Can You Put Paper Plates in the Microwave?

Parties are great, right? I mean, who doesn’t love a party? Meeting up with your friends and family, enjoying tasty food and drinks, so many good things!

However if you’re the host, after the music is turned off and everyone has gone home there’s usually a huge mess to clean up. If you didn’t use paper plates you’ll likely spend hours just doing the dishes!

This is why paper plates are such a good idea when it comes to not only parties, but for everyday use too. However, they can fill up your trashcan pretty quickly if you use them too regularly. But, if you’re having a lazy day and not in the mood to do the dishes, paper plates are a great solution.

It’s likely that you’ll also want to warm up the food you’re gonna be eating too, right? The other lazy day tool is of course the microwave. But do paper plates and microwaves go together? The quick answer is that yes, you can put paper plates in the microwave. But not all of them. There are some things you should know before you put any paper plate in the microwave. 


Is it Safe to Put Paper Plates in the Microwave?

Not all paper plates should be put in the microwave.

While most of the time they are generally safe to put into the microwave, that’s not always the case. This is because some are made purely of paper, whilst others are coated with plastic or other materials that aren’t microwave-safe.

Plastics or other chemicals used to coat paper plates could melt or leach toxic chemicals into your food when put into the microwave. So, you should make sure to check the product information to see if it’s in fact microwave safe.

Additionally, you can also check the owner manual of the microwave as it may have information regarding what’s safe and what’s not safe to put into your microwave. If you don’t have the manual still, you can generally find digital copies online. 

Do Paper Plates Burn in the Microwave?

Generally, the plain white paper plates are safe to use in the microwave and won’t burn. But it depends on the brand and if they’re labeled as microwave-safe. If you’re not sure, then you should keep an eye on them if you’re microwaving it for over 30 seconds. 

There are some other paper products that definitely can burn in the microwave, however. This includes paper bags, napkins, or paper plates that have designs on them.

The reason paper with designs burns is because whilst the paper is usually fine, it’s the inks or other additives that make the design that is flammable.

If you do put one in the microwave you’ll likely see that it will start to burn where the ink is.

When it comes to paper bags, they aren’t designed to withstand heat. So they may start to burn or catch fire if they become too hot. Because of this you should avoid using paper bags or napkins in the microwave to cover your food. You’re better off using a plain paper towel instead. 

Are Paper Plates Toxic When Microwaved?

The reason that chemicals, particularly from plastics, may leach out is how a microwave works. A microwave “excites” water molecules inside the food. In the case of polystyrene (styrofoam) or other plastic products, this process may cause toxic chemicals to leach out of the plate.

So, if a paper plate has a plastic coating, it may be toxic when microwaved. But paper plates that don’t have any plastic coating are less likely to be toxic. 

To be safe, though, it’s best not to use dyed, bleached, or patterned paper plates in the microwave. Any additional chemicals in the plates can increase the likelihood that toxins may leach from the plate. 

You should also look out for plates that contain chemicals like BPA or polyfluoroalkyl (or PFAS). These chemicals are known to be dangerous.

How to Tell if a Paper Plate is Microwave Safe

You should always avoid putting random things into the microwave before checking if it’s microwave safe, paper plates included.

Besides being lined with plastic or other chemicals, there are other reasons that a paper plate isn’t microwave-safe.

For example, some paper plates (usually the cheapest ones) are very light and thin. If you use them in the microwave then they may not hold up when the food is heated or when you try to take it out, spilling food everywhere. Such plates can also flatten easily. This may create a wet mess all over your microwave oven and also waste a lot of good food!

So, before you risk plates catching fire, melting, leaching chemicals, or spilling food all over your microwave, check to see if it’s microwave-safe.

Most plates are labeled “microwave-safe” on the bottom or packaging. Alternatively, some have a symbol that signifies that they’re microwave safe. The symbol for this is can vary but it usually is either squiggly lines, a dish below radiation waves, an image of a microwave, or a combination of them. But usually, there are almost always squiggly lines if it’s microwave safe. 

How to Check for Yourself

Additionally, you can also test the plate yourself to see if it’s microwave-safe. All you need is a microwave-safe cup or glass filled with water and the paper plate that you’re testing. Here’s how to do it:

  • Fill the cup or glass with water.
  • Inside your microwave, place the paper plate next to the glass or cup of water. Or, if they can’t fit side-by-side, set the glass on top of the paper plate. 
  • Turn on the microwave for one minute.
  • After it’s done, feel the temperature of the plate and the water. Is the water warmer than the plate? If so, the paper plate is microwave safe. Alternatively if the paper plate is warmer than the water, then the paper plate is not microwave-safe. 

Should you still have doubts, however, then it’s always safer to not put it in the microwave. The last thing that you want to do is risk harming your health or creating a mess.

If you’re the type that likes the quick and easy method of warming up food on paper plates in the microwave, then make sure to buy clearly labeled paper plates. Some brands even say this directly on the front of the package so you don’t have to read the fine print or try to read the back of the plates themselves. 

How Long Can Paper Plates be Microwaved?

While there are some brands of paper plates that clearly say that they’re microwave safe, the primary use of paper plates shouldn’t be to microwave things on. They’re still best to be used to eat with but when the food is already warm. This is because their structural integrity is not nearly as strong as glass or ceramic plates that are generally safer to use in the microwave.

But, if you are going to use paper plates in the microwave, it shouldn’t be for a very long time. Just because it’s microwave safe, if they are put in the microwave for a very long time, the paper plate may still fail. Even though it if it’s a more expensive or thicker plate, it’s still not worth the risk in my book.  

A good rule of thumb for how long a microwave-safe paper plate should be used in the microwave is about 5 minutes. Avoid going much longer than that to be safe. Also, paper plates should generally be used only for reheating food for shorter periods of time instead of fully cooking it. Usually when you’re fully cooking food in the microwave the amount of time may be too long for a paper plate to stand the heat of the microwave. 

Top Tips

There are some things to consider before you put a paper plate in the microwave. Of course, as I’ve already mentioned, make sure that it’s microwave safe. But, you should also make sure to avoid some other mistakes as well. 

  • Don’t cover the food with plastic wrap. The plastic wrap may melt and potentially leach chemicals into the food since the plastic will be directly touching the food. While there are some microwave-safe plastic wraps, they’re better used with bowls so it doesn’t come in direct contact with the food. 
  • Don’t cover the food with napkins, paper plates, or anything that has a design. Instead, use a paper towel to prevent splattering. 
  • And lastly, it’s almost always safer to avoid patterns or colors. When microwaving paper items, boring is best. So if you’ll be microwaving paper plates and covering the food with paper towels, try to always use plain white products.