Toasters are simple, right? You might think so, but they are actually complex pieces of equipment that carry out one simple function extremely well. The journey to creating a great piece of toast is more complex than you think.
Finding out what kind of energy a toaster uses is actually a complex scientific question that we need to investigate. Some key ideas you will need to understand – electrical energy, heat energy, and light energy. These all play a part in the toasting process. Heat energy is the most important, but we need to discover how it is actually made.
In this guide, you will find out how toasters take the energy from the wall socket and turn that energy into a delicious snack. How does a toaster work? – a simple explanation.
How does a toaster work?
Can you name a device that converts electrical energy into heat energy? If you guess a toaster, you’re right! (Hopefully, the title of this article gave you a clue…)
The toaster is a commonplace kitchen appliance that seems to have a very simple function – put the bread in, push down the lever, wait for the internal elements to cook the bread, catch your delicious toast as it pops out. But it is not that simple – for example, what kind of energy does a toaster use? How does electricity cook my bread? Are there any special processes for the means the elements work?
How does a toaster actually work?
To understand how a toaster actually works, we need to understand how electrical energy is used to cook bread. We’ll start at the top.
What kind of electricity does a toaster use?
Before we can even start cooking our toast, we need the power to make sure the toast works. This comes in the form of electricity. Unless you’re using an extremely old fashioned toaster, you will be using electrical energy to power it.
The electricity generally comes from a mains power source / the power grid. The toaster is plugged into a socket and can draw alternating current (AC) electricity to use.
At this point, the energy is known as electrical energy. The electricity has not been changed by the toaster at all.
How is the electricity used by a toaster?
When electricity is introduced to the toaster’s circuits, the cooking starts. But what happens before we can turn bread into toast?
If you look inside your toaster, you will see a collection of small wires. Depending on where you are, you will either call these elements or filaments. These are the parts of the toaster that become superheated during the cooking process, creating our delicious toaster.
So, we know that the elements take on the electrical energy and heat up. But why does that happen? We can’t answer “what type of energy does a toaster use” if we can’t explain how these elements turn electricity into heat.
How is the electricity converted?
When a wire is exposed to electricity, it starts to move. It doesn’t move in a way that we can see it (unless it is about to break from the pressure!), but we can see two effects from this movement – heat, and light.
When any wire is starting to move, it also starts to glow white, red, or blue (depending on the heat). This is the electrical energy being turned into heat energy; the electricity makes the wire shake, creating heat. As the wire is very thin, it becomes superheated and capable of cooking bread (or causing serious burns to bearskin).
When the heat starts to generate, the wire also gives off light energy. This is a side effect that does not cook the toast, but it is another type of energy that toasters produce when electricity is fed into them.
What happens when the energy is converted?
You can easily see the energy when your toaster is turned on. The elements inside the toaster start to glow and heat up. Next time you turn your toaster on, look inside and you will see the wire has now turned bright red.
The bright red wire now can cook the toast. The heat energy is given off by the wire and this is hot enough to cook the toast. Because the wires that make up the elements are so thin, the heat they give out is sufficient enough to cook a piece of bread. This generally takes no more than 5 minutes – superheated! This energy does not disappear quickly – when a toaster has turned off, the wires need to cool off over a short period of time. Keep your fingers out of the slot to make sure you don’t get a burn; it isn’t cool, so it will hurt!
Because we can also see the bright red color of the wires, we can also tell that there is a great deal of light energy given off. This energy disappears quickly – when the cooking is finished, the wires quickly turn from red to their usual dull shade. This is the easiest way to tell if the toaster is still turned on.
If the wires continue to glow after the toaster is turned off, you need to find a way to remove the electric energy source. If there’s light energy, the toaster is still on!
What kind of energy actually cooks toast?
As the heat energy is transferred from the wires to the bread, it heats up and the moisture is removed. Exposure to heat energy is what cooks the bread, not the light or electrical energy. This is why we want toasters that can convert as much electrical energy into heat energy – the better the conversion rate we have, the quicker we get our delicious toasted snacks.
Of course, without electrical energy, there would be no heat energy. Because of this, you could say that the wires being exposed to electrical energy is the cause for your delicious, toasty snack. However, from a scientific point of view, this isn’t how we describe heat. The electricity causes the heat which cooks the toast.
Now you should be able to explain into what kinds of energy a toaster converts electrical energy. You get heat energy from the elements, which we use to cook toast and other toaster-friendly snacks. You also find light energy, which is only a by-product of the electricity flowing through the elements.
Heat energy from the toaster’s elements is the key to great toast. If a toaster can’t produce heat energy, it can’t cook toast and is probably broken. It is likely that there is a problem with the power supply and it needs replacing. If you need to throw a toaster away that has a broken power supply, take care to check that there are no exposed wires.
If you are worried about your toaster and think that it is producing too much or too little energy to cook your toast, take it to any decent repair shop (or get in contact with the manufacturer if you have a warranty). Just because you now understand how a toaster works, it doesn’t mean that you are capable of fixing one yourself.
Do you think that toasters are simple appliances? I don’t think so, but I’d love to hear more from you. Leave a comment below and tell me how simple or complex you think a toaster is. Remember, this isn’t just a magic machine that makes toast out of bread. It’s a complex piece of equipment converting electricity into two kinds of energy.