Microwaving paper towels is a common practice for many home cooks. Paper towels can be useful for covering food to prevent splatter, steaming foods, and more. However, there are some safety precautions to keep in mind when using paper towels in the microwave. This complete guide covers everything you need to know about microwaving paper towels.
Is It Safe to Microwave Paper Towels?
The short answer is yes, it is generally safe to microwave paper towels. Most major paper towel brands on the market are approved for use in the microwave. However, there are a few caveats:
- Do not microwave recycled paper towels. Recycled paper may contain small bits of plastic, metal, or other materials that could melt or spark when heated.
- Avoid scrunched up or tightly folded paper towels. Paper towels should be laid flat and opened up as much as possible. Folded sections can overheat and pose a fire hazard.
- Heat in short increments, checking frequently. Don’t leave paper towels unattended for long microwaving times.
- Follow any special microwaving instructions from the manufacturer. Some may recommend limits on heating times.
With those precautions in mind, most common paper towel varieties like Bounty and Viva are considered microwave-safe. Just take care when heating them.
Benefits of Microwaving Paper Towels
There are a few reasons you may want to use paper towels in the microwave:
- Prevent splatters. Laying a paper towel over a bowl or plate of food can help absorb any bubbles or splashes while heating. This keeps the inside of your microwave clean.
- Steam foods. Wet paper towels can be used to loosely wrap foods to steam them gently in the microwave. The moisture in the towel helps create steam to cook or warm the food.
- Soak up excess moisture. Paper towels can help absorb any water or grease released from foods during microwaving. Place foods like bacon or pizza on top of a paper towel.
- Provide an even heating surface. A paper towel under baked goods like muffins can prevent hot and cold spots by creating an insulating layer.
Are Any Paper Towels Unsafe for the Microwave?
Certain types of paper towels pose risks when microwaved and should be avoided. Recycled paper towels may contain tiny flecks of metal or plastic that could melt or ignite when heated.
The dyes and inks used on decorative printed paper towels could also potentially leach into food items when microwaved. And multi-ply paper towels, which are thicker and more luxe with 2-3 layers, tend to be more prone to scorching or catching fire compared to single-ply towels.
If ever unsure about the microwave safety of a certain paper towel, it’s wise to check the packaging for any warnings or guidance from the manufacturer before using it in the microwave.
When in doubt, it’s better to be safe than sorry and not microwave paper towels containing recycled materials, decorative prints, or multiple layers. Sticking to plain, single-ply paper towels is the safest bet for microwave cooking.
Microwaving Paper Towels Safety Tips
Follow these tips for safely using paper towels in the microwave:
- Lay towels flat in a single layer, not scrunched or folded.
- Heat towels in short 1-2 minute intervals, checking frequently.
- For steaming, wet towel with water and wring out excess before wrapping around food.
- Avoid letting towel touch any microwave heating element during use.
- Never leave microwaved towels unattended.
- Stop heating immediately if you see dark spots, browning, smoking or sparks.
- Check for heat before handling, as microwaved towels can get very hot.
Signs of Overheating Paper Towels
It’s important to closely monitor paper towels being microwaved and watch for any warning signs they may be overheating. Telltale signs include the microwave filling with smoke or a burning odor, the towel developing dark brown scorch marks or charring, and the alarming sight of actual flames igniting on the towel itself.
The presence of sparks could also indicate dangerous impurities in recycled paper. At the first sign of any overheating, immediately stop the microwave. Do not attempt to reach in and grab an actively burning paper towel, as this can make the fire rapidly spread once the door opens.
Having a kitchen fire extinguisher on hand is wise in case of a microwave paper towel fire emergency. Being vigilant and catching overheating quickly before flames occur is key to microwave paper towel safety.
Can You Microwave Wet Paper Towels?
Yes, wet paper towels can be microwaved safely with caution. The moisture helps the towels heat up without becoming overly dry and flammable. To microwave a wet paper towel:
- Dampen towel with water and wring out excess moisture. It should be wet but not overly dripping.
