Microwave paper towels : Safety, Tips, and Techniques

Microwaves are more than just a kitchen convenience; they’re a miracle. They’ve transformed how we heat and cook, zapping our meals to perfection in minutes. But, with great power comes great responsibility, especially regarding what we put inside them. A question often arises: “Is it safe to put a dry paper towel in the microwave?” Let’s embark on a journey to uncover the science behind microwave heating, the nature of paper towels, and how to use them safely in your microwave.

The Science Behind Microwave Heating

The Magical Microwaves

Microwaves work like little energy wizards. They’re electromagnetic radiation, sitting cozily between radio waves and infrared radiation on the spectrum. Their superpower? Penetrating food and tickling water molecules to heat your food quickly and efficiently through dielectric heating. This process makes microwaving a unique cooking method, distinct from traditional forms of heating.

Why Microwaves Love Water

Microwave heating is all about exciting water molecules. When these molecules absorb microwave energy, they vibrate rapidly, creating heat. This is why foods with higher water content heat quickly in a microwave. But not all materials love this microwave party. This brings us to our humble kitchen staple – the paper towel.

The Composition of Paper Towels

What Are They Made Of?

Enter the paper towel: a kitchen MVP for spills and quick cleanups. Paper towels are crafted from cellulose fibers sourced from wood pulp. This process gives them their soft, absorbent qualities. However, they contain very little water, which makes us wonder how they fare in a microwave.

The Safety of Using Dry Paper Towels in the Microwave

The Benefits

  1. Moisture Control: When reheating foods like veggies or leftovers, a paper towel can be a savior, absorbing excess moisture and keeping your food from turning soggy.
  2. Splatter Shield: Nobody likes cleaning the microwave after a food explosion. A paper towel can be a barrier, saving you from a messy cleanup.
  3. Even Heating: Foods like tortillas or bread rolls can benefit from an even heat distribution when wrapped in a paper towel.

The Risks

But here’s the catch – not all paper towels are created equal, and how you use them matters.

Best Practices for Using Dry Paper Towels in the Microwave

Safety Guidelines

  1. Beware of Metallic Prints: Some paper towels have decorative prints that may contain metal. Microwaving metal can cause sparks and even fires.
  2. Short Bursts are Best: Long exposure to microwaves can ignite a paper towel. Keep an eye on the clock and use short intervals.
  3. Flat Out: Lay your paper towel flat in the microwave. Folding or crumpling can lead to uneven heating and potential hazards.

Choosing the Right Paper Towel

  1. Absorbency Matters: Opt for highly absorbent paper towels for best results.
  2. Plain and Simple: Avoid towels with metallic designs or heavy dyes.
  3. Thickness Counts: Thicker paper towels can withstand microwave heat better, reducing the risk of burning.

Using Damp Paper Towels in the Microwave

A Different Approach

  1. Wring It Out: Ensure the paper towel is damp, not soaking wet.
  2. Partial Cover: Don’t fully enclose your food with a damp paper towel. Let it gently rest on top.
  3. Safety in Dishes: Always use microwave-safe dishes when combining them with damp paper towels.
  4. Keep an Eye Out: Monitoring the microwave is crucial to prevent mishaps.
  5. Experiment: Each microwave and food item is different. Play around with times and techniques to find what works best for you.

A damp paper towel can be a game-changer for foods like corn on the cob or baked potatoes, keeping them moist and delicious.

Alternative Uses for Paper Towels in the Microwave

Exploring Other Options

  • Microwave-Safe Covers: Reusable and easy to clean, these covers can prevent splatters and retain moisture.
  • Dish Covers and Lids: Some dishes have fitted microwave-safe lids, which are a convenient and safe option.
  • Silicone Lids: These flexible, heat-resistant lids can be a great alternative to paper towels.
  • Glass Lids: Using microwave-safe glass lids is another effective way to prevent splatters.

What to Avoid in the Microwave

The Don’ts

  1. No Metal: Metal objects, including aluminum foil, are strictly prohibited in microwaves.
  2. Plastics with Caution: Only use plastics labeled ‘microwave-safe.’
  3. Beware of Certain Containers: Styrofoam and certain ceramics can be risky. Always check for a microwave-safe label.
  4. No Eggs in Shells: They can explode due to steam pressure.
  5. Avoid Sealed Containers: Sealed containers can trap steam and stress, leading to potential accidents.

Is It Safe to Microwave Paper Towels?

