Can you microwave clothes to dry and warm them up? Or should you just use the clothes dryer as normal people should? Is microwaving clothes a viable life hack or do your risk doing more damage to your laundry by doing so?
A microwave can heat up anything with water content relatively fast, right? So, therefore, you should be able to theoretically steam dry your wet clothes inside of it, correct? Of course, you’re not the first person to think this. You might have even heard anecdotal evidence of this being done.
However, the safer way to dry clothes remains with your washing machine dryer. Maybe you should go about drying your clothes like a normal person!
Can You Microwave Clothes to Warm Them or even dry them?
You’ve probably heard of being able to microwave the microwaveable hot water bottle with the cover on it. So maybe you can warm up your clothes or clothing accessories fine, right? However, the temptation to dry clothes by microwaving them might be great, but hold on a minute there, Tiger.
Some materials can melt or catch fire when microwaved, such as metal or plastic buttons or glued decals. Glues can also come unglued when heat is (re)applied to them via microwave.
The Argument for Microwaving
On one hand, it’s simply a bad idea. Microwaves can heat up the water in your clothes. Dry clothes when microwaved can catch fire the longer they’re microwaved. While other fabrics can take microwaving, such as natural fibers like cotton or wool, others might end up getting ruined.
The microwave oven won’t only heat up the water molecules on your clothes. They can also microwave the molecules of your fabrics, particularly synthetic ones like polyester, rayon, spandex, acrylic fibers, or microfibers.
The Argument against Microwaving
On the other hand, you can microwave certain types of clothes, particularly stretchy and petite clothes. Even synthetic fibers can be microwaved but proceed with caution. Microwave in a few seconds rather than a full minute or minutes.
However, it’s best to hang clothes to let them dry or use a tumble dryer to quicken their drying time. Keeping them warm by microwave is also a risk for the same reasons.
What Happens When You Microwave Clothes?
When you microwave clothes—preferably slightly wet ones instead of bone dry ones that can catch fire or soaking wet ones that can take forever to heat up—the microwave radiation can only penetrate an inch deep, so folded clothes can end up not so warm in deep layers.
Drying up a folded cloth can only dry on the outside. Wet clothes get dry when the water in them gets evaporated by the inch-deep penetration of microwave rays.
Synthetics Could Melt and Non-Microwaveable Accessories
Polyester and nylon could melt at high temperatures that the microwave could reach, especially when it superheats liquids. Meanwhile, stretchable fabrics like spandex could get set aflame when heated repeatedly.
Many clothes like jeans have metal buttons and zippers attached to them that could cause arcing and sparks to fly. This could in turn burn or set the jeans aflame. Don’t microwave any metals inside your microwave, please.
Natural Fabrics Prove To Be More Microwave-Safe
You can microwave with less risk microwaveable fabrics like a cotton pair of socks or underwear. They could dry or get warmed up just fine as long as they’re only a little wet instead of soaking wet or bone dry (and you want to warm them up slightly).
The problem with underwear microwaving is that you can ruin their elastic parts, which might not be able to take microwave oven heat. The steam doesn’t escape in a closed microwave too, which could result in folds in your cloth.
It’s Best to Use the Microwave as a Dryer Assistant
Instead of using your microwave to dry your clothes completely or warm them up slightly when already dry, you should instead use them as a dryer assistant and limit the microwave radiation exposure.
You can also microwave to heat wet clothes for only a few seconds then hang them out to dry since they’re warmer and slightly less wet than before. Microwaving can reduce your drying time and it can warm up your clothes.
If You REALLY Want to Microwave Your Clothes Then Do This
If you’re facing an emergency situation where you can only dry your clothes by microwaving, do the following to minimize your risks of burning down your clothes and maximize the benefits of this inherently risky endeavor.
- No Metal or Plastic: Make sure that the clothes you’re warming up or drying can fit the microwave and don’t have any plastic or metal elements to them. You shouldn’t try microwaving dirty clothes either since they can make your microwave or kitchen stink.
- Use a Bowl Shield: Use a bowl to cover the cloth to safeguard your microwave. This should assist in keep your cloth from catching fire. You’ll only replace the shirt or socks instead of the entire microwave by having this bowl shield handy.
- Temperature Adjustment: Adjust the temperature or power level of your microwave by half or 50 percent. Now microwave the cloth for only 10 seconds instead of a full minute or even 30 seconds. Remove the cloth with pot holders or kitchen mitts before feeling its temperature.
- Cool Down the Cloth: Wait for the cloth to cool down if it’s extremely hot. Afterwards, check if it has dried up or if it’s warm enough for your tastes. If it’s still wet, then microwave a few more times using the same abovementioned steps.
When warming up dry clothes, spray a bit of water on the surface to give it a steamed press kind of feel afterwards. No, the water isn’t enough to safeguard the cloth if it has plastic or metal bits regardless. Microwave synthetics at your own risk.
Expectations and Reality
You can use the microwave to warm up clothes but do so with caution. Don’t microwave for too long. Don’t microwave synthetics as much as possible. If you could, put a little bit of water on the clothes by spray to steam it dry instead of microwaving it dry to make it warm.
Natural fibers like cotton and wool prove more microwave-safe than polyester or synthetic and natural fiber blends. Microwaves work basically as heaters instead of driers. Also, avoid drying jeans with metal zippers or buttons or button-down polo shirts with plastic buttons.
- “Drying clothes in microwave?“, ArsTechnica.com, November 7, 2003
- “What would happen if you microwaved your clothes in an attempt to warm them up?“, Quora.com, August 20, 2015
- Agnes Shafer, “Can You Dry Clothes in the Microwave“, SmartKitchenImprovement.com, Retrieved December 7, 2021