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Can A Microwave Kill The Coronavirus?

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The microwave in your kitchen heats and cooks food by using electromagnetic radiation in the microwave frequency range. This energy causes the water molecules (which have hydrogen and oxygen) in the food to rotate and twist and produce heat. See the visual below: microwave coronavirus Viruses contain plenty of hydroxyl groups, also hydrogen and oxygen, so the same should happen to them. It does.

So, will your microwave kill the Coronavirus?

First, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “currently, there is no evidence of food, food containers, or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. Like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects. For that reason, it is critical to follow the 4 key steps of food safety—clean, separate, cook, and chill.”

Now, to the question.

In short, microwaves can kill a Coronavirus, but it depends on two things: cooking power and cooking time. So, if you find takeout leftovers in the fridge but can’t be sure if someone has snacked on them, just heat the food for 2 minutes or so to get it boiling hot and reduce the viral load.

hand pushing microwave buttons

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What's the research on microwaves and Coronavirus?

Two different studies show how a run-of-the-mill kitchen microwave oven can kill a virus. One, a 2016 German study where the HIV virus was deactivated (AKA killed) after being microwaved at 800 watts of power for 2 minutes1. For reference, the average microwave oven these days has a wattage of about 1,000, so yours likely has more than enough power, but I’d suggest you double-check. The second, a study published in a June 2004 issue of the Avian Pathology journal, where an Avian Coronavirus called IBV was killed after being microwaved for 5 seconds2.

In 2003, The World Health Organization (WHO) commissioned a multi-laboratory study that found that the SARS virus — a coronavirus — could be deactivated by heat. The study showed that 15 minutes at a temperature of 56C (132 F) reduced the alive virus by 10,000 times3. The hotter temperature, the faster the process.

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Final thoughts

  • Be a fact-checker. Seek information from credible sources such as the CDC and the WHO.
  • Wash your hands and clean frequently touched surfaces often.
  • And yes, microwaving your food until boiling (about 2 minutes) does kill the Coronavirus.
————
References:
1. Siddharta A, Pfaender S, Malassa A, et al. Inactivation of HCV and HIV by microwave: a novel approach for prevention of virus transmission among people who inject drugs. Sci Rep. 2016;6:36619. Published 2016 Nov 18. doi:10.1038/srep36619
2. Elhafi G, et al. Microwave or autoclave treatments destroy the infectivity of infectious bronchitis virus and avian pneumovirus but allow detection by reverse transcriptase- polymerase chain reaction. Avian Pathology (June 2004) 33(3), 303/306. https://doi.org/10.1080/0307945042000205874
3. World Health Organization. First data on stability and resistance of SARS coronavirus compiled by members of WHO laboratory network. https://www.who.int/csr/sars/survival_2003_05_04/en/ Accessed 3/21/20.

Category: Coronavirus

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55 thoughts on “Can A Microwave Kill The Coronavirus?

  1. chris

    We make our own yogurt from locally produced milk, cow’s milk pasteurized, goat milk not. Would heating the milk to 185 degrees be enough to kill the covid virus?

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Yes, that temp for a minute or two would be enough.

  2. Cliff spratt

    Would a sauna help kill the disease if a person had it. I DO NOT have it. Just wondered if someone did. The heat might be killing the virus??

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Heat kills the virus, so yes, even a mild sauna at 140 degrees would likely kill the virus on your skin or hair in 15 minutes, less time if hotter. Hot saunas are at 180-190 degrees, so the virus wouldn’t last long at that temp.

  3. AL Wekelo

    Thank for the common sense advice great for when you purchase a take out order…be safe! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Darcy Connors

    Wonderful post! My husband and I were just researching this last night. You have answered a lot of our questions. Thank you!

  5. JIM IN NAPA

    What about other items – like mail. We never know how many hands touch our mail. Would the micro-wave be effective against the corona-virus on paper, like envelopes, magazines, etc. Also, plastic items. They can melt if temp. is too high. So, generally, what can be done to destroy the virus using a microwave?

