Can You Put Aluminum Pans in the Microwave?

I always grew up hearing that you should never put any type of metal in a microwave oven. As the common thinking goes, metal will heat up and cause sparks inside of a microwave oven. This could then damage the oven and catch fire. But is it actually safe to put an aluminum pan in the microwave?

In looking into this question, I found out that there are some different opinions about this.

Some people think it’s actually a good idea to cook a food item in an aluminum container in a microwave oven while others strongly caution against this.

If you want the short answer based on my research, I would say “yes, you can,” but there are some important things to keep in mind in deciding whether it’s best to do this.

Here I go over the pros and cons of microwaving food in aluminum containers.

I’ll show you why this is usually safe, but also give you my recommendation for other microwave-safe bakeware as an alternative to aluminum cookware.

woman using microwave oven

Affiliate links included below, which means I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my disclosure here.

Can You Put an Aluminum Pan in a Microwave?

There are several reasons you might want to put an aluminum pan in the microwave oven.

For one, some foods items from the grocery store, or takeout containers from restaurants, come in aluminum pans.

It’s very convenient to take the aluminum tray of frozen food out of the box and pop it in the microwave to make a quick meal.

Also, friends or church groups may sometimes take meals to families where the mom is sick or a loved one has recently died. These frozen meals are often prepared in aluminum metal pans.

Disposable aluminum pans are an inexpensive and practical option. They’re suitable for everything from lasagna to banana bread.

Aluminum foil pans are particularly great for storing and transporting baked goods.

Nearly everyone agrees that modern aluminum cookware is perfectly fine to be used for oven cooking. But when it comes to using aluminum foil trays in a microwave oven, not everyone thinks that is safe.

How Does a Microwave Oven Heat Food?

Microwave ovens are one of the standard kitchen appliances found in most homes today. Some people even prefer to mostly microwave food instead of using a conventional oven.

A microwave oven emits electric fields (electromagnetic radiation) to heat food quickly and efficiently.

To understand how a microwave works, you first have to know about the specific type of electromagnetic radiation it emits, namely microwaves.

Microwaves are a type of radio wave (non-ionizing radiation) that have frequencies lower than infrared light but higher than regular radio waves.

Microwave ovens have a device called a magnetron that emits waves in the 2.4 GHz band.

When microwaves enter an enclosed chamber like an oven, they create standing waves that bounce off the oven walls and mix together in certain patterns.

This field produces electrical currents inside objects that are put inside the “cavity” of the oven.

The energy from these standing waves is absorbed by water molecules in food and causes them to vibrate rapidly.

As the water molecules move faster and faster, they generate heat which cooks or warms up the food inside without requiring direct contact with flames or hot surfaces.

Because microwave energy does not heat food evenly, you may notice hot spots in your food product.

Using a turntable greatly helps to more evenly distribute heat across areas of foods.

Pros of Using Aluminum Pans in the Microwave

Those who say it’s safe to use aluminum pans in a microwave oven point out several facts to support their view.

For one, metal cookware reflects most of the electromagnetic waves emitted by a microwave oven.

In addition, there are several types of microwave cookware made out of metal, such as metal crisper pans. This cookware has been safely used for many years.

Some microwavable foods (like pies or soups) also come with a thin layer of metal in the package. This layer takes advantage of the oven’s electromagnetic field to help heat and brown the food.

Not only that, but many microwaves come with a metal turntable and/or metal shelves or cooking racks used for two-level cooking.

So, obviously it is safe at least under certain conditions to use metal in a microwave oven!

These aluminum pans are advertised as microwave safe

The Walls of Your Microwave are Made of Metal

Another fact that seems to back the safety of using of aluminum containers in a microwave oven comes from the build of the microwave oven itself.

The walls (cavities) of all microwave ovens are actually made of metal. The mesh screen in the door of your microwave is also made of metal.

The reason the side of the microwave oven is metal is because metal is the only thing that can hold microwave radiation inside the oven and keep it from escaping.

Although the walls are made of metal, these are made not to be effective antennas, so they don’t heat up or cause sparks.

Study Supports Safety of Microwaving Aluminum Trays

An extensive study conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering in Germany found that using aluminum containers in microwave ovens is safe.

According to this study, “No hazardous results or damage to ovens were found in the more than 200 food portions that were heated in aluminum foil containers or packs containing aluminum foil.”

But not only did the study find no dangers in using an aluminum foil tray in microwave cooking even at maximum power.

It actually found that heating food using aluminum cookware can improve the appearance of foods such as lasagna.

microwave lasagna in aluminum pan

The study did note that it’s important to keep aluminum cookware in the center and away from the sides of the microwave.

You should also have a layer of ceramic or glass between the aluminum pan and a metal microwave turntable.

So at this point, it seems obvious that the common thinking that “microwaves and metals never mix” is not correct.

