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Can you put water in an air fryer? This is what the experts say

Image of an air fryer on a wooden dining table

Whether for steaming, boiling or poaching, can you put water in an air fryer? We reveal all in our explainer below

If you own an air fryer, it’s likely to have become somewhat of a prized possession in your home, winning favour by offering you the ability to cook up deliciously crispy meals in just minutes.

But if you’re new or relatively new to air fryer cooking, you may still be figuring out your appliance and asking such questions as: What can I cook in it? Can it be used to boil water? Can an air fryer cook wet/saucy foods?

Or, perhaps you’re curious about whether or not you can use water to clean your air fryer? After all, we all want to keep this kitchen wiz in tip-top condition; but how much, if any, water will help you keep this countertop must-have sparkling? And if water is a no-go – then how else can you keep your air fryer clean?

Here, we answer all the above with insights from the experts – to help you use your much-loved kitchen appliance to its best, and maintain its quality for years to come.

Can you boil water in an air fryer?

Most experts agree that while you can put some water in an air fryer, you should never use this appliance to boil water specifically – say, to cook pasta or rice.

Why? Mainly because of the way in which an air fryer functions: the appliance circulates hot air via a fan to cook food that’s crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. However, it is exactly for the reason that the air fryer is blowing hot air around that you should avoid placing large amounts of water – or any liquid, for that matter – into an air fryer alone.

Giuseppe Capanna, product safety engineer at Electrical Safety First, explains: “Boiling water in your air fryer, and cooking food – such as dry pasta – in said water, is unsafe because the fans can splash water onto the electric parts, increasing the risk of burns from steam.”

And this could even present some serious safety issues, says David Miloshev, Fantastic Services’ appliance technician. “If water hits the heating element, it may even start a fire”, he explains.

“Even though it’s possible to put a very small amount of water at the bottom of the air fryer, always read the safety instructions for your air fryer model first before doing that,” he adds.

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Can you add water to your air fryer to help you cook your food?

While the advice is definitely against boiling water in your air fryer, it is acceptable to use a very small amount of liquid to help the cooking process. David Rees, appliance expert from HomeSupply, elaborates: “Adding a small amount of water when cooking can be beneficial for retaining moisture in food while it’s cooking, potentially reducing the risk of it burning. It may also help to reduce the amount of smoke produced when cooking greasy foods.

“However, this should only be done in very small amounts,” he continues. “Most air fryers can withstand around 50ml of liquid without risking any damage, or becoming a potential fire hazard.”

Regardless, it’s best practice to refer to the instruction manual to determine the advice from the manufacturer of your particular model of air fryer. “You should always check the manual or manufacturer’s instructions to see how much liquid you can add without compromising safety and performance,” David Rees says.

If your air fryer manual doesn’t cover water usage, then a small amount of water in some instances can be helpful. “For rehydrating, this will mostly be beneficial for cooking greasy foods at high temperatures, such as burgers, fries or onion rings. Keep in mind, though, that one downside of adding a splash of water is that food won’t come out as crispy as usual”, says David Miloshev.

“You can add a tiny amount of water to your air fryer basket instead. Usually, I’d recommend only a few tablespoons at most, especially if your air fryer doesn’t have a bottom drawer with a fill line. But it will be better, and safer, to instead drizzle water directly onto your food”, he advises.

David Miloshev points out that some models of air fryer might include a dedicated section for adding water, should it be needed. “Some air fryer models have a bottom drawer where you can add the water, which is often located under the basket.”

Many air fryers also feature settings for which you’d assume that water would be necessary – the Steam function, for example. However, Thea Whyte, small appliances expert at AO, assures us that these functions are designed to work flawlessly without the need to add any extra water to the basket of the appliance, unless otherwise stated.

“Some models may require adding water to a reservoir, while others might generate steam internally without needing additional water”, she explains. “Make sure you check the user manual of your air fryer to ascertain which of the two you have.”

Can you add foods with a high water content to an air fryer?

Given that an air fryer isn’t really suited to having a lot of water added to it, you might be wondering if it’s still a good option in which to cook foods with a high water content.

Well, while it isn’t technically a bad idea to cook such high water content foods in your air fryer, and neither is it dangerous, you may not get the best results. Thea explains: “When reheating foods such as curry or fish in an air fryer, results can vary. While some users see success, an easier, consistent method to reheat meals such as curry or fish would be to pop them into the microwave, where its moisture content will be better retained.”

Woman putting a plate of fish in a microwave oven

Guiseppe points out that air fryers simply weren’t designed to heat or reheat foods such as this. “Air fryers are better for dryer foods, similar to those you’d cook in a fan oven; they aren’t suitable for watery foods – as mentioned, using a microwave, or even your hob, would be recommended instead.”

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Can you clean an air fryer with water?

You shouldn’t use excess water to clean an air fryer – and you categorically shouldn’t submerge this type of appliance in water to wash it. Doing so could cause irreversible damage to your air fryer’s electrical components, and it could present a real safety risk to you.

That’s not to say you can’t clean certain parts of your air fryer using water – you’ll just need to take it apart to avoid the electrical components within the machine, Thea explains.

“Remove the basket and tray from the air fryer base and wash them with warm, soapy water”, she says. “Avoid using abrasive cleaners or scouring pads, since they can scratch the surface. Finally, make sure all parts are dried thoroughly before popping these back into the air fryer.”

As for the main unit, you simply need to wipe it down. “Generally, you can wipe the main unit with a soapy cloth while it’s unplugged. This ensures safety and keeps the air fryer in good condition”, says Electrical Safety First’s Giuseppe Capanna.

Should you put water in an air fryer? The verdict

Air fryers aren’t designed to hold or be submerged in water; but most experts agree that tiny amounts of water can be used to help the cooking process. This isn’t usually necessary, however.

“Essentially, putting water directly into your air fryer isn’t a good idea”, says Thea. “Air fryers use hot air circulation to cook food quickly, and adding water could interfere with this process or even damage your appliance.

“Air fryers are designed to cook food without the need for added moisture; the hot air circulating around the food is usually sufficient for cooking and crisping,” she concludes.

However, for those rare moments when you think a splash of water may be useful, Thea’s advice is to use a certain technique to achieve this – for best and safe results.

“If you need to add more moisture to your food when using an air fryer, it’s better to do so by marinating the food before it goes into your appliance for cooking, or using a spray bottle to coat the food beforehand”, she says.

And, of course, best practice is always to follow the advice specified in your appliance’s instruction manual. 

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