The Right (and Wrong) Way to Use Your Microwave

The microwave was a modern marvel when it hit the market in the mid-1950s. By the ’70s, nearly every household either had the device or hoped to get one. Eventually the excitement wore off, but the convenience has not. People love how easy the microwave has made their lives.

Surprisingly, after all these years, you may not be properly using your microwave. Sure, it’s common knowledge not to put foil or dirty socks in there, but you may be missing some major life hacks. Here are the right and wrong ways to use your microwave as well as the one item you absolutely cannot zap in this device (page 9).

1. Check your microwave cord

Microwave ovens are on display in a home furnishing store

A home furnishing store displays microwaves. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

If your microwave is too close to a heat source, like a stove, its cord could be damaged. Just wrap it in electrical tape, right? Wrong. Electrical tape isn’t waterproof, and kitchens are full of liquids. Using your microwave in this condition could result in dangerous sparks or a risky electric shock to your system.

Next: Put a lid on it — but not this way.

2. Cover your food loosely

Three jars of tomato sauce

Jars of marinara sauce could become a mini bomb. | Source: iStock

Cover your spaghetti before reheating it, of course, but not too tightly. If you warm food in a glass jar with a lid on it, the container becomes airtight. The food could expand if heated too much, which could blow up the jar and your microwave in the process. Just cover your container with a paper towel to prevent splatters.

Next: Before you nuke that takeout meal…

3. Avoid brown paper bags at all costs

Paper bag full of food on a wooden table

A paper bag can be a vehicle for food AND a fire. |

Many people use brown paper bags to make popcorn or heat takeout, but few know the dangers associated with this habit. The USDA explains the glue, ink, and recycled materials that make paper grocery and lunch bags can emit toxic fumes — and even catch on fire.

Commercial popcorn bags are okay, of course; they’re designed to withstand a microwave’s rays. But if you crave a homemade version of popcorn, don’t reach for a brown paper bag. And transfer your Chinese food into a microwave-safe dish, too.

Next: You’re at risk when you’re scatterbrained.

4. An empty microwave is just as dangerous

A woman holds a mug

You may forget you already pulled out your cup of coffee. | Source: iStock

Obviously you wouldn’t run an empty microwave on purpose. But we’ve all been distracted and busy — the optimal time to make a mistake.

Maybe you thought you turned on the microwave timer, but you actually started the device. When it has nothing to absorb inside, the appliance will absorb the microwave instead. This can damage the main operating device and start a fire.

Next: The RIGHT way to use your microwave

5. Stop and stir, people

opening a microwave door

Food will cook more evenly, and you’ll reduce splatter. | SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Getty Images

There’s a laundry list of reasons why you should pause your microwave heating process and simply stir. For starters, it allows your food to more evenly cook to temperature.

But even more importantly, a midway stir of your food prevents any cold spots from missing out on the heat, keeping you from consuming bacteria that could make you sick.

Next: Another health risk in the making

6. Avoid the plastic wrap

Stuffed peppers covered in plastic wrap

Just like plastic containers, plastic wrap can be unhealthy. | mtutuncu/iStock/Getty Images

Preventing food splatter is one thing, but using plastic wrap to do so is positively terrible. In the same way microwaving in plastic containers contaminates your food, so does covering it with plastic wrap. Instead, cover your food with a moistened paper towel or a splatter guard.

Next: If may be fun to watch, but it’s a mess to clean up. 

7. Don’t heat a hardboiled egg

Always peel the egg before you heat it. | Nirad/iStock/Getty Images

Microwaving your boiled egg still in the shell is a surefire way to create a mini science experiment that will explode before your eyes. Let’s just say it’s a mess you don’t want to experience. Instead, peel the egg and slowly heat it up in the microwave in 10- to 20-second intervals.

Next: Somehow, people still pull these stunts. 

8. Don’t put anything besides food in there

Detail of male hand while using the microwave

Never turn it on with nothing in it. | Rostislav_Sedlacek/iStock/Getty Images

This isn’t rocket science, but noteworthy nonetheless. Sure, most everyone knows that metal is the worst, but items like paper bags, grapes, and hot peppers can catch on fire. It’s still unclear why anyone would microwave grapes. Another fire-causing culprit is the vast nothingness. Turning the microwave on with nothing inside of it could also cause a fire.

Next: Avoid this dangerous habit at all costs.

9. Don’t use plastic containers

Leftovers in tupperware

Plastic can be hazardous to your health. | joebelanger/iStock/Getty Images

Microwaving your food in plastic containers is dangerous and unnecessary. Once microwaved, harmful chemicals in the plastic actually leach into the food, causing health risks like high blood pressure and hypertension. Instead, opt for glass containers when nuking your leftovers.

Next: The easiest way to keep your microwave clean

10. Clean regularly with lemon

Lemons on grey wooden

Microwaving lemon will help clean the appliance. | 5second/iStock/Getty Images

Say goodbye to incessant scrubbing and say hello to the ultimate microwave-cleaning life hack. Cut a lemon in half, squeeze the citrus into a safe bowl with half a cup of water, toss the lemon in the bowl, and heat in the microwave for three minutes.

