Certain things can be microwaved safely. Certain things aren’t. In terms of containers, you can microwave ceramic and (certain) glassware. Styrofoam, plastic, and cardboard require a microwave-safe label on them to be considered safe.
In terms of food, most of them are safe. The main things or foods to watch out for are greasy or fatty dishes. You need a microwave-safe cover or lid over them in order to keep them from making too much of a mess inside your oven.
Further reading: What are Microwave Safe Materials?
Microwaving potentially expired food is a no-no unless you want to spend a whole day cleaning and deodorizing your oven. We can talk about this experience.
- 1 What Can You Put in a Microwave?
- 1.1 1. Mostly Food Uncooked, Cooked, or Frozen
- 1.2 2. Which Food and Dishes are Microwavable Specifically?
- 1.3 3. Probably Don’t Heat Up a Partially Expired Dish
- 1.4 4. Can You Do All Your Cooking in a Microwave Oven?
- 1.5 5. Materials That Best Work as Containers
- 1.6 6. Microwavable Glass Containers
- 1.7 7. The Microwave Safety Test
- 1.8 8. Paper, Tissue, and Cardboard
- 1.9 9. Are All Ceramics Microwavable?
- 1.10 10. Beware of Chinaware Made in China
- 2 What Shouldn’t You Microwave?
- 3 Where Do You Go From Here?
What Can You Put in a Microwave?
Microwaves can either be dangerous radiation machines or total kitchen lifesavers. This depends on who you ask about them. On that note, there are certain things you can and cannot put inside your microwave. You can put food inside it, particularly something you want to cook or something cooked you want to reheat. Here’s the lowdown on that.
1. Mostly Food Uncooked, Cooked, or Frozen
Your microwave is an oven. A special oven that doesn’t require preheating. What it can or cannot cook depends on the settings you give it, the instructions on your food recipe that include microwave use, and so forth.
You can use it as an oven and thusly you can put inside your microwave all sorts of cooked leftover food for reheating or uncooked food for cooking. You can even fast-defrost food with the defrost mode. Therefore, don’t put non-food-related items in there.
2. Which Food and Dishes are Microwavable Specifically?
You can cook bacon with your microwave using an upside-down bowl lid over a plate of bacon strips.
Frozen pizza can be cooked with your microwave using the pizza cooking setting or mode (not to be confused with reheating a leftover pizza slice).
You can cook eggs as poached or scrambled with this device as well. Cook kale with your microwave as a healthier potato chip alternative. Speaking of which, you can microwave potato chips too.
You can get more juice out of lemons and limes by microwaving them. Obviously, popcorn can be cooked via microwave.
Desserts like brownies and sponge cake can be microwaved too.
3. Probably Don’t Heat Up a Partially Expired Dish
From experience, we once tried to heat up what was left of a turkey dinner in the microwave to see if we could save it or get it to an edible state.
We only ended up making a mess and a stink on the interior of the microwave that required multiple washings and baking soda to clean up. Just throw out expired food. Don’t even bother trying to salvage it.
You don’t want to risk contracting food poisoning or bacterial infection from it. Just buy fresh and microwave only microwave-safe dishes like a TV dinner or popcorn.
4. Can You Do All Your Cooking in a Microwave Oven?
You can do some cooking in your microwave at default settings and more if you know how to finagle the power levels and cooking times. It is, after all, a product of the Atomic Age that came to life, along with the concept of the Atomic or Nuclear Power Plant.
In order to cook things, you have to read the instruction booklet or select from preset modes so that you don’t accidentally do things like overheat a pizza and sap out all the liquid inside it.
5. Materials That Best Work as Containers
You need a container for your dish, even if it’s a sandwich. Why? It’s the sanitary or hygienic thing to do. With that in mind, which container types are safe for microwaves? Ceramic, glassware (certain types and thicknesses), and microwave-safe materials (Styrofoam, cardboard or paper, and plastic) are all containers you can put your food and drinks in for microwaving.
Unmarked or one-time use plastic, cardboard, and Styrofoam as well as, metal anything (silverware, metal handles, and so forth) shouldn’t be put inside the microwave at all.
6. Microwavable Glass Containers
You can use glass containers but some might crack or shatter if they heat up too fast then cool down too fast as well. It’s a physics thing. If the glass isn’t thick enough to absorb heat while the food or beverage gets hot it might not be that microwave-safe. Although glass containers are a safe bet to use with a microwave, you should do a microwave safety test just to be sure. A glass that’s too thin and gets hot too fast is a breakage risk.
