Paper plates can be a quick and easy way to reheat or eat food without the mess. Maybe you're at a party, at the office or maybe you can't find a clean plate at home or don't want to clean up.
But can you microwave paper plates?
Are paper plates safe to microwave or could they potentially catch on fire or leach harmful chemicals into your food?
After realising that paper towels can catch on fire in the microwave I wanted to look into paper plates. So I ran some of my own experiments and did some research and the results weren't great:
You can microwave paper plates for short periods of time without issue but you probably shouldn't. Given enough time and heat paper plates can catch on fire in the microwave and they can also contain harmful chemicals that can leach into your food and increase your chances of getting cancer.
To start with let's look at what happens when you microwave paper plates.
What Happens When You Microwave Paper Plates?
When you microwave paper plates some of the microwave energy will be transferred to the molecules in the paper plate causing it to heat up.
For short bursts of 30-60 seconds and when there is food in the microwave to absorb some of the energy the plate should be fine.
Paper plates actually get quite hot in the microwave however as soon as the microwave stops the heat dissipates really quickly meaning when you touch it it won't feel cold.
However, if you microwave a paper plate for long enough it can reach temperatures high enough that it can catch fire.
Some paper plates have plastic coatings which can leach chemicals into your food under high heats, but even if they don't paper plates can contain toxic dioxins which occur due to the bleaching process so should be avoided anyway.
Is It Safe To Microwave Paper Plates? Can They Catch on Fire?
If you microwave paper plates will they catch on fire? Are they a fire hazard in the microwave?
Yes paper plates can catch on fire in the microwave, but no they probably won't catch on fire.
I ran an experiment myself to see what would happen when I put a paper plate in the microwave and under what conditions would the paper plate actually catch on fire and be dangerous.
You can see the video below:
Through my experiments I discovered that when you use a paper plate normally (for about 1-2 minutes or less with food on it) the chances of it catching on fire in the microwave are extremely slim.
However, when the paper plate was place flat in the microwave by itself for 5 minutes it did catch on fire.
According to this microwave scientist on quora “if the glass turntable is hot (you've been using the microwave a lot) it may cause the paper plate to char”
Then when the paper plate was scrunched up or folded it REALLY caught on fire and that happened pretty quickly.
Are Paper Plates Laminated With Plastic?
The term “paper plate” makes you think that the plate would just be made of paper, or maybe some sort of thin cardboard.
However, this isn't always the case.
Some paper plates are made from just paper/cardboard while others have a thin plastic film over them to protect them from moisture and others use a silicon wax or PFC coating.
The thin plastic coating is used so that moisture and grease don't move through and deteriorate the paper plate as you use it.
It's now more and more likely that the paper plates you buy from the supermarket aren't just made purely out of paper.
And turn out even if they are just made of paper and don't have any plastic film or coating they can still leach harmful chemicals into your food.
Will Paper Plates Leach Chemicals Into My Food When I Microwave It?
You would think that a plate made purely of paper would be safe enough to heat food on right?
Unfortunately this is just not the case.
Paper plates are highly likely to leach toxic chemicals into your food. Some have thin plastic coatings which can leach chemicals like BPA while white paper itself contains toxic dioxins which are most likely carcinogenic and can leach from the paper into your food.
When I did my article on can you microwave paper towels I discovered that during the bleaching process, where they turn the paper white, harmful chemicals called dioxins are produced.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.
This study tested for dioxins in pulp and paper mills in India and DETECTED DIOXINS IN FINISHED PAPER PRODUCTS.
This article also states that:
A series of studies by the EPA and paper industry revealed over the past five years that dioxins are a byproduct of the paper bleaching process and that some amounts of dioxins are transferred to paper products.
So your paper plate is either coated with a likely harmful plastic or other coating, or the paper itself contains chemicals which can leach into your food and harm you.
This is one of the main reasons you shouldn't use paper plates in the microwave and honestly you should avoid paper plates wherever possible.
And we haven't even started talking about the environmental waste that disposable plates creates.
Would I Personally Microwave Paper Plates?
After doing my experiments and looking into the potential toxic chemicals in paper plates in more detail would I personally microwave food on paper plates or even use paper plates at all?
After seeing that paper plates can catch on fire in the microwave and after learning that they either contain a plastic film which can leach chemicals or the paper itself can leach chemicals I will NOT personally be using paper plates in the microwave moving forward.
Honestly, I'll be looking to avoid paper plates completely wherever possible and I definitely will use ceramic plates in the microwave not paper ones.