Can water, soup or other liquids explode in the Microwave Oven and how can we prevent it?

You exceeded the liquid’s boiling point, and it exploded in the microwave oven, that’s what happened.

Years ago, school teachers used to teach that water (unless pressurized) could never get hotter than its boiling point. That seemed true then, you put a pot on the stove, and it would bubble and boil furiously, allowing steam to escape fast enough to keep the water from getting much hotter than 100 °C or 212 °F.

Microwave ovens, however, changed the rules.

In order to start boiling, water needs hot spots, impurities in the pot surface, or small pockets of trapped air to act as “seed bubbles.” All of these are plentiful in metal boiling pots, but not when microwaving in glass or ceramic containers.

So, while liquids will often boil in the microwave when heated, there are times when they won’t, no matter how hot they get. This is especially true with soups, because often a thin layer of fat floats on top, hindering evaporation. If you’re lucky, this superheated liquid may spontaneously explode in the oven.

If you’re not, it may not explode until you induce an instantaneous boiling explosion by moving it or putting sugar, salt, or a spoon into it. People have been severely burned on their arms, upper body, and face.

So how do you prevent this? Well, the best idea is to not overheat liquids in the first place— for example, use the timer instead of the “zap it till it’s bubbling” method. Waiting a minute before removing hot liquids from the microwave isn’t a bad idea either, keeping the cup far from your face in case it blows.

Since kids generally have shorter arms and less real-life experience, they are more likely to be injured; teaching them microwave safety is an excellent way to prevent accidents.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

1 thought on “Can water, soup or other liquids explode in the Microwave Oven and how can we prevent it?”

  1. Last night it rained harder than I ever remember. This morning, I found a nasty surprise in the kitchen. My microwave oven, which is installed in the cabinet above the oven and is vented through the ceiling, was full of water, which had been leaking during the night, dripping through the bottom of the microwave oven through the ventilation screens underneath and onto the oven and counters and hardwood floors beneath. What a mess. Two questions occur to me. How did the water get inside the microwave oven (was it through the overhead ventilation?), and will this make it dangerous to operate the microwave oven? I dried everything thoroughly and left the oven door open to air out. I successfully heated lunch in the microwave, but I noticed that while there is no sound coming from the oven when the door is open, as soon as I close the microwave door I hear a noise, almost like arcing or a mechanical sound, coming from the microwave oven, even though it is not turned on. Any idea as to what is causing this sound (it is not still raining) or if it will make it dangerous to operate? Thanks in advance for your comments. — ab

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