AI: What have you microwaved? (no, really! I’m asking!)

Yes, I know this is a ridiculous question. I know, because this question made the rounds all day yesterday in the Skepchick back channel.  It’s really all Will’s fault.It started with a back channel email from Will about his exploding lunch which included the photo above, the subject “Microwave Safe My Ass” and this:

 Now the inside of the microwave is covered in shrapnel.

And so it was. This lead to a huge discussion of what we all have test in the same way:

Mary: BTW did anyone ever microwave marshmallows as a kid? Or American cheese?

A: I didn’t do that, but I microwaved those little cups of creamer as a kid, and microwaved ivory soap sometime in the last month.  The soap was way more spectacular.

Rebecca: My freshman year of college, when I was in the dorms, my roommate and I microwaved our neighbor’s Dave Matthews CD. We told her it was homework for our photonics course. It was beautiful, but I still feel a bit bad about it.

Mary: I ate a lot of microwaved SPAM as a freshman.

Jacqueline: In high school when I was a burgeoning scientist, I designed an experiment testing the structural integrity of Twinkies versus HoHos. There was a gravitational response test (climbing a tree and dropping them), a solubility test, and a radiation test. After microwaving the Twinkies for way too long it stunk up the house for weeks. My parents were umm… angry.

All fun and games until Elyse taught us why we shouldn’t play with our food (in microwaves):

I boiled sugar water in the microwave my senior year in highschool. The bowl I had it in exploded when I picked it up, coating my hands in liquid sugar. All I remember is holding cold towels and screaming all the way to the emergency room and my dad telling me to be quiet because he was trying to drive. I then spent several weeks with my hands wrapped in gauze like boxing gloves and slathering them in silvadene cream.

Tip: Don’t boil sugar water in the microwave. It gets really fucking hot. And if you get that on your skin, it’s going to feel really bad.



So, what about you guys? What safe fun tales of the SCIENCE of microwaves can you share?


The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET.


A B Kovacs is the Director of Døøm at Empty Set Entertainment, a publishing company she co-founded with critical thinker and fiction author Scott Sigler. She considers herself a “Creative Adjacent” — helping creative people be more productive and prolific by managing the logistics of Making for the masses. She's a science nerd, a rabid movie geek, and an unrepentantly voracious reader. She doesn't like chocolate all that much.

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  1. My college roommate and I microwaved a dollar bill (on the buns & toast setting). We were doing laundry, needed more quarters and could only come up with a washed dollar bill we found in the pocket of a pair of jeans. It dried nicely and went through the change machine.

  2. I did a few CDs about 14 years ago – nothing valuable, just things like the AOL “Free Signup” CD’s that showed up in everyone’s mailbox. Back then most all CDs were mass-produced aluminum, and they sparked and caught fire in just a few seconds (as a website back then said, do this OUTSIDE and don’t breathe the fumes, they’re really bad). I never tried a CDR or DVD to see if they do any differently, but Science Demands Someone Do This. (intentional sentence fragments following) With video. On Youtube.

  3. I decided to try and hard boil an egg in a coffee cup in the microwave. I was aware that you can superheat water in a smooth container (which is why Elyse ran into trouble), so I placed a tooth pick in the water. Sadly this did keep the egg from exploding all over the inside of the dorm microwave.

    1. As a kid, I once boiled an egg, but it wasn’t hard-boiled like I had wanted (still yolk-y). Then I got the brilliant idea to microwave it for a quick burst to see if I could fix it.

      After something under a minute, I picked up the steaming egg, took a bite, and … *pop*, it exploded in my face…bits of yolk and whites spreading out in a fragmentary blast. Luckily, I wasn’t badly burned, but it did feel like I had just been slapped across my gums with a cheese shredder.

      I wish it had exploded IN the microwave.

      1. In the game “Zak McCracken and the Alien Mindbenders”, one of the puzzles is solvable by blowing up an egg in the microwave (so the stewardess gets distracted, and you can grab stuff like a lighter, an airplane cushion, and an oxygen mask).

        1. That is the 2nd time in as many days that Zak McCracken and the Alien Mindbenders has come up. They were talking about it on the Giant Bombcast videogames podcast this week.

          1. I was just thinking the same thing. Awesome to know there’s another duder in the SkepChick community.

      2. That’s what I did too, only I put the egg in the egg slicer and got a nice little explosion when I hit the yolk. It was much like a movie grenade explosion, the egg even had a nice crater in it afterwards.

