If you have limited counter space in your kitchen, you’re constantly swapping out appliances, especially if there’s hardly room for the essentials, such as the microwave, coffeemaker, blender, and crockpot. Where are they all supposed to go? A toaster is small enough to fit in a cupboard, but is it safe to do so?
It is not safe to put a toaster in a cupboard due to the danger of a short cord. In a small kitchen, you’ll want to place it on a counter. In a larger kitchen, your toaster does not get hot enough to cause serious damage, and temperature shields can protect the bottom of your cabinets.
Whether you have a small kitchen and lack counter space, or you have a mini cupboard built into your kitchen, you want toasty bread without starting a fire. Read on to learn more about how hot a toaster gets and if that heat will make your toaster dangerous for smaller spaces.
Can I Use a Toaster in a Cupboard?
If you plan to use your cupboard to store a toaster, then as long as it has cooled and will fit, you can put your toaster in the cupboard. However, it might get inconvenient to constantly pull it out and put it back in your cupboard every time you want to make toast.
But if you plan to put your toaster in a cupboard to toast bread, you have several safety considerations to keep in mind. Along with the excessive heat, how will you keep the cord out of the way?
The chances you’ll have an outlet inside a cabinet are small. Unless you plan to cut a hole in the bottom of the cabinet, you’ll have an unsightly cord that you’ll have to navigate around.
Appliance garages, a mini cupboard built to house and hide a variety of kitchen tools, are a relatively new trend in kitchen design. These cupboards typically have built-in outlets, so the cord would not be a problem. But what about the heat from a toaster?
How Hot do Toasters Get?
To heat your toast so that it has the smell and taste you come to expect, your toaster needs to heat the bread to temperatures between 140°C (284°F) and 160°C (320°F). Anything below that, and you wind up with warm bread. Above that range, and your toast begins to burn.
Why is that? In a word—chemistry—specifically a reaction named after a French chemist, Louis Maillard. Although the process is complicated and still not fully understood by scientists, the correct temperature converts the sugars and proteins in bread into toast.
In the 1940s, Sunbeam developed a toaster that turned off the heating element when the outside of the toast reached temperatures in the Maillard range, which was done through a bimetal thermometer, a simplified version of a meat thermometer. That’s how a toaster is able to distinguish between fresh and frozen bread (or waffles).
So the temperature inside a correctly working toaster needs to become higher than the boiling point of water and then has a cutoff point that varies based on how light or dark you want your toast.
It doesn’t seem like a toaster should catch on fire from everyday use. So how do toasters catch on fire?
Can a Toaster Catch on Fire?
The earliest toasters caught on fire because the filaments were not capable of handling the heat, including the one that was responsible for a deadly kitchen fire in 1894 in England. Once filaments were developed that could be heated to higher temperatures, toasters became less prone to catching on fire.
Another possible cause for toaster fires is the power cord, but that rarely causes a fire unless it is frayed. If you get in the habit of unplugging your toaster, then you don’t need to worry about the power cord lighting up your toaster while you are gone.
Still, toasters catch on fire.
It’s more accurate to say that the food left inside a toaster can catch on fire. It won’t be the bagel or waffles you are toasting, but the crumbs on the inside of the toaster that can light up your toaster, which is why instruction manuals tell you to clean out your toaster to prevent this from happening.
This occurs more often than you might think. Depending on the source, the numbers are anywhere from 700 deaths annually worldwide to 1,400 fires between 2002-2009, according to Consumer Reports. They are listed among the top 5 kitchen appliances that cause a fire.
Interesting fact: Refrigerators are a more common source of serious fires than toasters, usually due to worn-out relay switches or overheating compressors.
How Much Clearance Does a Toaster Need to Not Start a Fire?
If you keep your toaster clean and keep cords out of the way, what danger could a toaster cause in a cupboard?
The internal temperature of a toaster is in the 150°C (302°F) range, but the temperature of a toaster oven will be much higher. What about another common kitchen appliance often used under a cabinet—a coffee maker?
Contrary to what some people think, a coffee maker doesn’t produce boiling water. Water temperatures above 93°C (199.4°F) brew bitter coffee.
Most toaster ovens get nearly as hot as an oven, and you wouldn’t want them to be in a cupboard. Since the exterior of a toaster oven will get around 85% of the interior, the exterior of a toaster oven at 425°F (218.33°C) would be slightly above 360°F (182.22°C). That’s hot!
Toaster ovens are poorly insulated, which explains why their exteriors become so hot. An oven at 425°F (218.33°C) won’t be nearly as hot because ovens are insulated.
Although toasters don’t have active insulation, the air pockets act between the heating elements, and the exterior walls insulate a toaster well enough that the sides of most modern toasters are warm to the touch. So you will need at least an inch clearance on each side of your toaster while in use.
The same thing cannot be said for most toaster ovens.
Manufacturers don’t give exact figures on the external temperature of a toaster, but let’s assume it is 50% of the internal temperature. Although 75°C (167°F) is hot, a coffee maker reaches a higher temperature while brewing.
What do Manufacturers Recommend About Toaster Placement?
Manufacturers give overly cautious recommendations to avoid lawsuits, so what do manufacturers say about toaster placement?
These are the guidelines for Krupp’s Semi-Pro Inox placement: “On a work surface with enough space around it, away from any flammable substance (curtains, bin, electrical socket, etc.) and never unattended.”
According to Oster, do not operate or place the toaster on the following:
- On non-heat-resistant or flammable surfaces.
- On or near a hot gas or electric burner.
- In a heated oven or microwave oven.
And these are Williams-Sonoma toaster placement guidelines: “Do not place the appliance on or near a burning gas or an electrical stove or in a heated oven.”
All three manufacturers point out that the cords on their toasters are short to prevent accidents, such as getting entangled in the cord or tripping over one. And they all state that toasters should not be left unattended and be unplugged when not in use.
How Can I Protect my Cabinets from Heat Damage?
Numerous kitchen fires are attributed to toasters being used under a kitchen cupboard. If you must use your toaster under a cabinet, consider buying a product that’ll reflect heat from the bottom of the cabinet. Here are some products from Amazon.com:
- Studio 1222 Toaster Shield – It has a self-adhesive backing and can be cut to size.
- Studio 1222 Toaster Shield Max – It is a thicker version designed to protect a cupboard from the additional heat of a toaster oven.
What Should I Do if My Toaster Catches on Fire?
Besides not panicking, here’s what else you shouldn’t do—pour water on it. Your toaster might have enough grease inside to start a grease fire. Instead, you’ll need to smother the fire. Here are ways to do it:
- Throw baking soda or salt onto the fire.
- Cover the toaster with a lid.
- Use a fire extinguisher or fire blanket if you have one.
- Grab a wet towel and put it over the toaster.
If the toaster has just caught on fire, open the oven, place the toaster in it, and close the door. Doing so cuts off the oxygen supply, and as we know, fire needs oxygen to burn.
Warning: Do not throw flour on fire as it could explode. And call the fire department if it’s spreading and you can’t control it.
If you don’t have a fire blanket, consider purchasing one, as they’re easier to use for small kitchen fires. The JJ Care Fire Blanket (available on Amazon.com) is made from flame-retardant fiberglass, can handle temperatures up to 580°C (1,076°F), and include gloves and hooks so you can keep them out of the way but ready for use.
If you brew coffee in your kitchen space, you should be able to use a toaster in the same space. Using a toaster in a cupboard or shelf that doesn’t have access to an outlet is dangerous.
However, if your kitchen has a mini-cupboard, or appliance garage, you can safely use your toaster.