The Best Way to Clean Your Oven Might Surprise You

Grimy racks, begone.

July  8, 2019

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.

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Top Comment:
“It also helps to use boiling 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. ”
— nancy S.

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.)

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).

Next weekend I plan on getting my stovetop grates sparkling clean—while I spend the afternoon at the pool.

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

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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    Lani Jacobsen
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Annie Quigley

Written by: Annie Quigley



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.
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.
nancy S. July 14, 2019
I've been doing this for years. It also helps to use boiling 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?
BerryBaby July 8, 2019
I use the fabric sheets in roasting pans. Works like a charm. I'd have to use a bathtub for oven racks. Even the utility sink isn't quite large enough.
Emma E. July 8, 2019
I read about the following technique and used it- it worked perfectly!
Place your glass ovenware in a trash bag and put a small plastic container (open) of ammonia in the center. Close the bag tightly, trapping air inside so the ammonia fumes can circulate and leave overnight. In the morning that baked-on crud will come off easily with your usual soap and scouring pad and minimum effort. Sparkling new glassware! Doesn’t work on metal though, I tried.
Heidi July 8, 2019
For that sweet potato encrusted glass pan, and any other metal or glass thing, Barkeeper’s Friend is the BOMB. Because it doesn’t scratch, it’s safe even for glass cooktops. My trick for the cooktop, misc glass things and nearly any baked-on thin crud is to 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.
Smaug July 8, 2019
It's worth pointing out that there are two formulations of Barkeeper's Friend, there's an aggressively abrasive cleanser that's great in tough situations and a liquid version that just depends on oxalic acid; I haven't used it, but have seen a lot of positive comments on it.
Mary D. July 8, 2019
I’m not a big fan.
Eva C. August 2, 2019
I use the powdered Barkeeper's Friend for anything scratchable and have been happy with it. For other things, I use Comet or Ajax. I will be trying some of the suggestions provided in this thread.
Jimmy July 8, 2019
I have owned a kitchen remodeling company for 22 yrs. I have never seen a kitchen sink large enough to fit a oven rack in. In fact sink countertops would not be wide enough to fit this size sink. Maybe that’s why they suggested doing this in a bathtub. I would really enjoy seeing a picture of your oven rack sized sink. Thank you.
Smaug July 8, 2019
Could be a small oven- my sink is an inch short of holding mine, and I had to do some searching for a sink that would fit a 22" base cabinet.
Smaug July 8, 2019
I'd hardly count it as a "trick", but oven cleaner actually does a very good job of cleaning ovens. Whod'a thunk it.