Hidden kitchen fire hazard: Microwaves that start by themselves

Jul 11, 2022, 11:00 PM | Updated: Jul 26, 2022, 3:59 pm

OREM, Utah – There’s a potential hazard lurking in your kitchen: microwaves that start all by themselves.

When it happened to an Orem woman, the KSL Investigators found hers was not an isolated case. We have found dozens of microwaves firing up without the push of a button, and that is dangerous.

Kris Hammond said she’d only had her microwave nine months when it just fired up on its own. Nobody was in the room. The microwave was empty.

“It filled the house with smoke,” Hammond recounted, “ and started the smoke alarm.”

Someone in the house reacted quickly, grabbing the smoldering appliance, and ran with it out of the kitchen and into the backyard.

“I see this as a consumer risk to have a microwave just start on its own,” Hammond said. “It could have burned down my home, cause thousands of dollars in damage, and someone could have been hurt.”

Hammond contacted the maker of the microwave, Samsung. She said the company dispatched a technician who replaced its magnetron and a transformer.

“The technician called the company and said the smell was horrific and making him sick,” Hammond said.

But Hammond wants her money back. Beyond smelling bad, she worries it could happen again. She said Samsung is refusing the refund.

“I feel like they should stand behind their product,” she said.

With that, Hammond decided it was time to call the KSL Investigators.

We reached out to Samsung to ask about her situation. They would not go into details except to say, in an email, “We have been in contact with the Hammond family and are addressing their concerns to their satisfaction.”

Hammond confirmed that after our calls, indeed, Samsung reached out to her.

Digging deeper, the KSL Investigator found this is not a problem unique to Samsung – or is uncommon.

The KSL Investigators poured through hundreds of reports filed by consumers to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and found dozens of incidents where a microwave started by itself and subsequently caught fire.

We combed through five years of complaints from microwave oven users filed with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). There is example after example of microwaves spontaneously starting.

In fact, of the total 318 complaints received by the CPSC, 89 came from U.S. consumers who said their machine started on its own. That is in addition to 88 reports of microwave fires, 29 of which happened thanks to a self-start.

And those numbers are just folks who bothered to report their issue; the actual numbers are likely higher.

We asked Colleen Jerman, operations manager of the Mending Shop in Orem if they ever heard of a microwave starting by itself.

“Yes, I have,” she answered. “It’s fairly common.”

Operations manager Colleen Jerman of The Mending Shed explains to KSL’s Matt Gephardt how slamming a microwave oven door can lead to a self-start.

So, the burning question, what causes a microwave to self-start and ignite on fire?

“My number one tip for microwaves: Do not slam the door,” Jerman said.

She explained there is an interlock on a microwave door that typically contains three switches. Slamming the door may damage those switches, causing them to get stuck. That in turn can stop the machine from working when you want it to, and it can make the machine start working when you do not want it to.

“So, if one of the switches is bad inside and it has essentially almost grounded itself, so it is sending power constantly, it’ll turn on the microwave all on its own,” Jerman explained.

As for Kris Hammond, she has bought a new machine. She just does not trust the repaired microwave. And she hopes her story serves as a warning to others.

“Why is there no shut-off mechanism on a microwave to prevent it from continuing to run and potentially go on fire?” she wondered.

Aside from handling your microwave with care, there are other things you can do to prevent it from starting on its own and then igniting – though they are cumbersome. You could unplug it between uses or keep a cup of water inside so that the microwave has something to cook, besides itself, if it does self-start.

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Hidden kitchen fire hazard: Microwaves that start by themselves