Can You Put Paper Plates in the Microwave?

Paper plates are the golden hack of minimum effort. Sure, they’re made for parties and outdoor picnics, and big events.

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But they’re also perfect for those lazy days in which you really don’t want to do the dishes, so you get a paper plate, and throw it away when you’re done. No washing, and no effort involved.

Another golden hack of minimum effort is the microwave, as you can reheat almost any food in it in no time, and you can also cook things in it.

You can even bake a tiny cake in the microwave, using a few ingredients in a mug. 

But here’s the real question, do those two hacks go together? Can you put paper plates in the microwave?

Not everything is microwave-safe, so this is a good thing to know beforehand, so you don’t cause an accident!

Let’s look at both and see if they go together!

About the Microwave

The microwave is super easy to use, and it heats up your food within minutes, sometimes even in under a minute. But how does it work, and why are not all types of plates safe to use with it?

Well, the microwave generates short radio waves (the microwaves, hence the name), and they bounce off the reflective inner surface of the microwave oven.

And when these microwaves pass through the food, the water molecules are agitated thanks to the magnetic component of the waves, so that they generate energy and they heat up.

It’s quite an in-depth process, but basically, the microwaves heat up the food. And they do so in a very efficient way, as they pass through microwave-safe plastics, glass, and ceramics, without heating them up. Just the food.

So glass and ceramic are perfectly safe in a microwave. And so are some plastics, but they have to be specifically labeled as microwave-safe.

There are two main reasons why a certain type of plate could be deemed unsafe in the microwave:

It is made (wholly or partially) from materials that will absorb the microwaves:

If the plate absorbs the microwaves, it will heat up in the same way the food does, and this is bad. For one, it will be too hot for you to touch or pick up.

But even worse is that if the heat is too much it could begin to warp and melt. So the plate essentially is no more.

It is made (wholly or partially) from materials that are not food-safe when microwaved:

Some materials might become harmful once they are microwaved, whether because they leave some sort of residue behind, or they give off a certain gas or similar.

These could make the food unsafe for consumption, therefore defeating the purpose of reheating the food to eat.

About Paper Plates

We’ve talked about the microwave, so let’s take a look at paper plates. They’re convenient, easy to use, and you just throw them away after use instead of having to wash them. And put simply, they are plates made out of paper. But is that all they are?

Not always! There are different types of paper plates, and while some will be 100% made of just paper, some will have plastic coatings (for various different reasons, such as durability).

And not all plastics are microwave-safe, as we mentioned, you have to ensure they are specifically labeled as microwave-safe to be sure.

Usually, the paper plates that have a plastic coating, are the ones that are extra durable, and that can hold the most food without leaking.

As the plastic helps the plate be sturdier and more resistant. But there can also be brands of paper plates that are as durable and sturdy while being made fully out of paper, so this isn’t a reliable way of knowing.

Are paper plates microwave safe?

To know for sure, check the packaging. It should state what the paper plates are made out of. And if they have a plastic coating, it should state whether it is microwave-safe or not.

Can you microwave paper plates?

We’ve covered microwaves and paper plates separately, so let’s put them together and address the actual question. Can you put paper plates in the microwave?

If you were expecting a solid answer, we’re sorry, because it’s both a yes and a no. It depends on the type of paper plate!

Paper or any paper product, as a general rule, is completely safe to use in the microwave. So you can microwave paper plate. Some exceptions are newspapers, as it will leak the ink, and brown paper bags as they will likely catch fire. But as a whole, paper plates that are 100% made of paper, should be microwave-safe.

So what about the ones that feature a plastic coating? Well, as we said, it depends on the plastic used for the coating. Some plastics are microwave-safe, and others aren’t and will just melt and become toxic to the food.

The only way of knowing is by checking the packaging information, or by testing the plate yourself.

How to Test a Plate for Microwave Safety

Wait, you can test a plate yourself to check whether it’s microwave-safe or not? Yup, you can!

So if the packaging of the paper plates is vague, or doesn’t quite state whether they’re safe for the microwave or not, then you can test them yourself.

That way you don’t have to risk them in the microwave, and you don’t have to outright throw them away and buy others.

However, before we go ahead and tell you how to test the plates, you need to know that even plates that are microwave-safe should be kept in the microwave for the least amount of time possible, because the longer something is in the microwave, the more chances of it eventually absorbing energy and creating heat.

But let’s get into the testing. Here is a step by step guide for you:

  1. Start by filling up a small bowl with water. Then place the bowl in the microwave, along with the plate you’re wanting to test.
  2. Start the microwave up on high power, and with a timer of 1 minute.
  3. When the time is up, touch the plate being tested carefully. (It might be hot, so don’t just outright grab it!)
  4. If the plate is quite hot to the touch, then it has absorbed the microwaves and created heat, meaning it is not microwave-safe.