  4. I am the child of two chemists. What I didn’t realize until much later was we were taught good lab technique from an early age. As a result I’ve never had an accident with a microwave. I wish I could say the same about croquet mallets.

    1. This sounds similar to Mary’s marshmallow nuking. Do they get huge? Do they eventually explode like the Stay-Puft man in Ghostbusters?

      1. Peeps in the microwave bring joy to young and old alike; and if you put a row of candy corn down their back it’s microwaving dinosaur peeps!

    2. An old roommate of mine used to do “Microwave Peep Jousting”. She would put two peeps into the “arena” facing each other, with a toothpick inserted under each gladiator’s right wing. The first to spear the other was declared the champion and eaten in victory, while the poor victim was consumed in shame.

  5. I think the most exciting thing I ever microwaved was an Arby’s sandwich. Of course what made it exciting was that I didn’t remove the foil packaging before putting it in.

  6. I used a glass that had gold writing on it without thinking, pretty sparks.

    My dad found out that the microwave is not the only unsafe oven when he decided to cook a pizza in their new oven and while waiting for it to cook slid the cleaning lock to the left without knowing what it did. After I told him he had to let the cleaning cycle just happen he told me not to tell my mother, as if the clouds of black smoke wouldn’t tell her.

    Also, I may have found out the fate of Alf’s home planet. We had melmac plates when I was growing up, let’s just say the are not microwave safe.

  7. When I was a child, I wanted to try to freeze a pillbug and bring it back to life. Not understanding the concept fully, I froze it and then put it in the microwave to “bring it back to life.” Turns out it just blew up. Probably my family’s food was enriched for weeks after. I think now it is probably good I tried that and didn’t leave it out to thaw. It may have appeared to work since I likely was too impatient to leave it in the freezer very long. Who knows what I would have experimented on next!

  8. I’ve never done it (don’t feel like buying a new oven), but Phil Plait once mentioned the plasma generated by a grape in a microwave…

  9. My mother’s good china, with the gold rim around the edge. It makes NOISE.

    And all the usual – blank CDs, soap, etc. I used to keep a microwaved CD on my bulletin board in university as a warning to the others.

    1. I love that, “as a warning to others.” Because even when we’re *at an institution of higher learning* we can still use such a warning.

  10. My sister when she was 7 decided to microwave 4 pancakes for 25 minutes. We didn’t find out about this for 14 of those minutes.

    When my dad and I went into the kitchen, the microwave was bellowing thick black smoke…

  11. Worms. As a kid, I decided the worms around our house were too sluggish, so I microwaved them for a few seconds at a time.

    None exploded, but I expect stories of giant earthworms, mutated by radiation, to show up any time now…

  12. My dad built an EM radiation detector from a kit. I put it in the microwave to see if it would detect microwave radiation. When I turned on the power, the screws at each corner threw off sparks and the indicator needle slammed hard to maximum and then just as hard back to zero. I panicked and pulled it out, but it was far too late: the meter had sensed its first and last burst of EM radiation. My dad was ticked when I told him about it, but I didn’t get punished for it. If he ever did build another one, though, he never told me about it.

  13. I found out that if you microwave those paper twist ties with the metal thread inside that it turns into a match. Because the metal sparks and the paper ignites.

    Nobody ever told me not to microwave metal. I’ve written this down as one of the things to tell my future kids.

  14. Mine are not at all exciting.

    When I was around ten I accidently put a fork in the microwave and watched it spark. My brother opened the microwave and pulled it out.

    Another time at halloween a few years ago, we put a marshmellow Frankenstein head in the microwave just to watch it grow huge. It started to grow but then the top part fell off. We pulled out graham crackers and halloween chocolate and made s’mores.

    I was also a very gullible child. One of my cousins told me that if I put food in the microwave, the radiation woudl mutate the food and I would either grow three eyes or die of cancer. For a few years after that I was afraid to use the microwave. Until I got tired of always using the stove and thought “screw it!”

  15. I remember when I was very young my cousins were the first people we knew who had a microwave. My Aunt would proclaim “Hot dogs in 20 seconds everyone!!!” and we would all gather around the microwave and watch.

    Baking microwave cakes was also a very popular activity and it involved a special cardboard metallic container. I don’t remember the cakes being all that good though…

  16. In my first house-share, I discovered that if you microwave left over KD too long, it turns into a liquid. Eew. More recently, I discovered that onion powder burns in a microwave. Flames. Who knew?

