Ask UfYH: How the Hell Do You Clean an Oven?

I put out a call on Twitter and Tumblr asking people the one thing they wish someone had explained to them how to clean, and the answer was overwhelmingly “ovens.” Googling “how to clean an oven” will yield you a lot of advice, mostly contradictory, so I’m going to try to break it down by method and take a look at the pros and cons of each. As with everything, people’s experiences will vary, and one person’s “magic cure” will be another person’s “useless crap.”

Self-cleaning:

Most modern ovens have a self-cleaning cycle. Basically, what this does is run the oven at a very high temperature for a long period of time, burning off everything that’s stuck inside. Once the cycle is done, you wipe out all of the charred bits.

Pros: It’s pretty effortless; just set it and then go back in a few hours.

Cons: It stinks, it’s not always that effective, and there’s a fair amount of debate about the fact that it can actually damage your oven.

UfYH “good idea?” rating: 6/10

Baking soda/vinegar/salt:

There is no end to the recipes for baking soda, vinegar, and salt oven cleaners. Everyone has their own spin on it, and most of them are reasonably effective, although they will all require a decent amount of elbow grease. You apply the cleaner, either in paste or spray form, let it sit, and then scrub/wipe out the mess. My personal recipe is a paste of baking soda and water with a squirt of dish soap, applied to the oven surfaces (I use an old basting brush that’s designated for this job only) and left to sit for a few hours. Then go in with a spray bottle of vinegar, spraying the surfaces, making everything fizz up, and then wiping out the majority of the cleaner and going back with a stiff-bristled brush for anything that’s still stuck on.

Pros: No harsh fumes, extremely cheap, pretty good results. Uses food-grade components (except the dish soap which, well, you wash your dishes with it, so…), so you don’t really have to worry about safety, especially around kids or pets.

Cons: Requires a fair amount of scrubbing and may need multiple applications to really get your oven gleaming.

UfYH “good idea?” rating: 7/10

Commercial oven cleaner spray

Listen. You guys know me. You know I think most commercial cleaners are unnecessary, and that vinegar and baking soda are pretty much all you need to keep things clean. Here’s the thing, and I know I’m going to get some opposition here, but I’m a real person and I live in the real world: sometimes, you need the goddamn oven cleaner spray. If you move into a place and it looks like the oven hasn’t been cleaned in 20 years, you’re going to be scrubbing with your baking soda for a really long time. I don’t advocate its use for regular cleanings, and there are a million caveats, including USE SO MUCH VENTILATION, keep kids and pets and you (as much as possible) from breathing it in, wear a mask if possible, and follow the damn directions. Anyone who advocates “natural” cleaning — which is not a term I use, because it’s meaningless jargon at this point, and besides, EVERYTHING IS CHEMICALS, including my beloved vinegar (acetic acid) and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) — is right now recoiling from this advice, but you’re all adults and make your own decisions, and if this is not a good option for you, then don’t use it.

Pros: It is effective as fuck. Spray, leave, wipe, done.

Cons: “Toxic” fumes (I feel about “toxic” the way I feel about “natural” and “chemicals,” but you all get what I’m saying here), not environmentally responsible, it really really sucks to breathe in, people on the Internet will call you a bad person.

UfYH “good idea” rating: 9/10 for effectiveness, 3/10 for everything else

OK, now that we’re done with all of that, here are some more things about cleaning your oven that might make things easier for you in the future:

  • Prevention is key. Some people line their oven floors with foil. (I don’t, because I have a gas oven and it makes weird scorch marks and I’ve seen foil catch fire more than once.) Some people use a baking pan under things that are likely to drip (this is my method). The goal is to catch the spills before they end up caked on the oven floor.
  • A little effort now will save you a lot of effort later. If you have splatters and spills after using your oven, wait until it’s cooled down and then wipe it out immediately. If those spills don’t go through another bake cycle, they’ll be much, much easier to deal with.
  • This is more about stovetops than ovens, but many stovetops lift up so you can clean under the burners (most common with electric stoves). Remove the burner coils and trays, and the whole top might just lift up. Sometimes there’s a lever. Check your manual. If you don’t have a manual, Google your stove brand.
  • Like with most things, clean your oven from top to bottom. It’s easier to let all the crud fall to the bottom and then wipe it all out at once rather than continuing to go back.
  • If you’ve never cleaned your oven, you probably should. There’s actual metal underneath all that black charred stuff, and a clean oven has better temperature regulation, is less likely to have broken heating elements due to caked on-crud interfering with proper function, and won’t billow out tons of smoke every time you use it.

I’d say, “Happy oven cleaning, everyone!” but obviously, cleaning your oven sucks, so just go do it and then don’t think about it again for a while.

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[E] Rachel

I punctuate sentences with Oxford commas, and I punctuate disagreements with changesocks. Proud curmudgeon. Get off my lawn.

11 thoughts on “Ask UfYH: How the Hell Do You Clean an Oven?”

  1. Pingback: contradictory
  2. I have an electric Samsung stove that is designed to use water/steam for cleaning! It was one of the features that made me choose it over other models. There is a shallow depression in the bottom of the oven that you fill with water, then you run the self-cleaning cycle, let it cool, and wipe out all of the crud that the steam has softened. It’s amazing.

  3. I get the reluctance to work with chemicals that can damage your skin/lungs, but once you fill a sink with water to rinse off all the goo that comes off the oven, the pH goes from 12 to 8. Yes I checked. I was fine with releasing the water like that; actually acidic water is a bigger problem. If it had been over 10, I probably would have added some vinegar or something first. But I think in general dilution is fine.

    There’s still the nasty issue of propellants, but if you’re that committed, you can buy the non-aerosol form or just put sodium hydroxide into a spray bottle. I have to admit, I thought about trying the latter, but after the dangerous crap I’ve worked with it seemed kind of like a bother.

  4. Team toxic oven cleaners for LYFE! When we moved into our current place, even my husband, whose threshold for “filthy” is much, much higher than mine, was disgusted. There was no way that the oven was getting cleaned with anything other than the oven cleaner spray. Even after the spray (which made things better, but still not really clean), I ended up scrubbing the whole thing twice more, with soap and baking soda. It was borderline traumatic.

  5. What about steam cleaning? We have a steam cleaner which is great for the floor and has the attachments so it can be a hand-held cleaner. Would it work for the oven?

    I have to clean our oven and I’ve been putting it off for far too long. Far, far too long. It’s frightening.

      1. One of the best parts of moving into my current home was that it had been completely renovated and came with a brand new oven. I was ridiculously excited when I realized I wouldn’t have to scrub my appliances before we moved in. I wasn’t so fortunate at the last place. =)

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