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Can You Microwave Paper Plates (Safety Guide)

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There’s nothing quite as convenient as popping food right in the microwave. Whether it’s leftovers or frozen meals, you’re sure to have food on the table in minutes.

And paper plates make it all even easier – you don’t even have to wash dishes after eating! So now you may be wondering: can you microwave paper plates?

The short answer is yes – most standard paper plates are safe to microwave.

That said, there are several types to avoid. While all can go in the microwave (technically), some will melt, warp, or even catch fire.

To prevent risk, you’ll want a plate that’s properly labeled as “microwave-safe” and limit your cooking times and power level. You also want to avoid plastic-coated dishes.

But, even “microwave-safe” plates can become risky under specific circumstances and uses. This article will walk you through how to safely microwave food on these meal-time companions.

Let’s dive in!

7 Microwave Safety Guidelines

Can you microwave paper plates logo

You can microwave paper plates safely, as long as they’re labeled “microwave-safe” and (ideally) plain white, uncoated paper…

Here are some guidelines you should follow to ensure safety:

  1. Always read the label or the stamp on the plate’s bottom. If the label (or stamp) does not have “microwave-safe” wording or logos (wavy, horizontal lines), don’t risk it!
  2. Don’t use paper plates in the microwave for longer than 2 minutes. It’s also recommended that you only use a 50% power setting; any longer or higher than that, and you may risk a fire.
  3. Never put empty paper plates in the microwave. Doing so increases the chance of it catching fire.
  4. Keep an eye on the dish as it heats, and consider stopping to stir every 30 seconds to ensure even reheating.
  5. Keep the plate away from any heat sources that may cause a fire, such as metal or the microwave heat lamp.
  6. Do not use foil or plastic wrap to cover your food. Instead, use paper towels. They’ll prevent splatter, and they’re microwave safe for 1-2 minutes.
  7. Be careful when you take your dish out, as it may have absorbed grease or moisture and become flimsy. Using 2-3 stacked paper plates can help you avoid dropping hot food everywhere. Or, to conserve your disposables, use one as a “liner” on top of rigid glass or ceramic dishware.

Is all paper safe to go in the microwave?

No. While plain paper plates will not catch fire in the microwave at medium power for under 2 minutes, other paper types will.

What’s okay to put in the microwave?

  • Paper towels: At medium power for ~2 minutes.
  • Parchment paper: At medium power for ~2 minutes. See our complete guide on parchment paper to learn more about microwave safety.
  • Plain white plates (uncoated or PFAS-free coating): Ideally at medium power for ~2 minutes.

Don’t put the following paper items in the microwave:

  • Newspapers: Newspapers may catch fire. They also contain ink that can contaminate food.
  • Paper bags: These are more likely to catch fire in the microwave.
  • Decorative paper plates or napkins: These may contain flammable or toxic inks.
  • PFAS-coated paper plates: Some disposable plates are coated with a waxy plastic or PFAS substance to prevent moisture absorption. If your dish is shiny or feels a little waxy, or if it has any design on it, avoid microwave use.
  • Other types of food packaging, including paper food packaging, may also contain dangerous chemicals that can leach into your food. Avoid microwaving anything not labeled “microwave-safe.”

Don’t see a microwave-safe label? Here’s a quick, easy test from Wikihow to check if a dish is microwave-safe:

How can you tell if a plate is microwave-safe? Quick Tips:

How can you tell if a plate is microwave-safe
  1. Fill a microwave-safe mug or glass ¾ of the way with water.
  2. Place both the glass of water and plate in question side-by-side in the microwave.
  3. Microwave together for one minute on high power.
  4. Perform a touch test:
  • Is the dish warm, but the water in the cup is cold? If so, the plate is not microwave-safe.
  • Is the plate cool to the touch, yet the water is warm? If so, the dish is microwave-safe.

What shouldn’t go in the microwave with the paper plate?

microwaving paper plate on fire

Never put the following items in the microwave along with your paper plates (unless labeled microwave-safe):

  • Dishes with decorative metallic trim.
  • Plastic wrap: Conventional plastic wrap may melt and leach chemicals into your food, so it should not go in the microwave. The USDA notes that microwave-safe plastic wraps are safe to use in the microwave. Yet, they shouldn’t touch your food while heating.
  • Metal forks, spoons, and knives: These metal items can catch fire in the microwave.
  • Foils: Foils like tin foil may catch fire in the microwave.
  • Twist-ties: These often have metal wires in the middle, which can spark.
  • Styrofoam: This can release toxic chemicals when heated in the microwave.

Can coated or colored paper plates go in the microwave?

No. While it’s safe to microwave plain white dishes, any coated, decorated, or dyed paper plates are risky. There’s a higher chance these will catch fire.

Additionally, the Center for Environmental Health’s 2018 report on disposable foodware shows that decorated plates are more likely to contain dangerous chemicals like PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). These are the chemicals used to make Teflon.

PFAS can leach into your food from the dish as it heats in the microwave. And a review by the CDC shows PFAS may cause health issues at high exposures.

Luckily, recent laws in California and Washington State prohibit the use of PFAS in paper-based food packaging. But, other places may not, so use caution.

Conclusion & Recap

Paper plates are indeed microwave-safe, but use caution. Always check three things when buying disposables:

  1. Check for microwave-safe labeling or logos.
  2. Ensure the plate is plain white unless you’re positive the *coloring/ decor used is microwave-safe (*the label will say so).
  3. Ensure the plate is uncoated (free from plastic or PFAS coatings).

Note that paper dishware isn’t your only option… Glass dinnerware and food containers are best for heating food in the microwave, as they’re reusable and 100% non-toxic (though more cleanup is involved!).

Plastic containers are another option, although these sometimes leach chemicals like phthalates into your food… Our guide on avoiding phthalates walks you through choosing safer plastics.

Picture of Adam Heck
Adam Heck

Hi there! I'm Adam, author and founder of TGL. Since 2016, I've produced and sold non-toxic kitchenware throughout the US. Today, I'm using my passion and experience in sustainable product manufacturing to help families avoid unsafe reusable foodware. When I'm not writing, you'll find me hiking or camping throughout Appalachia!

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