Microwaving Food With Paper Towels Is Only Safe In 2-Minute Intervals

We've all done it. Walked up to that horrible splatter inside the microwave after heating up a soupy bowl for 30 seconds too long. It sucks to see that mess, and it's even worse to clean it. To protect from splatter, most people use a microwave cooking guard to cover their food, and in a pinch, you might use paper towels. Most paper towels are a safe bet, but some are not.


Paper towels help absorb excess moisture and prevent food from becoming too dry or soggy. Microwavable frozen dumplings often have instructions to cover the dumplings with a damp paper towel for this reason — it helps steam them. However, it is important to note that not all paper towels are safe to use in the microwave, especially for longer than two-minute intervals. The biggest risk is fire safety. And you thought it was just aluminum foil that caused sparks in the microwave.

The two-minute rule

According to the National Institutes of Health, paper towels can ignite in a microwave if they are heated for too long. This happens because microwaving can cause the paper towel to dry out and become extremely hot. If the paper towel reaches a high temperature and comes into contact with a heat source or a flammable substance, it may ignite.


It is recommended to microwave any foods with paper towels on them in two-minute intervals, checking after each time. Avoid covering the entire plate to allow for some ventilation. Use only a single layer of paper towel because stacking them will trap more heat, leading to more risk of a flame. You can also dampen the paper towel for extra moisture and steaming veggies in the microwave. Don't punch in long cooking times on a microwave and walk away. Keep checking every two minutes, because prolonged exposure to high temperatures increases the risk of the paper towel catching on fire.

Use microwave-safe paper towels

According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, check the label on your paper towels and make sure they are microwave-safe. White paper towels are best to use because the ones with a print may have dyes with chemicals that may be flammable. The same goes for recycled paper towels, according to the National Institutes of Health on fire safety. They say some recycled paper towels and even waxed paper could contain tiny metal flecks. And we know that in a running microwave, the metal can cause sparks and, sometimes, flames. Microwave-safe paper towels and containers are designed to withstand the heat generated by microwaves without releasing harmful chemicals, melting, or catching on fire.


So, be vigilant when using paper towels in the microwave. And make sure you're not heating up foods that can explode in the microwave, like grapes or hard-boiled eggs. At the end of the day, we don't want a nightmare of a messy microwave, or one that will go up in a blaze.