You may think you know the answer to the question: Can tin foil go in the microwave? but I assure you there is more depth to this concept than a simple yes or no. To better understand the extent to which tin foil can go in the microwave and the many types of metallic and plastic foils out there, I urge you to keep reading.
In this article, we dive deep into understanding what tin foil is made of, its use in daily cooking, and whether it is safe to go in the microwave oven.
Can tin foil go in the microwave?
A better question would be “to what extent can tin foil go in the microwave?” as a yes or no answer is sure to steer people the wrong way. In truth, you can put tin foil in a microwave oven, but only in small pieces.
This means you can wrap certain parts of the food in foil but never have the food completely covered. The microwaves produced need to be absorbed by the food to avoid sparks from occurring.
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What is tin foil?
Despite popular belief, tin foil is not exactly the same as aluminum foil, though their differences can often be overlooked. As its name suggests, tin foil is made from tin and was traditionally used for lining cigarette packs and wrapping chewing gum sticks (1). The term is often used to refer to aluminum foil which took off in the 1900s, despite not being made of tin.
Tin foil is a rarer material than aluminum foil as it is the 49th most abundant metal in the world and is thus scarcely found in the earth. It is identified by its silvery white appearance in contrast to aluminum which comes in a silvery grey color.
However, aluminum foil has overtaken tin foil as the most used metallic wrap in home kitchens because of its lighter weight and stronger substance.
Regarding using tin foil or aluminum foil in the microwave, both materials are subject to the same codes of conduct for safe use. For the sake of this article, we will be using the term tin foil as an umbrella term referring to generic metallic wrapping foils, as they more or less share the same rules.
Before understanding how to use tin foil in a microwave oven, you should understand why you would want to do so in the first place.
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Why you may want to microwave tin foil
More often than not, people use wraps and covers in the microwave oven to prevent overcooking of food. They also mitigate the risk of splashes that will make cleaning a hassle.
Another reason for covering food with a lid or equivalent is to give the food a better interior cook. You can achieve this by trapping more heat, moisture, and steam and allowing it to circulate compactly.
However, when you put aluminum foil or tin foil in a microwave, it’s a different story.
Rather than trapping heat or offering an interior cook, tin or aluminum foil do the exact opposite, reflecting heat. As such, aluminum foil is often used in microwaves to shield parts of food that the user prefers not to heat up.
A common example is wrapping poultry drumsticks in foil to keep the bone cool for touching with the hand and eating accordingly.
How does tin foil work in the microwave?
Essentially, the tin foil reflects the microwaves rather than absorb it, meaning the microwaves never reach the food when wrapped in tin foil. This means that if you completely cover your food in tin foil even if it’s a thin sheet. You will create an electrical current that cannot be absorbed by either your food or the microwave’s walls.
As a result, electric currents will bounce between the microwave’s walls and the aluminum foil. As they increase, they will eventually cause sparks and even fire.
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Safety tips for using tin foil in the microwave
Avoid foil trays
The issue with tin or aluminum foil trays is that too much foil and not enough food to compensate. As such, there will be a constant electricity flow as you microwave aluminum foil, resulting in sparks, fires, and even explosions.
Do not use wrinkled foil
A wrinkled foil container will likely cause arcing (the formation of electric currents) in the microwave (2). This is due to the compressed materials that will accelerate the microwave reflections. Therefore, when putting metal foil in a microwave, always ensure you use smooth foil and avoid scrunching any part of it before putting it in the microwave.
Ensure there are no edges
One of the most important things to avoid is sharp edges sticking out from the corners, as when edges stick out they can cause complexities. Basically, you want to avoid isolating any part of the aluminum or tin foil. This can encourage the creation of electric fields and currents bouncing between each other.
Avoid cooking on metal shelves or a metal turntable
Metal shelving or metal turntables could magnify the damage of an aluminum foil-related hazard if it were to occur. If you are considering putting aluminum foil in a microwave, keep your microwave away from metal countertops of all kinds. You could risk damaging your other kitchen appliances and tabletops in the process.
Can tin foil go in the microwave FAQ
Is aluminum foil the same thing as tin foil?
Contrary to popular belief, aluminum foil and tin foil have slight differences in their elemental make-up and appearance. Nevertheless, they are used for many of the same purposes. To identify each one, remember that aluminum foil is silvery-grey in appearance while tin foil is silvery-white.
What happens to aluminum foil in the microwave?
If used inappropriately, aluminum foil containers can cause sparks between the foil and metal walls of the microwave, resulting in fires or dangerous explosions. It is essential to ensure microwave safety precautions when using aluminum foil in this manner.
How long can aluminum foil be in the microwave?
There is no set amount of time you should put aluminum foil in a microwave for, as it depends on how much of it you use. Basically, the more foil you use, the less time it should be in the microwave, and you should always abide by certain safety precautions when using metal in the microwave.
Can I microwave aluminum tray?
Aluminum trays are not microwave-safe, and you should avoid them, as there is a chance you could start a fire or even an explosion in your kitchen. Instead, you are better off using plastic wrap in the microwave as it will not catch fire and will allow the microwaves to pass through it and into your food for an interior cook.
Can you put aluminum foil in a convection oven?
Unlike microwaves, convection ovens are compatible with aluminum foil. You can even place a full foil-covered metal pan in the oven without any issues. This is because ovens don’t use microwaves or radio waves that can cause dangerous heating, resulting in sparks, flames, and explosions.
Can you put aluminum foil in an oven?
Oven cooking works significantly differently to microwaving, applying resistance to electrical currents and providing thermal heating energy as a result. Thus, using aluminum foil or even aluminum cake pans in an oven is safe. There is no risk of microwaves bouncing off each other and causing dangerous ignitions that could cause a hazard.