Using paper towels in the microwave is a common practice. Many people put a paper towel over or under food to prevent splattering or to soak up excess moisture. But is this actually safe?
Can paper towels catch fire or release toxic chemicals when microwaved? The short answer is yes, paper towels are generally safe to use in the microwave, but there are some precautions you should take.
Is It Safe to Microwave Paper Towels?
Most paper towels are safe to microwave, but you do need to take some basic safety precautions.
The main things to keep in mind are:
- Use plain white paper towels, not printed or colored ones
- Don’t use recycled paper towels
- Use only one layer of towel, no stacking
- Keep the towel flat, not crumpled or folded
- Microwave in short intervals and check frequently
As long as you follow these guidelines, paper towels are generally recognized as microwave-safe. However, it’s always a good idea to verify with the manufacturer of your specific brand of towel if you have any doubts.
Can a Paper Towel in Microwave Catch Fire?
Yes, there is a small risk that a paper towel could ignite when microwaved. However, this risk is minimal if proper precautions are taken.
Here’s why paper towels can potentially catch fire:
- Paper is flammable at high temperatures
- Microwaves heat by energizing water molecules, which dry out paper
- Folded paper traps heat and accelerates warming
To prevent paper towel fires:
- Use 1-2 layers max
- Keep towels flat, not scrunched
- Microwave in short intervals, 2 mins max
- Check frequently while microwaving
With basic safety measures, the chance of a paper towel fire is extremely low. But microwaves vary in power, so monitor closely the first few times you try it.
Why Put a Paper Towel in the Microwave?
There are a few good reasons to use paper towels when microwaving food:
Moisture absorption – Placing a paper towel under food can soak up fat/juices and prevent splatter. This keeps the interior clean.
Prevent sticking – A paper towel lining the turntable or placed under food helps prevent sticking. No more baked-on food residues.
Steam venting – Paper towels allow steam to vent away from food. This prevents sogginess and helps food retain texture.
Microwave sanitizing – Wet paper towels can actually sanitize surfaces when microwaved. It saves having to scrub as much.
Taste transfer prevention – A paper towel barrier prevents food tastes from being transferred onto other foods.
Tips for Microwaving Paper Towels Safely
Microwaving paper towels is generally safe, but you should take the following precautions:
- Use microwave-safe paper towels – Verify that your brand is designed for microwave use.
- Keep towels flat – Do not wad or crumple, which can trap heat. Lay towels flat.
- Microwave in intervals – Microwave for 1-2 minutes max, then check on the paper towels before continuing.
- Watch closely – Check frequently to ensure no smoking or burning occurs. Stop immediately if it does.
- No metal contact – Keep paper towels away from any metal in the microwave, including walls.
- Don’t overload – Use only 1 or 2 paper towel layers. More can hold excess heat.
- Use shorter cook times – For small items, start with just 15-30 seconds of microwaving time.
Following these tips will help ensure safe paper towel use. Be vigilant and stop microwaving immediately at any sign of smoke or sparks. It’s better to be safe than cause a fire!
Are There Any Drawbacks to Microwaving Paper Towels?
While generally safe, there are a couple potential drawbacks to using paper towels in the microwave:
- Fire risk – If misused, paper towels can potentially ignite or cause sparks in the microwave. Proper usage is required.
- Messiness – Paper towels can get soggy and leave behind lint or debris. Not ideal for all applications.
- Uneven heating – A paper towel layer can impede direct microwave heating in some instances.
- Transfer of chemicals – Inks and coatings may theoretically leach chemicals onto food in some cases.
However, these risks are avoidable with proper microwave techniques. When used correctly, paper towels offer more benefits than drawbacks for most quick microwave cooking tasks.
Alternatives to Paper Towels for Microwave Use
If you are concerned about microwaving paper towels, there are a few good alternatives:
- Parchment paper
- Wax paper
- Paper plates
- Ceramic plates
- Glass plates
- Microwave plastic wrap
- Flat glass/ceramic lids
- Inverted bowls
- Silicone covers
The key is to use products labeled as microwave-safe. Items like parchment paper, wax paper, and paper plates provide a disposable barrier layer similar to paper towels. Reusable dishes also work well, along with silicone covers.
Microwave-Safe Paper Towels
When selecting paper towels for microwave use, look for ones specifically labeled as microwave-safe. Here are some good options that are widely available:
Bounty – Most Bounty paper towels are marked as microwave-safe on the packaging. Avoid recycled Bounty paper towels.
Viva – Viva paper towels are designed to be durable enough for microwave use. They resist tearing when wet.
Scott – Plain white Scott paper towels are frequently marked as safe for microwave use. Avoid printed Scott towels.
Brawny – Many Brawny paper towel varieties note microwave-safe use on their packaging.
Sparkle – Sparkle paper towels are often marketed as microwave-safe on the roll’s packaging.
For any brand, look for the microwave-safe symbol or notation on the packaging to verify. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer directly. Never microwave paper towels unless you are certain they are designed for it.
Key Takeaway: Most major brands of plain white paper towels are safe for microwave use. But always check labels to be sure, and take basic safety precautions.
Can you microwave Bounty paper towels?
Yes, original Bounty paper towels are marked as microwave-safe. Avoid recycled Bounty paper towels.
How long can you microwave a paper towel?
Microwave paper towels in 1-2 minute intervals, checking frequently. Do not microwave a lone paper towel for more than 2 minutes total.
Can you microwave a wet paper towel?
Yes, damp paper towels are safe to microwave. The moisture helps prevent them from drying out and catching fire. Wring out excess water before microwaving.
Should paper towel touch food in the microwave?
It’s best not to let paper towels directly contact food during extended microwaving. Allow space for steam ventilation.
Can you reuse microwaved paper towels?
It’s not recommended. Discard paper towels after microwaving, as they likely absorbed food residues and moisture.
Can you microwave printed paper towels?
It’s safest to only microwave plain white paper towels. Printed inks and dyes may contain chemicals unsafe for microwaving.
Microwaving paper towels is generally recognized as safe, with some reasonable precautions.
With proper usage, paper towels offer benefits like moisture absorption and steam venting. Alternatives like parchment paper also work well.