Can You Microwave Paper? The Different Kinds

When doing tasks around the house, it is always important to know if what you are doing is safe, especially in the kitchen. So, can you microwave paper?

Paper is usually microwave safe as long as it lies flat against a surface. Typically, paper towels, plates, and bowls are designed to be safe for microwave use. Paper that has a low heat tolerance or that has ink or chemicals on it can not be microwaved.

Whether the paper is safe or not in the microwave depends on what type of paper it is, if it is “clean” (no ink or chemicals), and the condition that it is in (fresh and smooth or crumpled/ balled up). Read below to find out what the safety guidelines are and what paper materials you can and can not use.

Typically Microwave-Safe Paper (with Warnings)

As you can imagine, any paper items that specifically say they are microwave safe are going to be ok to use in the microwave.

Paper towels, plates, and bowls are typically made to be microwavable. Wax paper and parchment paper are also made to withstand the heat of the microwave, making them safe to use in them.

Paper Towels

Paper towels are absolutely microwavable! They are super handy to use in the microwave as a covering for food or even to put underneath food to absorb moisture. However, there are some limitations to using them that will be discussed later.

Paper Plates

The only reasons that paper plates might not be safe to be heated up are if it is made of substances that absorb the microwaves or if it is made of materials that are not safe for food to be in contact with when microwaved.

These would cause it to be unsafe because if the plate is absorbing the microwaves, it is going to heat up just as much as your food does. This can cause the plate to be too hot to touch or become warped. I definitely know this to be true because as a kid I had a sad experience with this. I had heated up my food on a paper plate in the microwave and when I took it out, the plate had heated up too much and was limp. The food fell straight onto the ground and the plate was as flimsy as a paper towel. That was mainly an issue of quality and density of the plate.

So, while paper plates are usually microwave-safe, there are some factors that could make them unsafe or just not the best option. However, most paper plates are in fact safe to put in the microwave, and to prevent the problem of a plate turning flimsy after being microwaved, invest in a good quality package of paper plates or use two at a time.

Parchment Paper

One thing to take into consideration when microwaving parchment paper is that it can heat up drastically after it’s been microwaved, so it is important to be very cautious when removing it and maybe use oven mittens.

The second thing to consider when heating up parchment paper is that if you are microwaving fatty foods like a burger or bacon, it has the potential to heat the paper up beyond its threshold. Parchment paper has a threshold of 420 degrees Fahrenheit, and while most food will never reach this temperature, fat can heat up to well above that temperature. This means that it would begin to smoke and burn, which is dangerous.

If you are just trying to reheat fatty food on parchment paper, it is ok to do so in small increments and under very careful watch so as to not overheat it. However, if you are trying to cook fatty food in the microwave, do not use parchment paper.

Dixie and Solo Paper Cups

Both these brands of paper cups are somewhat an exception to the paper cup “rule”. While the cup itself is safe to use in the microwave, depending on what is inside of it and how long you are heating it, you need to be wary while doing so. Similar to other paper cups, if these paper cups are heated too high or too long, the cups can break down, causing a spill and potentially a fire. Another potential issue with using these cups is that if you are heating a liquid, it is possible that the cup will get really hot but the liquid won’t be heated evenly through.

How well these cups work for heating up food or liquid depends on the microwave. So, it is possible to use the cup with no problem, but you will need to experiment with both the settings on the microwave and how long you microwave the item.

What Paper Objects Can’t be Microwaved?

Some paper plates or bowls have a thin coating of plastic on them, so make sure that your paper plate or bowl is microwave-safe before using or buying it.

Recycled paper towels and paper lids should not be microwaved, as they can pose a hazard. Paper that has ink on it is also unsafe to put in the microwave because it will leak ink onto whatever you are cooking. An example of this is a newspaper.

Paper Bags

Brown paper bags are also unsafe to put in the microwave because the heat of the microwave is beyond the threshold of heat that they can withstand. It is likely that the paper bag in the microwave would catch on fire, it is also possible that the bag would let off toxic fumes.

Restaurant Food Packaging

Another paper material that is not okay to microwave is most of the paper packaging for burgers from restaurants. This might be surprising to you, but the reasoning behind it is that things like McDonald’s burger wrappers are covered in a chemical compound called PFCs that are resistant to grease. This serves the purpose of creating a good presentation, the packaging doesn’t look or get greasy from the food.

