The microwave oven has become an essential appliance in most homes for quickly heating up or cooking food. Its speed and convenience make it a go-to for many busy people.
But what about other items besides food? Specifically, can you put wood in the microwave?
This is a common question for those new to using a microwave oven. The short answer is yes; you can microwave certain types of wood, but with some precautions.
Keep reading to learn more about microwaving wood, which woods work best, safety tips, and what happens when wood goes in the microwave.
How Microwaves Work
First, it helps to understand what microwaves do to food and other items. A microwave oven contains a magnetron that generates microwaves, which are a form of electromagnetic radiation.
These microwaves cause the water molecules in food to vibrate rapidly, creating internal friction that heats the food.
Microwaves only heat materials that contain moisture. Things like ceramics, glass, and plastic can go in the microwave because they don’t absorb the waves.
Metals are unsafe because they reflect microwaves rather than absorb them.
Since wood contains some moisture, especially fresh wood, it will absorb some of the microwave energy and heat up. But the level of moisture varies based on the wood type and age.
Best Woods for the Microwave
You can microwave many types of wood with caution. But some woods work better than others. The best woods for microwaving are:
- Green wood – Freshly cut wood still contains a lot of moisture from the tree, allowing it to absorb more microwave energy.
- Softwoods – Woods like pine, cedar, and spruce tend to have a higher moisture content than hardwoods. They heat up well in the microwave.
- Kiln-dried wood – This very low moisture wood heats evenly in the microwave because all the pieces have the same moisture removed.
- Plywood – The glues in plywood absorb microwave energy, helping the wood heat up.
- Wood with natural oils – Oily woods like teak, rosewood, and cocobolo absorb microwaves well.
Avoid old, dried-out wood. It doesn’t contain enough moisture to heat up effectively.
Is it Safe to Microwave Wood?
Yes, microwaving small pieces of wood is generally safe with the right precautions. Here are some tips:
- Use low power – Cook wood on the lowest power setting to prevent overheating.
- Microwave for short times – Microwave wood for 30 seconds or 1 minute at a time, checking frequently.
- Avoid sparks – Metal in the wood like nails or staples, can cause sparks and fire.
- Watch it cook – Stay nearby to ensure no smoke or fire starts.
- Let it rest – Wood will be very hot after microwaving. Let it cool before handling it.
- Have a fire extinguisher ready – As a precaution in case the wood catches fire.
- Don’t microwave wood products with certain finishes or glues – Some adhesives and finishes contain toxic chemicals that get released when microwaved. Only microwave unfinished natural wood.
Never microwave lumber, logs, branches, or whole pieces of wood. The irregular shapes can cause fire hazards.
Why Would You Microwave Wood?
There are a few reasons you may need to zap wood in the microwave:
- Killing pests – The heat kills bugs like termites or beetles in infested wood.
- Drying wood – Microwaves remove moisture from wood quickly to prepare it for crafts or woodworking.
- Steaming wood – The heat from microwaves allows you to bend or shape small pieces of wood by steaming it.
- Science experiments – Observing wood heat and react in the microwave is an interesting science demonstration.
When microwaving wood for projects, use very short cooking times and examine the wood frequently to prevent scorching or fire. Wood can ignite quickly in the microwave if you aren’t careful.
Microwaving Wood Step-By-Step
Follow these safe steps when you need to microwave wood:
- Select your wood – Choose a recommended soft, green, or oily wood that is untreated.
- Cut it to size – Cut into very small pieces, no more than 3 inches in maximum size.
- Place on a microwave-safe dish – Put the wood on a ceramic or glass dish, and don’t let pieces touch.
- Microwave at lower power – Use 30% power or less. Full power can ignite the wood.
- Microwave for 30 seconds – Heat it for just 30 seconds at first to see how it reacts.
- Check the wood – Carefully feel if it’s hot and look for scorching or smoke.
- Microwave for short additional bursts – Add 10-30 seconds at a time until the wood is heated through.
- Let the wood cool before handling – Wood will retain heat and could burn you after microwaving.
- Have an oven mitt and fire extinguisher ready – Protect yourself in case the wood ignites.
- Discard safely – Dried, microwaved wood is very flammable. Wet it down and place it in a metal bucket before disposing of it.
Always use extreme caution when microwaving wood. Stop immediately if you see smoke or sparks.
Frequently Asked Questions About Microwaving Wood
Microwaving wood brings up lots of questions for the first-timer. Here are answers to some common FAQs:
What happens when you microwave wood?
The microwave energy is absorbed by any moisture in the wood, heating it up. Drier wood will heat unevenly or not at all. Green, wet wood will quickly heat, steam, and scorch.
Does wood catch fire in the microwave?
Yes, wood can ignite if microwaved for too long. Sparks from metal in the wood can also ignite it. Stay nearby, use lower power, and heat in short bursts. Have a fire extinguisher on hand, just in case.
Can you dry wood in the microwave?
Yes, zapping wood on low power can draw moisture out fairly quickly compared to air drying. This prepares it faster for projects or kills pests. Be very careful to stop before scorching.
What wood should you never microwave?
Avoid woods with lots of resin, sap, or oils, like pine, cedar, and teak. The heating oils can combust. Also, don’t microwave treated wood, painted wood, or manufactured wood products.
Is it toxic to microwave wood?
Microwaving unfinished natural wood is safe. But some glues, stains, paints, and finishes release toxic fumes when microwaved. Only microwave bare wood to be safe.
Can you microwave bamboo?
Bamboo is very dense and contains silica, making it unlikely to absorb microwave energy well. It’s best not to microwave bamboo, which can combust or splinter.
Microwaving wood is possible but comes with risks. Use proper precautions, and it can be done safely for short durations. Consider whether a different heating method may work better for your particular woodworking or craft needs.
Final Thoughts on Microwaving Wood
The microwave provides a unique way to utilize its heating properties to steam, sanitize, or dry wood for projects. But inherent risks exist when zapping wood.
With precautions like using lower power, frequent monitoring, proper wood types, and fire safety, you can microwave wood briefly as needed for certain situations.
In general, microwaving most wood is not recommended. There are safer ways to dry, steam, or sterilize wood through conventional heating methods. But for the occasional need to quickly heat wood with a microwave, follow safety best practices to avoid damage or accidents.
The microwave makes many tasks convenient, but microwaving wood should only be done rarely, carefully, and for very short durations.
Use good judgment when deciding whether a brief zap is truly needed over another heating method. And never stray from the recommended guidelines to be cautious when trying this unusual microwave technique.
Hi, I’m Julie, the passionate foodie and founder of Juliesfamilykitchen.com. I created this blog out of a drive to prove someone wrong, and then I realized how much I truly enjoy cooking and trying new recipes. In my free time, when I’m not running around after my kids or spending quality time with my partner, you can usually find me in the kitchen experimenting with new dishes.