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15 Surprising Microwave Dangers And How To Avoid Them

Microwave Mistakes

There’s no denying that the microwave is a useful and highly convenient appliance, but there are certain things you need to be aware of to use one safely. Just ask my youngest son Sten, who, as a young child, started microwaving some Cup Noodles without adding water first.

It mostly produced an impressive amount of smoke, along with an aroma of burnt noodles and styrofoam that lingered in our kitchen for several days. (No real harm was done though and we always get a good laugh out of remembering that incident!)

But not all microwave mishaps are as harmless as Sten’s (thankfully) was—more hazardous outcomes include explosions, leaching chemicals, and unsafe food. But the good news about these undesirable outcomes is that all of them are entirely avoidable.

Today I’ll be sharing 15 different behaviors to avoid when it comes to using your microwave (that’s on top of “microwaving Cup Noodles without water,” which was a freebie). ;-) I’ll tell you why each behavior is potentially dangerous and offer safe alternatives, so that hopefully we can all avoid microwave mishaps in the future.

15 Things You Should NOT Do With Your Microwave

Defrosting Meat

1. Defrost Meat

The problem with defrosting meat in your microwave is that the heat often gets distributed through the meat unevenly. The edges of your meat are likely to start cooking before the center even begins defrosting, which can lead to bacterial growth that can make someone sick.

Safer Alternative: The USDA recommends either thawing food overnight in your refrigerator or cooking it directly from frozen.

Steaming Eggs on the Stove

2. Cook Eggs In The Shell

Microwaving anything with a tight skin or shell (like eggs, hot dogs, squash, etc.) can be a risky business. The problem is that as the moisture inside them heats up, steam will start to build up. The steam can create pressure, which can build to the point where the food “explodes,” which is definitely not a mess you want to clean up!

Safer Alternative: You’re better off cooking whole eggs in a a pot of boiling water, or in your Instant Pot. You can still heat up peeled hard-boiled eggs in your microwave, but just make sure to prick them on all sides with a fork to allow steam to escape.

Related: 11 Surprising Ways Your Microwave Is More Useful Than You Think

Warming Breast Milk

3. Warm Up Breast Milk

The problem with using your microwave to heat up breast milk is the same as with frozen meat: the potential for uneven heating. Hot spots may develop in the milk when microwaved, which could easily burn a baby’s mouth.

Safer Alternative: The FDA suggests heating breast milk either by running it under hot water, or by heating water on your stovetop, removing the pan from heat, then placing the bottle inside. You should still swirl or stir the milk to make sure it is a uniform temperature throughout, and test the temperature by putting a bit of the milk onto the back of your hand. (It should feel lukewarm, not hot.)

Heating Leftovers in the Microwave

4. Heat Leftovers In Carryout Containers

It’s widely known that certain plastic products contain chemicals like BPA that can leach into food when heated. The effect of these chemicals is still being studied, but animal studies have shown that exposure to high levels of these chemicals can have a toxic effect. So tossing your takeout container into the microwave may not be the best idea.

Safer Alternative: Look at the labeling on the container itself, and if it doesn’t say “microwave-safe,” transfer the food to a glass container or a microwave-safe plate.

Microwaving Ceramic Dishes

5. Use Ceramic Dishes

While many ceramic dishes are perfectly safe to use in your microwave, not all of them are. For instance, “low fired” ceramics retain some of the porous nature of clay, meaning they can soak up moisture. That becomes problematic in a microwave, where that moisture can heat up and cause the ceramic to shatter.

Safe Alternative: Make sure to check your ceramic dishes for a “microwave-safe” label. When in doubt, use a different dish. (Oven-safe Pyrex glass is always a safe bet!)

Related: How to Clean Pyrex Dishes

Boiling water in the microwave

6. Boil Water

You may have already heard about the hazards of “superheated” water, which can occur when very clean water is heated in a microwave inside a very clean cup. Superheated water doesn’t show any signs of boiling, but will release its stored heat (ie. explode) when disturbed or moved. Your chances of accidentally superheating water are low, but it’s more likely if distilled water is used.

Safer Alternative: If you’re concerned about the possibility of superheating, put a wooden spoon or a wood stir stick in the container along with the water to prevent the phenomenon. Or you can always just boil your water in a kettle instead.

Heating raisins in the microwave

7. Heat Raisins

Some recipes call for raisins to be softened before using them, but throwing a bunch of raisins into your microwave is not the way to do it! Raisins will smoke in your microwave, and could even catch fire.

