Once upon a time, when I was in high school, I had a job at a little store that sold only microwave ovens. This was back in the late 70’s (yeah I’m old) and at a time when microwaves weren’t a staple in people’s kitchens. They were still somewhat expensive and somewhat of a novelty to many. At the time, I learned a LOT about microwaves and even became somewhat of a “gourmet” microwave cook as I had to demonstrate just how wonderful these devices were and just how tasty the food coming out of them could be. I have to admit, though, that I wasn’t crazy about some of the foods I had to make and still preferred my oven for many things. I use my microwave likely in pretty much the way that many people do now: for defrosting and reheating, although I must say that I do find them ideal for steaming vegetables and retaining that lovely crispness.
The five most important things I remember from my times selling microwaves are:
1) It is very important to keep them clean. Little bits of food and spills can cause damage to your microwave if allowed to build up and eventually they can set off a spark and cause a fire in your oven.
2) It is a really good idea to keep a cup full of water in your microwave at all times just in case little fingers come along or someone bumps into the buttons and turns it on accidentally. If your microwave is turned on without any food or liquids in it to absorb the microwaves, you can “fry” the magnetron and you might as well kiss your oven goodbye as it will no longer work and it’s not worth the cost of having it repaired.
3) If there is any damage (even just small nicks) to the seal around the door, you may be releasing dangerous radiation into your home. If you see damage like this, you need to stop using it immediately and have it repaired or replaced. We used to test our microwaves in the shop on a regular basis to make sure they were safe with a simple fluorescent tube (as in the fluorescent light bulbs they use in a lot of businesses). We would place one end of the tube (where the little pins are that you use to connect the bulb into the fixture) around the door where the door seal is – i.e. where the door meets the oven. You put something in the oven, like the aforementioned cup of water, and turn the oven on. Run the bulb all the way around the door. If it lights up, turn off the oven immediately and do not use it again until you have it checked out by a technician. The tube will only light up if there is radiation being released. By the way, I have no idea if this works with the new fluorescent light bulbs – I have only ever seen it done with the tube shaped ones.
4) You cannot use metal in your microwave. Some people believe that only applies to larger pieces of metal, such as metal baking pans but even tiny bits of metal can cause damage to the magnetron and damage your computer beyond repair. It can also start a fire. You really need to watch out for dishes with the silver or gold trim around the edges or decorations on them. A lot of people overlook the metal that is present in those kinds of items! Also, if you take a dish out of the microwave and it is extremely hot – not just where the hot food comes into contact with it but it’s extremely hot all over, then the dish is not truly microwave safe. You can damage your dishes and your oven, start a fire, or cause dangerous chemicals to leech into your food by using dishes that are not truly microwave safe! If the container you have cooked your food in has melted, it is highly likely that dangerous chemicals have leeched into your food and you should not eat that food!!
5) Never forget that although it is a different type of oven, it IS an oven. Items coming out of the oven still get hot and you can still burn yourself. You cannot use a microwave on living creatures. I know, this probably sounds like common sense to most of you but you wouldn’t believe the number of people we had coming into the store who had tried to use their microwaves to do such things as try to revive the plants which had suffered an early spring frost or to warm up frostbitten kittens and so on. It was truly heartbreaking and unfortunately it still happens today.
