Many newcomers to the air fryer community often ask if you can put cardboard in an air fryer. Despite all the nay-sayers, in some cases, you can get away with putting cardboard in your air fryer.
Let's be honest—how many of us have brought fresh pizza home for dinner only to stick it in a preheated oven to keep it warm? Or reheated pizza in your oven in its original cardboard pizza box? I know I'm personally guilty of both.
So the truth is it really depends on the temperature of your air fryer and how long you're leaving it in the air fryer. It's also equally true that while you can get away with placing cardboard in your air fryer, you really shouldn't.
All of the manufacturer's instructions specifically advise against it and read something like this: "Do not place any of the following materials in the air fryer: paper products, cardboard containers, plastic containers, and other materials not constructed of oven safe metal and glass pans."
Why Would I Want to Use Cardboard?
Many of us enjoy eating out on occasion and often bring any leftovers home for reheating later in time. It's not uncommon for doggie bags to be made from cardboard or heavy-duty paper.
For convenience's sake, we often throw these containers into the fridge and, when reheating leftovers, are tempted to use their same to-go containers.
Because using a microwave oven frequently results in soggy food, some like to put cardboard to-go boxes straight from the fridge into the oven for reheating. Because who wants to do dishes, right?
So it's only logical to wonder, can you put cardboard in an air fryer also? And while it can be done in certain situations, it's not the smartest thing to do.
There's also the frozen pizza scenario. If you've ever purchased a frozen pizza from the store you know many of them rest on a cardboard circle that resembles a pizza stone.
Some believe this cardboard circle is specifically for cooking the pizza on, but it's actually provided for structural support to prevent your pizza from getting crushed and broken during the transportation and distribution process.
Reasons Not to Put Cardboard in Your Air Fryer Basket
Just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should do something. So even if you're tempted to put cardboard in your air fryer on a low heat setting, there are still many reasons that you shouldn't.
Cardboard Blocks Air Flow
Remember, your air fryer operates by circulating hot air throughout the chamber to evenly distribute heat.
When you place a cardboard box in your air fryer, you're disrupting that airflow, which leads to uneven cooking. Instead of reheating pizza in a cardboard box, lay it in an oven-safe container or air fryer accessory instead.
Alternatively, you can use aluminum foil or parchment paper. Depending on what you're attempting to cook or reheat, you can also place it directly on your air fryer basket or toaster oven rack, which would be ideal.
Cardboard Absorbs Oil and Fat
If you've ever pulled a leftover pizza box out of the fridge the amount of grease absorbed by the box is glaringly evident. Putting cardboard like this into air fryers not only interferes with proper air circulation but also results in horribly soggy foods.
Moreover, cardboard is a terrible conductor of heat. Cooking food on grease-saturated cardboard leaves you with a highly undesirable texture, not to mention it poses a fire hazard.
Cardboard Leaches Toxic Chemicals Into Your Food
While we all like the idea of conveniently reheating food via cardboard, one of the most important reasons you shouldn't put cardboard into your air fryer or toaster oven is that it can release harmful chemicals into your food.
Most cardboard containers contain adhesives, inks, wax, and other toxic chemicals that can leach into your food supply and create tremendous health problems over time.
Some cardboard packaging contains man-made chemicals designed to produce oil and water repellence, as well as make it heat resistant to high temperatures.
According to ChemTrust and other environmental organizations, there are over 4500-4700 chemicals used in commercial packaging today. These 'forever chemicals' never break down and have a tremendous impact on human health.
Polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAs) are commonly found in bakery bags and containers, greaseproof papers, microwavable popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and other takeout boxes.
Scientific studies suggest these 'forever chemicals' are linked to thyroid disease, liver damage, and some cancers and are especially harmful to child development.
Cardboard in Your Air Fryer is a Fire Hazard
It should come as no surprise that cardboard is highly flammable and a fire risk. As such, it doesn't really belong in your air fryer.
The Science of Spontaneous Ignition
You might wonder how cardboard can catch fire without a flame. It's called spontaneous ignitio, and it's more common than you might think.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, spontaneous ignition, also known as spontaneous combustion, occurs tens of thousands of times a year. For something to catch fire, you only need temperatures high enough for ignition to occur.
The Composition and Ignition Point of Cardboard
The cardboard itself is a composite material made from a mixture of wood fibers and glue. It has an ignition point of 420°-450° F (215°-232° C), but this doesn't take into account any chemicals or additives mixed with your cardboard, such as those mentioned above, that might have lower ignition points.
The Role of Moisture in Cardboard Ignition
The point at which cardboard will catch fire also depends on the amount of moisture in the cardboard, and since most cardboard comes right out of your refrigerator, it will have an above-average level of moisture.
Comparing Ovens and Air Fryers
You'll always hear me say if it can go in your oven, it can go in your air fryer. This is equally true with cardboard. The average air fryer temperature ranges from 140°-450° F (60°-232° C).