Safer Alternative: Here’s how to safely use your microwave to soften raisins. Put the raisins in a microwave-safe bowl and cover them with water. Place a microwave-safe plate or lid on top, and heat the bowl of raisins for about 30-45 seconds. Let the raisins steep in the hot water for 5 minutes, then drain and use.

Heating plastic in the microwave

8. Think “Microwave-Safe” Means “Risk-Free”

The only thing that a “microwave-safe” label means is that a dish won’t melt, break, or produce large amounts of unsafe fumes or chemicals when microwaved, but any microwave-safe dish can be compromised. Scratches and changes in color can be indicators that a dish or container should be replaced.

Safer Alternative: To reduce unnecessary risk, stick to using glass containers and high-fired ceramics in your microwave.

Microwaving packaged food

9. Heat Packaged Food

The only time you should microwave food that’s still in its original packaging is if the package clearly instructs you to do so. And even then, the packaging should be thrown away after microwaving, because they’re typically only meant to be cooked once.

Safer Alternative: If the packaging isn’t meant to go in the microwave, transfer the food to a microwave-safe plate or bowl before cooking.

Quickly Drying Clothing

10. Dry Clothing

Microwaving clothes is never a good idea. Rather than drying out the moisture in your clothes, microwaving it will just make the water really, really hot, and you could easily burn yourself trying to handle the item. The heat could also damage the fabric or even ignite it, so it’s just a bad idea all the way around.

Safer Alternative: If you need to quickly dry a clothing item, a hair dryer can help. Lay the clothing item out flat, and blow the hot air from the hair dryer towards it until it’s dry (or dry enough).

Disinfecting Sponges

11. Disinfect Dry Sponges

While you can use your microwave to disinfect your kitchen sponge, the sponge MUST be wet! Microwaving a dry sponge is a quick way to start a fire, and no one wants that.

Safer Alternative: Soak your sponge before microwaving it, and check out this link for full instructions on how to safely disinfect a sponge in your microwave.

Cooking Hot Peppers

12. Cook Hot Peppers

Like the eggs I mentioned above, peppers can also explode when heated in a microwave. But hot peppers are even riskier to microwave because they contain capsaicin that can easily become airborne. Not only will you have a hot pepper microwave explosion to clean up, but it will essentially pepper spray everyone in the area too, causing painful burning in eyes and noses.

Safer Alternative: When cooking hot peppers, stick to using your stovetop, oven, or broiler, and always be careful when handling them.

Making popcorn in the microwave

13. Use Paper Bags

The main issue with paper bags is that they can’t withstand a lot of heat. They can start to smoke and may even catch fire, which is why commercial microwave popcorn bags are made with a material that absorbs microwaves and protects the paper.

Safer Alternative: You can still make your own homemade microwave popcorn—just use the glass bowl method I’ve outlined at this link.

microwave mistakes

14. Use Dishes With Hidden Metal

You already know not to put metal in your microwave, but some plates and containers may contain metal in less obvious ways. Metallic paint on dishes can be problematic, and some takeout containers may have metal handles or foil linings.

Safer Alternative: Again, make sure to look at each dish or container individually to check if it’s labeled as “microwave-safe.” If it isn’t clearly marked as such, transfer your food to a different dish or container before microwaving.

Microwave Mistakes

15. Run An Empty Microwave

While it’s not likely that anyone would run an empty microwave on purpose, it can happen accidentally. (I once thought I was turning on the timer when I was actually turning it on.) And that’s bad news, because if there’s nothing inside to absorb the microwaves, the magnetron inside the microwave will absorb them instead and could be damaged.

Safer Alternative: Simple—don’t run your microwave when it’s empty.

Have you had any unfortunate microwave mishaps?

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Jill Nystul Photo

Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Food & Recipes

  • If I forget to take chicken out of the freezer the night before, Ill put it in the mw in two minute intervals to thaw it out. I also put a bag of soy crumbles in the mw to thaw them out. Luckily I haven’t had any mishaps.

  • I used a 100% cotton sock to make a heating pad/tube. After 1 minute in the microwave it burst into flames. I have also had two incidents of super heating water. It just explodes. WHAM! Thanks for the tip about putting something wooden in the cup with the water.

  • #15! Ha! I’m so happy to know I’m not the only person who has ruined a microwave by having a ditzy moment, and ran the microwave instead of the timer. Even smart people like Jillee and me have our moments of mindlessness .
    Thanks for all of the other tips. I learn so much from One Good Thing. It one of the most helpful spots on the internet. When you help the home, you help the world.

