Cleaning

The Surprising Oven-Cleaning Hack That's Hiding in Your Laundry Room

Grimy racks, begone.

January  6, 2021

I confess: the one thing I have never, ever cleaned successfully is my oven rack. Has anyone? No matter what I cook, and no matter how careful I am to put pans underneath bubbling pies and roasting vegetables, the racks somehow get covered in a layer of greasy gunk and are now permanently reddish-brown. I’ve tried scrubbing them with dish soap and baking soda, but long ago gave up hope that they’d ever be silver and shiny again. Besides, I had more visible cleaning problems to tackle.

Then a friend told me about a surprising cleaning tool for oven racks and stovetop grates: dryer sheets. I don’t typically stock dryer sheets, since they’ve got lots of chemicals, which I try to avoid adding to my laundry. But, sources confirmed (when I Googled it later), that dryer sheets are excellent at tackling stubborn oven buildup—and I had half a box left behind by a former roommate that I didn’t want to waste. Could dryer sheets have an unintended, actually useful purpose?

I decided to test it out one weekend, loosely following instructions I found online.

First step: Put the oven racks in the kitchen sink and fill it with hot water. Everything I read suggested doing this in the bathtub, lined with towels to prevent scratches, but since we don’t have one, I made do with the sink. If you’re lucky enough to have a tub, I’d suggest doing this there—the sink was cramped.

Once the racks were covered, I submerged a handful of dryer sheets (I used five for two oven racks), poured in a few tablespoons of dish soap to help break up the food grease, and swirled the water a bit to mix it all in. The dryer sheets turned the water foamy and I could already see a bit of rust-colored burnt-on food coming off of the metal—a good sign.

Then, I walked away and let the racks soak while I cleaned the rest of the apartment, had some lunch, answered emails, and lounged around on the couch with a book. (If you’re trying this at home, couch-lounging is totally optional; you could also leave the mixture overnight.) One reader, Ronyvee, recommends a similar method just in a plastic bag. “I put our racks in a large black trash bag with soap, dryer sheets, and enough warm water to cover the racks,” she says, “tie off the bag and leave it in the yard, flip it over halfway through the day. Works like a charm. Be careful, though, the water can get very hot if left in the sun.”

A few hours and an ice cream later, I headed back to the kitchen, drained the sink, and used the wet dryer sheets to wipe down the racks, one rung at a time—and the built-up grime wiped off easily, no elbow grease needed. I felt like I was in one of those infomercials: The metal racks were clean and silver, the way they were intended. (I even did one side of the racks at a time, so I could admire the difference.) I gave the racks and the inside of the sink a once-over with some dish soap to rid them of any dryer-sheet chemicals, then rinsed them. Easy.

This trick, I read, can also be used to loosen caked-on food residue from pots and pans. I was so excited by the results of my oven rack experiment and had a few dryer sheets left over, so I pulled out a few particularly sticky sheet pans and dishes, laid dryer sheets in each one, filled them with hot water, added a bit of dish soap, and left them for a few hours. It worked well on all but one: a glass baking pan that’s been used so many times to roast sweet potatoes, it’s now permanently orange. It may be that there’s just no remedy for that sticky sweet potato residue (or perhaps it just needs a longer soak).

If you have a few extra dryer sheets lying around, this is an effective way to put them to good use without tossing them. Plus, it’s a hack that requires minimal effort: The dryer sheets literally do the work while you sleep (or read, or catch up on Netflix, or go out to dinner).

All out of dryer sheets? Luckily for us, you weighed in with your favorite methods for ridding racks of grease and gunk:

Trash Bag + Oven Cleaner

Cosmiccook writes: “I like a clean oven. When new, my oven was this beautiful race car blue. Since it's self-cleaning, I'm limited to what I can use on the oven itself, as the self-cleaning isn't 100 percent effective.” The solution? “I use the black plastic bag in the sun method (fill up a plastic bag with water and oven cleaner, pop the racks in, and leave it out in the sun for 24 hours) with oven cleaner. The heat from the sun mimics the oven heat for the cleaner.

