There are certain containers you can microwave and you cannot microwave. Ceramics and glass are up there as microwave-safe materials. So too are paper plates. However, there are limits in regards to the microwave viability of paper plates versus simply using your chinaware.
So can you microwave paper plates? Yes and no. Or rather, it depends. Keep on reading to find out. As a quick hint though, the thing that disqualifies paper plates for microwaving mostly roots from their flimsiness than their ability (or lack thereof) to absorb microwave rays.
The Lowdown on Microwaving Paper Plates
Paper plates are mostly microwave-safe. However, some plates have a thin coating of plastic or foil. The plastic ones are designed as such to keep the hot grease from turning the cardboard paper of the paper plate into mulch. However, the plastic of the plate can leech into your microwaved food.
Your microwave oven’s glass turntable is particularly important when cooking food on a paper plate. Just don’t use it when the glass itself has gotten hot. Let it cool down for a little bit. Otherwise, it might set the paper plate on fire.
At best, it might cause the paper plate to char. Although the cardboard of your plate is unaffected by microwave radiation, the food or the plate can absorb the rays and heat up enough to burn the thin plate in question.
Avoid microwaving thin paper plates, brown paper bags, paper towels with printed marks on them, and recycled paper towels. Use high-caliber paper towels, napkins, and tissue paper instead.
Sometimes It’s Better to Err on the Side of Caution
If your paper plate is too thin, use a ceramic plate to heat your food. If the paper plate is coated with a thin layer of single-use plastic then don’t microwave it. The plastic might melt or leech plasticizers unto your food, thus contaminating it.
You should specifically go for paper plates or even plastic containers that are explicitly marked “microwave-safe”. This way, you can avoid melting plastic over your cheese sandwich or, worse, your spaghetti.
Test the viability of your paper plate. Put the plate in the microwave oven next to a bowl of water. Microwave everything for a minute. If you end up with a hot-to-the-touch plate, it’s not microwaveable or microwave-safe.
Humidity from steamed water can also affect the integrity of your paper plate. Hot water vapor can condense on the plate and make it soggy, thus destroying it.
Microwaving Paper Plates, Paper Towels, Napkins, and Paper Anything
Most paper plates as well as paper napkins and paper cups are safe to use in your microwave oven. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International, it’s best to use plain white paper plates on the thick side.
Avoid disposable tableware with plastic or foil coating. Avoid thin paper plates, especially if you’re microwaving soups or watery food. Before microwaving a paper plate or bowl, it’s best to make sure it has the “microwave-safe” marking.
As for paper towels and napkins, they’re also safe for the most part but they can also be fire hazards for the same reason as a paper plate can be a fire hazard. It’s not the microwave rays that will set them on fire, it’s the hot food and heat conduction that can char or burn them.
A paper towel can be used to cover certain foods so that they don’t bleed grease or water during reheating or cooking. If you’re using a paper towel in your microwave oven, do so in short intervals to allow you to check the food and paper towel condition.
Paper Plates versus Other Microwaveable Items
There are other microwaveable items out there that are superior to paper plates. You should use them over paper plates for the sake of being safe and not setting your microwave’s insides on fire. The metal walls can container the flame, but you risk overheating its internal circuitry.
Microwave cooking bags and wax/parchment paper are deemed microwave-safe too according to the U.S. FDA or NSF International. However, it does come with limits, like don’t microwave anything with printed material on them.
Glass and Ceramic Containers vs. Paper Anything
Glass containers are best to use. It’s your safest bet and there’s zero debate in regards to their microwave-safeness. The only caveat is thin or damaged glass containers that couldn’t absorb too much heat from hot food.
Read more: Can You Microwave Glass?
Ceramics like chinaware and porcelain are even better than glass as well as paper plates when it comes to being microwaveable.
Further reading: So, Does Ceramic Get Hot in the Microwave or Not?
In contrast, most napkins, towels, and paper plates can be safely microwaved as long as the food isn’t superheated and the glass turntable below isn’t super hot as well. Plastic-coated paper plates or paper towels with printed design on them shouldn’t be microwaved.
Ditto when it comes to paper cups coated with plastic. According to the NSF International, you should only use anything marked microwave-safe.
Cardboard vs. Paper Anything
A paper plate is essentially cardboard cut into the shape of a plate or a circle. Therefore, cardboard can be microwaved too, right?
Related: Can You Microwave Cardboard?
Paper towels and plates are microwave-safe with caveats. Therefore, cardboard should be microwave-safe with caveats. The problem with cardboard is that it comes with a huge caveat in regards to the waxes, glues, metal fasteners, and other materials contained in them.
Paper plates, especially the microwave-safe ones, lack the glues and waxes found on traditional office supply or school supply cardboard folders, and the like. Ditto when it comes to cardboard takeout boxes that have metal or plastic handles on them.
Other Things You Should Notice
You can microwave paper plates under two conditions. The plate should have food on it. Microwaving it without the food can make it a fire hazard. Your microwave oven should also have a glass turntable on it as well. Foil coating actually reflects microwave radiation.
The danger of foil is that if it’s not 2 inches away from the microwave walls, it will cause the phenomenon is known as arcing, which can cause sparks, fires, or burnt food to happen.
Be aware of the danger of microwaving food too hot as well. When the food reaches high temperatures, its grease will transfer to the cardboard plate and turn it into mulch. This is why plastic-coated or foil-coated paper plates exist—to defend against hot, greasy food.