Microwaves are super convenient modern appliances — until you hear some sparks, smell some smoke and realize that a mini-disaster has occurred in your kitchen after putting your gold-trimmed china inside the machine. It's easy to make this mistake, especially when the trim is largely unnoticeable, but learning more about microwave safety can help you know which of your dinnerware can be zapped in your microwave.
In general, avoid putting gold-trimmed bowls, plates or cups in the microwave. While there are rare exceptions from retailers who offer microwave-safe options of gold-trimmed dinnerware, most can spark or smoke when heated in a microwave.
Many people love the elegance of gold-trimmed dinnerware. Whether it's an antique china set that's been dipped in gold or a more modern set with scalloped or painted gold edges, it's a favorite look among china collectors and everyday diners alike.
The look was popularized before many modern appliances like microwaves and dishwashers were invented or widely available. Unlike many of the cups, bowls and plates made today, the style wasn't necessarily built to hold up against the kind of heat, pressure or power that those types of appliances can give off. For this reason, many people have questions about what they can and can't do with their gold-trimmed dinnerware.
In general, it's not safe to place gold-trimmed dinnerware in the microwave. Gold is a metal, and when some metals are exposed to the heat and waves present in a microwave, the trim can start to give off tiny sparks. Those sparks then jump from place to place within the trim and can quickly get out of control, leading to larger sparks and smoke. This process is known as arcing. It doesn't take much metal for this to happen, and it can also occur when you place items like metal twist ties and recycled paper towels (which may contain tiny pieces of metal) in a microwave.
Additionally, since some gold-trimmed china is quite old, they could already be breaking down. The excess heat and waves from a microwave could further contribute to the degradation of dinnerware that you likely want to keep as intact as possible.
There are a few exceptions to the rule. Some retailers have made plates, cups or bowls that have a gold trim that's been manufactured in a certain way, usually by including a protective coating that makes them microwave safe. Since they're rare, the retailers generally make this well known, whether it's in the online copy for the product or the care manual when you buy it.
If you don't have the microwave safety information from the supplier, or if you've bought the dinnerware secondhand and can't be sure about the manufacturer, it's best to err on the side of caution and heat food using a container you know to be safe for the microwave.
The same rules that apply to gold generally apply to other metal trims like silver and copper. Like with gold, there are a few retailers that offer microwave-safe items, but if you don't know for sure that something is safe, use a different container instead.
If you have trouble remembering which of your cookware can be used in a microwave, it might help to have special plates for microwave use or a bowl you designate as your microwave bowl. You can always heat your food in those safe containers and then serve it on your more elegant gold-trimmed bowls or plates. This will help to keep your china looking gorgeous for years and make sure you avoid any unwanted sparks in the kitchen.
Rachelle Dragani is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn with extensive experience covering the lifestyle space. Her work on topics including smart home technology, pest control, living green, budget home repair and helpful household tips have appeared in publications including Bob Vila, Esquire, Popular Mechanics, Gizmodo and Yahoo.