Yes, and no, it is a complicated question.
In general, you can say that instant pots are safe. If you are following the instructions and you are not overconfident in your abilities and options.
But, as always, anything can happen. That is a fact we teach our young ones and live with our whole lives.
No matter how many safety features the instant pot has, and I will talk about them later, it would be best if you kept in mind that mishandling can lead to horrible results.
It doesn’t mean that you should not be using the instant pot, just that should make sure that you and your loved ones are safe.
So the other correct answer is that an instant pot can also be dangerous or even explode.
Note: In this article, I do assume that by “instant pot” is meant the 3rd generation of pressure cookers and not the company Instant Pot.
Why are instant pots dangerous?
Let’s get the biggest elephant in the room out right now.
As I have mentioned above in day to day usage, the instant pot is safe if you follow instructions, and you are mindful of its features.
But you are handling a home cooking tech that can build up a massive amount of pressure inside its container. And releasing this pressure safely is critical for keeping you safe and sound.
The most significant danger on an instant pot is You. It is hard to hear, but user error is the most common meltdown point of an instant pot.
The biggest reason why are instant pots dangerous is the pressurized superhot steam that is inside the container.
Usually, there are two ways to get rid of it. Either naturally or manually.
The 1st one takes about 20 to 30 minutes and is recommended in general. The only thing you have to do is sit and wait. At the end of the cooking cycle, the instant pot will turn the heat down and, in some way, signal to you that it is switching to keep warm. Most instant pots have some buttons like cancel or similar to terminate the current process and start releasing pressure.
Press it and wait. That’s it. Your manual will give you more details in this regard.
Of course, there are times when you don’t want to wait or do not have time to do so. Also, you might be impatient. I can almost hear the words:
,,But Vojta, I want to eat now! It is done! Let’s open it immediately!”
The 2nd option is to release the pressure quickly via the pressure valve.
As you most likely already know from my article on how an instant pot works, the pressure valve allows you to fast forward the pressure venting out of the container. You have to switch the marker to the vent option manually.
And here comes the most important and most dangerous part of the whole process.
By opening a steam release mechanism, you are going to release pressure very quickly. It will shoot out of the instant pot within a minute or so. The direction will be either directly up or at a 45-degree angle out of the vent.
Make sure you won’t hurt yourself, put kitchen mittens on your hands, and if you can grab a long wooden spoon.
Again this is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS.
Be extra careful. Don’t knock or move your instant pot, unless you have to. Even a small bump can make it release a bit of superheated steam.
You have to turn the switch to a vent position. Kitchen mittens are protecting your hands, and a wooden spoon is acting as an extension to your arm and allows you to turn the switch from a safe distance.
If you don’t have a long spoon, turn the switch quickly to the vent position and briskly step away from your instant pot.
In both cases, you will immediately see a long burst of hot steam coming out of the instant pot.
Don’t come closer until it stops. Don’t put your hands or face over the steam. Let it sit and do its thing.
I hope that it goes without saying that children and animals should be at a safe distance.
You, You, You and You
I cannot stress enough that the most significant risk factor in the instant pot is you, me, or anyone else who handles it.
Malpractice and mishandling of any home cooking tech, which builds massive pressure inside itself as you know from the article on how the instant pot works, can cause severe injuries. There are a plethora of pictures online depicting the damage that can instant pot do to you.
I am not here to judge anyone, but in most cases, these injuries tend to be caused by being cocky. Thinking that you know the dangers and that it will be fine.
If not for anyone else, then at least for yourself, make sure that your hands are protected. Do at least that for yourself.
Extra layers of protection
In protecting yourself, you are not alone. These days, most modern instant pots have few layers of protection that will provide you with extra safety if anything goes wrong.
Let’s take a closer look at them now from the base of the instant pot working upwards.
- Electrical fuse
Monitoring electrical current flowing through the instant pot is one of the primary protection layers for your instant pot. More often then not, there can be either surge in the electrical network providing too much power to the device.
Another situation that can cause the issue is that there is a liquid present in the wiring of the instant pot. A case like that could create sparks and overload the electrical insides of the instant pot.