Bar Keeper’s Friend + Water

Says Heidi: “For that sweet-potato encrusted glass pan, and any other metal or oven component, Bar Keeper’s Friend is the BOMB because it doesn’t scratch, and it’s safe even for glass cooktops.” Her trick? “Dampen the surface (a misting spray is best but just get it wet, but not puddled), apply a few thin sprinkles of the powder, lightly scour and LET IT DRY. Then wipe off the dried residue with some elbow grease and a dry paper towel. Works on glass shower doors too.”

...Oven Cleaner

Last but not least, according to Smaug (“I'd hardly count it as a trick, but…”), an oven cleaner actually does a very good job of cleaning ovens. “Who'd a thunk it.” According to us, an oven cleaner you can feel good about using is Method’s Degreaser, but perhaps you have other recommendations, Smaug?

Have a clever hack for cleaning your oven or stove? Let us know in the comments!
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Annie Quigley

Written by: Annie Quigley

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44 Comments

jahn January 22, 2021
Be careful... think twice before using this tip! I followed the instructions above. Unfortunately, the softening agent from the dryer sheets clogged my bathtub drain; it was like a gooey gel after soaking. I tried baking soda and vinegar, plus two doses of commercial drain cleaner. Nothing worked to clear the drain. My plumber is here now to snake out the clog!
 
nancyewilson January 21, 2021
50 years ago our military apartment kitchen had to pass the white glove test before we moved off base. I was taught to pass the grueling white gloved oven inspector I should place 3/4 C ammonia in a cold oven and close the oven door. Return the next morning and simply wipe down all the now liquid brown gunk on the sides and racks. Works like a charm. Lately I had a repairman out for an electrical problem on my new ovens. The repairman mentioned never to use the self clean cycle as it is too hot for the electrical boards in the new ovens. He recommends Oven Safe cleaner. In the future, I will either use my old amonia method or the Oven safe and refrain from using the built in oven clean HOT cycle!
 
Susan January 18, 2021
We had a bit of a problem recently - my oven stopped working the night before Thanksgiving. I had used the self-cleaning process a few days before. The service tech came the next week and told me the oven gets so hot during the cleaning process that it will blow the thermostat or the control board (mine was the control board and thankfully it was still under warranty for another week). He suggested putting water in a shallow pan and putting it on the bottom rack of the oven. Turn the oven to the lowest setting and let it "cook" for a few hours. He said you'll have to go in and wipe the oven down with a cloth, but that it is well worth it not to have the problem. Honestly, I haven't done this yet because it hasn't been that long since it was cleaned so I can't say it actually works, but he did say his wife never uses the self-clean process on her oven.
 
cosmiccook January 18, 2021
You're lucky your oven was under warranty! My wolf is 15 years old and the relay, relay control board & element ALL went south due to using the self clean option. The temps in self cleaning are much too high for ANY oven. The fix was $1800 in repairs! The tech diagnosed 1 problem at a time otherwise I would NOT have spent that kind of money on it. I STILL have issues.
Stick w Easy OFF COLD oven -- Goo Gone Oven & Grill ISN"T as effective as Easy Off!
 
kmkane123 January 17, 2021
Can you imagine the chemicals in dryer sheets that can clean baked-on food and grease? I don’t understand why anyone used them. They cannot be good for you! And they absolutely stink too!
 
Smaug January 17, 2021
I don't know what's in dryer sheets, and I understand that at least some of them are considered an environmental danger, but as far as removing baked on food (specifically polymerized oil residue, which won't soak off) what's required is something strongly alkaline, either lye (oven cleaner) or a strong baking soda solution (which requires boiling). Some people also use boiling vinegar (acetic acid) on burned pots; I was there once when my mother did it; it seemed to work ok, but it reeked to high heaven.
 
