Deciphering Dials: What Do the Numbers on a Toaster Mean?

what do the numbers on a toaster mean

If you have been wondering what do the numbers on a toaster mean, then you have come to the right place to learn all about toaster settings. Toasters are one of the most common household appliances found in homes today. However, you may be surprised to learn that many people – toast lovers included, are not quite sure what the numbers on toaster dials actually mean. Thanks to some fairly prevalent internet rumours that made their rounds on the internet a few years back.

So, do the numbers on your toaster dial reference time in minutes? Or, do these numbers indicate the level of toastiness your slices of bread have reached? We researched different toasters, referred to their user manuals, and explored how they function – to determine what the numbers on this machine truly mean. Keep reading to find out what we learned.

Do Toasters Have Timers?


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First things first, let’s talk about timers and whether or not they are commonly found in toasters.

Due to the relatively low cost of household toasters, most have minimal technology inside. And, this includes the timer or toastiness mechanism. The majority of toasters do not have a specific timing chip. Meaning, the numbers on your toaster are unable to reference specific lengths of time and, therefore, cannot function as a timer. However, there is a bit more to it than that.

Some larger and more expensive toasters and toaster ovens have a different type of timer called a circuit timer. A circuit timer is time delayed and more specific to the length of time, unlike the strip method used in most common toasters, which we will discuss in the following sections.

Suffice to say, most toasters do not contain a timing chip.

What Do Toaster Numbers Mean?

toasted slices of breadSo, what do the numbers on your toaster mean if they don’t refer to time? According to information found in common toaster user manuals, the numbers refer to the browning level achieved by each individual mark. Many toasters even have clearly marked images of bread that vary in shade near the numbered dial which emphasize their intended purpose.

With these two pieces of information, we think it is more than safe to say that the internet rumour regarding the numbers marking time intervals has been adequately debunked. Even though the memes and GIFs were quite catchy, they are incorrect.

The browning control on most toaster dials ranges from 1 to 5, though up to 8 is not unheard of. The higher numbers produce slices of bread that are toasted in greater amounts caused by a longer toasting cycle. If you like toast that is barely toasted, go for the number 1 browning level. Simply put, the higher the number, the higher the browning level and vice versa.

How Do Toaster Numbers Work?

Now let’s circle back to the mechanism in the toaster associated with the numbered dial. How do these numbers work if they are not based on a timer? They use a simple and, as you’ll remember, inexpensive mechanism involving two metal strips that are stacked one on top of the other. Together, these strips are called bimetallic strip.

Each layer of the strip expands at varying rates when they heat up causing them to curl. The hotter they become, the more pronounced the curl gets. The toaster’s specific dial setting determines how far the strip must curl before it triggers the pop-up mechanism ejecting your toast.

Keep in mind, with a bimetallic strip, the accuracy of toasters is not designed to be about a specific amount of time. Instead, it is about the temperature achieved by the heating coils inside and the amount of heat that builds up internally. The temperature directly correlates with the reduction of moisture in your bread, as indicated by its browning level (also referred to as toastiness).


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Do All Toasters Have the Same Toastiness Settings?

While you will find a similar toastiness dial on almost every model – many with the same numbered range for options, they do not denote the same amount of time on every device. This means each toaster will pop-up at a different length of time, even when set to the same number setting.

When it comes to toasting bread, this means you will want to experiment a bit when using a new toaster. A number 3 browning level on the button or dial may produce the ideal amount of toastiness on one device but not on another. Try a lower number on the toastiness dial at first and work your way up until your slice of bread reaches the desired level of browning.

Something else to consider is that the specific amount of time allotted by the bimetallic strip is also affected by the amount of power a specific toaster model uses. This is measured in watts and varies from one toaster to the next. You may also notice that if you toast multiple slices of bread continuously, it may take a shorter amount of time for the succeeding pieces to be toasted. This is due to the fact that the toaster stays hot. Therefore, it can toast your bread faster.

What Is a Good Wattage for a Toaster?

A toaster that utilises more watts will heat up faster when compared to a toaster that uses fewer watts. Most toasters are powered by 800 to 1500 watts. The average toaster uses 1200 watts. And, when paired with a good energy rating, it will be highly cost-efficient and barely even noticeable on your utility bill, even if it is often used on a daily basis.

This means that a toaster with a higher wattage rating will toast bread quicker. Even if you use the same number setting on your toaster, it will toast your bread with greater efficiency.


Now that we have dispelled the internet rumours claiming the numbers on the toaster denote time in minutes, we can all confidently answer our initial question ‘what do the numbers on a toaster mean?’. Each numbered setting indicates the level of toasty-ness a slice of bread will reach on each side before the toaster pops-up. Just remember that the metallic strip used to measure time on most toasters is different from one device to the next. This means you may have to experiment a few times before you get the hang of a new toaster’s specific dial numbers and how long to toast different types and pieces of bread.

Let us know your experience with toaster dial numbers and what you think in the comments below.

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