Can You Microwave Paper Plates?

There are materials microwaves do not like. It is not encouraged you test this statement, but metal will become superheated in a microwave after a short time, and then explode after anything longer than a short time. So, clearly, you have to exercise a little bit of caution in what you put into a microwave. But what about paper plates?

Paper plates can be microwaved, but you must be sure they are microwave safe. Some brands of paper plates and bowls, such as Dixie plates and bowls, will have a layer of plastic over them to help keep them rigid and non-stick. This plastic can get superheated just like metal and melt as a result.

How likely is this to ever happen though? Well, some of the most common brands of disposable utensils use layers of plastic in this manner. That means that it comes up a lot, but it is not always dangerous. This is because there is microwave-safe paper plates and bowls made in this same way.

In short, just be sure to check and make sure your utensils are microwave safe, even if it seems like they are.

What Can’t You Put Into The Microwave?

The most common mistake people make when microwaving food is leaving their forks and spoons in or on their plates and bowls while their food microwaves. This results in the most baffling results, as suddenly the microwaved metal catches fire and probably destroys the microwave (and the food) in the process.

But why is this? Why is any of this? How have humans not made a microwave yet that can discriminate between heating food and heating metal? Well, there actually is such an invention, and it is called an oven. The problem with ovens is that they will just light a paper plate on fire.

The reason metal reacts poorly in the microwave is because microwaves heat things by way of microwave radiation. Microwave radiation is a lot more efficient than an oven for heating things up. This is why reheating things in the microwave can take 1/10th the amount of time it takes to reheat things in the oven.

But this advantage is also a problem. As anyone who has ever cooked, been outside, or driven a car can tell you, metal heats up to hotter temperatures than things that are not metal. This is because metal is more conductive. Metal can contain and pass on more heat than your average material.

This applies to metal cutlery in a microwave as well. But whereas an oven can only heat up a metal so much (the metal will become too hot to touch, but not much worse than that) a microwave will keep heating and heating and heating and heating the metal until it combusts.

Pop quiz hotshot: What is the combustion point of a zinc spoon? The answer: 680 degrees Fahrenheit. That means that when your (zinc) spoon explodes in your bowl of oatmeal, it is doing so at a higher heat than a bullet that was just fired out of a .44 magnum.

So, in short, make sure you do not leave silverware in the microwave. And do not put tin foil or any other metal in the microwave either, as that will explode as well.

Will Microwaving A Paper Plate Make The Food On It Worse?

This is a blessedly lower stakes question. This concern will probably jump to the forefront of your mind if you have ever made any food in the microwave that includes wrapping a paper towel around it as part of its cooking process. Usually, this results in the paper towel turning into a soggy mess.

And indeed, a very similar thing will happen to your paper plate. Paper plates are a good surface for the food when it sits in the freezer, but they are so absorbent that any and all water that gets vented from your food will go right into the plate. This “venting” of water happens because, like metal, water conducts thermal energy.

When the thermal energy of the microwave radiation passes through the water, the water heats up and separates out from any other molecules it is bonded to. Much like oil separating from water, molecules at different temperatures tend to separate out if they cannot bond together at that level of activity.

Paper and water can bond together at that temperature, however. This means that the paper is going to get very soggy very quickly. You will probably want to empty your food into a dish to eat it due to this.

Will Microwaving A Paper Plate Affect The Food On It?

This is a common concern, but the short answer is no.

The reason people think this is because a great many food containers actually do break down at high temperatures. If you have ever heard people advise against drinking out of a warm water bottle, it is because water bottles break down at high temperatures and begin to mix their ingredients into the water inside.

This does not happen with paper as, simply put, the paper does not break down in the same way, at the same temperatures, or into damaging chemicals. As stated previously, the water in your food is more likely to mix with the paper, as compared to the paper mixing with the food.

The best way to think of this is thusly: If paper were to break down and mix with the food, it would happen in such an obvious way that not only would you immediately know about it, but it would become difficult to eat the food. The most likely situation is that the paper would completely fall apart.

Sure, it would “mix” with the food in a way that would make the food bad to eat. But unlike the water bottle example, this would not be a secret. It would be obvious and make it hard for you to even pick up the food.

In Conclusion

Paper plates will not explode in the microwave like metal and plastic will, just be sure there is no plastic coating to the paper plates. And if there is, check to make sure it is microwave safe. And of course, never feel silly for taking precautions. “Does paper explode?” is only an odd question if it doesn’t explode.