The One-Stop Guide to Cleaning the Oven

It's everything you need to stop making excuses.

August 22, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

Welcome to Spring Clean Your Life, your one-stop shop for gotta-try-those tips & bookmark-me inspiration to spruce up your kitchen and home this season—and well beyond.

Your oven is the place where gooey cheese, bubbling sauce, and steak drippings go to die. So, when it comes to cleaning up kitchen messes, the inside of the oven is probably the one people dread the most. If you’ve been following along with our Spring Clean Your Life series, you may have seen that experts recommend cleaning your oven at least twice a year. Not sure how to even begin? We're here to help.

Let's start with the good news: Most modern appliances actually now come with self-cleaning options, which we’ll discuss in detail below, but even if you're dealing with a dinosaur, there are plenty of oven-cleaning products available to help you along, as well as some DIY solutions for a more eco-friendly spin on things.

So, which option is best for you? Roll up your sleeves because we are about to break down the pros and cons of each method to help you find the most efficient, convenient, and stress-free strategy for keeping your oven looking spotless. Let's do this!

All About Self-Cleaning Ovens

This is one technological innovation that doesn't get its due, but is basically a modern-day miracle. Turn on your oven to the self-cleaning cycle, and it will heat up to an otherwise unusable temperature, somewhere around 900°F or more. What happens then? The extreme heat incinerates any food remnants inside your oven without you having to lift a finger! I told you, it's a miracle!

This process can take a couple of hours, and if you're worried about safety, it's really not an issue because your oven will be locked for the duration of the cleaning process. Once it's all-clear, all you have to do is clean out the ash that remains of what was once pie crust, gooey cheese, and bubbling sauce.

Sadly, there is a but. While this time-saving option might seem like a no-brainer, there are actually a few things to watch out for with self-cleaning ovens.

  • Check your oven manufacturer's user manual, but chances are likely you will need to remove the racks first.
  • If you plan to use the self-cleaning feature, avoid using any type of commercial oven cleaner inside the appliance.
  • The self-cleaning feature often results in a strong odor as food burns off.
  • The appliance will naturally get very hot during the process, so you'll need to keep kids and pets away from it.
  • Because the oven reaches such a high temperature when self cleaning, the appliance can’t always dissipate the heat, and some people have complained about burnt fuses and burnt-out control panels.

If you been self-cleaning your oven for years and have never had any problems, don't let me stop you! But it's important to be mindful of these problem areas before using the self-cleaning feature.

Steam-Cleaning Ovens

There's more where that came from. Some appliances come with a second self-cleaning option: steam-cleaning. If the prospect of heating your oven to almost 1,000 degrees scares you, this cleaning method might be more your speed (and temperature).

According to Appliances Connection, while both the steam-clean and self-clean options use heat, the main difference is that "a steam clean adds water to create steam and soften the residue in the oven cavity." But it warns that while a steam clean is faster, "it can't really handle a lot of grease and food remains. The best time to use the steam clean is after minor food spills."

If your oven has a steam cleaning feature, it will usually take less than an hour to complete and only heat up to a temperature of around 250°F. This means there will be no smoke or smell, and it will also use less energy than a traditional self-cleaning cycle.

DIY Steam Cleaning

Bummed that your oven doesn’t have a steam clean option? Don’t be! It couldn’t be easier to DIY a steam clean:

  • Remove the grates and wipe out any loose debris.
  • Place a large oven-proof pot or pan filled with water (you can also add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the mix).
  • Turn your oven on to 300°F and let the water bubble, steam, and do its thing for about 30 minutes.
  • Turn off the oven, and let it cool. Finally, you can wipe it down with a water/vinegar solution.

DIY Oven-Cleaning Solutions

Are you one of those that just enjoys doing it all yourself? It’s quick and easy to whip up a “green” DIY oven-cleaning solution, according to Leslie Reichert, the Green Cleaning Coach.

All you need for a DIY oven cleaner is 1 cup of baking soda and 2 cups of vinegar in a spray bottle.

“Sprinkle the base of the oven with the baking soda,” Reichert explains. “Spray the vinegar over the baking soda to make a light foam. Let the foam sit for as long as you can. Keep spraying the baking soda to keep it moist.”

“For the side of the oven, mix some baking soda with water to make a thick paste and spread it on the sides of the oven,” she says. “Spray the paste with vinegar and leave it to sit for as long as you can. Wipe off the excess paste and then rinse with hot water.”

Grime will be much easier to wipe away after this treatment. However, Reichert notes that you don’t want to use this method of cleaning if you plan to also use your oven’s self-cleaning feature, as it can potentially damage the oven’s special coating.

There are several other combinations of pantry staples, or ingredients lying around your home, for DIY-ing your oven grime away. Try and test your own combinations.

Top-Rated Commercial Oven-Cleaners

If you prefer to simply buy a commercial oven cleaner from the store (hey, we're not judging), there are a few top-rated products homeowners swear by, including brands like Easy-Off and Green Gobbler Orange Oil.

Just remember, though, that whether you're using a commercial product or making a DIY solution to clean your oven, you'll need to do it more frequently than if you're using the self-cleaning option. And in general, try to wipe down the oven at least once a month to prevent tough food buildup and keep scrubbing to a minimum!

This post has been updated by the Food52 editors in August 2019 to include even more tips & tricks for cleaning out your oven.

Do you have any oven cleaning hacks to share? Tell us in the comments below

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Marthanned
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Marthanned September 7, 2019
Thank you for the information about diy steam cleaning. I clean my microwave this way. I never thought to apply it to my oven. I wonder if you can leave the racks in the oven as the temperature is so low? I am new to Food52. I just found it this morning! I think it will be a gem in my information gathering for a better home and life. Thank you!
Jennifer August 26, 2019
Anyone thinking of using self-cleaning feature should be aware of risk of fires starting in the oven. If you do have a fire, DON'T OPEN THE DOOR--with lack of oxygen, the fire will burn out quickly. When I had a fire while self-cleaning I called the fire department--they came by and stood by while the fire burned out, but at least from the perspective of the firefighters who came to my house, better safe than sorry.
Kim K. May 5, 2018
If you use the self-cleaning feature of your oven, it might be wise to consult your owner's manual first. Mine says the racks should be removed before starting the self-cleaning mode. Not sure if that's a universal tip, but it's definitely a Bosch requirement.
Frank May 5, 2018
How often do I clean my oven? Easy ....... right after I make a major mess like dumping an entire roasted chicken in it. Okay , maybe a week after, but no more. One thing I would add is that most manufacturers recommend removing the racks before cleaning, as the high heat can damage the racks. I can tell you from experience, they are correct.