  17. Fun stuff, these microwave stories. :)

    I really haven’t used any microwaves for anything other than food stuffs, but only because I feared the wrath of my folks (it’s not pretty). When I own my own microwave, then I’ll probably experiment.

    A fairly good series on this is “Is it a good idea to microwave this?” on YouTube.
    Classics (IMO) from that are the microwaving of Tickle Me Elmo (loved it) and a Pikachu.
    I don’t think their idea of using foil for shielding does any good, especially since the grating on a microwave blocks it anyway.

  18. Aside from an exploding plate that ruined my Morning Star Griller, I haven’t had too many weird microwave experiences. When I was a kid, I also put in American cheese and watched it bubble up. I also put in balogna, which I remember having a weird effect on the meat.

    I’m way too freaked out to put anything metal in my microwave. And now I’m way too freaked out to put anything ceramic in my microwave. That plate exploding sounded like a freaking bomb and I was right next to the microwave when it happened!

  19. I’ve done CDs. I’d take the label off so they came out with really pretty crack designs in blue and gold. I now use them as x-mas decorations on the tree.

  20. I once microwaved a bowl of frozen broccoli florets that burst into flames rather than defrosting.

    And then there was the time where I was 12 and set our microwave on fire because i had realized that you could melt wax in there, and was trying to make candles with old crayons. I made the mistake of adding bits of a metallic-colored crayon. The inside of that microwave was scorched for the rest of it’s life, and the plastic “roof” of the interior bulged down like a crackly black bubble.

    The upside was that i found out how to put out a wax fire. Dump a jumbo box of salt over it.

  21. Oh, and chocolate. I found out how not to melt chocolate in my parents microwave. It was around the same time as the wax incident. Burnt chocolate smells amazingly bad, especially if you were expecting to open the microwave and find a bowl of yummy molten chocolate suitable for making candies and showing those stuck up brats at the school bake sale that you do too know how to cook…

  22. I never really liked microwaved marshmallows, especially not after I found out that you could skewer marshmallows and roast them over the gas stovetop burner, and they’d taste just like the real, campfire-cooked thing.

    Of course, that method came with it’s own set of problems adventures.

  23. You know those plastic hoods you put over food in the microwave to limit splashing ?
    Combine a broken timer and a new roommate and you’ll find out that they actually melt and produce a nice burning smell if you microwave them long enough.

  24. I used to thaw frozen rats for my pet Boa. It was a real challenge to get the temp just right…I’d shoot for ‘body temp’ while trying to avoid ‘medium-rare’.

  25. I was 10 and wanted hot chocolate, so in went my favorite mug that played music when you tipped it. Next thing I knew, it was playing music and putting on a spectacular fireworks show in the microwave! It kept playing music (and smoking) until it died in the snowbank outside.

    I also tried microwaving most of my barbies in one big batch when I was 3, but I didn’t know which button would start it.

  26. My first apartment was a sublet with appliances and such included. The first time I used the microwave I discovered that the plastic cutting board in it wasn’t actually supposed to be there as the hot bag of microwave popcorn stuck to it. We kept using the board, but not the side with the melted thready surface.

  27. Ever since I was a kid, my mum has made these chocolate chip cookies that are absolutely delicious. They are, of course, best when they’re fresh and warm from the oven.
    Sometime in my early teens, I realised that I could approximate the fresh taste by warming them up in the microwave. I didn’t do this for long, because I’d only done it a few times when I forgot about a batch, left them in too long and came back to the kitchen to find a god-awful stench filling the room and yellow smoke pouring from the microwave. The microwave had to be thrown out because we couldn’t get rid of the smell, I think. I still don’t know what caused all that.

  28. Once, as an adult and way old enough to know better (and I did, too, but had a very brief brain fart), I put two old door knobs in the microwave. I had been washing them, and wanted them to dry out quickly, so I thought “Oh, hot metal will dry faster than cold!” and stuck them in the microwave and stood there watching while they sparked spectacularly for about a second. Then I fired up the real oven…

    When my son was 5ish, he wanted some hot cereal he had seen me make in the microwave, but we weren’t up yet. He poured some of the dry cereal in his bowl and put it in the microwave and turned it on. We were awakened by him bursting into our room yelling about a fire. Yeah. Everything was fine, even the microwave, and he got a lesson in how to make the cereal correctly. Kitchen smelled great for a few days…

  29. Back when I was in college, I microwaved Ramen. Sadly, I forgot to add water while using the physics reading room microwave. The connected departments in the building all complained about the smell for a few days. I didn’t really feel up to letting them know.

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