Science, Now + Beyond

How these 6 household items actually work will blow your mind

We use these things every day, but I can't believe this is how they work

Lights, electrical wires, batteries. They have all become commonplace in our daily lives, but most of us have almost no idea about how these tiny pieces of power work. These are all important components of common household items. We use these things all the time: microwaves, ovens, fridges. They have always been there, but do you ever wonder how they actually work? Well, here I have for you they’re inner workings, and some of them are quite surprising.”]

1. Microwave

The next time that you put your food in the microwave, think twice! Do you know what’s actually happening when you slide those day-old leftovers into that box? It’s true that your microwave is heating your food through radiation, but don’t worry, microwaves can’t actually hurt you like we thought they could in the 50s. In a microwave oven, microwaves are actually heating your food. The waves, produced by an electric tube called a magnetron, vibrate the water molecules in your food, after being reflected from the metal interior. Basically, your food is being cooked by a laser beam.

2. Refrigerator

Tell me you don’t think its cool that there is a cold box sitting in your kitchen that keeps everything cold and fresh for you, 24/7. It really is awesome when you think about it. When you grab your cool food out of your refrigerator, your underappreciated appliance is actually doing a lot of work. Your fridge works through its constant balance between cold and hot, but it all starts out with vapor outside of your fridge. Once the vapor is cooled it turns into a highly pressurized liquid which flows into the coils inside the fridge. This liquid absorbs the heat inside of the fridge, making the air nice and cold!

3. Vacuum

You probably could have guessed that vacuum cleanings work through suction. The simplest of vacuum cleaners are powered through an electrical chord with runs an electric current through a motor. The motor operates the fan with the same angled blades as an airplane propeller. The fan sucks dust particles in, which adds to its density, and then air pressure increases in the front of the fan and decreases behind the fan. This causes a pressure drop within the vacuum which fuels the suction that allows you to suck up all that dirt from your carpet!

4. Self-Cleaning Ovens

A self-cleaning oven is probably, by far, the weirdest thing in my kitchen. Every couple of months when my mom puts the self-cleaning function on the oven, I am always so confused: How does it clean itself? While the highest you’ll ever cook something is probably at 500 degrees Fahrenheit, self-cleaning ovens can reach up to 1,000 degrees. All that heat practically melts all the crust and dirt off of the walls of your oven. This creates a lot of smoke which is why some ovens have a catalytic converter in them to eliminate that. Some ovens also have a steam cleaning function that lines the walls of the oven with an enamel, which sheds off and releases dirt when it comes in contact with steam and low heat. Just with a little steam and heat, your oven is clean in just a few hours with barely any work!

5. Dishwasher

Everything is great about dishwashers. You put your dirty dishes in, add detergent, wait a bit, and then all of sudden they’re clean. Dishwashers, however, are a little bit more complex than what we see. Inside this appliance, a whole range of things is happening that ensure that our dishes are cleaned. Dishwashers add water that’s heated appropriately to give the best clean it can. Once the water is heated, the detergent is released automatically at a specific moment. From there, jets and sprays shoot water out from multiple areas and directions. After a thorough wash, it drains itself, and fills up with water again, repeating this process several times. When it’s time for drying, it heats the air to dry the dishes, and there you have it! Clean dishes, ready to eat off of!

6.  Iron

Almost everyone has an iron in their house, and for good reason. When our clothes are wrinkled and make us look a little less put together than we would like, we have irons to smooth out all those messy kinks and make that shirt look as fresh as new. Irons work primarily through heat. When you turn an iron on, it’ll take a fair amount of time to warm up, but after it gains heat through the electric current the metal plate at the bottom of the iron becomes very hot. When you rub the metal plate over wrinkles, the heat actually separates the molecule bonds in your clothes, making them one even layer.

These are the items that we use every day, but we often don’t take a chance to step back and wonder how these strange appliances actually work. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of our functions work through balancing acts of heat, powered by electricity. This, however, is not as simplistic as I have tried to make it seem. These appliances have some fairly complex inner workings that have taken centuries to develop and perfect. So let me just remind you to be curious, because everything is always a lot more interesting than it seems.

  • Ryanne Berry

    Ryanne Berry is currently a junior at Oberlin College, majoring in English Literature and Religion. She hopes to pursue a career in publishing and editing. Ryanne loves being busy all the time, drinking excessive amounts of caffeine, and watching romantic comedies with her friends.