Can You Microwave Paper Towels?

Cooking is great, isn’t it? But one of the biggest downsides of cooking is the clean-up, which is why many of us cook convenience foods (perhaps a bit too often).

However, even if you’re just putting quick meals into the microwave or oven, you’ll still need to clean them too (depending on what you cook). And cleaning these appliances can be quite annoying – particularly the oven. But while cleaning the microwave is perhaps easier than the oven, you’ll likely find yourself cleaning it much more frequently due to the splatters and spills that are pretty commonplace when you’re using it. 

To prevent such a quick build-up of food particles and grime in your microwave, it’s best to cover the food you put in the microwave, of course.

Some people use proper plate covers, but the vast majority of people use a simple paper towel. But, is it actually safe to do that? Can you microwave paper towels? Yes, it’s totally fine to put paper towels in the microwave as long as it’s not for too long. 

Read on to learn everything you need to know about microwaving paper towels.

Is it Safe to Microwave Paper Towels?

Yes, it’s completely safe to microwave paper towels. It’s the most convenient way to prevent food splatters from covering your microwave.

This is because of how a microwave oven works.

Microwaves warm up your food by “exciting” or vibrating the water molecules inside the food, making it warm. So, since paper towels don’t have a high enough water content, they won’t be affected by the microwaves enough to catch fire or to burn.

However, there are some exceptions when it comes to leaching. Some paper towels may have chemicals or dyes that can leach out into the food. 

Aside from the very slight risks, there are a few benefits of using paper towels when microwave cooking to cover your food. 

  • Keeping your microwave clean by avoiding splattering and leaking.
  • Assisting in the uniform heating of your meal.
  • Maintaining the softness of food by containing the moisture and heat.
  • A paper towel may also be used as a vent to keep your meal from being too hot.

How Do You Microwave Paper Towels Safely?

There are several ways to safely microwave paper towels, depending on your needs.

Here are the 4 best uses for paper towels in the microwave:

Option #1: Wrapping the Food in A Paper Towel

For this method, you will need to dampen the paper towel first. You can then wrap it up with a paper towel after placing the food inside.

By wrapping your food in a damp paper towel, you can retain moisture and keep it soft. For example, tortillas reheat well when wrapped in a paper towel.

Option #2: Cover With A Plate and Paper Towel

If you’re microwaving food that’s in a bowl, then this is a great option – particularly if it’s something like a soup or sauce that’s prone to splattering.

Place a paper towel on a plate that’s big enough to cover the bowl. Then, place the paper towel-lined plat on top of the bowl. 

Option #3: Use the Paper Towel as A Vent

Keeping a paper towel over the food while it is being heated acts as a vent. This allows for the circulation of heat and prevents the foot from becoming overheated.

As a result, the food is also heated more evenly. You can use it instead of plastic wrap. You can do this to make your food taste even better and to prevent it from being undercooked.

Option #4: Lay the Paper Towl on the Food

Last but not least is the classic method most of us are probably already familiar with. You can use this quick and easy method to prevent food from splattering everywhere.

Whilst cooking, keep a paper towel on top of your food to help retain heat and moisture. The paper towel can also be dampened before this step to help retain moisture.

Tips for Safely Microwaving Paper Towels

Now that you know all of the different ways that you can use paper towels to safely microwave your food, let’s get into some additional tips for safely microwaving paper towels. 

If Possible, Avoid Using Recycled Paper Towels

While it’s normally a great idea to use recycled products when you can, microwaving recycled paper towels isn’t one of them, unfortunately. It’s possible that recycled paper towels include residues of flammable chemicals.

You can never be too cautious when it comes to a microwave catching fire. Using recycled paper towels inside the microwave is a risky proposition. 

Additionally, there may also be slight traces of metallic material that can cause sparks and thus create a fire risk. 

Always Make Sure That the Paper Towels Are Microwave Safe

Paper towels, like most other things you put in the microwave, it’s a good idea to make sure that they’re microwave-safe.

So, first, check the box or packaging of the paper towels you intend to use to see if they can be microwaved. Although paper towels are normally safe to heat, if you can’t find any evidence that they are, you might want to rethink using them just to be safe. 

If There Is Dye On One Side of the Towel, It Should Be Facing Away from the Food

Some paper towels have cute or colorful dyes on them to make an otherwise dull tool come to life.

However, this can have its downsides in some instances – like microwaving them.

So, if you use paper towels with designs printed on them, there’s a risk the ink can leave a mark on your meal. During heating, it’s ideal to keep the printed side of the paper towel away from the meal so the dyes don’t seep into the food. 

Dampen the Paper Towel

Dampening the paper towel not only reduces the chance of them getting too dry, but it also aids in moisture retention.

When reheating items like rice, pasta, and potatoes, a moist paper towel may make them supple and as good as new.

Don’t Microwave Paper Towels By Themselves

You’ve probably heard that it’s not safe to run a microwave with nothing inside of it, but it’s also not a good idea to put only paper towels in the microwaves by themselves.

There aren’t many reasons (if any) to do this intentionally, but be sure to make sure that when the microwave is running only when there is food inside it.  

Don’t Use Crumpled Paper Towels

When paper towels are crumpled up, it allows them to retain more heat.

If crumpled paper towels are microwaved for too long, they can pose a fire risk. Try to use only fresh, flat paper towels. 

Don’t Use With Anything that Sparks

Lastly, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but sparks and paper aren’t normally a good combination anywhere in the kitchen!

So, whilst sometimes it’s okay to use some metals in the microwave, be certain to never ever use paper towels at the same time. This is a recipe for starting a fire in your microwave. 

How Long Can You Microwave Paper Towels For?

For most food items, you won’t have any worries about microwaving paper towels for too long. But, a good time limit is around 30 minutes as long as you’re following the aforementioned methods and safety tips. 

How Many Paper Towels Should You Microwave at Once?

It’s better to just microwave one or two paper towels at a time.

Many paper towels readily retain heat and reach dangerously high temperatures if they are stacked on top of each other. The amount of heat generated by many paper towels is multiplied, increasing the risk of a fire.

Just keep in mind that layering many paper towels is not a smart idea. Similarly, while heating paper towels in the microwave, do not fold them into many layers.

However, instead of using numerous paper towels to cover a stack of tortillas or any other food item, the ideal technique is to use a single moist paper towel to cover the pile. This method guarantees both safety and efficiency!