In our house, we go through more paper plates than I’d like to admit. While we try to use our washable plates as much as possible, with two small children it’s often much easier to choose the paper option, knowing that we won’t have to clean up after we’re done.
Plus, as I mentioned in another article, paper plates can be composted. At least with composting, I know we’re not simply throwing our plates in the trash.
One of my favorite uses for paper plates growing up was to warm up leftovers in the microwave. As a child, it never really occurred to me that I was exposing something that burns easily to a heat source, but at the same time, this is what I was taught to do, and nothing bad ever came of it.
Clearly, paper plates can go in the microwave, but is this safe? And, why don’t they catch fire?
In this article, I’ll answer these questions, and I’ll also go over a few of the reasons why people often use paper plates in the microwave.
Can You Put Paper Plates in the Microwave?
As I already mentioned above, yes, paper plates can generally be used in the microwave to heat your food. Well, at least most of them can be used.
There are exceptions, such as plates that are made with a chemical coating or have some sort of dye on them that might leach into your food when heated. It’s always best to refer to the packaging or check with the manufacturer if you’re unsure.
As long as we’re talking about typical paper plates, you can use them in the microwave. But why don’t they catch fire? Well, this really just boils down to the way a microwave heats the items put inside of it.
A microwave works by causing water molecules to vibrate at high rates, which causes foods and liquids to heat up quickly. This is why some foods heat up faster than others in the microwave, and it’s also why paper doesn’t catch fire.
Even wet paper is unlikely to reach the necessary temperatures for combustion (although a wet paper plate isn’t going to do much for you anyway).
When using paper plates in the microwave, it’s best to only use them for reheating your foods. Basically, the less time your paper plates spend in the microwave, the less moisture they will absorb. As you’ve probably noticed, a paper plate falls apart pretty easily when it starts getting wet.
One last point before I move on is that you still want to be aware of the other items that go into your microwave with your paper plate. If you put something else in the microwave that can cause a spark, your paper plate could potentially catch fire.
Benefits of Using Paper Plates in the Microwave
Although we’ve determined that it’s relatively safe to use paper plates in the microwave, we haven’t discussed why you would want to do it in the first place. Let’s take a look at just a few of these reasons.
1 – To Hold Your Food
The first, and most obvious, reason to use a paper plate in the microwave is to hold your food. Instead of putting your food on a plate that needs to be washed after your meal, simply put it on paper, then throw it away (or better yet, compost it).
2 – To Catch Drips and Spills
Another good reason to use a paper plate in the microwave is to catch drips and spills. We often do this at home when heating up a microwavable mac and cheese cup.
Those things seem to spill over about 50% of the time, so we’ve gotten into the habit of putting a plate underneath to cut down on cleaning the turntable afterward.
3 – To Prevent Splashing
Paper plates don’t have to always be used under your food. You can also layer one on top of your food to prevent liquids from splashing out (which is a common occurrence in the microwave).
Just like the second reason listed above, this helps to cut down on cleaning.
4 – To Retain Moisture
Another reason to put paper plates on top of your food is to help retain moisture. If you think about steaming vegetables on your stove, you probably know that it’s best to put a lid on top to keep the steam from escaping. The same concept applies when putting a paper plate on top of your food in the microwave.
In this case, it works best if you put the plate upside down on top of another plate, with the food in between. If the food is too tall and there’s a gap between the top and bottom plates, it’s not going to do you much good.
If you’ve ever wondered whether or not you can put a paper plate in the microwave, you now know that it’s generally safe to do. While it may seem counter-intuitive since paper burns so easily, due to the way a microwave heats foods, it’s not an issue.
While it’s always better for the environment to use washable, reusable plates when possible, there’s no denying the ease and convenience of using paper plates. Plus, with the potential benefits that I listed above, it’s hard to argue against it.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems and over 10 years of experience working in IT. As a homeowner, I love working on projects around the house, and as a father, I love investigating various ways to keep my family safe (whether or not this involves tech). I’ve also played guitar for almost 20 years and love writing music, although it’s hard to find the time these days.