In these situations, that the electrical current goes beyond the safety limit, the fuse blows and cuts off the power, effectively stopping the cooking.
- Thermal fuse
Works on a similar principle as the electrical fuse, but monitors the wiring temperature and other parts of the instant pot.
The thermal fuse does not monitor the temperature in the pot, but everything around it.
- Automatic pressure control
It is a pressure sensor that maintains an ideal pressure level inside the pot. You can find a detailed picture of how pressure control works here.
This safety mechanism is purely manual, so no electronic part is involved. It checks the pressure levels inside the pot. If the pressure rises too much, the container starts pushing on the pressure control. In turn, the pressure control turns off the heating, and the pressure begins to drop.
- Burn protection
Now, this is a big one. The burn or overheating protection is quite essential as it prevents your food from turning to charcoal brick.
Why would such a thing happen? Well, there is a bunch of situations.
- After you glazed your onion in the instant pot (fancy word is sautéd), you have not cleaned the bottom properly, and there are still bits of onion and oil.
- There is not enough liquid in the instant pot. This can and will cause the temperature to skyrocket almost immediately, as there won’t be enough liquid to turn to steam and create pressure. And the result, of course, will be that the food will start to burn.
- The container inside of an instant pot is not ultimately touching the base. This happens mostly when there is some dirt left behind after cleaning on the bottom of an instant pot.
- Also, there can be a problem related to starch. If you are cooking potatoes, for example, or any other starchy ingredient, it can get stuck on the pot’s bottom. Starch burns quite fast, so it is easy for potatoes to get stuck at the bottom and start burning.
For all these scenarios and more, there is instant pot’s overheating protection, which simply reduces or stops the heating altogether to prevent food from burning.
- Automatic temperature control
There are also temperature sensors checking if there is a correct temperature everywhere. If it detects temperature spike like our stuck potatoes, from the previous example. The sensor knows that something is not right because it sees that one part of the pot is heating up more than it should, and as with the burning protection, it lowers down the heat to stop this from happening.
- Lid position detection
Do you know the little mark on the instant pot? The one that has a word lock written on it? That’s where the lid should be when you want to cook inside your instant pot. It is a position in which all parts fall into their place, and safety mechanisms lock the lid in place, so you cannot open it if there is pressure inside the pot.
If the lid is in an incorrect position, the instant pot won’t start pressure cooking. It would be impossible, due to the leaking pressure from the container.
Lid position detection simply checks if the lid is in the correct position to activate the next safety mechanism.
- Safety lid lock
As mentioned, it works in close cooperation with lid position detection. As soon as it is in the correct lid position, it locks the lid in place and starts the pressure cooking.
This mechanism is in place to prevent you from opening the lid before cooking is done.
Please do not try to open it by using force. It is hard to do, and while trying, you can burn yourself if you knock or bump into the instant pot.
The safety lid lock exist to protect you and your loved ones, let it do its job.
- Anti-Block shield
It is a little mesh that is placed right below the steam release mechanism and acts as a filter for parts of food. It prevents the food from getting into the steam vent, blocking it, and possibly causing a problem when steam is released from the instant pot.
- Steam release
This part has been mentioned a lot of times in this article and for a good reason. It is one of the essential elements of the instant pot. Apart from releasing the steam from the instant pot, it plays a crucial role as a safety mechanism by keeping the pressure inside the container.
By turning it from one side to the other, you can quickly release the pressure out of the instant pot. Simple and easy.
If you decide to use it to release the steam, please wear some protection on your hands like mittens or at least a towel. I feel like I cannot over mention this. It is so important to keep yourself safe while releasing the steam.
- Float valve
The float valve is a little button, usually right beside the steam release mechanism. Its purpose is to tell you if there is pressure in the instant pot or not.
When it is down, then there is no pressure in the pot. As soon as it pops up, it is telling you that there is pressure inside the container.
It is not as much of a safety mechanism, as it is a feature, but it provides you with a piece of quick information that you can get from just a glance.
