Home » Blog » Can You Microwave Paper Plates Without Setting Off the Smoke Detector?

Can You Microwave Paper Plates Without Setting Off the Smoke Detector?

I asked my friend, “Can you microwave paper plates?” He said he puts anything he wants in his microwave, including metal tools. I said, “Are you crazy? You can’t put metal in a microwave!!”

He then told me his microwave broke, so he uses it, unplugged, in his garage to store things, like his screwdrivers, inside.

Regardless of my joking friend, after reading this article, you will learn:

  • How to work with the microwave-safe paper plates that you can use to reheat food in your microwave.
  • Why you need to be careful about using paper that contains plastic.
  • How easy it is to set a paper plate on fire in the microwave.
  • Why you should never put aluminum in a microwave.
  • How sparks create plasma in a microwave using grapes.

When you learn how to operate a microwave safely, you won’t end up with a broken one like my friend. You can answer the question of – Can you microwave paper plates? – without causing a fire.

As part of my research for writing this article, I put many paper plates to the test. I set off my smoke detector many times, so many in fact, that I moved my testing outside to prevent the alarm from going off and frightening the neighbors.

The answer to the question of “Can you microwave paper plates?” Is yes, but some of them will catch fire or become deformed. If you are going to try this at home, you do so at your own risk. I highly recommend having a fire extinguisher nearby, properly filled with a charge of fire retardant chemicals. Then, you can use it if things catch fire.


  1. Can you microwave paper plates? →
  2. Are paper plates microwave safe? →
  3. Are Dixie paper plates microwave safe? →
  4. Can you put paper in a microwave? →
  5. What kind of plates can you microwave safely? →
  6. Should you replace paper plates with plastic plates or Styrofoam? →
  7. Useful Resources →

Can You Microwave Paper Plates?

Before researching this article, I thought all paper plates were the same. They are not. Some are a mixture of paper with plastic. Some have treatments to make the paper less absorbent. So, the answer depends on the type of paper plates you are using.

It seems like I was not the only one confused by this topic. The Kitchen Community has a heated debate (if you will excuse the pun) about whether you can put paper plates in a microwave.

The answer is yes and no. It depends on whether the plates are all paper or contain some plastic. Their recommendation is to check the packaging for the phrase “microwave safe” to be sure.

In this video, produced by Hunting Waterfalls, the narrator microwaves a plain piece of paper and a paper bag for two minutes. Both get really hot but don’t catch fire.

The narrator scrunches up a paper bag that starts to catch fire in the microwave for around one minute and completely bursts into flames at two minutes. He also said that pizza boxes could catch fire.

If you want to use paper plates in your microwave, only heat them for a short time and keep the microwave under observation to avoid causing a dangerous fire.

Are Paper Plates Microwave Safe?

Look on the package of the paper plates to see if they are microwave safe. Even though they may have the marking of microwave safe, they can still catch fire in a microwave oven if crumbled up and left on high to cook for more than a minute.

The Microwave Ninja warns that the glass in the bottom of the microwave can get very hot from use. This temperature is hot enough to set thin paper plates on fire. It is best to let the glass plate cool down to safely touch it before trying to use the microwave to heat something on a paper plate and not run the microwave long enough to get the glass plate to heat up too much.

Some people make the mistake of putting a paper plate covered by aluminum foil in the microwave. This mistake is a bad error as aluminum is dangerous in the microwave. When you turn on the microwave with aluminum inside, you may see sparks fly and even hear a loud bang.

Be sure to remove any aluminum covering before putting the paper plate in the microwave.

This video, produced by RUPhys2012, shows what happens when a crumpled-up piece of aluminum goes in the microwave.

The aluminum starts to arc in just a few seconds and then immediately catches fire. If you make the mistake of putting aluminum in a microwave and then go to another room, when you come back, you may face a serious fire.

Are Dixie Paper Plates Microwave Safe?

Dixie answers many questions about their products, saying that they are microwave safe, but they cannot guarantee the same results with all microwaves. Dixie recommends checking with the microwave manufacturer for each microwave model’s specifications.

Dixie products made in America or Canada are very popular. The company started in 1907. Its founder, Lawrence Luellen was a lawyer in Boston, Massachusetts. He was worried about the public sharing of cups and dippers at water sources. He wanted to make a disposable cup to make the water drinking more sanitary and less likely to spread germs.

The original Dixie cups were coated with wax to prevent any liquid that the cup contained from leaking out. Now a fine coating of plastic is used instead. The Dixie paper products may safely serve for reheating food as long as the time in the microwave is short (less than two minutes is best).

Each microwave is slightly different in that it may heat differently to different temperatures. For this reason, Dixie says it cannot make any guarantees. Always be careful to follow the microwave manufacturer’s instructional manual.

Another thing that people commonly want to do is to put Dixie plates and bowls covered in plastic wrap in a microwave for heating.

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has stringent standards for plastics that are made for use in a microwave. The FDA is concerned that any toxic ingredients or chemical residues remaining in the plastic may leach out when exposed to microwaves.

Ensure that the food is not in direct contact with the plastic. Food will get very hot when put for reheating in a microwave. That heat may be enough to melt any plastic it touches.

If your concern is the possible splattering of food when the plate is reheating in a microwave, consider covering it with a microwave-safe paper towel instead of plastic. This method will help the food retain its moisture without the risk of any plastic melting.

Can You Put Paper in a Microwave?

Microwaves work by vibrating the water molecules in something. This vibration causes heat. Foods that contain larger amounts of moisture, such as fresh vegetables, will heat up more quickly in a microwave. Microwave radiation can pass through the most glass, some plastics, and some paper products, without causing any heat.

