Coronavirus Episode 12: Does a Microwave Kill Coronavirus?

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microwave coronavirus

All of my kids are home from college and we’re all trying to shelter in place, wipe down surfaces several times a day, and not share food in the same way. However, yesterday I found some leftovers in the fridge, but I couldn’t be sure if someone had snacked on these before. So I thought to myself, instead of eating this food cold, I should microwave it first to reduce the viral load if present. So let’s dig into whether I made the right decision and whether you should do the same.

How Does a Microwave Oven Work?

microwave coronavirus

The microwave in your kitchen heats and cooks food by using electromagnetic radiation in the microwave frequency range. This energy causes the water molecules in the food to rotate and twist (see above). This produces heat.

Can Your Microwave at Home Kill Viruses?

The short answer is YES. In fact, there is research on using the microwave in your kitchen to kill lethal viruses like HIV (1). How much for how long?

First, there’s the power of your microwave. This is measured in watts. The higher the watts, the shorter the cooking time. The above study used a wattage of 800. The average microwave oven these days has a wattage of about 1,000 (from my review of what’s being sold on Google). It seems hard to buy a microwave with less than 700 watts, so yours likely has more than enough power.

Second, for how long do you need to cook? The above study observed the destruction of the virus at 2 minutes at 800 watts. So 2 minutes in the average microwave should be more than enough time.

How About Coronaviruses?

Another study looked at the coronavirus called IBV (Avian Coronavirus) and a kitchen microwave (wattage not reported but they noted that this was a kitchen model) (2). The researchers couldn’t isolate this coronavirus (meaning it was dead) with an exposure of as little as 5 seconds!

How Does this Work?

Viruses contain plenty of hydroxyl groups that vibrate as shown in the animation above. These produce heat. Most experts believe that it’s the heat that really kills the virus. However, the one study above that shows that 5 seconds works, may mean it’s more than the heat.

My Recommendations?

We know that the coronavirus is deactivated by heat (3). 56C (132 F) reduces the alive virus by 10,000 times by 15 minutes. Hotter temps will kill more virus more quickly. Hence, I would heat your food for 2 minutes or so, getting it boiling hot. For example, I was reheating chili which I microwaved for 2 minutes until I saw it begin to boil. I then took it out and cooled it off by stirring it which took a few minutes and then jumped in!

How About “Take Out” Food?

The restaurants are closed, but many are permitted to offer take out. The same rules apply here. One way you can enhance your safety is to focus on cooked take out. Get the hot stuff and stay away from the cold stuff.

The upshot? It looks like my instincts that microwaving the food was the best option were right. So in this time of leftovers and people sharing lots of food because restaurants are closed, nuke that meal!

_______________________________________

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) (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.

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36 thoughts on “Coronavirus Episode 12: Does a Microwave Kill 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…

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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