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Is it okay to melt coconut oil in a microwave oven?

Lindsay Girl asks…I have used extra virgin coconut oil in my hair as a deep conditioning treatment once a week for several years now. I melt the oil in the microwave. This morning I was reading in an article on the naturallycurly.com website that the author of the article “heard” that you shouldn’t warm coconut oil in the microwave because that will “alter the bonds” in the oil. What say the Brains? Can I safely put the coconut oil in the microwave to melt it? Or is there a better way?

The Beauty Brains respond:

When LG raised this question in our Forum we said “no problem.” But after further consideration we realized that there is some risk involved with heating coconut oil in a microwave oven.

The danger of microwaving coconut oil

Coconut oil penetrates hair because of its size and the configuration of its carbon chain. Unless you’re heating it above the point where it will decompose, microwaving it should cause no problems. In other words, “melting” it is just fine. BUT you need to be very careful when using this approach. Here’s why:

Microwave ovens work by exciting the bonds between atoms, causing them to vibrate. The motion of the molecules vibrating and bouncing around generates heat. Different substances will absorb microwave radiation differently depending on a property called the “dielectrical constant”. Water molecules have a high dielectical constant; they are very mobile and will bounce around a lot. Oil molecules are larger and more fixed. Their dielectrical constant is smaller so and they will take longer to heat up. HOWEVER, the specific heat capacity of oil is less than water which means that oil will hold about twice as much heat as water will. And that means that it’s easy to over heat oil to the point where it could burn you. (f you really want to geek out on dielectrical constants and specific heat capacity check out this thread about microwave absorption by oil in the Physics Forum.)

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Melting coconut oil in the microwave is unlikely to hurt the oil but you could accidentally over heat it and give yourself a nasty burn. To be safe you might want to melt the oil in a bowl of hot water instead.

{ 9 comments… add one }

  • Eli November 25, 2015, 1:53 pm

    1. Get a cup
    2. Fill with water
    3. Put in microwave 3-5 minutes
    4. Put coconut oil on a plate
    5. Place over cup
    6. Coconut oil will start to melt

    • Vince April 7, 2016, 6:03 pm

      How about heating water in bowl placing tall cup filled with organic coconut oil in the water and it will melt in cup not on a plate……….

  • Tami April 19, 2016, 12:45 pm

    Does it have to be heated to penetrate the hair? Where I live its always warm and my coconut oil is almost always liquid.

    • Randy Schueller April 19, 2016, 1:26 pm

      No, coconut oil doesn’t have to be heated to penetrate hair (just in liquid form, not solid.)

      • hoodle November 23, 2016, 8:50 am

        Actually it can be solid you just have to work with it more

  • Dannie April 28, 2016, 4:30 pm

    I’ve heard that the oil can catch on fire in the microwave… is this true? Should I be worried about this happening?

    • Jill April 29, 2016, 10:22 am

      I checked out this article because when I try to melt coconut oil in my microwave it makes my microwave act like I’ve placed metal in it. It sparks. I’ve tried it on a new and an old microwave – same results. I wondered if others had similar experiences. What could be in coconut oil that makes this happen? It can’t possibly have metal in it! 🙂 In the future I will melt it over hot water; I wish I’d thought of that myself.

      • Anna July 10, 2016, 4:58 pm

        I just melted some coconut oil in my microwave, and nothing like that happened. I only microwaved it for 30 seconds though. I’m sure if you microwave it long enough, it will do that. Just be careful, and microwave it 30 seconds at a time, and if it gets too hot, take it out and cool it until you can use it comfortably

  • Raveene May 3, 2016, 2:23 am

    Jill …I didn’t realized that when I heated up my hersey’s magic shell ice cream topping for literally 10 seconds in the microwave that it would start sparking in the microwave . I immediately turned it off scared to death about the sparks. I looked on the back oh the bottle it came in and it said it had coconut oil in it. Did it mess up your microwave or does it still work?

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