Microwave Mishaps, Dangers, and Uses

Old family recipes make the most satisfying meals and are always a hit with family and friends. Here are some of Stephanie's favorites.

Learn the pros and cons of using a microwave.

Learn the pros and cons of using a microwave.

Microwave Mishaps

The convenience of a microwave is hard to beat! On busy days, what could be easier than zapping leftovers in a microwave, or even cooking your dinner? I’m one of those people who just loves new technology. We were the first ones on our block to get a microwave in the 1970s and invited the neighbors over to watch popcorn popping in a paper bag and water boiling in a Styrofoam cup.

My fascination with microwave cooking led me to try heating and cooking all sorts of things in the microwave that were not listed in my little instruction manual. Unfortunately, my inclination to test the limits of this fascinating appliance led to some unforgettable microwave mishaps.

6 Things not to Cook in a Microwave

I know from personal experience!

  • Don’t try to hard cook an egg in its shell in your microwave. It just doesn’t work, and exploded egg is really a mess to clean off the microwave walls, door and ceiling.
  • Don’t cook chicken livers in your microwave. Chicken or turkey livers are some of those foods that seem to get hot spots inside. At some point this will cause them to explode and the disintegrated bits will stick to the walls, door and roof of the microwave. Then it’s really hard to scrape off enough to make that pate…
  • Don’t melt lard or shortening in a Styrofoam cup. (Don’t even ask why I know this!) The fat will get hot enough to melt the Styrofoam, and you will have a large puddle of hot grease in your microwave. If you are lucky, it won’t run out the door and onto the counter when you open the door.
  • Don’t overcook popcorn in the microwave. I learned this little tip at work when zapping up an afternoon snack for my office mates. Popcorn that is over heated in the microwave can and will catch on fire. Your co-workers will hate you for the burnt smell that will permeate your office for a week. They probably won’t like the fire alarm going off, either. Nor will the rest of the building or the fire department that shows up. We won’t even mention the sprinkler system… Take my word for it, nuke that bag of popcorn carefully! Oh, yeah, personal experience!
  • Don’t put gold-rimmed dishes in the microwave. Heat your coffee in a gold-rimmed china cup, and you can produce all kinds of interesting sparks and fireworks. You might even kill your microwave oven. Apparently you can put a metal pan in the microwave with no ill effects (so they say), but a little gold trim on the coffee cup will make fireworks… it’s one of the mysteries of technology!
  • Don’t warm up your dinner rolls for more than 10-15 seconds—unless you're planning to build something from dinner roll bricks. Why is it you learn these things when you are having company for dinner?

Microwave Oven—Love It or Not?

Microwave Dangers

Sure you’ve probably received one or more of those scary emails about the dangers of microwaves. Most of them are false. Here are some of the facts:

  • Microwaving food in plastics. Don’t Microwave food in plastic unless the container is labeled “microwave safe.” Only microwave in containers that are labeled “Microwave safe” as these containers are regulated by FDA for safety and supposedly will not leach harmful chemicals into your food. Other plastics can leach chemicals onto food or can melt onto food when they get hot. Generally, it’s safer to transfer any food to a glass or ceramic dish before microwaving.
  • Microwaving baby bottles. Don’t microwave baby bottles to heat them. The outside of the bottle can seem cool while liquids inside are hot. Liquids can heat unevenly, and can easily get too hot and burn baby. There is also the danger of a steam buildup inside the bottle that can cause burns. Always stir and test microwaved liquid or food before feeding to a child.
  • Exploding liquids. This is not a myth; it can actually happen. Liquids that are heated too long in clean glass or ceramic containers can become superheated and the glass container can prevent bubbles from forming. This could cause the liquid to explode when it is stirred or disturbed as the heat is violently released . To prevent this from happening, place a wooden spoon in the container and heat only for the recommended amount of time. Yes, I've had it happen to me when heating coffee too long. I put a spoon in to stir it, and the whole cup full boiled over.
  • Dangers of uneven heating. Microwaves can heat unevenly leaving hot and cold pockets. When microwaving raw meat, be sure to follow instructions carefully, including standing time which helps to distribute heat and cook more evenly.

Find out the truth or hoax behind unsolicited e-mail warnings about the dangers of microwave cooking or anything else,for that matter. Check out Snopes.com for the real scoop.

What I Learned About Microwaving

  • A whole egg in the shell will explode when microwaved too long. And it's inedible because there are bits of shell all through it.
  • Drying herbs in the microwave is a great idea as long as you don't put them on a paper napkin and nuke them too long. I had to put out a small fire from over-drying herbs.
  • Burning herbs don't smell as bad as burning popcorn.
  • When taking photographs for this article, I should have done the egg photographs last because the bits of exploded egg are really hard to remove from the microwaved walls and doors. Some egg specks still stuck to the microwave are visible in all the other pictures.

