How To Clean A Microwave After A Fire: A Complete Guide


Whether you’re making popcorn or baking potatoes, a fire in the microwave is easy to start. This appliance is designed to contain flare-ups, but the kitchen mishap leaves behind awful smells and stubborn stains. These smells can even transfer to other foods when using the oven again, so cleaning it properly is paramount. While the mess might scare you, there is nothing to worry about. Here’s how to clean a burnt microwave.

The easiest way to clean the microwave after a fire is with white vinegar and acetone. Boiling vinegar in the microwave creates enough steam to clean the interior and vents. White vinegar also absorbs the odor, leaving the appliance smelling fresh. Acetone can help you remove stubborn soot stains.

4 Reasons Why Your Microwave Oven Caught Fire

From all your appliances, microwaves are the most likely to flare up. Most of the time, the fire is caused by human error. In some cases, though, the problem could be a faulty oven.

Overestimated Cooking Time

An overestimated cooking time is one of the most common reasons for microwave fires. Flare-ups are even more likely if the food you’re cooking or heating comes in paper or cardboard packaging. Paper packaging ignites at about 480°F, and microwaves often heat beyond that point.

Microwave-safe packaging won’t flame up if you let it in the oven for the specified time. However, even an extra ten minutes of cooking time can result in a fire. 

To prevent the issue, only microwave the foods for the time specified on the package. If you want to cook or heat the food for longer, let the package cool down first, and then continue microwaving, or use a microwave-safe glass container.

Mis-Entered Cooking Time

Sometimes, you may not want to leave the food in the microwave for longer than instructed, but you’ve mis-entered the cooking time.

For instance, you can easily input the oven to cook for two hours instead of two minutes. If you get distracted, you may not notice that the microwave keeps heating (perhaps you could even forget that you’re cooking something), and the food could catch fire.

Because microwaves heat much faster than a traditional oven, the food can also catch fire before you can smell the smoke. 

Using Wrong Containers 

Not all foods come in microwave-friendly packaging. You must always read the label and make sure that any container that goes into the microwave is safe to use in this type of oven.

As a general rule, most plastic containers are not safe to use in the microwave unless they’re made of high-density polyethylene. 

Aluminum trays, and any other plates, bowls, or containers containing metallic details can’t be used in the microwave either. 

You should also avoid thin glass containers. While they won’t catch fire, the glass can shatter due to the high heat.

Ceramic and thick glass are generally safe to use in the microwave; however, you should avoid using any containers that are not specifically labeled as microwave-friendly. Likewise, you should never put a pizza box in the microwave.

Faulty Microwave

While food- and packaging-based fires are the most common in a microwave, accidents can also happen due to a faulty appliance. 

For instance, a loose cable inside the microwave could cause a short circuit and set other cables or internal components on fire. The magnetron could also overheat and set the food inside your oven on fire even if you respect the cooking time. 

If the appliance catches fire due to a malfunction, you should dispose of it immediately and buy a new oven.

When the fire is caused by wrong cooking times or improper packaging, unplug the appliance as soon as you notice the flames and let the door closed until the fire ceases. You can then proceed to clean the microwave before using it again.

7 Easy To Follow Steps To Clean A Microwave Oven After A Fire

While a fire won’t damage your microwave, the mishap will leave the appliance covered in a black, oily residue both inside and out. Your regular kitchen cleaning products may not do a good job in removing the soot, but you can still clean the oven easily with products you might have in your household. Follow the guide below for a quick fix.

Step 1 – Gather all necessary supplies 

Cleaning a burnt microwave doesn’t require any special chemicals. White vinegar does an excellent job, and acetone can remove stubborn stains. For this job, you’ll need: 

  • White vinegar 
  • Microwave-safe glass bowl
  • Dish soap 
  • Kitchen sponges 
  • Dryer sheets 
  • Acetone (or acetone-based nail polish remover)
  • Rubber gloves 

Step 2 – Let the microwave cool off 

To prevent further flare-ups, it is essential to let the microwave cool off after the fire has ceased. The appliance should be already unplugged, so let it sit until you can touch it without getting burned.

When the oven is cool, open the door and remove the remnants of the food you were heating or cooking. Wash the glass plate inside the microwave, then put it back in and plug in the appliance.

Step 3 – Boil the vinegar 

Fill a microwave glass bowl with white vinegar until it’s three-quarters full and heat it at max power for about five minutes. The purpose is to fill the inside of the appliance with hot vinegar steam. Vinegar steam can dissolve the greasy soot coating your oven’s interior, making it easier to clean.

After you’ve boiled the vinegar, leave the oven with the door closed for 15-20 minutes, then unplug the appliance and proceed with the next steps.

Step 4 – Clean the microwave 

Keep a distance of a step or two from the microwave to prevent the hot steam from burning you and open the door. 

Take out the bowl and microwave plate, then soak a sponge into the hot vinegar and start scrubbing the interior. Change the sponge as needed, and work your way around the entire cabinet. When you’re done, continue cleaning the exterior using warm vinegar.

Clean the entire oven, including the vents, by working the sponge edges into the vent slats. 

Step 5 – Remove stubborn stains 

Acetone is a potent solvent that can help you remove even the most stubborn soot stains. Soak a dryer sheet into acetone and place it over the stain. Let it sit for a few minutes, then scrub the stain with a sponge soaked in acetone.

