Keeping the kitchen and kitchenware clean is no easy play; you need patience and some paper towels handy for that. When something splatters or spills, a couple of paper towels will ensure things remain under control.
But, can you put paper towels in the microwave? This is a debatable question among cooks because, for some people, paper towels are convenient and reliable, while others see them as potentially dangerous paper sheets.
If you’re also unsure about this matter, here’s an answer for you:
You can put paper towels in the microwave to control splatter and keep your food moist. However, since some studies have shown that paper towels may contain harmful chemicals, it’s better to avoid them. Tea towels and cotton clothes serve the same purpose without posing any health risk; why not leverage them?
That aside, there are some other factors about paper towels that you should understand before microwaving them—interested in knowing? So let’s dive deeper then!
Why Put a Paper Towel Over Food in the Microwave?
First things first, why putting paper towels in the microwave is up for debate? Aren’t they supposed to clean only? Well, not always.
Home cooks frequently cover their food with paper towels to contain its moisture contents and keep all the mess at bay. Here are the top reasons why paper towels are put in the microwave:
To Prevent Splatters & Spits
Soups, sauces, and gravies may cause a mess in the microwave when you overheat them.
But if you place a paper towel over the food bowl or container, it absorbs the splatter that happens while the microwave does its job.
Controlling splatter will keep your oven clean and all your food in the bowl; easy peasy.
To Trap the Moisture
Foods like hot dogs, sausages, and cutlets tend to get hard in the microwave because their moisture evaporates during the heating phase.
Luckily, paper and tea towels don’t let that happen. You place one or two paper towels over your food bowl, and they work as a moisture seal.
Containing the moisture keeps your food soft and flavorful. If your sausages and bacon come out from the microwave like biscuits, start covering them with mildly wet towels, and you’ll like the results.
To Evenly Cook
A microwave develops hot air pockets in your food for heating and cooking. If there’s no seal above the food to contain this heat, it might cook unevenly.
Therefore, it’s common to spread a damp cloth/towel over food to ensure it’s evenly cooked from the inside out.
When your food is covered with a paper towel, it receives lesser heat and radiation from the microwave, which is good from the food safety perspective.
To Reheat the Food
If you have reheated a pizza in the oven, you’d know how it comes out soggy and kind of wet.
This happens because microwave heat releases water contents from the pizza, and they end up sogging its dough.
Contrarily, reheating food by wrapping it in a paper towel ensures the water droplets don’t affect your food and come out perfectly soft.
To Protect the Turntable
Who wants to see a dirty microwave? I know no one! And that’s when paper towels come to the rescue.
You put one paper towel under and one over the food bowl to prevent any spitting. The paper towel under your bowl will keep the turntable clean and make microwave cleaning a breeze for you.
Also, before putting a heavy food container on the microwave turntable, spread a few paper towels under it to prevent scratches and cracks in the glass part.
Are Paper Towels Microwave Safe?
Paper towels are microwave safe if you don’t heat them beyond a certain level (300F). You can put paper towels in the microwave to catch drippings, contain moisture, and keep food grease at bay.
You won’t have trouble using paper towels with a microwave because they don’t have enough moisture to catch fire or extreme heat.
Another important factor is that paper towels quickly dissipate heat, so unless you’re cooking at an insanely high temperature, it will be safe.
Other forms of paper, i.e., newspaper, brown bags, and regular paper sheets, are different from paper towels, so don’t assume this verdict works for them as well.
Is Putting Paper Towels in the Microwave Hazardous?
Most good-quality paper towels are microwave safe, and you can use them however you like. But, if your paper towel roll contains any toxic substance, it shouldn’t go near your food.
How to check if the paper towels are potentially harmful? It’s easy:
The most common toxic chemicals found in paper towels are “dioxins,” which are byproducts of the paper-bleaching process.
If a paper towel is advertised as safe for kitchen uses, it’s likely not to contain dioxins. On the flip side, picking any paper towel bundle and using it with food is not wise.
You can put dyed or bleached paper towels under the food container while heating it, but make sure it doesn’t come in direct contact with the food.
Lining the food tray/container with a paper towel is another practice frequently followed by home cooks, which is highly unsafe. When your food touches the paper towel, it can absorb harmful substances from its surface and risk your food’s safety.
If the paper towels are made from recycled materials, they may contain unsafe materials, i.e., plastic, and spark fire in your microwave.
So, unless you’re confident about what your paper towel bundle is made of, keep it away from your food for the greater good.
Can a Paper Towel in the Microwave Catch Fire?
Paper towels can get overheated and eventually catch fire if your microwave is set at a high temperature (think above 300F). Since most of us don’t need such temperatures, paper towels catching fire in a microwave is a rare sight.
However, if you have to cook at a high temperature and using a paper towel is also inevitable, keep checking your microwave after short intervals.
This way, you’ll be aware of the towel’s status, and the chances of a hazard will also reduce. Wet paper towels are more likely to cause sparks and catch fire in a microwave, be careful with them!
Are Bounty Paper Towels Microwave Safe?
Yes, according to this brand’s official website, bounty towels are microwave safe for limited durations. This means you can use a bounty towel while reheating or defrosting food, but not for anything extensive.
Since bounty towels are made from wood pulp, they can catch fire when exposed to high heat for a considerable duration. Therefore, be careful while putting bounty paper towels in a microwave.
If you’re using printed bounty towels, don’t place them on the food directly as the chemical dyes can leach into your food.
Instead, put the towel under your food container or keep its printed side away from your food. Chemical dyes and bleaches shouldn’t go near your food, especially in an appliance like a microwave.
Paper Towels are Convenient, but are they Practical?
You spill or drop something, grab a paper towel to clean it, and that’s all. But are paper towels actually this convenient? Certainly not when we compare them with reusable towels.
We all need to be environmentally conscious, and using disposable towels in daily life isn’t environmentally conscious.
One excellent and cost-effective alternative to paper towels is using a cotton cloth or tea towels in the kitchen. These reusable and convenient towels go easy on your pocket and don’t encourage littering, so I recommend switching to them.
Paper towels are staples in most kitchens, and home cooks use them for more than one purpose. Most people put paper towels in the microwave to reduce the mess and make cooking easier. However, despite being microwave-safe, paper towels shouldn’t be your ultimate resort to cover food.
High heat can stimulate chemical leaching in paper towels and risk your food’s safety. Therefore, I recommend you use paper towels for cleaning purposes and find a safer alternative, i.e., cotton, for covering/lining food.
Can I put a wet paper towel in the microwave? Yes, you can, but don’t heat a damp paper towel for a long duration. If you leave a wet paper towel in the microwave for more than 5 minutes, the chances of it catching fire increase twofold (although that depends on the temperature settings). Also, if you’re habitual of wrapping your food in a paper towel while microwaving it, quit that practice as well. A scorching paper towel can release toxic chemicals into your food.
How long can you microwave the paper towel? Paper towels can catch fire at temperatures above 300F. So if you’re microwaving a paper towel at a temperature lower than 300F, you can microwave it as long as the food needs. But, when the temperature is above the bearable limit, keep checking the microwave after short intervals to ensure there’s nothing to worry about.