Wood has remained an integral part of human civilization for thousands of years. This versatile material has allowed us to create fire, build shelters, craft tools, and so much more. So it’s only natural to wonder – can you microwave wood?
No, you should not microwave most wooden materials due to fire risks. The exceptions are bamboo and wood skewers if soaked in water first for at least 30 minutes. Small wood pieces can be carefully microwave-dried at low power in short intervals. Aside from these limited uses, wood should be kept out of microwaves. Always check manufacturer guidelines.
Keep reading to understand why microwaving wood is dangerous, how a microwave oven works, which woods may be microwaved, and steps you can take to microwave wood safely.
How Microwave Ovens Work
To understand why microwaving most woods is a bad idea, you first need to know how a microwave oven works.
A microwave oven contains a magnetron, which is a device that generates microwaves. These electromagnetic waves are tuned to a specific frequency that causes water molecules in food to vibrate rapidly.
As the water molecules vibrate, they create friction and heat up the food. This is why microwave ovens can cook and reheat foods so quickly.
However, microwaves cannot penetrate metal surfaces. Instead, they bounce off metal and back into the oven. This can create hotspots and damage the appliance.
The Dangers of Microwaving Wood
When you put wood in the microwave, here is what happens:
- The microwaves cause the water molecules in the wood to vibrate rapidly. This quickly heats up and dries out the wood.
- As the wood heats up, pressure from steam builds up inside. Wood doesn’t have pores to release the steam and pressure gradually like food does.
- The steam has nowhere to go and the pressure builds up until the wood cracks, splinters, or explodes.
- If the wood gets hot enough, it can catch fire or char in spots. Microwaved wood may smolder and ignite even after removed from the oven.
As you can see, microwaving untreated wood is very dangerous. It can destroy your microwave at best or cause a fire at worst.
Never put these wooden materials in the microwave:
- Wood bowls, plates, or utensils
- Cutting boards
- Wooden skewers or sticks
- Furniture or other large wooden objects
- Any wood treated with metal parts or finishes
The reasons should be clear – these items pose major fire hazards or contain metal parts that can damage the microwave.
Can You Microwave Any Wood?
While microwaving natural, untreated wood is dangerous, some exceptions exist. Here are the types of wood that are generally safe to microwave:
Bamboo skewers – You can microwave these if you soak them in water first for at least 10 minutes. The water prevents scorching or combustion.
Wooden skewers – Like bamboo, wooden skewers should be soaked before microwaving. Soaking them for 30 minutes or more is ideal.
Paper plates or boxes – Disposable paper products lined with wax or plastic can be microwaved safely. The coatings prevent moisture loss and overheating.
Wood pulp food containers – Molded fiber bowls made from wood pulp can go in the microwave but may get very hot. Use care when handling them.
Chopsticks or wood stirrers – These are fine for brief microwave use if needed when cooking. Just don’t leave them in too long.
Popsicle sticks or wood stakes – Soaking these in water first helps them withstand microwave energy.
Beyond the items above, most other wood products should be kept out of the microwave entirely. Playing it safe is wise, given the fire risks.
How to Microwave Wooden Skewers Safely
If you want to microwave bamboo or wooden skewers, follow these steps for safety:
- Prepare a bowl or dish with water. Use enough water to completely submerge the skewers.
- Soak the skewers in the water for at least 30 minutes before microwaving. Longer soaking times are ideal.
- Remove the skewers from the water and shake off excess liquid.
- Place food on the skewers as desired. Leave at least 1-inch between food pieces to allow steam circulation.
- Set your microwave to 50% power or the “Defrost” setting initially. This prevents overheating.
- Microwave the skewers in short, 30-second bursts. Rotate them and check for doneness.
- Repeat the short 30-second cycles until the food is cooked through.
- Use potholders or mitts when removing. Wood may still be very hot after microwaving.