If the microwaves reflect on something, like metal, they cannot pass through; this reflection will cause a spark instead. Crumpled paper creates more reflecting possibilities, so it can heat up more quickly and catch fire faster than a sheet of paper or a flat paper plate.

Paper containing impurities or inks may also catch fire if used in a microwave.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service says that you can microwave some paper products but must check with the manufacturer first to be sure.

White parchment paper, microwave-safe white paper towels, wax paper, and cooking bags should be safe. Brown paper, newspaper, plastic grocery bags, and aluminum foil are not safe to use in a microwave.

Paper that is not pure white or has a printed design may be problematic if you try to use it in a microwave. The inks used for printing may contain chemicals released by the microwaves to contaminate your food. The inks may contain metal oxides that increase the risk of causing a fire.

In this video, produced by Hunting Waterfalls, he answers the question of – “Can you microwave a paper plate?” – by intentionally trying to set a paper plate on fire by putting it in a microwave.

The narrator shows setting a paper plate flat in the microwave running for five minutes. The paper started catching on fire. A crumpled-up paper plate catches on fire even faster within less than two minutes.

What Kind of Plates Can You Microwave Safely?

If you are going to put paper plates in the microwave, the discussion on Quora says it is best to use the plain white ones that are the thin kind and made 100% of paper.

Trish Deseinewarns to watch out for paper plates that have something printed on them. The ink may contain metal that will cause the paper plates to catch fire. She also recommends not using paper plates for cooking in the microwave and limiting their use to reheating for only a few minutes in the microwave.

In this video, produced by EBP Supply Solutions, the narrator discusses the benefits of microwave-safe take-out containers for commercial use in the restaurant business. He recommends using polypropylene containers or containers made from molded fiber for reheating food in a microwave.

Food containers made from paper board, Styrofoam, and PET plastic are not suitable to reheat food in the microwave.

Should You Replace Paper Plates with Plastic Plates or Styrofoam?

As far as being environmentally friendly goes, neither paper nor plastic plates are good choices. Styrofoam is even a worse choice.

Plastic may have plenty of toxic materials in it. Plastic is bad for the global ecosystem when it ends up in a landfill or floating on the ocean. Paper may come from cutting down trees, which is a big contributor to global warming. The paper manufacturing process creates lots of pollution. It also uses a lot of water and harsh chemicals to turn wood pulp into paper.

Before you decide on whether to use paper or plastic plates, consider the sustainability issues.

Paper takes up to 20 years to decompose in a landfill. Plastic may take longer, up to 100 years. Styrofoam may not decompose for a million years.

Using a multiple-use, washable plate has the advantages of:

1. Food Is Tastier

There is a psychological effect that comes from serving food on fine dinnerware and using real cutlery. Food served on disposable plates seems cheaper and therefore lower quality.

A dish served on a regular plate looks more gourmet-like

The subconscious mind sees the disposable plates and assumes the food comes from an inferior, take-out source. Paper plates may trick the mind into thinking the servings are not gourmet food that is well prepared, even when they are from a five-star restaurant.

Mediocre food served with a nice presentation on dinnerware appears to be better quality. This psychological effect causes the brain to think the food is of better quality and that it tastes better.

2. One Hand is Enough to Support the Plate

Using one hand is easier and safer with a real plate made of more durable material than a paper plate.

With a paper plate, if it starts to bend, it may suddenly require two hands to support it. You may have to rush to the nearest table before the plate breaks and dumps the food onto the floor.

3. Cutting Through the Plate

A sharp knife, like a steak knife, may cut through the paper plate and mar the table beneath it. A cut may also allow the paper plate’s contents to leak out.

4. Extra Work

Yes, washable dinnerware must be cleaned for each use. However, disposable plates do cause extra work too. There are extra trips to the stores to buy them.

All these actions will become much more harmful to the environment

Depending on how you travel, these trips may cause air pollution. There are trips to the garbage cans to throw them out after use. Storing them may take up valuable space in the pantry that might be more useful for storing other things.

5. Saving Money

Although the upfront cost is greater, real dinnerware may last for many years and even be handed down to the next generation. Cost analysis shows that it is actually less expensive to own real dinnerware than to buy single-use disposables over a significant period.

6. Saving Water

You might think that washing dinnerware after each use wastes a lot of water. However, you may not realize that the manufacturing process of making a disposable plate uses more water than washing a reusable plate.

More water for producing disposable plates = more money spending

Because of the environmental concerns, many opt for real plates made from ceramic or other more durable materials and then wash them. Guests at a party may appreciate this.

Also, when thinking about ceramic plates, be sure to consider the microwave-safe ones, so they are useful for placing in the microwave to reheat food.

I should also mention that if you have a party, you may want to have an ice crusher on hand. You can read my reviews of ice crushers here.

Now for a bit of fun before we end this post. In this video, produced by Veritasium, watch this weird effect of a scientist making plasma by microwaving grapes.

Cool, huh. So be careful what you put in the microwave. Who knows what might happen?

Useful Resources

Wrapping Up

By now, you know the answer to the question of – Can you microwave paper plates? How do you feel about it? Does it feel safe, or are you still a bit scared? You can always switch to eating sandwiches made from cold cuts and not heat anything. But that would not be much fun.

When using a microwave, use microwave-safe containers and always have a fire extinguisher handy. Do not leave a microwave running unattended. For a “greener” choice, you may choose to go with environmentally-sustainable ceramic dinnerware instead.

Cindy Becker

Leave a Comment