Recently, I was warming up a veggie burrito in the microwave and I didn’t want to bother putting it on a plate. Because, if I did, I would’ve had to wash it after, and that seemed like too big of a hassle for just one burrito.

As I didn’t have any paper plates around, without much thought, I wrapped the burrito in a paper towel and put it in the microwave. It wasn’t until it was halfway done that a thought pop into my head — “Is this actually safe? Can the paper towel catch on fire?

So, I swiftly took my lukewarm burrito out of the microwave and went on a deep Google dive. Here’s what I found out.

Microwaving Paper

The biggest problem with putting any sort of paper in the microwave is that it can potentially catch on fire. For example, things like paper bags, boxes, and containers should absolutely never go in the microwave.

Also, if your toilet paper fell inside the bowl, please don’t try to dry in the microwave. To start, it won’t actually dry, it will contaminate your microwave, and might even cause a fire.

What’s more, I’d stay away from putting things like newspapers or any piece of paper that has ink on it. Not only will the ink bleed, but it’s also a potential fire hazard.

On the other hand, there are some types of paper that are processed in a way so that they’re safe to put in the oven or microwave. Of course, it has to be at a low temperature and in short intervals. With that said, the four types of paper you can put in your microwave are:

  • White paper towels
  • Parchment paper
  • Waxed paper
  • Paper plates or cups

Microwave-Safe Paper

Now, there are always exceptions to the rule, so even that parchment paper you bought might not be microwave-safe. The best way to determine if you can put it in the microwave is to check the labels.

If a product is microwave-safe, you’ll see one of the following two things on the packaging:

  • The words “micro” or “microwave-safe”
  • The symbol for “warm waves,” which are usually a few vertical lines

Microwaving Paper Towels

You can safely microwave paper towels, because of the way the appliance works. When you turn it on, the microwave starts vibrating water molecules at high frequencies, thus heating up your food and drinks. However, since the paper towels contain a small amount of water, they’re unlikely to catch on fire.

One thing to consider is that you should only be microwaving paper towels that are completely white. I would stay away from using those that have some color in them because it can bleed and destroy your food — just like newspapers.

Also, I’d avoid using recycled paper towels inside of your microwave. Even though it’s a long shot, some of them might contain plastic bits that can potentially melt and create a spark in your microwave.

Benefits of Putting Paper Towels in the Microwave

If you’ve ever tried to heat up pizza in the microwave (microwaving cardboard pizza boxes), you’ve probably noticed that it came out all soggy. That’s because the heat is releasing the water molecules that are inside the pizza. However, by wrapping your slice in a paper towel, you can avoid this mess and get a nice, toasty piece.

Also, if you’re heating up any liquids like soup or coffee, you can put the paper towel under your container. That way, the towel will catch any of the drops that might have slid down your bowls or cups.

Once you’re done, just take the same towel and wipe away any residue. But even if you have a mishap and a bit of coffee falls on your carpet, for example, there are a few easy ways to clean it up.

A paper towel can also help prevent a potential splashing disaster in the microwave. For example, if you’re heating up lasagna, the sauce on top might become extremely hot and start splashing. However, if you cover it with a paper towel, it will catch all of it, and you won’t have to bother with cleaning your microwave later.

Final Thoughts

There you have it — the answer to the eternal question of whether it’s safe to put paper towels in the microwave. And even though it is safe to use them, I still recommend always checking the packaging for the microwave-safe symbols.

Also, as I said, avoid using paper towels that have any color or ink on them. Not only are they worse for the environment, but they’ll also contaminate your food.

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