Bikegirl227 January 17, 2021
Dishwasher pod! I place towels to line the floor of my bath tub, filled the tub with hot water, placed the oven racks in the tub and dropped a cascade dishwasher pod in the tub. The pod will dissolve overnight and the racks will come out shiny, silver and clean with an easy rub of a sponge.
 
Nancy A. January 17, 2021
In the garage I covered a card table w/garbage bags. I stacked 3 racks slightly staggered. Then I used cold oven cleaner to thoroughly spray top and sides knowing it would drip down. Left it for 4 or 5 hours then rinsed in the laundry sink. They look like new.
 
Melissa January 14, 2021
OK- I was faced with the same problem-can't leave the racks in when you clean the oven or they die. . . I was told or read that you put one rack at a time in your sink or the tub I guess, and throw in one or two dishwasher tablets fill with hot water, either over night or as long as needed. It worked extremely well.
 
Marissa January 9, 2021
I have used "used" dryer sheets to clean the build up and grease residue on top of stove. Also use them to wipe other appliances/furniture for dust.
 
Smaug January 6, 2021
In re the above note on my comment; Method is listed by the manufacturer as a degreaser. I don't know it's contents, but degreasers are generally not effective on polymerized oils (aka burned on grease) which are the big problem in oven cleaning. I use "Easy Off", that being what my local Safeway carries; like (so far as I know) all traditional oven cleaners it depends on lye, which is effective on polymerized oils. It is a volatile chemical, but with reasonable care can be used safely. I also use it occasionally for burned on materials around burner rings. I try to avoid burning food and haven't had any messes in pans that boiling with baking soda couldn't handle, but I'd use oven cleaner if the need arose. It is strongly alkaline; it should be wiped and rinsed off carefully, but if you're really worried about residue it could be neutralized with vinegar or lemon juice.
 
Susan January 18, 2021
I was told never to use Easy Off on my oven as it would eat the blue coating. The chemicals in that stuff, unless it's changed a lot since my Mama used it on her oven, is toxic and it smell toxic.
 
Smaug January 18, 2021
The active chemical in Easy off is lye (Sodium Hydroxide). It will not harm the baked enamel used in ovens. In concentrated form it is dangerous because it is extremely alkaline, but it is a traditional ingredient in soaps, and has many culinary uses- bagels and pretzels, ramen noodles, cured olives, canned fruits etc.
 
Debbie D. December 15, 2020
Didn’t work at all!
Back to scrubbing with SOS pads (an entire box for three racks and side rails). Or, stop making bacon in the oven.
 
cosmiccook December 15, 2020
I tried it as well. Didn't work. The sheets do take off SOME of the grease off on the RACKS, but only some. They do the same on pots too.
 
Lise M. January 17, 2021
Get Clorox Spray, remove racks when cool enough to handle. Lay them on newspaper & coat with clorox bleach spray, both sides. Then spray on te inside of the ovens walls, top/bottom & the door. Let sit for about 20-30 minutes then wipe clean & rinse off with fresh warm water. Use each time you need to clean the racks & you shouldn't have a problem the racks will be silver again/oven clean. By the way, I place heavy duty foil to cover bottom of the oven, under the element, to protect from spills. To the racks I place a single piece of foil in the middle of each rack long enough cover rack stopping couple spines from each end - loosely fold the foil over last spine covered to help hold in place. Always place shiny side up (always place shiny side towards food, makes cooking more even).
Then place your pans on the foil, which will catch spills. Change out foil as needed or when you start to smell grease burning, because eventhough, you may not realize there has been a spill, belive me there has been one.
Remember to watch your food, because foil reflects heat back onto you food items & you don't want them to burn. The above actions work excellently, I have the cleanest oven in town.
Good luck, sincerely,
Lise MG
 
Patricia M. September 7, 2020
This worked like a charm! Very easy and it works ! Thanks for a terrific tip!
 