- Do not leave skewers unattended. Stay nearby to watch for problems and stop the oven immediately if you see sparks.
Following these precautions reduces risks when microwaving wood skewers. Never microwave them more than necessary to cook foods. Avoid wood in microwaves whenever possible.
Signs of Problems Microwaving Wood
While bamboo and wood skewers are generally safe if prepped properly, always watch for these warning signs of trouble:
- Smoke or steam coming from the wood
- Strong burning smell
- Wood darkening, blackening, or charring
- Cracking or splintering sounds
- Wood deforming or warping
- Bubbling, melting, or scorching on food
- Sparks inside the microwave
If you see any of these issues arise, stop the microwave immediately. Damage to the appliance or fire can occur rapidly once wood overheats. Never leave wood unattended while microwaving.
Best Microwave-Safe Materials
Since most wood is risky, what should you use instead in the microwave? Here are the top microwave-safe materials:
|Glass||Tempered glass cookware is microwave-safe|
|Ceramics||Look for microwave-safe labeling|
|Plastics||Use only BPA-free, microwave-safe plastics|
|Paper||Use non-recycled and products marked “microwave-safe”|
|Silicone||Ensure product is pure, food-grade silicone|
Avoid any materials with metallic paints or components. Never use metal cookware in the microwave, as it can damage the oven.
When in doubt if something is microwave-safe, check the manufacturer’s instructions or don’t use it. Microwave-safe cookware will be clearly labeled.
Microwave Wood Drying
While you should never microwave dishes, furniture or other large wood pieces, you can carefully microwave smaller wood pieces to dry them rapidly. This is a technique used by woodworkers, crafters, and hobbyists.
Steps for Microwave Wood Drying:
- Cut wood into small, thin pieces or shavings. Keep each piece under 3 inches maximum.
- Spread wood pieces in a microwave-safe container in a single layer. Do not stack.
- Start at 10% power for 1 minute intervals, increasing power and time if needed.
- Allow wood to rest between cycles to prevent overheating and combustion.
- Check wood and stop once fully dried. Smaller pieces may only need 2-3 low power cycles.
- Handle dried wood carefully. It can become brittle after microwaving.
Never leave wood unattended during the drying process. Stop if you see smoke, charring, or sparks. Microwave drying works best for small wood quantities needing a quick moisture reduction.
Microwaving Wood – The Verdict
Overall, microwaving most wooden materials carries major safety risks and is not recommended. The exceptions are bamboo and wood skewers as long as proper precautions are taken.
If you need to quickly dry small wood pieces, microwave drying can work with care. Aside from these applications, keep wood out of your microwave oven.
Follow the microwave-safe guidelines for dishes, containers and utensils. When in doubt, don’t put wood products in the microwave. Using microwave-approved materials will keep your meals and oven safe.
Additional Wood Microwaving Safety Tips
If you plan to carefully microwave certain wood products as described above, keep these extra safety tips in mind:
- Never leave wood unattended in the microwave, even for a minute. Stay nearby in case of overheating issues.
- Immediately stop the microwave if you smell smoke or burning wood. Charred wood can catch fire rapidly.
- Allow microwaved wood to cool fully before disposal. Never leave recently microwaved wooden items near combustibles.
- Check that bamboo or wood skewers do not have any metal tips before microwaving. Metal can damage the appliance.
- Use potholders to handle wood after microwaving. Wood can retain heat and may burn hands even if the food atop it is cool.
- Avoid microwaving any wood pieces with bark attached, as bark may contain flammable resins or oils. Debark wood first.
- Turn wood pieces often during microwave drying for even heating. Clustering wood pieces can trap heat and scorch.
- Never try to speed up the process by using higher power levels. Start on defrost or 10% power only.
- Stop microwaving wood if you see arcing or sparks inside the oven. This signals immediate danger.
Exercising extreme care is necessary if microwaving approved wood materials. Always put safety first and discontinue use if you observe any problematic signs.