10 Surprising Uses for Microwave Ovens

Now, here's some good news! Here are some surprising uses for your microwave that don't actually involve cooking:

  • Sterilize garden soil. If you’re starting seeds and need sterilized soil, just pop a tray of dirt in your microwave for a couple of minutes until the soil begins to steam.
  • Dry herbs. Microwave small bunches of herbs for a couple of minutes until they crumble to the touch. What I learned: Start out with 1 minute and check for dryness every 30 seconds. It is possible to set herbs on fire if you heat them too long!
  • Disinfect sponges. Add some white vinegar or lemon juice to water and soak sponge in it, remove from water, then heat the sponge on high for 1 minute.This is great for disinfecting sponges you’ve used to clean up raw chicken juices. The sponge has to be wet for it to work. What I learned: Be sure to remove hot sponge with tongs or an oven mitt. They get very hot!
  • Disinfect plastic cutting boards. Wash the board well, rub with lemon and heat for 1 minute. The board should be damp when placed in the microwave.
  • Heat up hot packs (not metal wrapped). This works great for the heating pads made with beans or rice.
  • Soften up hardened brown sugar. Heat in a closed container with a couple of teaspoons of water or a quarter of an apple for 15 seconds.
  • Get more juice from citrus fruit. Heat lemon or orange in a microwave for about 20 seconds before squeezing to get the most juice from your citrus fruit.
  • Toast nuts or bread crumbs. Spread out on a paper plate and heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Warm plates. Sprinkle some water on your plates and pop in the microwave for a half a minute to warm them. What I learned: This doesn't work without the water.
  • De-crystallize honey. Heat crystallized honey in the microwave and the crystals will disappear. What I learned: Be sure to take the cap off the jar of honey before heating. Only heat until honey is warm and crystals are gone.

Microwaving—The Ugly, the Bad and the Good

Microwaves are now in 90% of American households, and have been for many years. They have so many uses in food preparation that it's hard to imagine life without one once you become used to using this handy, time-saving appliance. I hope you have learned a few new uses and a few No-No's from reading my article. As you can see there are some dangers when using your microwave inappropriately as well as some wonderful and surprising uses for your microwave oven.

Have you had microwave mishaps? Do you have any tips for avoiding microwave dangers? Do you use your microwave for something unusual? I'd love to about it in the comment section below!

More on Microwave Uses

  • Preserving Flowers: Six Ways of Drying Flowers
    Preserving and drying flowers is a craft that has been honed over the ages. Hang drying and air drying are more time honored, traditional methods of this craft. However, technology has led to the use of microwaves, ovens, and chemicals, such as silic
  • A Guide to Cooking Food in Hotel Rooms - Microwave M...
    Fresh pasta with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese? All within the privacy of my beautiful hotel room? Don't mind if I do! Mmm- fresh salad... and just as I like it! It is great fun to travel, and it is great fun to eat, but sometimes eating at...
  • The Myths About The Dangers Of Microwave Ovens
    The myths about the dangers of microwave ovens are debunked. The sources of the misinformation are discredited and the reader is taught how to select reliable sources of information.

Questions & Answers

Question: Why has my microwave started burning food at 20 seconds?

Answer: It sounds like your microwave is not operating properly. I would suggest getting it checked out at a repair center. I can't think of any food that would actually burn after 20 seconds.

Question: Could I heat a brick in the microwave?

Answer: I wouldn't try it. Heating a brick in your microwave sounds a little dangerous to me.


Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on July 14, 2015:

DzyMsLizzy - Thanks for the tip on egg yolks. I probably wouldn't have thought of it. I have exploded a potato in my oven once. It does make a mess!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on July 13, 2015:

Oh, Stephanie! I can just see the firemen coming to put out popcorn! After I stopped laughing, I read the rest of your article.

I've never tried to sterilize anything; they say the vinegar alone will do wonders.

No mishaps have happened to me that were not just minor clean-ups. Though--if you want to cook eggs--OUT of their shells--it is wise to pierce the yolk with a toothpick, just as you would for potatoes, or the same thing can happen. ;)

When my kids were young, some friends of mine were the first on the block to get a microwave oven. Her mother tried it out by cooking a hot dog for 10 minutes....I'll leave the results to your imagination. LOL No, it did not catch fire, but...it certainly was not edible.