This is a way to quickly determine whether something is, on principle, microwave-safe or not. However, as we’ve already warned, the longer the microwave is on and the higher the power, the more chances of something going wrong with the plate!

And if the test doesn’t quite convince you, it’s best to not take the risk. Especially because, although the paper plate might not become hot to the touch, it might contain materials that become harmful to the food, and that are not safe for consumption.

For example, if the plate contains a BPA chemical or a polyfluoroalkyl chemical, then it is not safe to use in the microwave, because it can cause the food to become toxic and unsafe.

Most food-related items, kitchen tools, and disposable plates will usually be labeled as BPA-free, so this is something to also look out for in the paper plates you use.

And this either comes in the packaging, or you don’t have a way of knowing. Sadly, we don’t have a test for this part of the microwave-safe requirements of a plate!

So once again, it’s best not to take the risk. If the paper plates in question aren’t labeled as microwave-safe, then don’t use them in the microwave. Besides, paper plates are cheap enough, so go ahead and buy some that you know are 100% microwave-safe!

Safe, Microwave Paper Plate

If you’ve reached this section, then either you’re looking to buy some paper plates that are usable in the microwave, or the ones you had didn’t turn out to be microwave-safe, so you’re in need of some new ones.

Luckily, the market is full of plenty of options when it comes to paper plates, and it’s super easy to find some that are 100% microwave-safe.

But while you’re here, we might as well suggest some of the best paper plate options available in the market, that are, of course, safe for use in the microwave.

Here are our favorite options:

Frequently Asked Questions

How long can a paper plate be microwaved for?

If the paper plate is labeled as microwave-safe, then there’s no need to worry about the amount of time that it is in the microwave, and you can just use it as normal. Leave it in the microwave for as long as the food needs to be in there.

However, the longer you leave a plate in the microwave, the less safe it becomes. If you want your paper plate to be 100% safe and to continue being durable, then we recommend you do not leave it in the microwave for more than 5 minutes.

Are paper plates bad for you?

This depends on the paper plates in question, as there are different types and brands that use different materials.

Paper plates that are labeled as BPA-free, and that are made to be completely safe, should be fine.

However, there are paper plates that not only contain BPA, but also a PFAS chemical, which is harmful and can cause health-related issues.

These should be avoided at all costs. Use paper plates that are guaranteed to not contain harmful chemicals, or just use normal plates and do the dishes.

Are paper plates bad for the environment?

This, once again, depends on the type of paper plate in question.

As a general rule, the average paper plate is indeed bad for the environment. Despite being made out of paper, they are usually not able to be recycled once they have been used with food.

Not to mention that many paper plates contain a coating of plastic, and some can contain toxic chemicals that will seep into the environment and cause harm.

However, there are some paper plates that are 100% safe for the environment and eco-friendly. These will usually be made out of materials that are completely compostable and biodegradable, and are a great option to keep using paper plates while taking care of the planet!

How do I know a paper plate is microwave-safe?

The easiest and most reliable way to know whether a paper plate is microwave-safe or not is to check the packaging.

If it is labeled as microwave-safe it will say as such. Alternatively, it might feature a little microwave symbol, and this means that it is safe to use in the microwave.

Is it bad to stand in front of the microwave?

Microwaves use radiation to heat up the food, and it’s a pretty general rule that radiation is bad for us humans. But don’t worry, it’s completely safe to stand in front of a microwave, and no harm will come to you.

The microwave is closed, and it keeps all the radiation within it, so nothing will reach you while you are outside. And luckily, microwaves don’t turn on unless the door is closed, so there shouldn’t be any risk whatsoever!

In Conclusion

Let’s sum up everything we’ve covered and go back to the one main question. Can you put paper plates in the microwave? It’s a yes and no answer, as it depends on the paper plate in question.

Some paper plates are completely microwave-safe, and therefore the answer for them is yes. But other paper plates contain a plastic coating that is unsafe for use in the microwave, whether because it will absorb heat, or because it will release toxic chemicals. So these paper plates should not be used in the microwave at all.

To be on the safe side, always make sure the paper plates you are using are specifically labeled as being microwave-safe!

You should be able to microwave parchment paper, wax paper, and a paper bag. You can't microwave most plastic wrap or plastic containers though some are okay. Just check the label. As a rule you can microwave Styrofoam container products. Just stay away from plastic plate and other polystyrene container options. When microwaving leftover food, you have many options. Just avoid aluminum foil as a food container for microwaving.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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