Can You Microwave Paper?

Paper plates are a convenient hack when reheating your leftover food.

But do you understand the dos and don’ts of putting paper in the microwave?

Can you microwave paper? Read through our short article to understand what happens when you microwave paper and the safety measures to observe.

Can You Use Paper In The Microwave?

The answer is relative (yes and no) depending on various factors. See the examples below:

  • The kind/ quality of paper

Plain paper bags are considered microwave safe but always confirm they have a microwave-safe label.

Newspapers contain ink prints that are microwave unfit hence the ink will melt when exposed to heat and contaminate the food.

Brown bags too are microwave unsafe since they emit harmful fumes when exposed to heat. Also, these paper bags cannot withstand high heat.

  • The intended use of the paper

Paper towels are deemed safe for microwave use since they are used to absorb moisture from the food hence preventing fire.

However, ink-printed paper towels, paper lids, or recycled paper towels are a safety hazard and should not be used in the microwave.

Besides covering food when heating, paper towels can also be placed underneath microwave-safe dishes and cups to absorb spillovers. This keeps the microwave clean.

  • The thickness of the paper

Thin papers tend to catch fire easily compared to thick ones. You are therefore advised to use thick papers in the microwave.

Newspapers, toilet papers, and sanitary napkins are thin and cannot withstand high heat hence not fit for microwave use.

Paper cups and plates are thick and can stand high temperatures hence microwave-safe. They are as efficient as microwave ceramics.

  • The exposure time intended

The recommended microwave time for a paper is 5 minutes. Long hours of exposure lead to overheating which could result in fire.

  • The heating temperatures

Paper towels have a moisture content of around 8% and if heated under high temperatures it is likely to run dry and cause a fire. The recommended maximum heating temperature for all paper is 176° C with a few exceptions.

  • Amount of caution applied

Never overlook any safety tips when using paper in the microwave. Always check the temperature settings and the time on the microwave.

You are therefore advised to proceed with caution and apply common sense before throwing a paper in the microwave.

You can therefore microwave a thick microwave-safe paper for 30 seconds at 176° C provided you observe all the other obvious rules.

Is It Safe To Microwave Paper?

There are two major safety concerns when heating paper in the microwave and their possible solutions:

1. Chemical cross contamination

You are advised to use a plain paper towel or bag with a microwave-safe label on it because ink-printed paper towels and bags with glue are likely to leach harmful chemical compounds into the food.

A good example of microwave-unsafe paper is the McDonald’s burger wrapper which contains a grease-resistant lining. The lining melts when subjected to heat leaching the harmful BPA chemicals into the food.

Also, make sure you use single-use disposable paper when heating food in the microwave.

However, it is still believed that even plain paper towels contain toxins from the bleaching process hence not 100% safe for your health.

It is recommended that you use safer ceramic when available.

2. Fire

Sturdy paper towels are deemed strong and heat resistant and hence can withstand high microwave heat.

Thick paper towels tend to absorb microwaves without catching fire.

However, thin, single-layered paper towels are not recommended since they dry up fast when exposed to heat and can easily catch fire.

Also, thin towels tend to soak up soils and moisture from the food making them vulnerable to fire.

Whether microwave safe or not, all paper should be heated for a maximum of 5 mins under reasonable temperatures (check your user annual to see the recommended temperature for heating paper)

These are the instances when a paper towel is likely to catch fire if put in the microwave:

  • If you leave the microwave running for a long time. It will become dry and flammable.
  • If you stack more than four sheets of paper in the microwave. Stacked paper towels tend to accumulate heat easily exposing them to fire.
  • If the paper has a metal lining. Most metals are microwave-safe because they are good conductors of electricity.
  • If you scrunch up the paper wrapper it tends to heat up and catch fire easily.

How To Microwave Paper Safely

Reheating food in the microwave using a paper wrapper is easy. Just do the following:

1)  Put your leftover food on a microwave-safe plain paper plate preferably parchment paper (Must be thick)

2)  Cover the food with a microwave-safe paper napkin.

3)  Set your microwave timer to 30 seconds and adjust the heat to 176°C.

4)  Wait for the microwave to run and automatically go off.

5)  Use your oven gloves to remove the paper plate from the microwave.

6)  Make sure to dispose of the paper plate immediately after you are done. Never reuse an already microwaved paper plate.

What Happens When You Microwave Paper?

Nothing happens when you microwave any paper up to 100 °C while lying flat. It does not catch fire.

However, scrunched-up papers tend to accumulate heat enough to cause a fire.

Do not scrunch up McDonald’s take-out paper in the name of sealing and still microwave it in the same condition. It will catch fire!

However, the small fire goes off immediately after the microwave is switched off.

How Long Can You Microwave Paper?

There is no set time for microwaving paper. However, the standard time for microwaving food is usually 30 seconds.

If you insist on microwaving food in ordinary microwave-safe plain paper for a long time, do it for 5 minutes but monitor the process at intervals.

Parchment and wax papers are designed for oven use since they are sturdy and can withstand high heat. These papers can be microwaved for up to 45 minutes.

Some oven papers are coated with a special kind of wax that heats without catching fire making them ideal for baking and microwave use.

Tips To Microwave Paper Safely

The following tips will guarantee your safety when microwaving paper:

  • Always check if the paper contains a microwave-safe symbol. Three bold wavy lines on the paper indicate they are microwave-safe.
  • If you are not sure if the paper is microwave-safe or not, transfer the food contents into a microwave dish or cup. Never take chances.
  • Adjust your microwave to the 50% power level and set the temperatures at 176° C. This will minimize the risk of fire
  • Always use single-use disposable paperware to heat food in the microwave. Recycling degrades the paper making them leach toxins easily.
  • Maintain the heating time at 30 seconds or heat at intervals if you wish to extend it. The less time, the safer the exercise.
  • Always make sure that the paperware is sturdy (thick) enough to withstand pressure from high microwave heat.
  • Plain paper towels are recommended for covering food since the printed ones contain poisonous ink that could soak in food.
  • Avoid heating greasy /oily foods on thin paper plates because the oils will soak in the paper making it flammable.
  • Use gloves to remove the microwaved paperware from the microwave. Let the paper container rest for a few minutes to cool.

Overall caution must be observed throughout the heating process to avoid unnecessary accidents.

To Wrap It Up

Microwaving paper is doable but not recommended; it comes with a lot of reservations.

The process requires absolute caution since it raises two major safety concerns. It can lead to food contamination or cause a fire.

Microwaving paper can’t be wholly condemned because it can still be done safely if the above tips are followed.

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