A microwave oven seems foolproof: You stick in the food, press a button and wait. But the reality is, there’s plenty of room to make silly errors.

Those mistakes can lead to dangerous scenarios, from burns to food explosions to fires, says John Drengenberg, UL’s consumer safety director.

Here are seven microwave missteps you should never make.

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Mistake 1: Pushing the wrong button. Push an extra button, especially when making baked potatoes or popcorn, and you could start a fire. “Someone might want three minutes and they accidentally punch in 30 minutes,” Drengenberg says. It gets worse if you then get distracted and forget about the food. “If you cook a potato long enough, it will heat, then dry out, then turn black,” he says. “Sparks will appear and suddenly you have a merry-go-round of flaming potatoes in your microwave.”

Mistake 2: Microwaving metal. Surely your mom told you never to microwave metal. Still, some people make the mistake of sticking forks, metal cups and aluminum foil in the microwave. The problem, explains Drengenberg, is metal attracts the microwave energy, causing enough heat to start a fire. Even if you know better than to reheat a foil-wrapped leftover in your microwave, it's still important to double check for potential metal. Twist ties, for example, often wind up getting zapped: Even though they're plastic on the outside, the wire inside is metal. “Get those twist ties off your bags,” advises Drengenberg.

Mistake 3: "Cooking" things that aren't food. It may seem perfectly logical to try to dry your damp mittens or socks in the microwave after coming in on a snowy day. And Internet tipsters often suggest sterilizing a dish sponge by wetting and microwaving it. But putting any non-food items in a microwave is a bad idea — and a potential fire hazard, warns Drengenberg. Ands some fabrics contain tiny flecks of metal, which increases the fire risk, he adds.

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Mistake 4: Zapping an iPhone. More than one person has fallen for this Internet hoax: a totally untrue (and dangerous) claim that you can recharge your smartphone in the microwave. Urban legend site Snopes.com calls this an “attempt to lure the gullible into attempting absurd and … dangerous tasks.” The result, YouTube videos show: a ruined phone, a horrible smell and maybe a blaze in your microwave.

Mistake 5: Putting a (too tight) lid on it. Fail to cover your food while microwaving it and you could end up with food splatters all over your microwave, like this guy:


But tightly covering food you’re cooking can be an even bigger mistake, Drengenberg says. For example, imagine heating up soup in a glass jar with a (plastic) lid screwed on tight. “That’s an airtight compartment,” he says. “As you heat that soup, it’s going to expand and boil and could blow up the whole jar.”

Mistake 6: Using a microwave with a damaged cord. It’s not uncommon for microwave power cords to get damaged if they're too close to a hot stove, Drengenberg says. Some people make the mistake of wrapping the melted cord in electrical tape. The problem is, the tape isn't waterproof and kitchens abound with liquids. What happens if you use a microwave with a damaged cord? “It could spark or give you a shock,” he says.

Mistake 7: Getting in hot water. Microwaved liquids can be at boiling temperature without looking like they’re boiling, Drengenberg says. Grab that mug of coffee too quickly after microwaving and it could bubble over and burn your hand. “Once you grab the mug and wiggle it a little, the water can come out like a geyser,” he says. Cooking hot liquids, such as tea or soup, in the microwave and then not letting them cool is a common source of scald burns, especially in kids.

When taking the cover off microwaved liquids or other foods, remove the lid slowly, holding it away from your face, the National Fire Protection Association recommends. Stir well, because microwaves heat unevenly and there could be hot pockets of food. Then let foods cool to a safe temperature before eating or giving them to your child.

If you’ve made any of these mistakes, don’t feel bad — just don’t do it again. “People who do these things aren’t dumb,” Drengenberg says. “They’re often smart people just trying to take a shortcut.”

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Allie Johnson is an award-winning freelance consumer writer with a degree in magazine journalism. She lives in Georgia with her husband and two dogs.