One of the greatest reasons for owning a rice cooker is the convenience of freeing up your time to do other things.
If you’ve ever tried to cook your own rice in a pot over a stove, you’d realize that one small mistake can burn and ruin the rice. It’s not easy to manually cook rice. But with the help of a rice cooker, you only need to set the right water to rice ratio and forget it.
When the rice is done cooking, the rice cooker will automatically switch to warm mode.
However, this brings up an important question. If you neglect to pay attention to your rice cooker, can it catch fire or explode?
The short answer is yes. Rice cookers use heating plates to rapidly heat up the cooking pan. This causes a massive amount of pressure to quickly build up inside rice cookers. If a rice cooker malfunctioned and couldn’t release this high pressure, then the rice cooker could either overheat, catch fire, and even explode.
How does a rice cooker work?
You may be surprised to know that rice cookers have not fundamentally changed much since the early versions.
Today, we have rice cookers with customizable buttons pre-built for several types of rice. We have rice cookers that we can control with our smartphones. We even have rice cookers that can actually sense how much water was added and adjusts themselves to make the perfect rice.
Nevertheless, they all hold on to the same basic components of heating plates, increasing pressure and signals of when to shut off.
When you place rice and water into a metal bowl, that bowl goes into the rice cooker on top of a heating element. That heating element will rapidly begin to heat up the rice and water causing the water to boil out.
Water boils at 100 °C, so once this happens, the environment inside the rice cooker begins to build up a lot of pressure.
All rice cookers will have a hole or an opening that will help regulate the pressure releasing the steam. What you might find surprising is that when water boils, water molecules are moving rapidly trying to cool themselves off. This, in turn, keeps the temperature inside the chamber from going too much above 100 °C.
However, once all the water evaporates out through the hole, heat is no longer regulated by the water and so the temperature could potentially rise even further.
Fortunately, rice cookers have internal temperature sensors that signal to shut off the heating plate and go into warming mode once the temperature reaches over this degree.
What can cause a rice cooker to catch fire or explode?
Even with the standard safety precautions built into rice cookers, there’s still the possibility of a fire or explosion.
This can be due to the blockage of the steam opening, malfunction of the temperature sensor, or any number of electrical fluctuations.
When steam forms rapidly inside a closed container, it begins to create pressure. As the inside of the chamber continues to heat up the water, more steam begins to form. Thus, this will create even more pressure that needs to be released somewhere.
All typical rice cookers are built with an outlet that allows steam to escape, thereby relieving this pressure. If the pressure were to continue to grow unimpeded, there’s a very likely chance of an explosion.
The temperature sensor is the part of the rice cooker that tells the heating plate when to stop heating. Simply put, if this sensor can no longer do its job, then the heating plate will continue to heat until the rice burns and eventually starts a fire.
Another factor to consider is the possibility of an electrical malfunction. Whether it’s due to the rice cooker itself or the outlet it’s drawing power from, there’s a possibility of sparks and short circuits. This isn’t specific to rice cookers, because all electronic devices have this potential. Electrical disasters often lead to fires.
Are rice cookers safe?
Statistically speaking, there are very few incidents regarding rice cooker explosions reported. In fact, most reports of incidents found that pressure cookers make up most, if not, all of the incidents recorded. Rice cookers have been considered relatively safe. This is due to a couple of safety mechanisms built into a rice cooker.
Rice cookers do build up a lot of pressure. However, this pressure is constantly being relieved thanks to the hole or opening that’s always created in its build. This component’s reason for existence is to regulate the release of steam from the built-up pressure.
This opening is also conveniently part of the cooking process that results in the soft, moist, and delicate texture of rice.
Another fail-safe advantage for rice cookers is that they all contain temperature sensing units inside that monitor the temperature of the plate. If the plate were to go beyond a certain temperature, the sensor would signal the rice cooker to immediately shut off or go into warming mode.
How to safely use a rice cooker
No electrical appliance is free from potential harm and danger. It’s important that we follow a few rules when using devices we aren’t familiar with.
- Read the instructions manual. This is something most people don’t do. I suggest skimming through some of the more pertinent information in the manual. This manual provides almost everything you need to know about assembling, and dissembling, and cleaning the rice cooker properly.
- Know the voltage requirements. This is very important to know. An example of an issue you may run into is if you purchased a unit built specifically for one region that has a voltage standard different from your own. Attempting to use an adapter without understanding the requirements or limits is potentially disastrous. This may lead to an electrical fire.
- Store and operate it in a safe place. Place the rice cooker in a place where it is safe from its environment and where you are safe from it. You don’t want to store it close to any flammable objects. These rice cookers get really hot and should be kept far away from objects that are easily flammable.
- Regularly maintain and clean it. When electronic equipment gets used, it gets dirty. Even when you’ve left it alone for a really long time, it gets dusty. It’s important to make sure you clean vital areas of the rice cooker such as the opening area where the steam comes out. This also keeps the rice cooker clean and sanitary.
- Don’t leave it unattended. The entire notion of having a rice cooker is to leave alone while it’s cooking right? Not exactly, like any heating device, a rice cooker works similar to a stove left on low. Even though it’s less frequent and there are many fail-safes, you shouldn’t be leaving the home right after turning it on to cook. If you must, it’s safer to have it turned off or in warm mode. However, leaving rice on warm for too long can ruin your rice.
- Call the manufacturer about your questions and concerns. Most manufacturing companies have wonderful customer service departments. Large brands often provide lots of information on how their products work and how to properly use, keep, and maintain them.
Rice cookers bring about consistent reliability when it comes to cooking rice. Gone are the days when making rice required mundane attention and heavy intuition just to get the rice at a consistent texture.
Like all electronic devices, there’s always the potential for explosions or fire. That’s just the nature of using electricity to power electronics. This isn’t something you can avoid.
However, this is something you can help prevent. With education, proper use, and maintenance, you can enjoy years worth of convenience and satisfaction from a rice cooker safely.