Voted up, interesting and funny!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on August 07, 2014:

Patricia - My experience has been that any gold on the dish will get hot and make sparks. If the gold writing is really fine,you might get away with it, but to be safe, I'd heat the coffee in another mug.

Patriciai on August 06, 2014:

Can you put a coffee mug in the microwave with gold writing on it?

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on December 03, 2012:

Deb Welch - Wow, it sounds like you've had your share of microwave mishaps, too! It is a good idea to check if a container is microwave safe before using it to heat foods. I've found that some of my oven safe dishes don't really work well in the microwave, and some plastics will melt if the food gets too hot. Glad you found this interesting! Thanks for your comments.

Deb Welch on December 02, 2012:

Useful and informative Hub. I have had sparks from using the wrong kind of dish, burned food, melted containers, and had a big mess to clean up. I never knew microwaves were available in the 1970s, I didn't get one until the 1990s, I am on my 3rd one. I use it also for heating medicinal wraps, disinfecting sponges, and I keep a box of baking soda inside when not in use to absorb any orders. Some containers don't list whether it is microwave safe on the bottom - so - I usually don't use it because of sparks flying and you never know what will happen. Excellent and interesting.

KDuBarry03 on September 10, 2012:

Oh yes, they are definitely a great help when you want to quickly defrost some meat for a quick cutlet dinner! I remember working at a place where we cooked all our scrambled eggs in a microwave-safe plastic cup for all the sandwiches and they actually tasted pretty good! Always learn the best lessons through mistakes :)

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on September 10, 2012:

KDuBarry03 - Microwave ovens are definitely a convenience I wouldn't want to do without, but there can always be some issues. I have learned a few lessons from my mistakes, though. :)

KDuBarry03 on September 10, 2012:

As I like to say sometimes: more technology, more issues LOL. I'm so happy we only use the microwave to heat up, defrost, and cook simple foods or leftovers. Hell, sometimes I just heat up my food in a frying pan (tastes much better). Thanks so much for this info, Steph!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on September 10, 2012:

Mary615 - OH NO! She didn't really put her dog in the microwave, did she? Just when you think you've heard every stupid thing that people can do...!!!

As for the bread, I think the secret is to nuke it for 5 seconds, test it and see if it's warm. If not, do another 5 seconds. I've noticed that even if it's o.k. if you eat it right way, bread will become hard after it's cooled down.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on September 10, 2012:

Everytime I try to reheat bread of any kind in the microwave, I make bricks out of it. I even have tried wrapping it in a wet napkin.

When I worked with my husband, the Veterinarian, a lady brought her toy poodle in that was almost dead. You'll never guess how she tried to dry the dog after she bathed it. We managed to save the dog.

Great Hub, I voted it UP.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on September 10, 2012:

Alecia Murphy - It is definitely worth while to follow the manufacturers instructions where using the microwave. Thanks for the tip on prepping fresh corn!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on September 10, 2012:

Jools99 - Ouch! Your poor hubby getting burned by such a normally tame food! I have used my microwave to dry herbs and to disinfect sponges - all non-life threatening if done properly.

Alecia Murphy from Wilmington, North Carolina on September 10, 2012:

I would add under no circumstances microwave foil- that's another fire hazard waiting to happen. And some people I know, against advice have learned the hard way at the expense of nearly starting a fire.

I recently learned that you could easily prep fresh corn by wrapping it in a wet paper towel and nuking each piece for a few minutes.

And I did remember that it is good to nuke lemons for lemonade and juice.

Great tips!

Jools Hogg from North-East UK on September 10, 2012:

Ha Ha Stephanie, loved the written explanation on the photos for the exploding eggs. My hubby once had a chicken kiev explode in his face and burnt his face on the hot garlic butter; he has not eaten it since. I use mine in a traditional way but would certainly consider using it to disinfect my cloths and sponges, what a good idea. Great hub.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on July 11, 2012:

Mikaela - Try putting a heat proof glass cup half full of water in the microwave and turning it on for a minute. The steam will loosen the grease so that you can wipe it out with a sponge. Then add a few squirts of lemon juice or a couple of slices of lemon to the water and nuke it for another minute. The lemon should help to freshen the interior of the microwave.

Mikaela on July 11, 2012:

Okay so I left my wheat bag in the microwave. Not turned on. When I went back down to the room Someone had turned it on and it exploded leaving a yellow stain , Greece on everything ! How do I get rid of the smell

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on May 02, 2012:

GusTheRedneck - I LOVE your marshmallow story! You must have had some very interesting looking cupcakes! Thanks so much for giving us a smile today! :)

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on May 02, 2012:

CWanamaker - During my research, I was also surprised at some of the uses for a microwave. Disinfecting sponges and cutting boards is quick and easy. Glad you found this hub informative and useful! Thanks for stopping by to comment!

