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Why did my microwave set some paper on fire?

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  • Howard-2 Jun 30, 2002 01:17 PM
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In my area garbage is collected only once a week, so sometimes it begins to stink after a few days. I sometimes deal with this problem by drying some kinds of garbage in the summer, or freezing it till pickup day.

I bought some chicken the other day, and of course the absorbent paper/plastic tissue in the container was quite moist. I squeezed out the moisture and put it in the microwave. After a while it was very dry--almost entirely dry, but not completely. So I put it back, and after about 30 seconds it burst into flame!

Can anyone tell me why this happened?

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  1. Because you're not supposed to do this. It's an inherently unsafe operation, and will void your warranty, whether or not you burn down your house.

    I recommend draining and double-bagging your kitchen waste, and storing it in a lidded waste can.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ironmom

      ??? My microwave set the paper on fire because I'm not supposed to do that? I guess that must be a new principle of physics, or maybe of appliance manufacture.

      1. re: Howard-2

        Now really! :(

        Its not a NEW principle of physics, nor of appliance manufacture.

        Does it surprise you that dry paper would burst into flames if it gets hot enough? I must caution you that dry paper can also burst into flames if placed in contact with an open flame (such as a stove-top burner or lighted match)!

        Sorry, I must go now.

        1. re: Howard-2

          the microwave manufacturer wants to cover its ass in case someone does something along the lines like the granny did at McD with the coffee thingee (that's why mcd coffee cups have that warning label now).

      2. "Why did my microwave set some paper on fire?"

        It obviously has some issues, and I recommend Jungian counselling ASAP.

        Seriously, if it's never happened before, you've been very, very lucky. I know a couple people who've tried drying herbs on paper towels or plates and have caught them on fire. It works as long as there's enough moisture left in your herbs (or chicken juice absorber stuff), but once everything is dry, watch out!

        1. Years ago, when microwave ovens first started getting popular, I rather pompously announced that I wasn't going to use one, because I didn't want to eat food that'd had its molecules vibrated. Whereupon my father, a chemist, said to me: "What the hell do you think fire does?" I got a microwave.

          1 Reply
          1. re: zora
            a
            anglo-estonian

            Maybe a better way of dealing with wet paper would simply be to leave it out overnight to dry, unless you have animals of course, our cats would simply shred it and eat it for a second supper. The garbage men (dustmen to me) only come once a week here too, and even though the weather is hot, I just put it in a plastic bag into the garbage can (bin to me) until they come.
            Unless you live in an appartment (flat...).... then I agree that it is a bit of a pain.

          2. It's my understanding that microwave ovens work by agitating the water molecules in whatever it is you put into the oven. Therefore you can not heat anything above 212F in a microwave. And that's also why foods don't brown in a microwave.

            As for the trash odor problem. I sometimes have that problem, and I find spraying it with lysol tames it for a few days.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Andy T

              Microwaves do vibrate water molecules, but they also vibrate oils--so you can in fact heat oil very hot (I've never tested how hot, tho maybe now I will).

              Before I ever had a microwave, I noticed a very interesting phenomenon. I was very curious as to what would happen if I nuked, say, an apple "to death". I would go to the houses of friends and ask "would you mind if I tried an experiment in your microwave?" Apparently that word "experiment" causes high anxiety in people, because I learned eventually that if I innocently said something like "oh, I like fruit that's been cooked *a lot* in a microwave", no one objected very much.