These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a household that doesn’t have a cell phone, a microwave, or both. That’s despite health concerns due to the radiation these devices emit. But have you ever wondered, out of cell phones and microwaves, which emits more radiation?
A microwave oven emits more radiation than a cell phone. A microwave oven’s design means most of the radiation produced stays inside, but some leakage does occur. Studies suggest these leakages are higher than the radiation emitted by cell phones, but they’re still lower than international limits.
So, can we assume that cell phones are safer than microwave ovens? Or that, regardless of the leakages, microwave ovens are still safe? Let’s take a look.
What Is the Radiation From Cell Phones and Microwaves?
Radiation is energy emitted from a source in waves that travel out through space. Natural radiation is all around us, in sunlight and the soil. There are also small amounts of radioactive material in our bodies.
Then there’s man-made radiation. Examples are radiation from x-rays and every-day products like TVs and WiFi routers. And, of course, cell phones and microwave ovens.
Cell phones and microwave ovens emit a type of radiation called radiofrequency radiation. It’s a form of electromagnetic radiation. As the name suggests, that’s radiation consisting of electric and magnetic waves.
Electromagnetic energy occurs across a range of frequencies, which form the electromagnetic spectrum. The spectrum consists of seven broad ranges determined by the frequency of the waves. Radio waves are at the lower end, and gamma waves are at the highest.
The radiation emitted by cell phones and microwave ovens overlaps two ranges. They’re the radio and microwave ranges at the lower end of the spectrum. As you might know, cell phones generally operate at 800MHz to 1900MHz. Microwave ovens use the 2.45GHz frequency.
The following video explains the electromagnetic spectrum in more detail:
How to Measure Electromagnetic Radiation
One way to measure electromagnetic radiation is to look at the power density. That is the intensity of the radiation field crossing over a specified area.
Remember, electromagnetic radiation consists of both electric and magnetic waves. So, the strength of both makes up the power density. We measure it in milliwatts per square centimeter (mW/cm2).
Are There Any Radiation Emission Standards?
Various international standards limit the power density of electromagnetic radiation. For microwave ovens, there’s a radiation emission limit in the US of 5 mW/cm2. That’s at a distance of 5cm (2″) from the oven.
For cell phones, we use a limit of 1 mW/cm2. That comes from the International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection guidance. This level of power density is for devices operating at up to 300GHz.
How Much Radiation Does a Cell Phone Emit?
A 2018 study tested different cell phones from various mobile network operators. Tests took place under both strong and weak signal conditions. Under weak signal conditions, the highest power density recorded was 0.036 mW/cm2. This was 4cm away from the measuring device.
The power density reduced 0.0043 mW/cm2 in a strong signal area. So, that gives us a range of between 0.036 mW/cm2 and 0.0043 mW/cm2 as the emission level for cell phones.
How Much Radiation Does a Microwave Oven Emit?
Microwave ovens keep most of the radiation they produce within the oven to cook what’s in there. So, the radiation they emit is down to leakage.
A 1992 article reported on tests of 130 domestic microwave ovens. Researchers found that none of the ovens emitted radiation exceeding 1 mW/cm2 at a 5cm (2″) distance. The article estimated that half of the microwave ovens in use at the time emitted less than 0.062 mW/cm2.
A later study in 2014 looked at radiation leakage from microwave ovens up to fourteen years old. At the 5cm (2″) distance, the average leakage from all the microwave ovens tested was 0.0046 mW/cm2.
So, for microwave oven emissions, we can take a range of 0.062 mW/cm2 and 0.0046 mW/cm2.
Cell Phone vs. Microwave Radiation Summary
The table below summarizes the position described above:
|Max Power Density||Min Power Density|
|Cell Phone||0.036 mW/cm2||0.0043 mW/cm2|
|Microwave Oven||0.062 mW/cm2||0.0046 mW/cm2|
As you can see, through leakage, microwave ovens emit more radiation than cell phones. But, both emit lower levels of radiation than international exposure limits.
Are Cell Phones and Microwave Ovens Safe?
Well, let’s not get carried away because there are potential safety issues with electromagnetic radiation that we shouldn’t ignore.
Is Electromagnetic Radiation Safe?
Electromagnetic radiation is non-ionizing radiation. Various studies have concluded that it isn’t harmful. That’s because non-ionizing radiation can’t damage tissue or organs, unlike ionizing radiation. But, the Center for Disease Control recognizes some risk from intense exposure to it. That risk is due to the ability of such radiation to heat body tissue.
The World Health Organization’s publication on microwave ovens agreed. It refers to the eyes being most vulnerable to damage from extensive exposure and heat. But, in its view, the low levels found around microwave ovens weren’t a risk.
Various studies have also reached the view it isn’t harmful. Yet, a 2008 study warned that electromagnetic radiation could cause eye damage. The study had used electromagnetic radiation at levels equal to cell phone emissions.
Further, this 2011 study found an increased brain cancer risk from such radiation. A subsequent investigation by the same researchers confirmed the conclusions. The risk arose from cumulative cell phone usage and length of use.
Also, in 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer reviewed the evidence. It decided to classify cell phones as a possible carcinogenic.
As you can see, there’s no consensus on the safeness of electromagnetic radiation. However, there is negative evidence. So, the sensible way to proceed is to assume that this radiation may be harmful to humans.
Is a Cell Phone Safer Than a Microwave Oven?
Probably not. Most of the safety concerns expressed are about cell phones. That stands to reason since we often place them close to our bodies even when we’re not using them.
As you know, cell phones emit electromagnetic radiation whenever you turn them on. Even when not in use, they’re still keeping you connected with the nearest cell tower.
Unless you work with them, we tend to use microwave ovens less. And we don’t put them close to our bodies or carry them in our pockets.
So, microwaves may emit more electromagnetic radiation than cell phones. But, your body absorbs more of the radiation emitted from your cell phone due to proximity and usage.
More Causes for Concern
As technology advances, the number of devices emitting electromagnetic radiation is increasing. Look at the growth in smartphone usage in recent years. People are spending more time and doing much more with their devices.
So, it’s not just cell phones and microwave ovens. There are also PCs, laptops, and cordless phones. And don’t forget your TV and radio receivers, and WiFi routers. But it doesn’t stop there. You also have cell phone towers, baby monitors, and smartwatches. The list is a long one.
That means electromagnetic radiation bombards us in our daily lives, and we don’t know the impact of this increased and constant bombardment. Some organizations acknowledge this gap in our understanding of electromagnetic radiation.
So, you might look at the low radiation emissions of individual devices and think they are of no concern. But that might be a fallacious approach in our modern electromagnetically-powered world.
So, microwave ovens emit more electromagnetic radiation than cell phones. A Bluetooth device’s emissions are well below international emission limits. But, that’s no reason for complacency. Some researchers have linked electromagnetic radiation with brain tumors and eye damage.
Cumulative use was a critical factor. Yet, the cumulative effect of all the electromagnetic radiation in our modern environments is unknown. The best thing we can do is limit our use and proximity to electromagnetic devices until we know more about the real risks.