Someone recently told me that placing a wooden spoon across the top of a pot will prevent boilovers.

Could somebody explain to me why this is the case?

  • I have never heard of this and it kind of sound like BS to me :) but I can think of one reason it might work (maybe not significantly). A well-used wooden spoon could have salts in it which would help break-up bubbles formed during boiling. Again, I can't imagine this being effective.
    – Usagi
    Oct 24 '12 at 7:15
  • Regardless... It seems to work almost immediately every time.
    – user27551
    Oct 6 '14 at 21:25

There is an excellent answer to this question on the Physics SE: https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/31029/how-can-a-wooden-spoon-be-used-to-prevent-water-from-over-boiling

I will summarise what I think is the most cogent part here.

This does work up to a point. The bubbles formed by boiling water are filled with steam, so if anything colder than the steam (ie <100°C) touches a bubble the steam will immediately condense and the bubble will collapse.

Therefore provided the surface of your spoon is cold, it will help to prevent boiling over. If it's a long boil and the spoon heats up to 100°C it will no longer work. This is why a wooden spoon is recommended: metal would heat up too quickly.


Could be the explanation is related to the chemist's trick of adding rough ceramic chips (boiling stones) to water to induce even boiling. The chips provide a high surface area and release absorbed air bubbles, which helps to nucleate the formation of bubbles of steam. A wooden spoon, being porous, might work the same way.

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