Can You Put Paper Plates In The Microwave?

Running a household is not easy and the chores can quickly add up. Often, using paper plates is much simpler than having dishes stacked up after every meal. The problem many have is knowing if they can or cannot microwave paper plates. 

Most traditional paper plates can be microwaved safely in a standard microwave. The main thing to keep in mind is if the paper plate has a plastic covering, which cannot withstand microwaving. It is important to assess the type of paper plate you are using, and the time needed in the microwave.

If you are using paper plates regularly or plan to begin using them, for safety purposes it is important to know what you can and cannot do. We will break down the ins and outs of using paper plates and how you can decide if they are microwave safe. To learn more, keep reading.

How long can you microwave a paper plate?

As a general rule, paper plates or other paper products should not be microwaved for more than two minutes. It’s important to know that brown paper bags can catch on fire if microwaved for too long, aluminum foil will cause sparks within the microwave, and food likes cottage cheese and other oily foods will cause the plates to absorb the oil and go soggy, which could damage the integrity of the plate and food. 

Is Your Plate Microwave Safe?

When it comes to microwaving paper plates, there are two main things to keep in mind; are they plastic coated and is there any designs. Almost all paper plates can be microwaved for a small amount of time, unless they have plastic coatings or metallic designs. Of course, it is not always easy to decide if your plates fit into this category. 

Plastic Coated Paper Plates

You will find that many paper plates are plastic coated and marketed as being extra durable or sturdy. These can cause some issues in the microwave as some will melt with longer heating. While some plastic-coated plates can be microwaved for short periods safely, many simply cannot. 

This leads to some confusion and probably has you questioning, is your plastic-coated paper plates microwave safe? Well let’s break it down further:

  • It can be difficult to immediately recognize if your plate is plastic coated, but most of these will have a different feeling than traditional paper plate. 
  • You may be able to tell from your plate’s packaging if they are plastic coated. This can be found on the labeling or they will have the word durable, or sturdy added.
  • Dixie brand paper plates are often coated in this plastic, but they are safe to microwave. This makes them a great choice for disposable plate that can easily be found, and they are super durable. 
  • Most paper plates today have been created to be microwave safe, which you may be able to find listed on the packaging. If you cannot find this clearly listed, it may be best to avoid using these plates in the microwave and next time you purchase, find a pack that does say they are microwave safe.
Plastic Coated Paper Plates

If you are unsure that your plastic-coated paper plates are microwave safe, do not throw these plates out. Simply use these plates for foods that do not need reheated and find plates that you know are microwave safe for reheating purposes.

Avoid Metallic Designs 

Another important thing to keep in mind which can easily lead to issues is if the plate has a metallic design. While many paper plates have some form of design around the edges, you will want to look over this design fully.

Many bigger name brands will have simple designs that cause no issue, but some party plates or special occasion paper plates can have metallic designs. 

If you have ever placed something metal into your microwave, you already know that this can cause some major fireworks. While a short period of time in the microwave may not lead to major issues, if you put something metallic in the microwave without realizing it can quickly cause fires. You can easily permanently damage your device by accidentally microwaving metal. 

How To Reheat Foods Safely On Paper Plates

While most paper plates are safe to use in the microwave, as we have discussed, it is important that they are used properly. A major influence on how you will use your plate is the type of food you will be warming up and how long it needs heated.

Most paper plates can be used to heat up food, but those foods that need extended warming may be best heated on a different, microwave safe plate.

Some things to keep in mind about heating foods properly on a paper plate are:

  • Remove Any Fire Hazards – Before you place anything in your microwave, you should remove anything that may cause fires. This will include anything metal that may spark and could cause the plate to burn. You should be doing this prior to each microwave use, regardless of the plate or bowl you are using.
  • Paper Plates are Only for Reheating – Paper plates are microwave safe for a short period of time but are never meant to be used for fully cooking food. If you are reheating food on a paper plate, it is best to keep the microwave time down to one to two minutes. If you are making something that needs extended heating or even cooking, you will want to use another plate. 
  • When in Doubt, Stack the Plates – If you are reheating a food that is noticeably greasy or a bit wetter, you may want to double stack your paper plates. Many foods can be reheated on one paper plate without any issue. However, if you think that the grease or liquids from the food will soak through, it is best to just stack one or two plates together to protect against this before reheating.
  • Cover Foods That Splatter – When using the microwave, there are certain foods that will heat up and begin to splatter. This can quickly cause a mess in your microwave and be super inconvenient. You can always use a plain paper towel or splatter guard with your plate to block this splattering. 
disposable paper plates

At times when a paper plate is used in the microwave it will become flimsy with heat. When you remove your plate from the microwave, place it on a sturdy dish or surface for a few seconds to allow it to cool. This will help you avoid spilling the food.

Can Paper Plates Catch On Fire?

Just like most things we use daily; paper plates can catch on fire easily if used incorrectly. While in most cases they will not catch fire in the microwave for short periods of time, it is important to recognize that they can catch fire if used incorrectly. 

On average, the USDA states that most paper products can be used safely in the microwave for relatively short periods of time. These items will include classic paper plates, wax paper, paper towels, and parchment paper.

However, it is important to note that some paper items like coffee cups and brown paper bags are not recommended for microwave use. 

To truly understand the dangers of using a paper item incorrectly, you must understand how a microwave works. The process of heating foods in a microwave is:

  • First, the microwave will use electromagnetic radiation to create vibrations in the water molecules of the food. 
  • These water molecules will begin to vibrate more quickly as the radiation continues. This motion will cause friction between the molecules. 
  • The friction between the molecules will produce heat, and in turn, heat your food. 

The main problem here is that the radiation will also cause the water molecules in plastic products to heat up. This can be an issue if you have a plastic-coated paper plate as the chemical polystyrene in plastic can heat up and catch fire. Traditional paper items do not contain this chemical, therefore making them safe for microwave use. 

Can You Test Your Plates Safety?

The best option is to purchase plates that note they are microwave safe. Some will say this on the packaging while others will have the microwave safe logo on the plate or package. However, if you already have some plates at home and are wondering if they are safe, there is some ways to test this. 

The first thing to keep in mind is that most paper plates will be microwave safe. It is also important to note that all paper plates should only be used for short periods of time. As mentioned, no paper plate should be used for cooking food, but rather for only reheating. 

If you would like to test your paper plates before using them in the microwave, there is a simple way to do this by following these steps:

  • Start by filling a small bowl with water. 
  • Place the bowl and the plate you are testing into the microwave side by side. This can be a bit of a squeeze, but you can use a smaller bowl as long as it has some water inside.
  • Microwave this bowl and plate combination for one minute. To truly test the plate, do this on high power.
  • Once the minute is up, you will want to very carefully touch the plate. If the plate is very hot, it is most likely not microwave safe with food. 

Of course, if you find that the plate you are testing melts in any way, sparks, or is damaged by the microwave, it is not safe. You can still use these plates for eating on, but avoid reheating food with these plates. 

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