Cons of Using Aluminum Pans in the Microwave

But not everyone thinks it’s a good idea to use aluminum containers in microwave ovens.

Maybe you’ve seen small sparks in your microwave oven when cooking something that contains some amount of metal.

Sparks can occur when a metal object gets heated by microwave radiation, causing arcing from the object to a grounded object such as a wall of the microwave oven.

Those who recommend against using aluminum pans and thin aluminum foil in the microwave say that this can result in sparks or arcing.

Arcing can be caused by the electric field within a microwave. The electric field is caused by the free electrons in the metal. The free electrons move from side to side rapidly.

The electric current in the metal can overwhelm the free electrons and cause the metal to spark. The sparks or arcing may also damage the microwave.

While the German study supports using aluminum pans in a microwave, you should still avoid metal twist ties and sharp edges or loose pieces of aluminum foil protruding from food.

Even a small amount of foil that’s pointed or jagged can serve as an antenna and cause sparks and fires.

Does Aluminum Cookware Keep Microwaved Food From Being Heated?

Another concern about using aluminum pans in a microwave is that the metal can keep food from being thoroughly heated.

This concern has some truth behind it. Aluminum can prevent microwave heating waves from penetrating the food, keeping the food from being properly cooked.

To get around this concern over improper heating due to a covered metal pan, you need to make sure there is no aluminum foil covering the top of the pan.

For best results with heating, the food in an uncovered pan should not be much more than 1-2 inches deep.

This nonstock metal cookware is designed for microwave use

Some people worry about things like a metal clamp when defrosting a turkey, but this and small amounts of aluminum foil (particularly smooth foil without sharp edges) are fine to use.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports that aluminum pans and small pieces of aluminum foil are okay to use in microwaves.

For safe microwave use, the foil needs to be pressed tightly to the food. Another guideline with the use of aluminum foils is that it should be smooth, not wrinkled, and sharp edges should be avoided.

Tin foil is sometimes used to keep foods such as edges of brownies or lasagna, poultry drumsticks, or leg of lamb from being overcooked when microwaved.

Health Issues With Aluminum Cookware

Based on the research, putting an aluminum pan in the microwave won’t damage the microwave or the pan, as long as the above-mentioned precautions are taken.

But another concern with using aluminum cookware is whether aluminum can leach into the food inside the pan.

According to one authoritative source, “Cooking in uncoated aluminum will cause the metal to leach into food—how much depends on the food and how long it spends in the pan.”

It’s unclear what specific percent aluminum exposure is needed to cause health problems.

But since excess aluminum has been linked to diseases like Alzheimer’s and autism, many people choose to reduce exposure to aluminum as much as possible.

This is one reason I prefer to avoid aluminum-containing deodorants and use ones like this or even make my own.

Alternative Microwave-Safe Cookware

Although you can put an aluminum pan in the microwave, to be on the really safe side, I prefer to use other cookware.

I also avoid using plastic wrap and plastic containers in the microwave as the wrong cookware can melt and leech harmful chemicals into food.

To avoid excess exposure to aluminum and other toxins, I like to use glass and ceramic dishes for microwave food preparation. I find these to be the safest and best choice for microwave cooking.

If I buy or am given food that comes in an aluminum tray, I remove it from the tray and transfer it to a glass dish like this one (just be sure to first remove the lid before microwaving).

Microwave Baking Dish
*Click now to check best price

Final Thoughts on Using Aluminum Pans in a Microwave

I hope this has been helpful if you’ve been wondering whether you can put an aluminum pan in the microwave.

While some people advise against this, the USDA and a large European study support using aluminum pans as long as basic precautions are followed.

So if you need to quickly microwave some food that’s in an aluminum tray, you should be okay doing so.

But if you’re like me and prefer to avoid exposure to aluminum whenever possible, you could transfer the food into a different container. This would avoid any safety concerns over potential sparking and fires, and also the possible hazards of aluminum leeching from your cookware.

{This post was written with the help of my husband David, who has a master’s degree with an emphasis in politics and the life sciences.)


  1. Hmm, as I read more and more on staying healthy, I will avoid both microwave and aluminum pans. I will definitely check out the alternatives shown but won’t be using them in the microwave.

    No “safe” levels of aluminum has been determined in the human body. Aluminum HAS been found in the brain and blood of Alzheimer’s patient. So for now, will do my best to avoid aluminum and microwave – IMHO all toxic.

    1. Yes, I totally agree with you. I try to avoid both of those as well. If I were the only one living in my house, I would get rid of the microwave entirely (and we don’t own any aluminum pans)! We didn’t have one when we moved into this house, but there was already one permanently installed in the kitchen when we moved here. My husband and one of my adult children like to use it for convenience (just for reheating food), but I keep hoping to talk them out of it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.