Gustave Kilthau from USA on May 01, 2012:

Howdy Stephanie Henkel - Thanks for the good information and the photos that tell of things a person should know.

Here I do a lot of baking in the microwave, and there was a lot to learn along the way - just as you describe. The most humorous thing was when I stuck a little marshmallow into the middle of each cupcake and then baked the batch in the microwave. Those marshmallows came bursting out of the top of each little cake, sort of like a volcanic eruption. :)

Gus :-)))

Christopher Wanamaker from Arizona on May 01, 2012:

Very awesome and detailed hub! I learned a few things here...I didn't know that you could disinfect sponges or cutting boards in microwave. Thanks for posting this very informative hub.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 03, 2012:

Hi Kashmir,

Oh, yes, aluminum foil can cause a few sparks, can't it? Thanks for stopping by to comment and vote!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 03, 2012:

Hi Crystal,

Haha...we all have a few embarrassing mishaps, don't we? Glad you stopped by for a read and visit. Thanks for your comments!

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on April 03, 2012:

Hi Stephanie great tips and advice of what can be microwave and what you can not. It also not a good idea to put aluminum foil in the microwave either.

Vote up and more !!!

Crystal Tatum from Georgia on April 03, 2012:

Great hub! I am sorry and embarrassed to say that I have had plenty of microwave mishaps in my life. Wish I had read this hub earlier! Voted up and useful!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 03, 2012:

Hello Shampa Sadhya,

I'm glad you found some useful information in my hub about microwave mishaps, dangers and uses! Thanks for visiting and commenting!

Shampa Sadhya from NEW DELHI, INDIA on April 03, 2012:

Voted up and useful!

This hub is full of valuable information. It is definitely useful for those who are using microwave. I am sure people will like this hub and benefit from it too.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 03, 2012:

Hi Pstrauble,

Glad to hear that you learned something new from this hub. I had never thought about toasting nuts or breadcrumbs in the microwave until doing the research for this article, either, but it sounds like a time saver. Thanks for the read and for your comments!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on April 03, 2012:

Great tips...some things I did not know...like toasting nuts ...who knew? I definitely will give some of these a try. I love it when I learn something new!!! I am always looking for hints to save time, create a shortcut, or just info that I should know. Thanks for sharing this

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 03, 2012:

Hi Sunshine,

So it sounds like I'm not the only one who has burned popcorn...hope you didn't have a fire, too...

Heating your sinus pack in the microwave must be so useful, quick and easy!

Thanks for stopping in to comment!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 03, 2012:

Hi Pamela,

It's so easy to warm bread for too long - I think we've all done that one. Glad you found my hub useful. Thanks so much for stopping by to comment!

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on April 03, 2012:

This is a marvelous microwave hub Stephanie! I was imagining the list of explosions in my head! Haha! Overcooked popcorn has a horrible smell. How could such a yummy snack smell so bad? I also use the microwave to heat my sinus pack with is made of rice. To sterilize sponges also. Excellent tips!!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 03, 2012:

I haven't had any terrible mishaps, but learned about over heating several items, like the rolls you mentioned. I didn't know about several of the more unusual things you mentioned. Thanks for a very informative hub.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 03, 2012:

Hi Bob,

I can always count on you for a smile in the morning! Don't you love those little bonfires in the microwave? I thought I had learned my lesson with the popcorn, but just yesterday I set my drying herbs on fire by zapping too long. I hate when that happens! Guess I'll have to start following directions...

Thanks for stopping in to bring a smile with your comments!

diogenes from UK and Mexico on April 03, 2012:

Steph. An untimely hub!! I did the popcorn-on-fire trick last week and scared the bejaysus out of myself!

Also had the sparks bit with some wrong dishes.

These things unerve me a bit; there seems to be so much power held in there and I wonder if one day it will go off and take me and the kitchen wall into the street!

But I'd be lost without it for baked spuds; occasionally heating the coffee water when i am between electric kettles and reheating suspicious junk from the recesses of the fridge.

Good and useful hub sweetie


Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 02, 2012:

Hello Prasetio,

Microwave ovens are so useful, but it is good to be aware of some of the possible dangers like overheating certain foods. Thank you for visiting and for book marking my hub!

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on April 02, 2012:

Very inspiring hub. I never know about microwave danger. Thanks for writing and share with us. I believe this information very useful for us. I love your tips above. Rated up and bookmark this hub. God bless you!

Love and peace, prasetio

Related Articles