Monday, November 26, 2012

The Scourge of Microwave Popcorn

It seemed innocent enough, that box of Smart Balance Microwave Popcorn we picked up in the supermarket yesterday. I don't eat popcorn but my husband loves it, especially in front of a football game. He usually makes it the old-fashioned way, in a heavy pot on the stove, but that leaves a greasy pot to clean post-game. Nuking a bag seemed easier. He popped a bag, and it tasted fine, he reported.

Through the evening, the apartment smelled of popcorn, but that seemed normal. I remember how that smell permeated every corner of the offices where I've worked that had a microwave oven in the kitchen. At first, it was delicious enough to cause swooning among popcorn fans, and then, as it aged, it began grating on everyone's nerves.

This morning, the kitchen — actually the whole apartment — still reeked powerfully of the chemicals and/or oils from the popcorn. I washed out the microwave, dried it with a towel, and discovered that the smell was clinging to both the sponge, which I eventually chucked, and my good dishtowel, which had to be washed in hot water. I switched to paper towels. After lots of cleaning spray and scrubbing, the microwave looked pristine, but still smelled.

When in doubt, I go online. I googled, "Gross smell microwave popcorn." That turned up useful results, including the recommendation to boil a lemon in water, or a bowlful of vinegar, for several minutes. I tried both, many times. The smell remained. I scrubbed the interior of the oven with Bon Ami; the smell persisted, although every used paper towel came away scented with popcorn grease.

I went back online, and read an account by a woman who figured out how to take the casing off her microwave to clean the interior after microwaving some popcorn. According to her the smell, or the grease, permeated the moving parts and can't be eliminated any other way. Great.

I went for a walk; I was sick of the microwave. When my husband came home, I asked him to clean it for a while. It's very boring work, and after a while he declared it didn't smell anymore. That wasn't true, it was a ploy to get out of the kitchen. I was out of lemons, so I boiled a lime in vinegar for awhile. That actually made some headway, I think. Either that, or my nose is burned out on the smell of crappy-chemical popcorn grease.

I will know the truth tomorrow morning, when my nose is fresh. If the smell continues, I will ponder replacing the microwave. The smell is that annoying, and the microwave is 14 years old, anyway. I've been using it a lot lately, mostly to bring the cats' canned food to room temperature after it's been in the refrigerator. I also still like an occasional bogus grilled cheese, a creation I invented during a plague of scary fungus and ferocious housecleaning that we survived three years ago. Compared to that, a stinky microwave is a piece of cake.

The three remaining bags of unpopped popcorn are in the trash. We couldn't think of anyone we dislike sufficiently to give them to.


  1. I ADORE microwave popcorn and have sampled several of the more expensive name brands only to throw them out after the first bag. Each had a very strong chemical smell during and after popping and just tasted odd....nothing like the wonderful popped-in-kettle-on-stove corn of my youth(the gold standard). And then I discovered Pop Weaver Butter Light. It's delicious, inexpensive, low-fat, and does not contain diacetyl (an artificial butter flavoring suspected of nasty things when vaporized). But even it's wonderful 'corny' aroma can linger and morph into a less than pleasant staleness. So I take the bag out of the microwave and open it just before placing it out on the deck for about 30 seconds for the initial burst of steam to expel. While it de-steams I wipe the microsave's glass plate with a damp dishrag and then leave the oven's door ajar for awhile. There is no residual smell in the oven or the house!

  2. Next time try making your own bag. popcorn + olive oil in a paper bag = no weird smell.

    I've also seen glass things like measuring pitchers that work (I put one on my Christmas list). Again, no artificial weird stable-until-the-heat-death-of-the-universe grease products.


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