Power strips are incredibly convenient – just plug them into an outlet and you’ve got extra places to plug in lamps, phone chargers, and other electronics. But when it comes to larger appliances like microwaves, things get a bit more complicated. Should you use a power strip for your microwave? Let’s take a closer look.
The Dangers of Overloading a Power Strip
The main concern with plugging a microwave into a power strip is overloading the strip. Power strips have a limited capacity for electricity flowing through them. Plug in too many high-wattage devices, and you can easily overload the strip.
Microwaves in particular use a substantial amount of power – generally around 1500 watts. That translates to 12.5 amps of current.Your average power strip is only designed to handle 10-15 amps total. Plugging in a microwave alone might be enough to reach or exceed that limit.
And most people don’t use power strips for just one item. If you’ve got a microwave, lamp, phone charger, and more plugged into the same strip, you are likely overloading the circuits. This causes excess current to flow through the power strip, which can lead to:
- Overheating: Too much current flow generates a lot of heat. This can melt insulation, start electrical fires, or cause damage to your electronics.
- Circuit breaker tripping: The circuit breaker recognizes the power overload and trips to shut off electricity to prevent damage. This abruptly cuts power to all devices on the circuit.
- Permanent damage: Over time, the excess current degrades materials and connections within the power strip. Even after resetting the breaker, you may have a damaged, unusable power strip.
Overloading a power strip is dangerous and should always be avoided. The heaviest appliances need a dedicated outlet.
Power Strips Are Designed for Mobility
Another issue with plugging a microwave into a power strip is that power strips are designed for mobility. They allow you to conveniently move electronics around to different outlets.
However, microwaves are stationary appliances. They remain fixed in one location in your kitchen or office. So there’s no need for the mobility of a power strip – a permanent, hardwired outlet makes a lot more sense.
Power strips are made of lightweight plastic and thin, flexible cords. They’re not intended to be used as permanent junction boxes for large, grounded appliances. The materials degrade faster when used this way.
The National Electric Code prohibits using temporary power strips in place of fixed room wiring. Microwaves require a dedicated circuit for safe operation.
Use Heavy Duty Options Cautiously
There are heavy duty and industrial power strips designed to handle higher currents. These are made with thicker, harder materials and listed to support larger loads.
In theory, you could use one of these heavy duty power strips for a microwave. However, it still carries some level of risk and is generally not recommended.
Here are a few reasons why:
- Even heavy duty power strips have a current limit. Microwaves often get close or exceed this limit. Plugging in any other devices could still overload the strip.
- Power strips can fail over time. With normal wear and tear, the connections and insulation degrade. This accelerates when used for permanent, high-power devices.
- Stationary appliances should have permanent connections, not temporary power strips. This ensures safety and proper electrical grounding.
- Code violations can impact home insurance policies if an electrical fire occurs.
If you really must use a power strip for your microwave, get the heaviest duty strip you can find and use it only for the microwave – no other devices. This reduces (but does not eliminate) the risks of overloading. Also inspect it frequently for any signs of damage, overheating, or hazards.
Better yet, install a dedicated outlet for your microwave during your next kitchen remodel. This is the safest option.
What Can You Plug into a Power Strip?
Okay, so maybe a microwave isn’t the best idea. But what types of devices are safe to use with a power strip?
Here are some electronics that most power strips can handle without issue:
- Phone and tablet chargers
- Laptop chargers
- Desk lamps (LED or CFL, not incandescent)
- TVs and monitors
- Game consoles
- Computer speakers
And here are the types of devices you should avoid plugging into a power strip, along with safer alternatives:
|Electric stove/oven||Dedicated outlet|
|Clothes dryer||Dedicated outlet|
|Space heater||Dedicated outlet|
|Window AC unit||Dedicated outlet|
|Hair dryer||Low-power bathroom outlet|
|Toaster oven||Dedicated kitchen outlet|
The key things to avoid are high-wattage heating appliances and large motors. These require too much sustained power for most power strips.
Aim for devices under 1000 watts to be safe. And be sure to check the power strip’s current rating before plugging in multiple devices. Balance loads across several outlets to prevent overload on one socket.
With some care and awareness, power strips can safely power a wide range of electronics in your home or office. Just keep the high-demand appliances off the strips!
Signs Your Power Strip Is Overloaded
If you suspect your power strip is being pushed past its limits, watch for these warning signs of overload:
- Heat from the plugs or cord – may be hot to the touch
- Discolored or warped plastic – from excessive heat
- Buzzing, sizzling, or crackling noises
- Flickering lights or electronics turning off randomly
- Circuit breaker frequently tripping
- Fuses requiring frequent replacement
- Burning odor or smoke coming from the strip
Any of these are clear indicators you need to reduce the load on the strip immediately. Unplug devices one-by-one until the issue stops. Do not use the strip until it can be replaced. Overheating can quickly start an electrical fire.
Be proactive and periodically check your power strips too. Look for scorch marks, melted plastic, loose plugs, or damaged wiring. Replace them at the first sign of wear. Don’t risk your home and electronics with a faulty power strip.
Can You Use a Surge Protector for a Microwave?
Surge protectors are similar to power strips, except they contain extra protection against voltage spikes. Can these be used for microwaves instead of power strips?
The same general guidelines apply:
- Standard surge protectors have similar power limits as power strips. They can still overload.
- Surge protectors are designed for temporary use, not permanent mounting of appliances.
- You void the safety certification by using them improperly.
Heavy duty surge protectors are available that support more current. But again, use with caution and awareness of the risks.
Many modern microwaves already contain internal surge protection too. External surge protectors provide minimal extra benefit for microwaves, though they’re still useful for protecting other electronics.
Bottom line – surge protectors should be treated much like power strips when it comes to high power devices. Stick to the manufacturer’s instructions for safe usage.
Tips for Using Microwaves Safely
Since you shouldn’t plug a microwave into a power strip, how can you use it safely? Here are some tips:
- Dedicated outlet – Install an outlet just for the microwave, on a 20A kitchen circuit. This avoids overload risks.
- 3-prong outlet – Microwaves need a grounding outlet for safety. Never remove the grounding prong from the plug!
- Outlets above counter – The National Electric Code requires outlets to be installed above countertops with 30″ clearance. This prevents damage to the cord.
- Proper distance – Don’t let the power cord strain to reach the outlet. The cord should have some slack and not be pulling tightly.
- Good condition – Inspect the power cord regularly for damage. Replace it immediately if the insulation is cracked or plug loosens.
- No extension cord – Extending the microwave’s cord with another cord is hazardous. Only use outlet connectors or junction boxes installed by an electrician.
- Cut power first – Unplug the microwave before moving it or doing any repairs. Never handle it while powered on or plugged in.
Following basic electrical safety guidelines will keep you, your home, and your appliance protected.
Plugging a microwave into a power strip is quite risky due to potential overloading. While heavy duty strips reduce the risk, it is still not recommended for permanent connections. Microwaves perform best and most safely when plugged directly into a dedicated, properly grounded outlet wired to handle the load.
Power strips are excellent for clustering lower-power electronics. But leave the high wattage appliances off of the strips for best results. Pay attention to the rated limits of your power strip, balance loads across outlets, and watch for any signs of overheating or damage. Following the manufacturer’s instructions will ensure safe operation.
With some smart precautions, power strips and surge protectors can help organize your cords and safely energize a variety of electronics. Just make sure not to push them past their limits with devices that require more power than the strips can handle. Your microwave needs a home of its own!