- Wrap around foods tightly to steam them. For example, wrap damp towel around a sweet potato, 2-3 tacos, or an ear of corn.
- Heat in 30 second intervals, re-wetting the towel as needed.
- Use care when unwrapping, as contents will be extremely hot.
The steam from the wet towel helps cook, heat or rehydrate foods gently in the microwave. Just don’t let towels get completely dry, which poses a fire risk.
Paper Towel Microwaving Mistakes to Avoid
Don’t make these common paper towel microwaving mistakes:
- Microwaving recycled paper towels containing unknown materials
- Leaving microwaved towels unattended for long periods
- Heating folded or scrunched paper towels
- Letting paper towels directly contact a heating element
- Not checking packages for the manufacturer’s recommendations
- Assuming decorative printed towels are automatically safe
- Microwaving paper towels along with metal objects like forks or plates
- Failing to stop heating if any burning smell or smoke occurs
Recommended Paper Towel Brands for Microwaving
Most major paper towel manufacturers state their products can be safely microwaved. Here are some top paper towel picks for microwave use:
|Very absorbent, suitable for microwave use per manufacturer
|Strong and durable when wet, unlikely to fall apart
|Single-ply towels good for steaming foods or covering dishes
|Affordable brand that performs well for microwave tasks
|Standard paper towels, avoid decorative prints
|Good value bulk brand from Costco, confirmed as microwave-safe
Be sure to inspect any paper towels before microwaving. Look for damage like tears or weakness that could cause overheating issues. It’s ideal to start with new, intact paper towels fresh from the package.
Microwave Paper Towel Recipe Ideas
Beyond covering plates or absorbing grease, paper towels can help prepare food in the microwave through steaming and reheating. Try these quick microwave paper towel recipe ideas:
- Steamed vegetables – Wrap carrots, broccoli, cauliflower or green beans in a wet paper towel and microwave in 1-2 minute increments.
- Warm tortillas – Wrap stack of 6-8 tortillas in a damp paper towel and heat for 60-90 seconds.
- Pizza resurrection – Wrap leftover pizza slices in a paper towel and heat in 30 second bursts. The towel absorbs grease.
- Soften butter – Microwave a stick of refrigerated butter loosely wrapped in a paper towel for 15-30 seconds.
- Warm desserts – Gently heat leftover cookies, brownies or other baked goods atop a paper towel lined plate.
With some creative thinking, paper towels can transform microwave cooking in helpful ways. Just adhere to safety first.
Microwaving Paper Towels FAQs
Can paper towels catch fire in the microwave?
Yes, paper towels can potentially catch fire in the microwave if they become overheated. This is more likely with recycled paper towels, folded or scrunched towels, and when heating for too long. Mitigate risks by taking precautions and monitoring closely.
Should microwave paper towels be wet or dry?
Either dry or lightly dampened paper towels can be microwaved. Dry is good for absorbing grease, damp for steaming. Avoid very soggy soaked towels as excess water can boil over. Wring out towels before use to remove excess moisture.
How long is it safe to microwave a paper towel?
As a general rule, only microwave paper towels in short 1-2 minute intervals, checking frequently in between. Do not microwave any paper product continuously for 5+ minutes, as this poses a fire hazard.
Can you reuse a microwaved paper towel?
It’s best not to reuse a paper towel after microwaving. The towel may have absorbed grease or moisture that can transfer back to other foods. Used towels are also more prone to breakage and overheating risks. Discard towels after one use.
Should microwave paper towels touch food directly?
Avoid direct contact between printed areas of paper towels and food, as ink can transfer. Blank sides of towels touching food very briefly just for heating purposes are generally safe. Don’t let food sit on microwaved paper towels for extended times.
Paper towels can absolutely be microwaved to make cooking easier. Just be sure to follow all safety precautions. Use newer, undamaged plain paper towels and avoid extended microwave times. With proper care, paper towels can be an invaluable microwave cooking tool for any home chef!