Regularly cleaning your oven is the best way to ensure you don’t end up with an appliance that looks older than it really is and it’s the best way to avoid baking your dinner in an unhygienic oven. A clean oven will make the whole kitchen more attractive and may even make you a happier baker. Here are three common methods for cleaning your oven.

1. Cleaning An Oven With The Self-Cleaning Setting

A self-cleaning oven is a well-insulated oven that heats to a very high temperature (upwards of 800′ Fahrenheit or more) and incinerates baked on food and grease. General Electric is accredited with inventing the pyrolytic cleaning (commonly called the self-cleaning) oven feature in 1963. Much like you can clean off your outdoor grill by turning up the heat and letting the debris bake off, the self-cleaning method utilizes extreme heat to remove stuck on food. But don’t be fooled by the name. Most manufacturers will recommend first removing as much grease and grime before your self-cleaning session and afterwards, you’ll need to wipe off and remove the remaining ashes. If you are nervous about having your oven heat up to nearly 1000′ for over three hours you’re not alone. Many people wonder if this will damage the oven (or damage a person who accidentally touches the front of the oven) yet manufacturers assure us that a self-cleaning oven is perfectly safe to use as long as you follow the operating instructions. Some ovens require that you remove the interior racks prior to cleaning, and you don’t ever want to leave your house with this setting on. Because a self-cleaning oven burns all left-on debris to a crisp, you may see smoke or vapors coming from the oven. Households with pet birds will want to sequester them away from the oven during the self-cleaning process as the vapors can be highly toxic to birds.

Self-Cleaning Oven Pros:

  • Inexpensive (if it already comes with your oven)
  • Easy to use
  • Effectively burns off baked on debris
  • Self-cleaning ovens are more insulated which makes it more energy efficient when baking
  • You don’t need to use additional oven cleaning chemicals to clean

Self-Cleaning Oven Cons:

  • Potentially dangerous if the exterior is touched during cleaning
  • You still need to clean the oven before and after the self-cleaning session
  • Hazardous fumes and vapors are released during the process, toxic enough to kill birds
  • Strong smells may be unpleasant
  • Smoke from burning food may set off your smoke alarm

2. Cleaning An Oven With Chemical Oven Cleaners

Arguably the most dangerous way to clean an oven is by using an off-the-shelf chemical cleaner. Not that it doesn’t do the job; chemical cleaners use lye (along with a host of other chemicals) to magically lift off caked on grease and grime. The number one reason you won’t want to use this product is that it is incredibly hazardous to your health and the health of your family. Lye is caustic and can cause irritation to mucus membranes, eyes, skin and lungs. In fact, most manufacturers recommend wearing long gloves and goggles while using the product. Corrosive alkalis are dangerous to inhale and can damage lung tissue. Chemical cleaners may contain a combination of monoethanolamine (MEA) which is a volatile organic compound, diethylene glycol monobutyl ether, petroleum gases and many other dangerous chemicals. In fact, if you’d like to see the ratings of cleaning products like oven cleaners, check out the Environmental Working Group’s rating system of this particular brand 

Chemical Oven Cleaner Pros:

  • Easily removes baked on grease and leftover foods

Chemical Oven Clean Cons:

  • Highly toxic fumes can damage lungs and respiratory system
  • Chemical components are known to cause cancer, damage to DNA and reproductive health, skin irritation and allergen
  • Known environmental hazards
  • Deadly poisonous if swallowed

3. Cleaning An Oven Using Non-Toxic, Homemade Cleaners

You might think that something as tough as baked on food would either need to be burned off by heat (self-cleaning method) or by chemicals, but you’d be wrong. There are several ways to clean a dirty oven using non-toxic (and incredibly inexpensive) ingredients. In fact, most kitchen appliances can be cleaned using homemade cleaners you can easily make in a matter of seconds with products you probably already have in your pantry. Baking soda is a very effective cleaner; it’s abrasive enough to remove caked on debris but won’t scratch surfaces. It also helps remove odors. Vinegar, or lemon juice, easily cuts through grease and removes germs. Some recipes call for Castile soap, which is a vegetable based soap, and you can decide whether or not to add this ingredient to the following recipes.

For best results, wipe off as much baked on food prior to either method and make sure the oven is completely cool.

Non-toxic cleaning method #1

  • Generously sprinkle baking soda on the bottom of the oven
  • Using a spray bottle, wet the baking soda with vinegar (you don’t want a puddle of vinegar). Note that the reaction of the vinegar and baking soda will cause bubbling.
  • Let sit for about 4 hours or overnight
  • Wipe away vinegar and baking soda with a textured sponge.
  • If any residue is left, simply use clean water to wipe clean

Non-toxic cleaning method #2

  • In a mixing bowl combine about 1 cup of baking soda with enough water to make a paste
  • Generously coat inside of oven with paste
  • Let sit overnight
  • Remove with a damp sponge and repeat wiping until clean

Non-Toxic Cleaning Pros:

  • Inexpensive, easy to make
  • Effective at removing debris from oven
  • Non-irritating and doesn’t produce harmful fumes
  • Not harmful to the environment
  • Can control the amount and types of ingredients used

Non-Toxic Cleaning Cons:

  • May need to use more “elbow grease” to remove debris
  • May take longer to clean oven than other methods

How To Keep Your Oven Clean All The Time

The best way to keep your oven clean is to prevent spills from happening in the first place. This shouldn’t be too difficult, especially as you know your baking habits. If it’s always spilled casseroles or pie, simply put your baking dishes on top of a jelly roll pan. If grease spatters from weekly chicken roasts, consider covering up the chicken with foil or immediately wipe off the grease while the grease is still warm. Just like your BBQ grill, it’s much easier to wipe away drippings while they are still warm rather that bake them repeatedly and expect to get it clean later.