Can you boil water with a paper cup?

2 min readJan 15, 2022


The question might sound intuitive at first, of course not, because we are taught at a young age that fire burns paper. However, with some experimentation, we might find a completely different result.


  • Normal paper cup
  • Water
  • Stove burner
  • Tongs to hold the cup
  • Measuring cup (for best accuracy)
  • Ruler
  • Timer


  1. Set a uniform amount of water to be poured into each cup using the measuring cup.
  2. Hold the cup with a tong.
  3. Measure the distance the cup is away from the stove burner. Make sure to vary the gap every time. (1 inch, 3 inches, 5 inches, 7 inches and more)
  4. Turn on the stove burner. (level of fire should be consistent)
  5. Time how long it takes the water to boil or how long it will take for the cup to burn.
  6. Record down your observation and repeat until you have gathered enough data.


If you hold the paper cup at an appropriate distance from the fire, you will find the water will boil. The bottom of the cup may have burned.


The water is heated by the heat source through convection until it reaches its boiling point. (100 degrees Celsius) One interesting characteristic of water is once it has started boiling, the temperature will remain relatively constant. In fact, water is near incapable of getting hotter until it’s all formed to steam. Paper burns at 233 degrees Celsius, which is 133 degrees more. So when the water boils, the paper will not burn.

In addition, as the water heats up, it conducts heat away from the cup, cooling off the cup as a coolant. This process prevents paper from reaching the burning point. Some heat also escapes in the form of steam.

Next step

  • Try to vary the material put into the cup (sand, rock, etc)
  • See if the cup will burn with these materials
  • Try different materials of the cup (styrofoam, waxed paper, unwaxed paper, metal, glass, etc)