Paper towels are one of the most popular household items. They are handy for a number of reasons, from cleaning spills to wiping down surfaces with ease.
It’s a common practice to put paper towels over your food before microwaving. The ultimate goal is to keep your food from drying out and keep those messy drips off of microwave walls. But is it really safe to put a paper towel in the microwave?
Can You Microwave Paper Towels?
Most paper towels are safe to put in the microwave, but be sure to check the package for any warnings or instructions. You can use paper towels to protect food while cooking or heating it in the microwave.
If you do decide to put a paper towel over your food before microwaving, be sure to keep the intervals short. Avoid leaving the paper towel in for too long, or the material can catch fire and create a dangerous situation.
You may be concerned about using paper towels because they are created with wood pulp and bleach. But, microwaves work by causing water molecules to rotate rapidly inside of food. This movement creates energy that heats up the food or liquid.
However, since paper towels are not high in water to begin with, they are less likely to heat up enough to cause damage providing they aren’t left in the microwave for too long.
And yes, there are safety rules and guidelines that must be followed when microwaving paper towels, the USDA specifically recommends using only plain white paper towels and avoid printed designs and “decorative” patterns.
These non-white paper towels may have metallic inks or dyes that can melt and cause an issue when microwaving. Also, stay away from recycled paper towels and brown paper bags. (1)
Common sense dictates that putting any sort of paper in a microwave oven can run the risk of starting a fire. That said, some paper products have been engineered in such a way that it is safe to microwave them. Of course, it has to be at a low temperature for a short period of time.
Here are four types of paper that are an exception to this rule:
- White paper towel
- Parchment paper
- Wax paper
- Paper plates or cups
All of them have been engineered so that all the fibers in the product can withstand exposure to a low amount of heat, meaning you can safely nuke them for a few minutes on a low power without any issue.
Be careful when laying out a paper towel in the microwave. A flat paper towel is less likely to catch fire than a wadded-up one.
Benefits of Putting Paper Towels in the Microwave
Here are some benefits of using paper towels when heating up food in the microwave:
1. Keep Your Food from Drying Out
When heating up food in the microwave, it’s easy for the food to dry up quickly. This is because the heat produced by microwaves releases water molecules from the food. By covering your food with a paper towel, you’ll retain more moisture in your food and keep it hotter for longer.
2. Stop or Catch Splatters
If you’re heating food that may splatter or spill when it’s heated, such as soup or pasta, a paper towel can be used to splatters from getting all over your microwave. Simply place the paper towel under the container or on top of the food to catch any spills or splatters.
3. Protect the Microwave Turntables
You can protect the turntables inside your microwave by placing a paper towel between the container and the turntable.
This is especially important if you are using containers that have sharp or rough edges, such as glass or ceramic containers. By covering the turntable with paper towels, you’ll be able to protect it from being scratched or damaged.
What Else Can I Use to Cover My Food in the Microwave?
If you are not fond of using paper towels, you have several alternatives:
The most important thing is to check the package for a microwave-safe label or logo. If the product is not clearly marked as being safe for the microwave, it’s better to look for other products that are clearly marked as “microwave safe.”
Things You Should Not Microwave with
Some products can be dangerous and harmful when exposed to microwaves. All of the items in the following list, which are taken from the USDA guidelines, should never be microwaved:
- Metal pans
- Chinese take-out containers with metal handles
- Plastic containers such as yogurt and cottage cheese containers
- Brown paper bags
- Foam-insulated containers
Check out the full list from the USDA here.
Keep in mind that this list comes from an official source, so its validity and usefulness should not be questioned. If you’re unsure whether or not you can microwave certain items, you can always refer to the list above.
4 Ways to Use Paper Towels in the Microwave
This list shows the four ways that you can use paper towels in a microwave:
- Cover your food to prevent splattering
- Lay paper towels under the food you’re microwaving to catch any spills, splatters, or spills
- Place a moist paper towel for food that is quick to dry out, such as pasta
- Cover your microwave turntables to protect them from scratching or damage
Tips to Safely Microwave Paper Towels
Here are some helpful tips to follow when microwaving paper towels:
1. Lie the paper towel flat in the microwave
Don’t fold or scrunch the paper towel while you’re microwaving it, as this can cause it to smolder and eventually ignite and catch fire.
2. Microwave in Short Spurts
As paper towels can build up heat and smoke really quickly, the best practice is to microwave your paper towels for short spurts. By allowing the paper towels to cool down in between microwave sessions, you’ll reduce the risk that the heat and smoke will ignite and catch fire.
Microwave for 1 – 2 minutes, stop and let it stand for 30 seconds before microwaving again.
3. Paper Towel Should Only Be Heated with Food
Paper towels should only be placed in the microwave when they have food on them. Without food, there is nothing to absorb the microwave energy, and this can cause the paper towels to ignite and catch fire.
4. Always Verify That the Paper Towel Has a Microwave Safe Label
A quick checkup can save you a lot of trouble and pain. If you’re not sure that a paper towel is safe for the microwave, always check if it has a microwave-safe label.
5. Avoid Non-Microwave-Safe Paper Products
Some types of paper towels are not safe for the microwave. Paper towels such as recycled paper towels, newspapers, or brown paper bags, introduce a fire hazard to your microwave. These products should never be microwaved with, and you should avoid using them in your microwave at all costs.
If you’re not sure which one of your paper products is suitable for the microwave, check the list from the USDA above.
6. Wet the Paper Towel to Promote Even Cooking
When microwaving paper towels, you can promote even cooking and retain moisture by wetting the paper towel.
7. Do Not Use More Than One Paper Towel
Using more than one paper towel is not advised. If you layer more than one paper towel on top of each other, the heat will be trapped, and this can cause the paper towels to ignite and catch fire.
If you need something heavier than a single paper towel, use a more solid microwavable cover instead, such as paper plates or Tupperware lids.
8. Watch It Closely
One last important tip is to keep a close eye on your paper towels while you’re microwaving them. Never leave the microwave unattended, and be sure to monitor the paper towels frequently. As soon as you notice smoke or smell something burning, shut the microwave off immediately.
1. Can Paper Towels Catch on Fire In the Microwave?
The short answer to this question is yes, paper towels can catch on fire in the microwave if you overheat them. Paper ignites if heated to 480ºF, and microwave ovens can reach this temperature in just a few minutes, so you should always exercise caution and common sense while microwaving them.