sources of microwave radiation
You know by now that microwave ovens produce microwave radiation. The FDA regulates microwave oven radiation and has set that limit at 5mW of radiation per square centimeter throughout the device’s lifetime. It’s worth noting that these regulations assume the user is standing a safe distance away from the microwave while it is in use. Even though manufacturers take measures to contain the radiation produced by the device, it is still possible that some will leak out.
Microwaves are also used by the military. Right around World War II, it was noted that microwaves could detect the placement of solid objects by bouncing off them, and Radio Detection and Ranging (RADAR) technology was born. RADAR locates approaching ships, missiles, and aircraft through the use of microwaves.
You may not have a RADAR device, but you probably have a cell phone, and that is also a source of microwave radiation. The frequencies put off by 4G and 5G cell towers are considered microwave radiation, as is the radiation produced by your home’s WiFi network and smart meter. These radio frequency devices all produce frequencies that fall well within the microwave range on the electromagnetic spectrum, although you may not associate them with microwaves at all.
Not all sources of microwave radiation are manmade, either. This type of radiation can also be found naturally throughout the universe. The Earth’s atmosphere keeps much of it away from us here on the planet’s surface, but microwave radiation is quite abundant elsewhere. Scientists discovered this by using highly sensitive antennas placed on satellites that were sent outside our atmosphere. When the researchers listened in, they heard a low frequency coming from all directions, indicating that it was present everywhere and not just being transmitted from one location. The conclusion was that the sound was actually microwave radiation, possibly leftover from the universe’s beginning days.
Protecting yourself from microwave radiation
Now that you know just how many sources of microwave radiation exist, you may feel compelled to protect yourself. The exposure level and duration from any one item may be seemingly insignificant, but when you consider that we are consistently surrounded by so many sources, it’s easy to see how health issues could begin to creep in. Furthermore, many of these sources are very new in the grand scheme of things, and the long-term effects of our exposure to them haven’t been studied yet.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce your microwave radiation exposure, particularly inside of your home.
- Keep your distance. We mentioned this earlier with regards to microwaves, but the same principle applies to your smartphone and other sources of microwave radiation, as well. The closer to the source you are, the greater your exposure level. Step back from the microwave when it’s not in use, and don’t keep your cell phone in your pocket. Wired headsets can even help you have conversations without needing to put the phone next to your head.
- Go wired. WiFi is another significant source of microwave radiation in the home for many. And while it certainly is convenient, you may reach the point where the safety risk simply isn’t worth it. If that’s the case, it may be time to switch to a wired internet connection throughout your home. This process does involve hooking up every connected device you have to an ethernet cord and can take a bit of time and money. Once installed, however, a hardwired network not only produces less radiation, but it is also faster and more secure. For more information, see our how-to guide here.
- Get a guard. If the last step was too extreme and it’s just not realistic for your household to ditch WiFi, the next best option is to invest in a WiFi router guard. The WiFi Router Guard by Smart Meter Guard is one such option. This device acts as a Farraday cage. It’s essentially a box made of conductive metal mesh. You place your router inside, string the cables through the holes, and close the box. A signal is allowed to pass through, but much of the microwave radiation is attenuated. For more, head over to WiFi Router Guards.
- Protect your bedroom. Sleep is a restorative state. During that time, our bodies repair the damage done throughout the day, and that includes damage from microwave radiation. When we are exposed day and night, however, our bodies never get the chance to recover because the damage is constant. It is occurring even as we are sleeping. It’s important, then, to make your bedroom an EMF-free sanctuary. This can most easily be accomplished with a protective bed canopy, which drapes over your bed and, when fully closed, protects the inhabitants from any sources of radiation in the room. One great option is Blocanopy’s Bed Canopy. We go over that and a few others in our guide to EMF Bed Canopies.
- Paint it black. EMF paint can be used to coat any wall, protecting the room from outside sources of radiation. This is especially helpful if your home has a smart meter, or if your microwave is placed up against a shared interior wall. Painting the other side of the wall from the radiation source can help keep it from penetrating through into other rooms. YShield makes great EMF paint made from water, graphite, and black carbon that is 99.995% effective against microwave radiation after two coats. It’s worth noting, too, that the initial black color of the EMF paint can be easily covered up by a silicone-based paint afterward. To learn more, head over to EMF Paint: A Quick Primer.
Measuring levels around your home
If you are curious about how much microwave radiation is present in and around your home, you can test this using an EMF meter. The TriField TF2 is always a solid option, but the most important thing is that your meter is capable of detecting RF-EMF radiation because that encompasses the microwave frequencies. For more on EMF meters, see The Best EMF Meters For Any Budget.
To test your home’s levels, turn the EMF meter on and simply walk around your house, taking note of readings in various locations. It’s sometimes helpful to have a notebook so you can jot down measurements near high-traffic areas, such as the living room couch and dining room table, as well as any frequently used bedrooms.
This process can help give you some idea of what steps to take in order to reduce your home’s overall microwave radiation levels. It lets you know where the problem areas are so you know what spots require attention.
Microwave radiation is common, and not necessarily dangerous in limited quantities. At our typical exposure levels, however, health problems could begin to manifest. Taking steps to protect yourself and lower your home’s microwave radiation levels can help reduce your risk of developing health issues due to exposure.