In the microwave, these PFCs would melt off of the packaging and onto your food, and it is not clear how safe it is for a person to ingest but it is implied that it is not safe. For this reason, it is recommended that you don’t microwave the material at all, but if you choose to do so, you should not microwave it for more than 30 seconds at a time.

Paper Cups

If you have ever gone to a coffee shop and received your hot beverage and found that it was cold by the time you got home to drink it, I am sure you understand the feeling of wanting to pop it in the microwave to heat it back up. However, this is unsafe and should not be done.

In addition to burger wrappers, another food and beverage container that does surprisingly not microwave safe is most “hot” cups. This includes coffee and soup cups, or other cups designed to hold hot liquids. The reasoning behind it is that they are designed to hold hot foods and drinks in, but they are not made to withstand the external heat of the microwave. The glue holding the seams of the cup together will break down causing the paper cup itself to start to fall apart.

The best case scenario is that just the glue at the seams will loosen or break, causing the liquid inside to begin to leak a little bit. However, the worst-case scenario is that the cup will catch on fire and you will have a spill to clean up as well.

Regular Printer Paper

Normal paper has a moisture content of about 8%, and a microwave would cause it to dry out to a percentage of about 1 or 2%. This gives it a high chance of catching on fire.

However, if you are trying to dry out paper that is wet or damp like a notebook that has been damaged by water, it is okay to microwave it under very delicate care. You have to be super cautious with this even though it is wet because it still poses a fire hazard.

Another issue that may present itself is if the book or paper has ink on it. This can release toxic chemicals into the air. So, if you are trying to dry out paper using heat, it might be better to use something like a hair dryer rather than a microwave.

What to Do

A good rule of thumb is that if you know that the paper kitchenware you are purchasing will be microwaved, double-check that it is microwave safe. It is likely that you’ll want to do this before purchasing the items to avoid having to go back to the store or having to use your own dinnerware.

You can do this by looking at the back or bottom of the packaging to check for a microwave-safe symbol or label. If you can’t tell if it is safe or not, it is suggested that you try to find another option that clearly states that it is safe to microwave.

It is recommended that instead of microwaving paper packaging from a restaurant (specifically a burger) you should use a fresh paper towel. This will reduce the chance of the sandwich getting soggy and eliminate the risk of toxic chemicals leaking onto your food.

If you really wanted to reheat your coffee and were disappointed when I stated that you can not do so, fret not. The only reason that it is unsafe is that the cup will deteriorate, as your coffee itself is totally fine to be reheated. That being said, all you have to do is pour the beverage into a glass or plastic cup that is safe to use, and you’ll be good to go! If you want to use that specific paper cup, it is totally okay to pour the drink back into the cup after it’s been heated up. Although it seems like a hassle, you will avoid a mess and possible fire.

What Not to Do

A person should never layer or crunch up paper and then place it in the microwave. While paper that lies flat could be totally fine to put in the microwave, that same piece of paper crumpled up could cause a fire to start. This concept also applies to microwave-safe paper, under no circumstances is it ok to use crumpled-up paper because of how high the fire risk is.

You should not put any paper material, microwave safe or not, that has ink on it in the microwave. This poses a potential safety hazard.

While paper towels are microwave-safe, if they are heated for more than a few consecutive minutes, there is a risk that they will catch on fire. That being said, do not use a paper towel in the microwave for more than 2 minutes at a time. It is also suggested that you do not fold the paper towel in half or stack several of them on each other because the layering of the paper poses a fire hazard.

Summary

Most paper towels, plates, and bowls are microwave-safe, but just in case, check the packaging for a microwave-safe label. Most paper cups are not safe to be microwaved, but Dixie and Solo make cups that are microwave safe (I’m sure some other brands make them too). However, the efficiency and safety of these cups do have limits and variations based on the microwave.

No paper that is crumpled up, layered, recycled, or has ink/printing on it is safe to use in the microwave. Paper bags and paper packaging used for restaurant food also should not be heated up in the microwave. Each of these items poses a fire hazard if put in a microwave.

One type of paper that can be both safe and dangerous to put in a microwave is regular printer or book paper. It is dangerous if it is dry, but if it’s wet, it can potentially be safe if you keep an eye on it and only microwave it in short time increments. However, it is suggested that if you are trying to dry paper off, you should use a different method.

Misusing paper objects in the microwave can result in fires, spills of food or beverages, and chemicals or germs contaminating food.