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      It’s my understanding that microwaving paper like cash can catch fire.

  6. Frank Kelly

    if microwave kills the corona virus why is everybody screaming for more masks, gloves, and gowns? For casual use it is not necessary to quickly throw away these items after one use… ZAP and reuse!

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      I think some may melt in a microwave!

  7. Stacey Kaufman

    Thank you!

  8. Lin

    Can I use the microwave to kill Coronavirus on paper eg library books?

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Paper can catch fire in a microwave.

  9. Ben

    In addition you can use UV-C to kill the virus on surfaces. Now its true, not many of us have access to true UV-C lamps but a friend took a toaster oven and gutted it and installed UV-C lamps inside to sterilize his phone and other items.

    Just be aware that it can damage some plastics and it is an extreme eye and skin hazard. It can and will cause sunburns on exposed skin and potential blindness from direct eye exposure. Use it in a proper enclosed device or while wearing goggles/faceshield and clothing that covers all exposed skin.

  10. Lawrence

    The cooked food is fine but its really the packaging in take out that is worrying.. it is the last point of human contact…
    And what about nuking your mail…? 5 sec Rule..?

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Paper can burn in the microwave, so I wouldn’t microwave mail.

  11. Ed

    How about a mask?

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      You would need to test that, but I would be cautious about microwaving things that may catch fire.

  12. T Hargreave

    I have gloves made of synthetic fabric and wear these when I leave my house. When I return I place the gloves in my microwave for 5 mins at full power. I then go wash my hands and take my gloves out of the microwave. As the gloves are dry they are not heated to any extent but does this kill viruses that are on the glove? I do leave microwave door open so that I can put gloves in without touching outside of microwave. Also I did several test runs to check gloves did not catch fire! My gloves are made of thinsulate and do not have any metal bits. Interested to hear comments. Also I find wearing gloves when out reminds me not to touch my face before I have washed my hands.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Based on what’s published, I would suspect that 5 min is more than enough to sterilize the gloves of an enveloped virus like this one.

  13. Jim Yee

    Why no news about using microwaves to reuse N95 masks in hospitals…at least temporarily while short of supply during Covid-19 epidemic?
    [email protected]

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      I have never microwaved an N-95 mask, so unsure…

  14. Saffian Steve

    How microwaving our daily newspaper or the mail?

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Paper can catch fire in the microwave.

  15. Permafrost

    Microwave oven does not kill the virus, unless the surface where the virus is installed is moist.
    Doubt? Place a small ant (thousands of times bigger than the virus and with thousands of times more water in its body) inside the microwave on a dry surface and turn on the oven … you will never be able to kill it.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Yes, the recommendation in this blog is to use this technique with things you can bring to a boil. Your ant won’t survive being boiled any more than the virus.

  16. James

    According to this, microwaving stuff does not kill the viurs.
    I wish there could be some definitive source for information like this instead of getting conflicting information. https://youtu.be/0xq4OMpH6tc

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      James, I have several scientific references here which would be the gold standard, so I wouldn’t trust a news station to answer this one. I think you could say that we don’t know if a microwave would kill THIS virus, but research studies show that a microwave kills other similar viruses. In addition, heat kills all viruses, including this one, so the recommendation is to use this with foods that boil in the microwave.

  17. Sharon

    How about putting my fresh veggies like broccoli, carrots etc and various lettuce type food into a microwave just long enough to kill Covid-19 without cooking them? I was to retain crispness. Would that work

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi Sharon,
      The study in the blog observed the destruction of the virus at 2 minutes at 800 watts.

  18. Marsha Mercier

    What about microwaving non-food items? I want to make masks for healthcare works and the fabric will be cut by someone else and dropped at my door. Since I don’t know where it’s coming from, can a minute in the microwave kill any germs on the cotton fabric??

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Be careful with flammable items like cloth or paper which can catch fire.