Nrkauss August 22, 2020
This worked like a charm! I used a stainless steel scrubber to get the bits off and I think this could have worked without all the dryer sheets. Just a sos pad and hot water and dish soap. Will try that next time.
 
up July 15, 2019
I clean my burner tops with ammonia. Insert one in gallon size ziplock bag and fill with 1 1/2 cup of ammonia. Close it and keep it outside. Oversight. Next morning wash with soap and water. Sparkling like new one.
 
Eva C. August 2, 2019
You can also use this method for oven racks, using a trash bag. The ammonia does work on metal. I was told of this method by a friend who runs a house cleaning service. @Emma E I don't know why it didn't work for you.
The other good thing about ammonia is that it is a naturally occurring substance and is also necessary for the human body. It is a powerful corrosive and is harmful is large doses. Care should be taken when ammonia is used.
 
Lise M. January 17, 2021
I like this idea, I will try it thanks.
Lise
 
Lani J. July 14, 2019
yeah....and then you wash all those toxic chemicals into the water supply.
 
Emmmmm July 14, 2019
no one has clarified: CAN THE DRYER sheet be USED?????
 
cosmiccook July 14, 2019
I use the black plastic bag method in the sun with Oven Cleaner. The heat from the Sun mimicks the oven heat for the cleaner. SOS pads, Bar Keepers (both foam and powder) are my go to's for getting built up grease off pots and pans. As an OCD type, I like a clean oven. When new my oven was this beautiful race car blue. Since it's self-clean I'm limited to what I can use on the oven itself as the self-clean isn't 100% effective.
 
cosmiccook December 15, 2020
Since my last post I spent $1800 getting that stupid Wolf oven repaired due to the "self clean" mode literally frying the relays, relay panel & heating elements/computer components. Call ANY repair company and they will tell you the ovens get WAY TOO HOT for these components. If my Wolf wasn't so old, I'd sue the company! Damn thing still has problems! And the clueless repair guy did one part at time so of COURSE I was on the hook for 3 parts & labor. Had he the skill to tell me up front, I would have bought a new oven (not a Wolf, EVER again)!!!!
 
Tavo January 24, 2021
Been there with 36” Kitchen aid, and 36” Electrolux ovens, I feel your pain. Appliances are not made as well, these days in USA.
Europeans would never tolerate the garbage we buy.
 
nancy S. July 14, 2019
I've been doing this for years. It also helps to use boiling water..as a matter of fact if you just soak your oven racks in just boiled water...wait a bit and then use one of those 'curly' steel scrubbers, the grunge comes off. Yes, we do have 'dryer sheets' in Australia...they are called 'Fluffy' and I wouldn't be without them. A used dryer sheet is good for many things....and a quick wipe around my stainless steel sinks with a wet used dryer sheet makes them really shine.
 
robbie July 14, 2019
so please help me.. one here in Australia has never heard of a “ dryer sheet” ? Perhaps we have something similar?
 
Eva C. August 2, 2019
Nancy S. is also from Australia and she says dryer sheets are called "Fluffy'. You must have submitted your comments near-simultaneously otherwise you would have seen it.
 
ronyvee July 8, 2019
I put our racks in a large black trash bag with soap, dryer sheets, and enough warm water to cover the racks, tied off the bag and left it in the yard on cement. I flipped it over halfway through the day. Worked like a charm. Be careful, though, the water can get very hot if left in the sun.
 
13e July 8, 2019
Two very important things about this I think it’s crucial to note - dryer sheets aren’t generally considered environmentally friendly. They are usually made of polyester (which is generally a plastic polymer) that doesn’t biodegrade. And, there are arguments to be made that the chemicals on the sheets are generally quite toxic - especially when heated.
 
Mary D. July 8, 2019
Good point.
 
13e July 8, 2019
I’d also like to point out that unless your oven is smoking because of food stuck to the rack, there’s no reason to labor over it to get it shiny clean (especially at the expense of the environment or your health). It is the *inside* of the oven, after all... who sees it?
 
cosmiccook December 15, 2020
I'm trying to ween my husband off of them. There is a brand that IS environmentally friendly with SAFE ingredients we plant to try.