Are you in the habit of using paper towels to cover your food when microwaving? While paper towels might seem like a convenient and practical option, their use in the microwave can have some unintended consequences. In this blog post, we’ll answer the question: “Can you put paper towel in the microwave?” and look at why it’s not recommended to put paper towels in the microwave as well as offer some alternatives that will help you safely heat up your food while keeping clean-up easy. So if you’ve been wondering whether or not it’s safe to put paper towels in the microwave, read on.
Safe Use of Paper Towels in Microwaves
When used carefully, paper towels can be a convenient tool for covering foods, soaking up splatters, and facilitating cleanup in the microwave. Here are some key guidelines to follow:
- Use shorter cooking times – Paper towels should only be microwaved for very short durations, typically 30 seconds or less. Longer heating can dry out the towels and make them prone to catching fire.
- Don’t let paper towels touch heating elements – Make sure towels are completely flat and away from the sides or top of the microwave, as contact with interior heating elements can scorch or ignite the paper.
- Use only 1-2 paper towels – The quantity should be limited to prevent overheating and fire risks. More layers of paper towels retain more heat.
- Place a heat-safe dish underneath – Putting a microwave-safe plate or bowl under the paper towels can prevent direct contact with the rotating tray or interior surfaces.
- Pre-moisten the paper towels – Wet paper towels absorb more microwave energy and are less likely to burn. Lightly dampen towels before heating for the safest results.
After microwaving paper towels, careful handling is required to prevent burns. Follow these best practices:
- Use proper cooking mitts, pads, or utensils to remove heated paper towels or items covered in paper towels. Never grab a hot paper towel with bare hands.
- Allow microwaved paper towels to cool for at least 60 seconds before handling to prevent steam burns.
- Transfer heated foods covered in paper towels to microwave-safe containers before consuming. Do not eat directly from paper towels.
- Discard used paper towels promptly after microwaving. Do not leave heated paper towels sitting in the microwave unattended.
Historical Context and Material Safety
Paper towels have evolved to be quite safe for microwave use thanks to changes in manufacturing and safety regulations over the decades.
- Early 20th century paper towels contained small metal wires and staples that could spark, melt, or catch fire in a microwave due to inductive heating.
- Modern paper towel production methods now ensure no metal traces make it into the final products. Strict safety benchmarks are followed.
- Today’s paper towels are engineered with heat resistance in mind and contain flame retardant additives to prevent fires. This makes them far safer for microwave use.
Keeping the Microwave Clean
One benefit of paper towels is they can help keep microwave interiors clean when heating messy or splatter-prone foods. Strategies include:
- Placing a paper towel over foods to prevent splatters on the roof and walls of the microwave.
- Putting a paper towel under dishes or plates to soak up leaks and spills from containers.
- Lining the microwave turntable with paper towels to facilitate easy cleanup after cooking.
- Using paper towels in lieu of plastic wrap or other less eco-friendly microwave covers.
However, microwave splatter covers and lids specifically designed for microwave use are still the best option for convenient, safe heating.
Specific Concerns and Instructions
While paper towels can be microwaved safely using the above guidelines, risks still exist in certain situations:
- Overheating paper towels past 30 seconds or letting them contact and scorch on interior surfaces can lead to smoking, browning, or ignition.
- Wrinkles, folds, or uneven surfaces in paper towels create hot spots that are more likely to cause charring or fires.
- Placing multiple layers of paper towels in the microwave significantly compounds the fire risk. Limit to 1-2 sheets.
- A wet paper towel is far less likely to burn in the microwave. For high-moisture foods, pre-moisten the towels first.
Unsafe Materials in the Microwave
Paper towels should not be confused with certain other paper products that should never be placed in the microwave, like:
- Paper plates or cups – These contain different coatings and chemicals that release toxic fumes or melt.
- Tissues – The delicate material can ignite rapidly.
- Paper bags – These are not heat-resistant and can combust.
- Newspapers, books, or loose paper – These are fire hazards.
- Cardboard – Has risks of high flammability.
Use in Other Appliances
While paper towels can be utilized carefully in the microwave, they should not be used in other kitchen appliances like:
- Ovens – Prolonged, direct heating can ignite paper towels.
- Toaster ovens – The coils and elements will quickly burn paper towels.
- Air fryers – These heat to temperatures above the combustion point of paper.
- Broilers – Under direct high heat, paper towels could catch fire.
Microwave energy interacts differently with paper towels compared to other heating methods, allowing safer usage.
There are some other factors to keep in mind when using paper towels in the microwave:
- Environmental impact – Single-use paper towels generate unnecessary waste. Reusable microwave covers are more eco-friendly.
- Potential chemical transfer – Inks and additives on paper towels could leach into foods in minor amounts.
- Microwave wattage – Higher wattages generate more heat that could be problematic for paper towels. Use care and shorten cooking times.
- Precautions if smoking occurs – If a paper towel begins to smoke in the microwave, keep the door shut, turn off the power at the breaker, and allow appliance to cool before removing. Do not handle severely charred or burning paper towels.
If a paper towel begins to smoke or ignite in the microwave:
- Immediately turn off the microwave at the breaker. Do not open the door until smoke clears.
- Allow appliance to fully cool and ventilate before wiping interior surfaces and removing any residue.
- Avoid breathing in any smoke or fumes from burnt towels.
- If flames result, have a kitchen fire extinguisher ready and follow safety protocols.
- Do not attempt to remove burning paper towels by hand.
Expert Advice and User Experiences
Microwave safety experts like those at the FDA caution that paper towels should only be used for very short durations to prevent fire risks. While convenient, they recommend using purpose-made products like plastic wrap or microwave splatter covers instead.
Among users who have successfully microwaved paper towels, best practices include limiting single use to 10-30 seconds, pre-moistening the towels, using lower power settings, and never leaving microwaving towels unattended. Most warn against overconfidence and urge extreme care.
Conclusion: Can You Put Paper Towels In The Microwave
When used with proper caution, technique, and awareness of risks, paper towels can be an effective tool for covering and cleaning up minor spills in the microwave. However, microwave-safe products designed specifically for this purpose are still the best option for convenience and safety. If opting to use paper towels, be sure to follow the guidelines for limited heating times, quantity, moisture content, and placement to prevent fire hazards. With the right approach, paper towels can be utilized in the microwave safely and effectively. But be aware of hazards like overheating, scorching, and unintended ignition, and take steps to minimize these risks.
Bobby Kelly is a bartender at Molly Magees, an Irish pub in Mountain View. He’s been working there for two years and has developed a following among the regulars. Bobby is known for his friendly demeanor and great drink specials. He loves interacting with customers and making them feel welcome. When he’s not at work, Bobby enjoys spending time with his friends and family.