To deal with any remnants, soak another dryer sheet into the hot soapy water and place it over the stain. Let it sit for a couple of hours. 

Take off the sheet, then scrub the stain with a sponge soaked in acetone. The soot should come out easily. Rinse the entire oven with a cloth soaked in clean water when you’re done.

Step 6 – Scrub the interior with baking soda 

Baking soda paste is slightly abrasive and very effective for scrubbing away any darker spots. At the same time, the powder absorbs odors, helping you get rid of the burnt smell.

Make a baking soda paste by mixing a few tablespoons of baking soda with some water. Use a sponge to scrub the microwave with this paste, then let it sit for at least half an hour. Rinse with clean water.

Step 7 – Wipe down and dry 

Wipe the microwave inside and out with a damp cloth to polish the surface and remove any streaks. After you’ve wiped all surfaces, switch to a dry microfiber cloth and wipe it again to remove excess water. 

Leave the microwave unplugged and with the door open until its interior dries completely. If the appliance is badly burnt, you may have to repeat the steps, or you may have to use alternative methods to get the burnt smell out of the oven.

How To Get The Burnt Smell Out Of Microwave (3 Tested Methods)

A microwave’s burnt smell is not only annoying; it could alter the smell of the food you’re cooking or heating inside the appliance. Because the smell and taste senses are related, the food you cook in an ill-smelling oven may not be exactly palatable. 

However, you don’t have to replace the microwave if you can’t get rid of the bad smell during the cleaning stage. The three tested methods below can help.

1. Clean the Microwave with Dish Soap

You will need: 

  • Microwave-safe container
  • Clean water
  • Dish soap 
  • Rubber gloves 
  • Sponge
  • Cloths 

Here’s how to clean the microwave: 

  1. Remove any debris from the microwave and wipe its interior with a dry cloth. Fill a microwave-safe container with one cup of water and heat for 4-5 minutes. Let it sit for another 15-20 minutes to allow the steam to loosen up the grime. 
  2. Unplug the microwave. Soak a soft sponge in warm soapy water and wipe the interior. If your oven is made of stainless steel, rub in the direction of the metal grain. 
  3. Rinse with clean water, then wipe the interior with a dry cloth. Let the door open for 2-3 hours, then check if the smell is gone.

2. Clean with Lemon Juice 

If the dish soap didn’t remove the burnt smell, try steaming your microwave with lemon juice. The acid in lemon juice can help neutralize the odors. 

  1. Remove any debris from the microwave and wipe its interior with a dry cloth. 
  2. Fill a microwave-safe container with diluted lemon juice (one cup of water to one tablespoon of lemon juice). 
  3. Microwave the mixture for 2-5 minutes, then wipe the interior with a sponge or paper towel.

If you don’t like the smell of lemon, you could use vanilla extract or a tablespoon of coffee grounds instead of lemon juice.

3. Deodorize the Microwave

Does the oven still smell? You may have to deodorize it overnight. This method is very simple and involves no wiping or scrubbing. 

All you have to do is fill a container with a smell-absorbing medium, such as baking soda, activated charcoal, or coffee grounds. Place the container inside the microwave, close the door, and let it sit overnight. Don’t turn on the microwave during this time. 

Remove the bowl in the morning – your oven should smell fresh by now. If it still has a slightly burnt smell, you can use the baking soda, activated charcoal, or coffee grounds to scrub the interior, then wipe clean with a damp cloth.

Related Queries

Cleaning the microwave after a fire may require some elbow grease, but the process isn’t complicated. Yet, you may still have unanswered questions. Find the answers below.

Is it safe to use a microwave after a fire?

If the fire was caused by human error (e.g., mis-entered cooking time, overestimated cooking time, using improper containers, leftover crumbs or food residue that haven’t been cleaned, etc.), using your microwave after the fire is safe, as long as you clean it properly.

However, if the fire was caused by a faulty circuit or any other hardware issues, you should replace the oven.

Why does your microwave overheat and shut down?

Most microwaves have an automatic shut-off feature that will turn off the power if the oven overheats. Your oven could overheat when: 

  • You’re cooking dry foods with low water content (such as popcorn). Microwaves work by heating the water molecules in food. In the case of dry foods, the lack of moisture can cause the oven to overheat – this is why most microwave fires start when making popcorn.
  • You don’t ensure sufficient ventilation. All microwaves have vents that regulate the temperature inside the cabinet and cool down the system while in use. If you cover these vents, the oven is most likely to overheat and shut off or catch fire.
  • The fan is broken. If the vents are clear, but you can’t hear the fan when you turn on the appliance, you should have it repaired. The fan turns on every time you turn on the microwave, so a silent microwave is a clear sign of malfunction. 

To End

Human error is the most common cause of microwave fires. The good news is that this appliance is designed to contain fires, so you can keep using it after properly cleaning the soot and getting rid of the burnt smell. 

However, a short circuit or overheating could also start a flare-up. If you’re certain that you’ve set the right cooking time and used appropriate containers, the best thing is to dispose of the oven and buy a new appliance.

Has your microwave ever caught fire, or are you simply looking for ways to clean it after you’ve burnt your food? Do you have any cleaning tips or questions? Leave us a comment.

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