  19. Amy tisdale

    What about microwaving incoming mailp

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Paper can burn up in the microwave, so I wouldn’t microwave your mail.

  20. Mike Cox

    A virus isn’t a living organism so you cannot kill it, you can only (hopefully) denature its vulnerable outer membrane to prevent it being able to take over host cell RNA/DNA mutation. MB BS (UK)

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Yes, “kill” is likely the wrong word, but “denature the proteins in the viral envelope” doesn’t roll off the tongue so well…

  21. Albert

    What about baking items in the oven? Has anyone researched this? Like a pizza box with pizza in it that was delivered. Or mail? What temperature and for how long?

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Viruses don’t survive long at even 130 degrees, so in a 450 oven, no viruses will survive.

  22. Tony Efthymiou

    I had to wash some banknotes recently.
    I microwaved them until dry approx. 2 min.
    I bet that did it.
    Ironing your mail in an old pillowcase seems like it would work too.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Paper in a microwave can cause a fire!

  23. Phil Ober

    So if you put a cold sandwich into the Microwave and heat is for 2 minutes, there will be no virus? Same with French fries
    What about a bagel cause after 30 plus seconds it’s a mess?

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Heat is critical here, so if it heats up so that you can’t easily touch it, you’re likely fine.

  24. Frode syvdrtsen

    Can i kill corona virus in facemask with Microwaveoven

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Possibly

  25. Lola Singer

    What about some Tylenol #3’s that you got from a friend for pain?
    Will the microwave kill the virus if they are contaminated?

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Based on one study above, yes, on another, maybe not.

  26. Richard Schanda

    Paper does not catch fire in microwave ovens – except when there is metal such as a paper clip or a staple. Most masks have some metal such as the nose bridge or in some cases, the clip that attaches the head band. Try popping corn in a paper bag in the microwave – works great and doesn’t catch fire. Any microbe would be killed in about 20 seconds.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Paper catches fire after it’s been dehydrated…

  27. John Scalera

    I appreciate the scientific basis presented in support of the conclusion. Good article.

  28. Thea A Demmers

    Hello, I was not able to find the specific heat temperature and time mentioned in the WHO link referenced in this article (https://www.who.int/csr/sars/survival_2003_05_04/en/), the link seems to not mention heat. If you could provide a link to this WHO article, I would be grateful. I looked at articles by Darnell et al. from 2004, indicating temperatures of 65 degrees Celsius or higher for 20 minutes or longer to inactivate the virus (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15350737), and Darnell et al. 2006 indicating 60 degrees Celsius for 15 min. for decontaminating non-cellular blood products, i.e. plasma (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17002634). Given the above, it seems that oven heat would be better suited to deactivate the virus, as an even distribution of heat at such high temperatures for the time required would be difficult to do in a microwave…could you even eat the food after?

  29. diana marr

    will microwaving a 1/4 inch thick newspaper kill any viruses on the surface (the part touched by the deliverer) for 25 seconds work.? Also mail, if the mail is carefully watched? As with using the mwave for many things ie ice cream, frozen butter etc. the success is in watching it carefully and removing it at the right time. Trying to wipe off a daily newspaper with a sanitized wipe is a pain. How else can it be done so that it can be read at breakfast?

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Dianna, newspapers are pretty sterile anyway, as they are the first thing recommended for use in an emergency in the field deliveries for that reason. Given the HIV study I quoted, newspapers in the microwave for short bursts will likely work. An even better recommendation is to go digital.

  30. Sanjay Gupta

    Can we use a domestic iron for killing the corona virus on paper and cloth items by ironing.
    Can we use iron to sanitize cotton face masks.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      The heat should work well, but don’t cause a fire!

  31. R. Harwood

    As to microwaving your library books, it’s quite possible to damage books by microwaving them. I’ve done it. Some books may have paper or glue that’s very vulnerable to microwaving – so you might have to pay for book replacement.

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