In conclusion, following safety guidelines, you can safely use dry paper towels in the microwave. They’re great for moisture control, preventing splatters, and ensuring even heating. However, always be mindful of the type of paper towel, avoid prolonged heating, and never use towels with metallic components.

When used correctly, paper towels in the microwave are a testament to the adaptability and innovation in our everyday kitchen practices. They help us make the most out of our microwaves, ensuring our food comes out just how we like it. So, the next time you’re about to hit ‘start’ on that microwave, remember these tips and tricks for a safe and efficient cooking experience.

FAQs About Microwaving Paper Towels

Can I safely put Bounty paper towels in the microwave?

Yes, Bounty paper towels are generally safe for microwave use. However, it’s advised to avoid prolonged heating and constantly monitor them during use to prevent fire risk.

How long can a paper towel be safely microwaved?

It’s best to microwave paper towels in short bursts, typically no longer than 2-minute intervals, checking after each period. This practice helps prevent overheating and potential fire hazards.

Can I put a wet paper towel in the microwave?

Absolutely! Using a wet paper towel in the microwave is actually a safer option. It reduces the fire risk and can help keep food moist or aid in steaming.

Are there any types of paper towels that should not be microwaved?

Yes, avoid microwaving recycled paper towels. Their inconsistent composition might include metal or plastic, which can be dangerous when heated.

Can microwaving a paper towel cause it to catch fire?

While it’s rare, a paper towel can catch fire in the microwave, especially if folded or scrunched up, as this traps heat. Always lay paper towels flat and use them quickly to reduce this risk.

Is putting a paper towel over food in the microwave safe?

Placing a paper towel over food in the microwave is safe and beneficial. It helps to prevent splatters and can provide more even heating by trapping steam.

How can I use a paper towel to steam food in the microwave?

Wet a paper towel, wring out the excess water, and then wrap the food item. This method is excellent for steaming vegetables, heating tortillas, and more. Adjust the microwaving time based on the food’s requirements.

Can printed paper towels be used in the microwave?

It’s best to avoid microwaving paper towels with printed designs or inks, as the heat might cause the ink to transfer to food. If necessary, use the unprinted side facing the food.

Will a paper towel burn in the microwave?

A: A paper towel can burn in the microwave if it’s overheated, especially if folded or bunched up. Always use paper towels flat and monitor their use.

Can I use paper towels to cover all types of food in the microwave?

A: Generally, yes. But be cautious with foods with high fat or sugar content, as these can heat up quickly and increase the risk of the paper towel catching fire.

Can You Microwave Paper Towels?

The Simple Answer: Yes, you can, but there’s more to it than a straightforward ‘yes.’ Most paper towels, including popular brands like Bounty, are generally safe for microwave use. However, the keyword here is ‘cautious’ usage.

Understanding the Science: Paper towels contain little moisture. When overheated, they can scorch or burn, especially around the edges. So, while it’s safe, you should never leave them unattended in the microwave.

When Microwaving Paper Towels is Not Safe

Recycled Paper Towels – A No-Go: Avoid microwaving recycled paper towels. Their composition might include plastic or metal bits, increasing the risk of melting, sparking, or even fire.

Can Paper Towels Catch Fire in the Microwave?

The Risk is Real: Paper ignites at about 480ºF, and a microwave can heat paper towels to these temperatures. Paper towels can trap heat, especially when folded or scrunched, leading to fire hazards. The safer bet? Lay them flat to dissipate heat quickly.

The Safe Use of Bounty Paper Towels

Bounty’s Take: Bounty paper towels are microwave-friendly, but with caution. Extended heating is not recommended. Short, monitored intervals are essential for safe usage.

Why Use Paper Towels Over Food in the Microwave?

Splatter Prevention and Even Heating: Covering food with a paper towel prevents messy splatters. It also traps steam for a more uniform heating experience.

The Role of Wet Paper Towels

Less Fire Risk, More Moisture: Wet paper towels are safer (less prone to catching fire) and serve additional purposes like keeping food moist and aiding in steam cooking.

How to Steam Food in the Microwave with Paper Towels

Steaming Made Simple: This technique is excellent for tortillas, tamales, veggies, and more. Simply wet a paper towel, wring it out, wrap the food, and microwave. It’s a convenient method for quick and easy steaming.


Microwaving with paper towels blends science, safety, and culinary art. From ensuring the paper towel is microwave-safe to using them for innovative cooking techniques, these humble kitchen staples can be your ally in quick and safe cooking. Remember, the key is to be informed, cautious, and creative!

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