7. The Microwave Safety Test
The microwave safety test involves microwaving a glass of water at the highest power and checking hot the glass is. Or microwaving a cup of water on a glass container and checking how hot the container got. If they’re too hot instead of cool they’re not safe for microwaves.
This safety test works on pretty much every container, but there are some containers you shouldn’t bother testing, like those made of metal like steel, tin, silver, or aluminum. Those should be reserved for use in a standard oven (electric or gas).
8. Paper, Tissue, and Cardboard
Most napkins, towels, parchment paper, wax paper, microwave cooking paper bags, and paper plates are microwave-safe and won’t catch fire from all those microwave rays bombarding them.
However, to err on the side of caution, don’t put your napkins, towels, or paper plates on the microwave anyway, and just use a ceramic plate.
However, some paper towels are made of plastic. Don’t put them in the microwave.
Ditto with paper plates and cups that are coated with plastic or reflective material. Only use products marked as microwave-safe or just default to ceramic heating.
Read more: Can You Microwave Cardboard?
9. Are All Ceramics Microwavable?
If you’re not sure if a ceramic dish is thick enough to withstand the high temperatures produced by a microwave oven, then do the microwave safety test to err on the side of caution.
For the most part, though, your plates and bowls should be microwaveable. According to the Today Show though, when dealing with chinaware that’s made in China (ironic), you should be careful. Most ceramics are made with formulated glazes that are microwave-safe. China quality chinaware might not withstand microwave heat.
10. Beware of Chinaware Made in China
Some ceramics made in China in the 21st Century (those Ming plates and vases are better quality) use glazes made of high amounts of arsenic and lead. This is because China doesn’t regulate its chinaware industry (another bit of irony there). Many dangerous elements can leach into foods when you heat up the China-made chinaware. The height of irony is that chinaware made in the U.S.A. is usually safer than China-made chinaware. Metallic paint in mugs, plates, and some such can also cause sparks.
What Shouldn’t You Microwave?
As a rule of thumb, here’s what you should avoid microwaving. If you have anything not food-related or beverage-related—from the item itself to the microwaveable container they have—they shouldn’t be microwaved.
- What Not to Put Inside Your Microwave Oven: Probably don’t put your cellphone or smartphone inside your microwave. Don’t do something cruel like microwave a live hamster either, but most people have the common sense not to engage in downright abusive behavior. Practically speaking, anything that isn’t related to cooking, heating, or defrosting food and beverages (like the food itself or microwave-safe containers) shouldn’t be put inside the microwave. This can range from a computer mouse to an actual live mouse as well as packaging peanuts, pencils, CDs, soap, and bleach.
- Which Food Items Shouldn’t Be Microwaved? Don’t microwave grapes. They can turn into a glowing plasma gas ball as they burst into flames. If you want warm grapes, let room temperature heat turn cold grapes to warm or tepid grapes. Also, don’t microwave eggs with intact shells or eggs that have been boiled. The sealed eggshell container can lead to pressure built-up, which can cause a nasty egg explosion inside your microwave that’s quite gross and hard to clean up. Even if you peel a boiled egg, the same phenomenon could happen. Instead, it’s better to pierce the egg everywhere before microwaving as pressure release points. Capsaicin chemical in peppers can also catch fire, by the way.
- Rising Internal Pressure and Certain Microwaved Foods: The foods that can build up internal pressure that could result in a messy explosion inside your microwave oven include potatoes, sausages, hot dogs, and eggs. Make sure that the container you’re using has a vent. If it has a lid, push the lid in a way that leaves space inside to prevent pressure buildup internally as well. This means cracking open any plastic containers with lids or placing the plate you’re using as cover a little off-center to allow an opening that serves as your pressure release as your food gets heated by the microwave rays. It’s all for the sake of allowing steam to escape.
- When Boiling Water Inside Your Microwave: Be careful when boiling water inside your microwave. For example, don’t boil water that’s already been recently boiled or is already hot. You can raise its temperature so high that it could damage your microwave. Superheating a cup of water or coffee can also make it explode, especially if you put things like ice or sugar in them. You can prevent superheating by placing a wooden chopstick or some other stick in the cup to help absorb the heat better. Any egg-like item that could pop or explode due to internal pressure should be pricked full of holes as pressure release points too.