Then, fight the urge to open the door for five minutes, allowing the concoction to steam. Once you open the door, you’ll find that a simple wipe-down is all you need to clean your microwave.

Next: This trick is so convenient — as long as you’re careful.

11. Dry your herbs

Basil, sage, dill, and thyme herbs

Microwaving is a quick and easy method to dry herbs. | merc67/iStock/Getty Images

Drying your herbs in the microwave is fast and easy if you don’t have the time or patience to bunch dry. But use caution, because starting a microwave fire isn’t far-fetched. If your herbs are holding excess water from cleaning, be sure to thoroughly dry them to avoid the herbs cooking. Then, place the herbs between two paper towels and microwave on high for two to three minutes.

Sometimes, an additional 30-second nuke will be necessary. Last, remove the herbs from the microwave, place them on a cooling rack, and eventually store them in an airtight container.

Next: Avoid smelly hands while cooking.

12. Peel your garlic in a snap

crushed garlic on wooden background

The peel will slide right off after a few seconds in the microwave. | thodonal/iStock/Getty Images

If you’ve spent any time in a kitchen, you know how tedious peeling garlic can be. Folks, your kitchen life is about to become much easier. Take your head of garlic, haphazardly place it in your microwave, and cook for 20 seconds. Presto! Pure kitchen magic. The skins will slide right off your precious garlic cloves (sans the sticky mess).

Next: Get more bang for your buck this way.

13. Get more juice out of your lemons and limes

Citrus fresh fruit

A little microwaving releases the juices. | Sarsmis/iStock/Getty Images

Sometimes it’s a downright disappointment how little juice comes out of lemons and limes, but you can rest easy knowing there’s a hack for this.

Placing your whole lemon or lime into the microwave for 30 seconds allows those capsules of juice to burst open, optimizing the amount of juice you’ll get when squeezing. Make sure you give the citrus ample time to cool before juicing.

Next: Don’t worry about stinking up your home with this snack.

14. No-fry potato chips are calling your name

potato chips in white bowl

Try your hand at homemade chips. | GooDween123/iStock/Getty Images

The only tool you’ll need besides your microwave is a mandolin unless your knife skills are superb. Thinly slice your potatoes anywhere from 1/8 to 1/16 of an inch. As soon as you slice your potatoes, submerge them in cold water cycles until the water remains clear. Dry the slices between two kitchen towels or a salad spinner, brush with olive oil, and season the slices to your preference.

Place the slices in a microwave safe dish, cook on high for three minutes, flip and cook on medium power for three more minutes. Continue this process in one-minute intervals until the slices become the chips you crave.

Next: Say goodbye to your old nuts.

15. Toast your nuts

Microwave nuts for a short amount of time to perfectly toast them. | Amarita/iStock/Getty Images

Who is guilty of burning your nuts instead of toasting them? Most of us, I’m sure. Next time, try microwave toasting. Place your raw nuts in a microwave-safe glass dish and toss with a little oil of your choosing. Then cook on high for two minutes, stir, and continue to microwave in one-minute intervals until the nuts are aromatic and golden brown. Be sure not to overdo it or the nuts could burn.




Next: Healthy cooking just got much easier (and quicker).

16. Steam your vegetables

Steamed vegetables

Steam veggies quickly in the microwave. | zeleno/iStock/Getty Images

Steaming your beloved vegetables is a fantastic and healthful means of preparation. So if steaming wasn’t simple enough, microwave-steaming makes the process even easier. Just place your clean, raw vegetables into a microwave-safe glass container, pour in an eighth inch of water, cover, and microwave for two minutes. Test for your preferred level of softness and enjoy.

Next: Starbucks may see a lot less of you after this.

17. Froth your milk in seconds

You’ll be a barista in no time. | iStock/Getty Images

Your at-home coffee game is about to be taken to the next level. Those dreams of frothy milk don’t exist solely by way of your favorite local coffee shop. Pour your low-fat or non-fat milk into a microwave-safe jar with a lid, then give it a vigorous 30 to 60-second shake. Remove the lid, microwave for 30 seconds, and voila — frothy, delicious milk.

Next: That sweet delight you loathe making is now a snap. 

18. Make caramel in no time

Make some simple caramel in the microwave. | iStock/Getty Images

For many home chefs, making caramel can still be an unruly undertaking. Burned caramel is always just around the bend. Next time you’re preparing this indulgent treat, pour a can of condensed milk into a microwave-safe glass container, cover, and cook in two-minute intervals. Stir and continue with the intervals until your caramel has reached your preferred level of perfection.

Next: Sunday morning just got more relaxing.

19. Crisp your bacon

Fried Bacon (selective focus) on an old vintage wooden table

Forego the skillet, and use the microwave. | HandmadePictures/iStock/Getty Images

If you’re a carnivorous eater, bacon is likely on your breakfast menu at some point during the weekend. But, bacon can get messy and stink up the house. Forego the skillet and opt for cooking it on high in your microwave for six to eight minutes. Just place the raw strips of bacon between two paper towels on a safe plate.

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