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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

The 'Do Not Microwave' List

By March 25, 2011

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Microwave (Ronnie Bergeron)When you microwave something, you input energy into its molecules. This can produce heat and stimulate a chemical reaction. This is great, if you are cooking food. Other materials don't produce a favorable result. Here's a list of things you shouldn't microwave and why. Actually, some are foods. Where possible, I included links to videos (screened for language and ads) so you can see what happens. If you're like me, you're curious, but don't want to destroy your own appliance or poison yourself with noxious vapors.
  • CDs - Soooo pretty! The coating makes the sparks. If you nuke a cd, you'll get an awesome sparkler-like display, but you run the risk of a fire. Obviously, the cd will never work again. I would presume the vapors from the burning polymer are toxic.

  • Grapes - I don't think you can make raisins this way. Your grapes will ignite, even though they are mostly water. It's a decent way to see the state of matter known as plasma, but you can ruin your appliance once the water from the grapes evaporates.

  • Toothpicks or Matches - This is another example of plasma or ball lightning that can destroy your appliance. If you absolutely have to see charged plasma, get yourself a plasma lamp.

  • Soap - Ok, maybe you should try this one. You get a cascade of bubbles. Very cool, decent chance of microwave survival, plus the soap is already inside for clean-up. Note that Ivory™ was used, which is actual soap. Other brands may not work as well. Another interesting note: the bubbly cloud that results has been tested and remains 'soap'. Apparently when you microwave soap, the water boils and forms soap bubbles. Heat causes air in the bubbles to expand. When the microwave stops, the soap re-solidifies.

  • Hot Peppers - My dad once sent me some dried hot peppers from his garden. He recommended nuking them for a few seconds to make sure they were dehydrated before storing them. Um... don't! The capsaicin (chemical that is 'hot') is volatile. Your eyes will sting, your throat will burn. Oh... and the peppers may catch fire. I don't have a video, since there is nothing to see. Don't microwave any chemical you wouldn't want released into the air. Don't microwave dry materials.

  • (Dry) Kitchen Sponges - If you nuke a wet sponge for 2 minutes, it will disinfect it (though it will stink up your kitchen). If you nuke a dry sponge, it will ignite. The WebMD article doesn't state this, but they should have: be sure you rinsed any cleaners out of your sponge if you intend to microwave it.

  • Lightbulb - Don't do it. Even worse than this incandescent bulb would be a fluorescent bulb, because that would release toxic mercury vapors. Yeah, it might look cool, but microwaving these represents a real health hazard. Mercury vapor doesn't float out your window and vanish. Even worse, a microwave usually is located near food or surfaces used to prepare food. Lead is another toxic element that can be released from microwaving a lightbulb.


February 10, 2009 at 10:59 pm
(1) Tomato Addict says:

Oh my, some of those are quite hazardous, and I feel a bit guilty that I can’t stop laughing. :-)

February 23, 2009 at 2:43 am
(2) Joey Buzzsaw says:

You forgot about cats.

February 25, 2009 at 8:17 pm
(3) Phoenix says:

I actually tried microwaving dried chillis, you know, just to make sure they were dehydrated. That was probably one of the stupidest things I’d ever done. They dragged me off to the hospital coz of the capsaicin vapour burning in my eyes and lungs. This was only just before Christmas, so as you can guess, I wasn’t very merry

November 20, 2010 at 2:21 pm
(4) alex says:

my grandma put a boiled egg in the microwave. it didnt last 20 seconds before the egg blew up and the door popped open and now her microwave doesnt work.

March 1, 2012 at 11:18 pm
(5) chris says:

You can’t put nutella into the microwave

April 28, 2012 at 5:38 pm
(6) Hannah says:

Wow! Very interesting information! I can see how many people would put grapes in the microwave with thinking that they could make grapes. Also, the hot peppers really surprises me! Who would have thought that a food you can eat can actually can be toxic.

I might have to try the soap one, just to see what happens. :o P

May 16, 2012 at 4:29 pm
(7) Heather says:

Ok what would happen when you microwave a tomatoe

February 6, 2013 at 7:12 am
(8) Sam Mitch says:

I put a jar of nutella in the microwave to defrost it, but the remains if the foil wrapping sparked

May 4, 2013 at 9:12 am
(9) nomail says:

alex, that’s one crappy microwave. I mom did that back in the 90′s and it still worked and had a door mind you it was now pink inside but still worked lol.

November 10, 2013 at 8:44 pm
(10) Just Sayin' says:

I would have put a baby in the #1 spot for this list. Animals… #2.

Just Sayin’

February 5, 2014 at 9:57 pm
(11) Terry says:

I once tried to sterilize my contact lenses, inside their plastic case, in a microwave. I should have known better! After a few seconds, the lids blew off (from the steam presssure), and the shredded remains of the contact lenses were plastered all over the inside of the microwave. At that time, they cost $40/each, but my girlfriend couldn’t stop laughing.

March 8, 2014 at 10:15 pm
(12) Luke says:

One more thing that you should NEVER put in the microwave is the starting lineup of the 1984 Denver Broncos.

I don’t have any video to show what happens but trust me on this one!

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