  • I wish you would have said that if you ever have a fire in your microwave DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR until the fire is out and UNPLUG it. One time I was in the shower and my very little–2 to 3 year old son–thought he’d take the metal lined carafe from the Espresso Maker and Sugar and Nuke it. He wanted breakfast and thought he’d cook just like Mom and Dad. Of course it caught fire. Luckily my husband came home and caught him as he was getting ready to open the micro door to put out the fire!

  • Heating breastmilk in the micro also kills vital cells and substances in the milk that are beneficial to the baby and destroys what makes breastmilk so unique! So never microwave it even if you are super careful to not overheat it.

    • Microwaving does not kill anything that heating on the stove wouldn’t. Both actually act the same way: By rubbing molecules together which causes them to heat. So many urban legends…

  • My LG micro has the best defrost cycle for Meat, fish chicken bread. I use it all the time. NEVER cooks the product, usually comes out cool to the touch.

    • I use the #2, to defrost an item, if I am in a hurry. My microwave says that #3 is for defrosting, but that #3 does cook the edges of the meat. Usually, I defrost the chops, steak, etc. overnight in the fridge.

  • Sorry, but I had to laugh about drying clothes in the microwave! Why would anyone even think that the microwave could dry clothes??? I could not even imagine. LMBO!!

    • It happens! I got one of the first microwave ovens from my new husband for a Xmas Gift back in 1970 and read the book that came with it – which said you can dry clothes in it. One day I was running very late for the gym and my leotard was still damp. So, I put it in the microwave. Voila! Melted leotard!!! Forgot the book said clothes made with “natural fibers” – my leotard was nylon. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to the gym that day. Live and learn.

  • I am so glad you made clear in one place in the blog that “microwave safe” applies only to the safety of the container, not to the safety of the person eating the food microwaved in the container. But in several other places in the blog, that fact is blurred. Why ever microwave in plastic if the effects on people aren’t tested and known?

  • Another no-no: don’t try to melt crayons together to make a “rainbow” crayon. When my daughter was about 12 the art teacher made some comment about grating crayons and melting the shreds in the microwave to create a rainbow crayon. One day, during the summer, when she was home she attempted this project. She made tiny crayon pieces and put them in a dish and into the microwave they all went. Teacher didn’t say how long it would take wax to melt into this magic rainbow crayon so she set it for 10 min and left the room. When smoke filled the house and there were flames in the microwave she grabbed the phone and headed out the door. Called 911 and waited for the fire department. Luckily we only lived 3 blocks from the fire house and they were there quickly. I got a call from them telling me everything was ok and she had done everything correctly. They blew the smoke out of the house and the only casualty was the very old microwave I had. I got a new microwave, she had a valuable lesson as did all the neighbor kids.

  • Also be aware that some foods catch fire in a microwave. For instance, raw onions spark just like metal does and will ignite. Don’t ask me how I know. :)

  • We had the experience with hidden metal a few years ago. My sister in law was visiting and was heating water in a cup. A small fire started because there was metal on the handle that was covered up. It was from a Corelle set of plates. The set was second hand from a yard sale, so it could have stated the metal on the original box.

    • My Corelle wear are Cornflower Blue bowls with handles and glass lids. I, also, have square containers with glass lids. These are ancient, I have had them for years, and are safe for use on the stove, microwave or oven. The newer Corelle is pretty but why change if what you have works well? On those with no lid, due to breakage that was my fault, I dropped it, I use plastic wrap that states that it is safe to use in the microwave, but I cut two vents in the plastic wrap.

  • Solved this problem with microwaves some eight years ago, dumped the thing – won’t be having another one, there again it might be like wives, I’ve said that before as well! Didn’t work!

  • Don’t try and disinfect your sponges in the microwave, wet or damp, period. There is a recent scientific study which proves that it doesn’t kill bacteria, it just makes it more resistant – so, bad idea.

    • Don’t try to disinfect sponges by any method. Just don’t use them. They are one of the filthiest (almost undoubtedly the filthiest) things you could have in your house. A recent study by a university in Germany found 362 different species of bacteria living in a kitchen sponge. About 82 billion (yes, you read right) bacteria living in one cubic inch of space.

      • Solved the dirty kitchen sponge problem. I clean them by dropping the filthy things into my trash and leaving their cleaning up to the local landfill operator…

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