So on a low heat setting, the odds of cardboard catching fire in your air fryer are relatively low. If you can safely put a pizza box in your oven at 170°, there's no logical reason you can't put that same cardboard in your air fryer at 140°.
The Risks Outweigh the Convenience
But this doesn't make it any less of a fire risk, and the higher the temperature, the higher the risk. Moreover, it's still not an acceptable practice, according to the manufacturer.
Thus, if you should attempt to use cardboard in your air fryer and something goes wrong, you've likely just voided any warranty on your air fryer.
So while you could use cardboard in your air fryer at lower temperatures, the bottom line is that it can still catch fire. Regardless, it's an overall detriment to your health. Therefore, it's not really recommended.
The Impracticality of Using Cardboard in Your Air Fryer Basket
Even though the likelihood that your cardboard would catch fire from the hot air of your air fryer is slim, the practicality of putting cardboard in your air fryer is unlikely.
Unless you have a toaster oven/air fryer combo, the chances of a cardboard box fitting into your air fryer basket without some ingenuity are pretty unlikely. One of the main benefits of having an air fryer is that it's quick and easy to use.
Who has the time to shave down cardboard to even try to make it fit into your air fryer basket? There are too many other things that can be used in an air fryer that are so much more convenient that they won't catch fire.
Other Things That Should Not Be Used In Air Fryers
In addition to cardboard, there are many other materials that shouldn't be put in an air fryer because of their inability to withstand high temperatures.
Don't Use Paper in Your Air Fryer
Whether paper towels or paper plates, you should avoid putting paper products in your air fryer. Although a paper plate is usually not combustible until it reaches 424°-475° (218°-246°), it's still one of those items that aren't recommended for your air fryer.
Furthermore, a paper product that's coated with wax not only has a much lower ignition point but also leaches chemicals into your food. Air fryer manuals expressly caution against using paper products.
Don't Use Plastic in Air Fryers
Neither a plastic container nor any kind of plastic wrap should ever be used in an air fryer. Plastics have extremely low melting points and cannot withstand even the lowest temperature setting of your air fryer.
Putting plastic in your air fryer stands a great chance of ruining it altogether. If you've ever seen how melted plastic sticks to things, then know you'll be hard-pressed to ever get it off.
Furthermore, as plastic begins to melt, it releases harmful gases, pollutants, and other toxins that are extremely harmful. Burning plastic can affect endocrine and reproductive functions, as well as neurodevelopment.
Don't Use Wax Paper When Air Frying
Many people think wax paper and parchment paper are the same thing, but I assure you, they are not. Wax paper is a tissue paper that's been coated in food-safe paraffin wax, which has a melting point of 125° F (50°C) and simply cannot withstand high temperatures.
While it is moisture-resistant and non-stick, it is not heat-resistant and should never be used when air frying.
What to Use in Your Air Fryer Besides Cardboard
There are many other options for air frying that are far better than cardboard for withstanding high heat. So when you're looking to reheat cold pizza with a crispy crust or simply prevent sticking, these air fryer accessories work much better.
Do Use Aluminum Foil In Your Air Fryer
It's more than okay to use aluminum foil or tin foil in air fryers and toaster ovens, and it's probably one of the best things you can use for easy cleanup.
Not only can it withstand excessively high heat (1220° F/660° C), but clean up is as simple as throwing the foil in the garbaging and wiping your air fryer down. It's the perfect choice for frozen foods like chicken nuggets, french fries, or fish fillets.
Do Use Parchment Paper in Your Air Fryer
Parchment Paper is another great option instead of cardboard because it's moisture-resistant, non-stick, and heat-resistant up to 450°F (232°C).
Not only does it help prevent food from sticking and make clean-up easy, but it's also made from food-grade materials so you won't have to worry about toxins leaching into your food.
Even better, the premade parchment liners have small holes throughout allowing your food to heat evenly. Whether you're reheating leftovers or cooking frozen foods, they're quite useful for adding an extra layer of convenience to your air fryer.
Do Use an Oven Safe Dish When Air Frying
Oven-safe dishes are generally those traditionally used in your conventional oven and marked as safe for oven use:
- ceramic bowls
- pyrex dishes
- baking sheet
- stainless steel
- cast iron
- silicone bakeware
These are perfect for baked goods like cakes, casseroles, desserts, and other foods that require a bit of structural support. Most oven-safe cookware is heat resistant anywhere from 450°-800°F (232°-427°C).
Don't Use Anything in Your Air Fryer
Depending on what you're frying, sometimes it's just best not to use anything at all. Remember the whole point of an air fryer is to give your food a crispy texture without deep frying. Since air fryers work by circulating hot air, anything you place in your air fryer tends to obstruct its airflow.
In many cases, your food turns out with a crispy top with a soggy bottom. Not a good mix.
The Truth About Cardboard Compatibility
While it is possible to use cardboard in your air fryer at lower temperatures, there's really no reason to when there are so many other viable and safer options.
If you're wondering about other things you can or can't use in your air fryer, here are a few more easy reads to enhance your air fryer knowledge: