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Old 03-22-2010
iamflagman's Avatar
iamflagman iamflagman is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2007
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Microwaving Water!

A 26-year old man decided to have a cup of coffee. He took a cup of water and put it in the microwave to heat it up (something that he had done numerous times before). I am not sure how long he set the timer for, but he wanted to bring the water to a boil. When the timer shut the oven off, he removed the cup from the oven. As he looked into the cup, he noted that the water was not boiling, but suddenly the water in the cup 'blew up' into his face. The cup remained intact until he threw it out of his hand, but all the water had flown out into his face due to the buildup of energy. His whole face is blistered and he has 1st and 2nd degree burns to his face which may leave scarring.

He also may have lost partial sight in his left eye. While at the hospital, the doctor who was attending to him stated that this is a fairly common occurrence and water (alone) should never be heated in a microwave oven. If water is heated in this manner, something should be placed in the cup to diffuse the energy such as a wooden stir stick, tea bag, etc.., (nothing metal).

General Electric's Response:

Thanks for contacting us, I will be happy to assist you. The e-mail that you received is correct. Microwaved water and other liquids do not always bubble when they reach the boiling point. They can actually get superheated and not bubble at all. The superheated liquid will bubble up out of the cup when it is moved or when something like a spoon or tea bag is put into it.

To prevent this from happening and causing injury, do not heat any liquid for more than two minutes per cup. After heating, let the cup stand in the microwave for thirty seconds! Before moving it or adding anything into it.

Here is what our local science teacher had to say on the matter: 'Thanks for the microwave warning. I have seen this happen before. It is caused by a phenomenon known as super heating. It can occur anytime water is heated and will particularly occur if the vessel that the water is heated in is new, or when heating a small amount of water (less than half a cup).

What happens is that the water heats faster than the vapor bubbles can form. If the cup is very new then it is unlikely to have small surface scratches inside it that provide a place for the bubbles to form. As the bubbles cannot form and release some of the heat has built up, the liquid does not boil, and the liquid continues to heat up well past its boiling point.

What then usually happens is that the liquid is bumped or jarred, which is just enough of a shock to cause the bubbles to rapidly form and expel the hot liquid. The rapid formation of bubbles is also why a carbonated beverage spews when opened after having been shaken.'

Risk of Burns from Eruptions of Hot Water Overheated in Microwave Ovens


1982 FC35RB
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Old 03-22-2010
Jeff Huffman Jeff Huffman is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Taylor
Posts: 480

John, thanks for the bit of information... I did not know that... I have 11 webelos in my cub scout pack that have just finished their scientist activity badge, that is an excellent topic to add at wed. meeting. Many people, i'm sure, do not know that. Thanks Jeff
Jeffery Huffman
WANNABE in Michigan
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Old 03-22-2010
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jcarrolljr jcarrolljr is offline
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Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Fayetteville
Posts: 73

FYI - Water can also be in a state of being "super cooled". It remains liquid at a temperature below freezing and becomes ice immediately when disturbed. This is a serious problem in inflight icing with airplanes.

John Carroll, Jr.
Fayetteville. Georgia
2004 M380
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Old 03-22-2010
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Dieselbird01 Dieselbird01 is offline
John Wyatt – Administrator/Moderator
Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: Titusville
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This weekend I witnesses a small fire in a microwave oven at my Sister-in-law’s. Her dog likes carrots in his food (he may be just a little spoiled) so she cut some baby carrots into small pieces and placed them on a paper plate with a paper towel over them and put them in the microwave. She set the timer for 15 seconds just to warm them up. She hit the start button and everything seemed normal for a few seconds then the paper towel burst into flames. She hit the stop button and pulled the burning paper towel out and tossed what was left of it in the sink. Of course we were all curious so we tried it again without the paper towel. Within 6 seconds the carrots were arcing. I’m not talking about some wimpy little sparks - it looked like someone was trying to arc weld them! Still curious we put them on a completely different type paper plate and tried it again - arc welding carrots in under 10 seconds! One more try in a second microwave had the same results - arc welding in less than 10 seconds. I looked it up on the internet and sure enough microwaving carrots can cause arcing due to the minerals in the soil in which they were grown.

The United States Department of Agriculture has microwave information on superheated water, arcing carrots, etc.

John Wyatt
Titusville, Florida
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Last edited by Dieselbird01; 03-22-2010 at 11:06 PM.
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