OH YES!! And one more thing: you cannot clean a microwave oven in the same way you clean a regular oven. Do not, and I repeat, do not use oven cleaner on your microwave! You may end up with a clean microwave but it will be a clean melted microwave. Use a commercial cleaner that is marked for microwave oven use or you can simply use the method I use. First you need to remove any crumbs or bits of food from the oven. I use my trusty cup (the one I keep filled with water in my microwave) and fill it with a mixture of equal parts water and vinegar. Turn the microwave on high and heat this mixture until boiling – depending on your microwave, this will take 2-3 minutes. This mixture helps to soften up any of the spills that have hardened in your microwave and generally all it takes is a simple sponge dampened with that heated vinegar water to remove the residue. Remember that the solution will be very hot so wear gloves to protect your hands! The steam helps to loosen the food particles and the acetic acid in the vinegar (some people substitute lemon juice in place of the vinegar) helps to remove the germs and deodorize the oven. Has it been a while since you cleaned it? Well, then you may be facing more stubborn caked on messes? Take your damp sponge and sprinkle some baking soda on it. Use that to gently clean away the mess. (Note: I know some people use a solution of baking soda and water instead of the vinegar and water but I haven’t found that to be as effective as the method I use)
I found some hints on various unusual ways that you can use your microwave. I will pass these along to you with the caveat that I have only ever tried the first one (although the last two I saw demonstrated by Martha Stewart) so you might want to proceed with caution if you try any of them.
1) Researchers at the University of Florida have said that you can (and should) sterilize your kitchen sponges and remove 90% of the bacteria in them by using your microwave oven. There are some key factors to this though that must be CAREFULLY followed. First of all, the sponge must be completely wet…I mean soaking wet! Secondly, you microwave it for 2 minutes and only 2 minutes. Not one second more! If the sponge is not completely wet or you exceed the 2 minute time limit you can set the sponge on fire!
2) According to my research, this method also works on cutting boards (they did NOT specify what kind of boards so my assumption was wooden ones) but I have never tried this. They say you are to scrub the board first and then place it in the microwave for 1-2 minutes depending on the size and thickness of the board.
3) Apparently you can sterilize garden soil in your microwave. You spread a thin layer of the soil on a microwave safe tray and “nuke” it until it’s steaming.
4) Is your mascara all dried out? (note: this is when I figure it’s had its day and I go out and buy some more but what I read suggested that it can be safely revived in the microwave). The instructions said to heat the mascara tube on high for 30 seconds, take it out and test it to see if it is back to its normal consistency. If it’s not, nuke it some more until it is! I would think that you would only want to do any additional time at a rate of maybe 10 seconds at a time so that you don’t “overcook” it. I would also think that you should be really careful about what the tube is made of because many of the mascaras I have purchased have come in metal containers or containers with metal trim. Finally, I think if I were to try this, I would likely put a cup of water in the microwave with the mascara to ensure that there is something else in the oven to absorb the microwaves and avoid any problems.
5) Use your microwave to dye fabric. (I will be trying this one this week. I’ll let you know how well it works!). Mix the dye with water and immerse the fabric into it. Heat it in the microwave for 4 minutes. Remove the fabric from the dye and rinse. This one sounds safe to me because of the water present in the mixture but I would ensure that the fabric is completely immersed in the water.
6) I read that you can warm your plates in the microwave. You sprinkle each plate with water and then stack them in the microwave. Heat on high for 30 seconds. Again, I think I would put a cup of water in with the plates (maybe on top of the stack?) to ensure the safety of the plates and the oven. Perhaps the amount of water you sprinkle on them would be enough but I don’t know that I would want to risk it.
7) Use your microwave to proof yeast! You put a cup of water at the back of the microwave and put the (covered) bowl of dough in front of it. Heat on low for 3 minutes, let rest in the oven for 3 minutes, and heat again on low for 3 more minutes. Let it rest for another 6 minutes and by that time it should have doubled in size!
8) They suggest using your microwave to dry herbs. Place small bunches of the herbs between some layers of paper towels and place in your microwave for 1-2 minutes. Check them out and see if they are dry enough. They should crumble apart between your fingertips. If they aren’t dry enough, nuke them longer at 30 seconds intervals until done.
9) When your honey has developed crystals in it, you can use your microwave to melt it down again to a liquid state. Start with 10 seconds at a time and continue with these intervals until done.
10) Use your microwave to soften brown sugar. Put the sugar in a plastic bag (use something like a heavy duty freezer Ziploc bag that will stand up to the heating process) and sprinkle with a bit of water. Heat up in the microwave for about 20 seconds.