Microwaving paper towels: Rules, tips and safety

Paper towels are a super useful item to have around a modern kitchen. From wiping up your three-year-old’s spills and covering things in the microwave, almost everyone uses them.

In this post we’re going to answer all of your questions about microwaving paper towels.

Can you microwave paper towels? Yes, paper towels can be microwaved. Manufacturers suggest using paper towels to prevent food from splattering or to absorb grease. Always place the blank side of a printed paper towel up. Never microwave a large stack of paper towels as you may cause a fire.

There are definitely some important things to know about using paper towels in microwaves.

For instance, there is a way to catch your paper towels on fire if you do this with them.

Read on to find out how you can prevent this.

Is it safe to cover food with paper towels in microwave?

In general, yes it is safe to cover your food in the microwave with a paper towel.

The USDA does state to use white microwave-safe paper towels though.

In fact, something breathable and thin material, that does not create a sealed container is what should be used in microwaves to cover food and prevent splattering.

Tightly sealed containers can cause dangerous situations with hot food products and high pressures. Never microwave a sealed container.

9 rules of paper towels in microwaves

  1. Never crumple or ball a paper towel in a microwave
  2. Check the paper towel for foreign objects (such as metal) before microwaving
  3. Turn the side of the paper towel with ink on it away from your food
  4. Never microwave a stack of paper towels
  5. Never microwave paper towels for a long period of time
  6. Frequently check your paper towels while microwaving
  7. Check your microwave’s website for concerns about paper towels
  8. Stick to the instructions of recipes that have been tried by many others
  9. Keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen

Why put a paper towel over food in the microwave?

Have you never covered food that you microwave and want to learn why people cover food with paper towels?

The primary reason people cover food in microwaves with paper towels is to prevent the food from splattering all over the microwave. The second most common reason is to absorb the grease from bacon.

If you have never microwaved spaghetti sauce, then just microwave spaghetti for a while and you will find out the hard way why people cover food with paper towels.

A spaghetti splattered microwave. Think of the dedication of this stock photographer to create this single image.

That is what we are talking about: just look at that! Do you know how long it would take to clean this?!

What paper towels are microwavable?

Paper towels that are laid flat, ink side opposite the food and safe to microwave. Don’t crumple a paper towel and microwave it for a long period of time or it may start to burn.

When can you not microwave paper towels?

While covering your microwave food with a single paper towel or using a paper towel to absorb greate from bacon is safe, there are some things you should not do with towels in a microwave.

For instance, according to Robert F. Schiffmann, who is widely considered one of the greatest microwave scientists of all time, microwaving a thick stack of paper towels can catch fire.

So do not microwave a stack of paper towels or many paper towels at one time as they will likely catch fire.

The reason a stack of paper towels will catch fire and one paper towel will not is that the wavelength of micro wave is longer than the thickness of a paper towel. So the waves just go through a single paper towel. But a stack of them will absorb the entire microwave.

A single crumpled up paper towel will also eventually catch fire. This is because a balled up paper towel is wide enough to absorb the entire micro wave while thin paper towels are not.

See the following video for proof:

Are Bounty paper towels microwave safe?

Yes, you can microwave Bounty paper towels.

Here is what the company itself has to say about microwaving its paper towels

  1. Microwave Bounty paper towels for short durations only
  2. For printed towels, let the blank side touch your food to prevent ink transfer

Do paper towels have metal in them?

Generally paper towels do not have metal in them.

Although it is safe to microwave some metal in some ways (though you shouldn’t do this unless you’re an expert) paper towels still shouldn’t have metal.

How long can you microwave a paper towel?

How long you can microwave a paper towel depends on a few factors: is it wet or does it have grease on it?

Some of the most popular microwave bacon recipes say to microwave the bacon that rests on a paper towel for 4 minutes (average power microwave).

This means that in this context and with lots of grease, it is safe to microwave a paper towel for at least four minutes.

If you crumple a dry paper towel up, you are likely creating a very different object. A dry paper towel that has been balled up is much more dangerous than a flat paper towel.

Always be sure that many other people have tried what you want to do with paper towels before you try the same thing.

In the future we will be experimenting with all of these questions and really finding out what you can and can’t microwave and for how long it takes to melt them or catch fire.

Why do paper towels not burn in microwave?

Why do paper towels not burn or even heat up when microwaved? The answer is pretty interesting.

Because paper towels are so thin and the the length of each micro wave that passes through the microwave is so long, a flat paper towel is essentially invisible or unaffected by the micro waves (note that I mean the actual wave of energy, not the physical microwave itself) that microwaves emit.

This can be illustrated by the following image:

This is only for very thin or very long things however.

If you crumple a paper towel up, the width of the paper towel becomes closer to the length of the micro waves shooting through the microwave. This causes a balled up paper towel to be heated by the micro waves.

The wavelength of the micro waves that microwaves heat our food is approximately 12 cm, so the closer the object is to 12cm (or larger), the more of the microwave’s energy it will absorb.

Eventually a crumpled up paper towel will catch fire. The wider an object is, the more micro waves it will absorb and the hotter it will get.

The same principles apply to WIFI and cellular phone service:

The wavelength of the waves that send our WIFI and cellular service around have to be longer than the objects they are passing through. If not, the objects will absorb the waves! If an object absorbs the wave, then the wave will not pass through.

This is why your wifi doesn’t work on the opposite side of a large house or apartment.

It is also the reason cellular service uses different wavelengths than WIFI: because cellular service has to work even when we are inside buildings.

The length of the waves that cellular providers use is between 10 and 1,000 meters. This means that the cellular service should continue to work until the wall it is moving through is at least 10 meters thick.

Why did my paper towel catch fire in the microwave?

If you microwaved a paper towel and it caught fire, there are three possible causes of this unfortunate event:

  1. You left the paper towel in for too long
  2. You used a stack of paper towels or a crumbled up paper towel
  3. Your paper towel had another substance on it that actually started the fire

Always be sure to mic