Can instant pot explode?
Or, in other words, an instant pot explode?
A simple answer to that is that the instant pot should not explode if you follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. As I have mentioned in the beginning, anything can happen, but following the instructions and common sense should protect you from any mishaps.
But I bet that you are much more interested in the other possibility.
Let’s take a closer look at the situation in which, in theory, can instant pot explode.
Before we dive deeper, let me explain one crucial thing.
By the explosion of an instant pot is meant, that the lid flies off of it. Even thou there is a massive pressure inside the instant pot, it won’t be ever big enough to tear it apart in the middle. It is not a can with all sides of equal toughness. It might look like one, but be sure it is not.
So let’s assume that everything fails. Every single protection mechanism in the instant pot fails. Fuses don’t blow. Temperature is rising and pressure in building up. Every part of an instant pot is dirty, and the container is not leaning against the base, and food is collecting around the anti-block shield in a big blob, preventing it from letting the steam come through.
That part about the cleaning is not as far fetched as you might be thinking.
In this case, what most likely happens is that the lid will be blown up. Literally.
The pressure inside the instant pot needs to go somewhere. If there is too much of it in one place, it is looking for a way to release itself. It is a gas by nature, and as such, it is lighter than air. So it goes up. It pushes upwards.
The lid is placed and locked on top of the instant pot, sealing the container inside. But still, there are small gaps, holes, and spaces in which the steam can go. So it is accumulating inside and pushes on the lid and inner ring. The stress is, in the end, big enough, that it can push past the strength of the locked cover and move it away, releasing hot steam.
In this situation, what would you see and more importantly hear, would be a loud pop followed by a small jump of the lid and spray of superheated steam and a bit of liquid outside of the instant pot.
Again, this is a hypothetical situation. I am not saying it could not happen, but there are too many things that have to go wrong that it is close to impossible.
I am aware that most people don’t want to hear it, but the primary factor that makes instant pots explode is human error.
If you wiggle, knock, punch, bump, drop, throw, try to force open it or do any other ‘funny’ thing with an instant pot, there is a considerable chance that the lid will loosen up and fall off causing the ‘explosion’ of the instant pot.
To prevent this from happening, be careful, follow the instructions, and clean your instant pot after every use thoroughly.
Cleaning the instant pot
I don’t want to go into many details here, so let me say that you should pay extra attention to your instant pot. Double-check every nook and cranny. Ideally, disassemble your instant pot and make sure everything is clean to the best of your abilities.
My preferred way of cleaning is taking the instant pot apart to its base components and carefully cleaning each part with vinegar. Any cheap and robust vinegar will do. If you don’t like the smell of white vinegar, you can use apple cider vinegar. It has a much more pleasant scent and does the job as good as white vinegar.
When all parts are loose, and on the table, I soak my clean cloth in a mixture of apple cider vinegar and hot water in a 2:1 ratio and start cleaning. When I am sure that all parts are as clean as they can be and the faintly sour scent lingers through our home, I get a fresh, clean cloth, dump it into pure hot water and do it all over again.
The reason for double cleaning is that with vinegar, I am getting rid of all the dirt from instant pot’s parts, and with the hot water, I am removing the scent of vinegar from them.
If you want to have the next meal with a lightly sour taste, you can skip the second round, but I highly doubt that.
And here you have it an answer to the question: Are instant pots dangerous?
In short, they are. And yes, they can injure you quite severely. And if you behave like a badass in the kitchen, think of yourself as a perfect master chef who cannot make a mistake, you will get hurt. Sooner or later. By instant pot or anything else.
Cooks and chefs have a massive ego; we all know that. But the best among them also know that there are technologies and ingredients which they should approach with humility.
In the case of an instant pot, I do strongly recommend you practice being humble and careful.
When you follow the instructions, you are careful and mindful you are minimizing the risk for yourself and your loved one to get hurt.
To help you with safety, instant pot deploys layers of protection to keep you safe and sound. So as long as you keep your head clean and don’t get over yourself, you will be fine.
Until next time I wish you happy and danger-free pressure cooking.