Food52 in 5

Yep, You Can Make Your Microwave Sparkle in Just 5 Minutes

You probably already have everything you need.

September 19, 2018

Welcome to Your No-Sweat Guide to Spring Cleaning, a month-long series that puts the fun (yep, for real!) back into cleaning. We’re talking spruce-ups that take less than five minutes, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that hacks, and hands-off cleaning tasks that basically…do themselves—plus our trustiest tools and helpers. The goal: clean less, go outside more.

Fun things I like to do in my spare time:

  1. Eat ice cream
  2. Go on a long bike ride
  3. Bake a pie
  4. Lounge in a comfy robe and fuzzy slippers
  5. Move my living-room furniture out of the way and have an impromptu dance party
So super squeaky clean—just like your microwave will be! Photo by James Ransom

You know what's not on that list? Cleaning my microwave.

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The microwave is a pretty darn handy tool in the kitchen, enabling even easier scrambled or poached eggs, crisping up alliums in a flash (literally), and even doing double duty on all kinds of desserts.

But because of its versatility and frequent use, the microwave also attracts Jackson Pollock-like food splatter, which likes to travel to far-flung corners of the appliance, dry quickly, and really stick on. The crust that forms is annoying to clean at best, and just about impossible to remove at worst.

Cue the quickest, easiest, totally chemical-free way to de-grime your microwave. You probably already have everything you need: a microwave-safe container, a lemon, and a clean dish towel or sponge.

Here's how you get cleaning:

  • First, pour about half a cup of water into your microwave-safe container (I use a glass measuring cup). Slice the lemon in half, squeeze it into the water, and throw the squeezed rinds into the vessel. Because of its high acid content, the lemon acts as a natural degreaser (and will make your kitchen smell pretty good, too).
  • Microwave the lemony water on high power for 90 seconds to 2 minutes, until it comes to a boil.
  • After boiling, let the water stand for 2 to 3 minutes in the microwave (with the door still closed) to allow steam to accumulate and distribute. Combined with the lemon, this steam will loosen any stuck-on residue in your microwave and make it easier to wipe off with the dish towel or sponge.
  • Speaking of the dish towel, open the microwave (carefully—there might still be billowing steam!), remove the container with lemon water (don't pour it down the drain just yet!), and use the towel or sponge to wipe down the walls, ceiling, and inside of the microwave door. To help release any stubborn bits, dunk the towel in the warm lemon water you set aside before scrubbing. If the glass turntable needs a little love, remove it and wipe it down with the towel or sponge before replacing.

And in the time it takes to listen to your favorite song, you've got yourself a squeaky-clean microwave—no sweat (but a little steam)!

more 5-minute microwave magic

How do you usually clean your microwave? Have you tried this quick & easy tip? Let me know in the comments.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • spheller
  • Jean Allan
    Jean Allan
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    Lisa Rikard Roll
  • Linda D
    Linda D
  • Syl
Brinda is the Director of Content at Food52, where she oversees all site content across Food52 and Home52. She likes chewy Neapolitan pizza, stinky cheese of all sorts, and tahini-flavored anything. Brinda lives in Brooklyn with 18 plants and at least one foster pup (sometimes more). Find her at @brindayesterday on Twitter and Instagram.


spheller March 23, 2021
Ugh - even with the additional suggestions to M, this did not work at the number one issue we have in our home - the smelly, really smelly microwave! The situation has worsened (did not think possible) with COVID and multiple university students home doing their studies remotely. And, of course, if they would all remember to cover their items while using the microwave, wipe it clean after each use and/or clean it as part of the evening KP, we'd not be tackling this issue (did I mention multiple college-age young adults?) That as a background, I too continue to read others use vinegar as Syl suggested. Perhaps, the lemon and vinegar? Does anyone know how much vinegar to use? Thank you!
Jean A. March 1, 2019
I have found that lining my speed oven, which has a microwave function, with a Silpat really cuts down on cleaning time since most of the gunk ends up on the bottom. I just take the Silpat out and rinse it off.
Smaug March 1, 2019
Do you have a turntable in there?
Lisa R. December 29, 2018
What do I do to clean the liquid that is stuck between the drawer's inside and the tiny space inside the front plastic?
Brinda A. January 1, 2019
Hi Lisa, do you mean the little crevices/grooves in the door or between the panes of glass on the door? For the former, you could use the edge of a very thin rag or even a pipe cleaner to get that all cleaned up—just dip either in the water/lemon solution after you've created steam in the microwave. For the latter, this would involve dismantling the microwave door itself and I would work with the machine's manufacturer before tackling that. Hope this helps!
Linda D. October 23, 2018
Hi Brinda, this didn't work for me either. I will try the suggestions you gave M and see if that does the trick.
Brinda A. January 1, 2019
So sorry I missed this, Linda—hope my suggestions to M helped. Happy New Year!
Syl September 23, 2018
Vinegar as a substitute for the lemon also works.
Brinda A. September 25, 2018
Thanks for the tip, Syl! I'll have to try that out.
Smaug September 20, 2018
Practically everything I put in the microwave releases a good deal of steam- if you wipe it down regularly you don't have a problem. Does any of the acidity from the lemon actually evaporate? I'm not a chemist, but I doubt it.
Brinda A. September 20, 2018
Hi Smaug, I do think when the boiling liquid in the measuring cup condenses and steams up the microwave, part of that is indeed the lemon juice, and so the citric acid does in fact reach the grease/stuck-on bits. I'm definitely not a chemist, either, but this method does work for me. Wiping down regularly, as you say, is a good practice in any case!
Smaug September 22, 2018
My mother, an exceptionally ferocious person, always maintained that cleaning the stove (and microwave, if used)was part of washing the dishes, and I've held to the tradition- you really avoid some nasty cleanups if you just don't let things go.
Brinda A. September 25, 2018
Agreed! That's great advice.
M September 19, 2018
I was excited to try this, but this didn't work at all. The most minimal, surface level of grease came off with the condensing moisture, but not one bit of stuck on residue came off, and the lemon couldn't even combat the faint soup smell I was hoping to kill.
Brinda A. September 19, 2018
I'm so sorry to hear that, M! A few options here (these will take a little longer than 5 minutes): try using a second lemon, to amp up the scent; microwave/boil the water for an additional 30 to 60 seconds (so, 2-3 minutes total); leave the boiled water in the microwave to steam for a few more minutes. Sometimes the stuck-on residue needs a little elbow grease with the dish cloth, too. I hope some or all of these change your outcome!