The Science Behind Toasters: How Do They Work?


Toasters on a shelf

Most of us use a toaster at least once per day. As a matter of fact, 80% of Americans own a toaster. But many of us have little to no idea on how toasters operate. While they are quite simple kitchen appliances there’s still science behind their functioning. Let’s take a look at how toasters work.

How Toasters Work?

Toasters operate by converting electricity into thermal energy. Coils inside the toaster are heated until they start emitting radiation. Upon heating, radiation emitted from the coils toasts the bread. As the bread is not touching the coils, the toasting process (Maillard reaction) happens through infrared radiation produced by the coils.

Inside of The Toaster

The toasting mechanism consists of a mica plate with nichrome wires running around it. Mica is a dielectric, heat resistant mineral that can be made into thin sheets. Due to its properties it’s widely used in the electrical appliance industry. 

Nichrome is also used for its distinct set of properties. It’s an alloy that can get very hot without melting (up to 2500°F) while also being able to cool pretty quickly. Electric current heats nichrome wires almost instantly when the toaster is active. Those are the glowing wires you see inside the toaster.

Pushing the lever on your toaster activates the toasting system inside. 

An electromagnet is responsible for the pop-up function, invented by Charles Strite. Electromagnets are basically magnets which you can turn on and off by releasing electric current through them.This way, the lever is released when the toasting process is done.

What is Electrical Energy Converted to Inside a Toaster?

Toasters convert electrical energy into thermal energy (heat) and radiation (light). Thermal energy heats the coils inside the toaster which begin to glow and produce radiation that toasts the bread. Toasters spend small amounts of electricity while doing this and are considered to be very energy efficient. 

Do Toasters Use Conduction, Convection or Radiation?

Toasters use infrared radiation to toast bread. Once the toaster is powered, the coils inside will start glowing red. Coils are the ones producing infrared radiation. Since bread is not touching the coils conduction is just not possible. Convection, although theoretically possible, wouldn’t toast the bread so quickly.

How Hot Do Toasters Get?

Toasters can reach temperatures anywhere from 300°F to 500°F (150°C – 260°C). The temperature changes with the toasting setting  – the more you want your bread toasted, the higher the temperature. Coils on the other hand can reach temperatures of up to 1000°F (520°C).

Do Toasters Have Timers?

Toasters do not have timer chips as they are too expensive to be used. Instead, toasters use bimetallic strips which use heat to produce mechanical displacement. By heating, the strip curves and serves as a timer. Setting up the dials on the toaster you’re actually determining how far the strip has to curve before bread is ejected. 

Learn, Toast, Repeat!

Even though they are simple electrical appliances, toasters make our life so much easier and our breakfast that much tastier. 

Now when you know how toasters work, you might as well like to learn how to use a toaster to make the perfect toast

Larry Flynn

Hi everyone! My name is Larry Flynn and I've been working in the kitchen appliance industry for decades. From manufacturing to retail and everything in between. My latest hobby is running this website, where I share all the knowledge I gathered throughout the years in the industry. I also run a small toaster repair shop in downtown NY, and collect vintage toasters.

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