- Aluminum Foil—To Microwave or Not? You can technically microwave foil in your microwave. The microwavable containers of your Hot Pockets and other similar food items have a lining with aluminum. However, it’s not the wisest thing to microwave aluminum foil without proper instructions since it’s still a fire hazard (it could catch fire). You can use it only for shielding and only with the recommendation of a cookbook with the right recommendations on how to use it. For example, you can cut and tear pieces of it to cover the thin parts of meat or poultry. Aside from that, it can reflect microwave rays and can cause arcing. It should be 2.5 centimeters away from your oven walls.
- Metal Containers and Utensils: Don’t put your spoon inside your microwave, especially near the metal walls of your microwave. This is because they can end up arcing or the phenomenon when electromagnetic waves from the magnetron of your oven hit something reflective or metallic. This results in electric flashes or sparks. This could set your food on fire or make your microwave overheat. Don’t heat canned foods in their cans whether they’re sealed closed or cracked open with an easy-open lid or can opener. Just don’t.
- What Is Arcing? Arcing can occur with metal foil or silverware (like your metal spoons and forks). Even if your packaging or container has a little bit of metal, like a metal handle or loads of staplers to keep the container from getting ripped apart, it could lead to arcing and electrical sparks. This is especially true if the metal something. Arcing could damage not only your food by setting it on fire but the microwave itself as well, especially if it shorts the circuitry of the oven when all is said and done.
- Brown Paper Bags and Microwaves: According to the USDA, brown paper bags being microwaved isn’t a sanitary practice. They are thin paper containers as well, so unlike certain thick pizza cardboard boxes that can take a minute or two in the microwave oven, the paper bag can catch fire and emit toxic fumes when push comes to shove. Intense heat care of microwave rays might cause the bag to ignite more so than Styrofoam or plastic. The recycled materials, glue, and ink can cause poisonous or volatile organic compounds to leach into your food when exposed to high temperatures. Use oven cooking bags instead of paper bags.
- Microwaving One-Time Storage Containers: There’s a reason why one-time storage containers are called as such. They’re exclusively one-time use only and they should also be used for food containment and delivery alone. They’re not microwavable unless indicated otherwise by a “microwave-safe” label and symbol. These include yogurt containers, margarine or butter tubs, or takeout boxes. Don’t risk microwaving them if they’re not specifically labeled as microwave-safe. Don’t microwave film canisters, trash bags, or garbage bags either. Common sense dictates that they all shouldn’t be microwaved but certain clueless people still do.
- Non-Food-Items You Can Place Into Your Microwave: You can place a wet sponge inside your microwave for disinfection. First squeeze out the dishwashing soap inside of it first before microwaving. A dry sponge can catch fire though. You can also microwave potting soil for sterilization. Dish towels inside a microwavable ziplock bag can be microwaved as a do-it-yourself hot water bottle. Don’t microwave a rubber hot water bag though, the rubber can release toxic fumes while heated. It’s better to just put hot water into the hot water bag instead of microwaving tepid water inside it.
- Electronics are a No-Go for Sure: The list of things you shouldn’t put inside your microwave oven is pretty long. Use common sense to figure out that you shouldn’t put anything non-food-related inside the oven. Also, certain food can’t be put inside it too. Naturally, electronics and some such should never be put inside the microwave, including CDs, internal or external hard disk drives, USB thumb drives, cellular phones or smartphones, MP3 players, tablets, tiny laptops, SD cards, and so forth. Unless you want to see sparks and a light show that could lead to the destruction of your expensive microwave oven, don’t even try microwaving those items.
- Other DIY Heat Bags and Beauty Products: You can heat up a bag of beans or rice as long as they have a microwave-friendly or microwave-safe containers, like microwave-safe plastic or cloth like a sock. In other words, you can heat up a sock of beans to serve as your DIY hot bag. Also, did you know you can heat up your beauty products (briefly, as in mere seconds) like hot wax for hair removal, hot-oil conditioners, or facial masks? Finally, when you microwave water with lemon mixed on it, you can end up deodorizing and cleaning your microwave with it.
Where Do You Go From Here?
To be honest, while a microwave is great for certain purposes it’s not so much dependable for others. It’s useful when used correctly but it’s not an instant magic oven that you can use as a toy easy-bake oven.
A traditional oven with preheating time requirements is superior to microwave in many circumstances, particularly when it comes to baking food without drying its moisture out, leading to things like a tough-to-eat pizza crust microwaved for too long. With that said, this article has outlined the things you can put inside the microwave and the things you shouldn’t put inside it. Food, beverages, and microwave-safe containers should be the only things put inside the device. Anything else, from anything metal to small live animals as well as soap or electronics, should not be put inside this oven type.