So I have a very ditry commercial oven
May 16, 2005 8:38 PM   Subscribe

I've recently acquired a Vulcan oven from a restaurant that was closing down. To say it is dirty is an understatement. I've used lye based cleaners, a pressure washer, scrub brushes, and anything else I had lying around. It still isn't clean. It is mostly stainless steel, with some cast iron here and there. I have it sitting outside for the time being, because I don't want to attract rodents and bugs into the house. I really need to get this thing clean soon so I can get the propane tank installed. This oven was in use for 8 years without having a real cleaning. The grease was dripping off in the heat of the sun. But it is still quite grimy. Any advice? Nothing is too drastic. Help!
posted by bh to Home & Garden (41 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sorry, I screwed up on the title and the more inside. My apologies.
posted by bh at 8:38 PM on May 16, 2005

I've run into something similar, unfortunately our method of dealing with it was extremely environmentally UNfriendly. I regret what we did.

Concentrated sodium hydroxide mixed with lots of sodium lauroyl sulphate.

/if you take this extremely ill-advised route, make sure you have excessive ventilation and decalitres upon decalitres of vineger/weak (organic?) acids. Please don't do this near natural waterways. Please.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 8:59 PM on May 16, 2005

Well, without seeing its present condition, it's hard to know what to recommend, but ... Try scraping the gunk off with a putty knife, garden trowel or something like that. Get the bulk off by scraping, and wash the residue afterwards. The more you can scrape off, the easier the washing will be. If you can remove the racks, let them soak while you attack the oven walls. The detergent powder used in dishwashers is very strong so I'd recommend that plus the hottest water you can stand. It doesn't make much suds but that's OK.

If you want to try a solvent, I heartily endorse Citra-Solve (no affiliation, just a satisfied customer). The stuff is expensive but it's an extremely good solvent - we've used it to clean bicycle chains! It dissolves certain types of plastic so test it before using it with plastic brushes or containers. Use it undiluted and apply a little elbow grease. It's made from orange rinds and is environmentally friendly, but seeing what a powerful solvent it is, I'd recommend wearing gloves. And don't dilute the stuff thinking you'll reduce the cost - you'll only reduce the efficacy (those name-brand cleaners that contain a little orange oil don't do squat on serious grease - you need the pure stuff for that). Did I mention it can dissolve roofing tar? Got a few splats on the kitchen floor and Citra-Solve took them right off, so it could probably cut through whatever you can't scrape out of your oven. Good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 9:03 PM on May 16, 2005

IF you haven't tried it already, try using oven-cleaner that goes on as a foam and sits overnight before getting wiped off. That stuff seems to cut through tons of gunk, and it's probably toxic, but it's made for exactly the task at hand.
posted by bonheur at 9:14 PM on May 16, 2005

I've yet to meet grime that couldn't be cleaned with a Steam Genie.
posted by dobbs at 9:27 PM on May 16, 2005

I'd try using Quietgal's recommended full-strength Citra-Solve along with the heaviest-duty steam cleaner you can rent. Gloves are a must, as is eye protection and good thick work clothes. As a side note -- dang, a Vulcan. It'll be worth all the work, you lucky thing.
posted by melissa may at 9:33 PM on May 16, 2005

Thanks for all the recommendations so far. I've already scraped all that can be scraped. The oven is outside, in an area without concerns about ground water contamination, so keep going with the ideas! Thanks again.
posted by bh at 9:42 PM on May 16, 2005

how bout a blow torch? If you heat it enough, the grease should soften and become scrapable.
posted by cosmicbandito at 10:00 PM on May 16, 2005

I would try bonheur's idea. I have cleaned some nasty, nasty ovens with that stuff and gotten amazing results. Follow the directions, come back later and it all wipes clean.
posted by wsg at 10:01 PM on May 16, 2005

If it's all stainless steel and cast iron, have you tried a small blowtorch kind of thing, used several inches away? It will either go ahead and melt off the rest of what the sun wasn't strong enough to do, or cook it on further, but trying a small sample area should answer that question right away.

on preview: hah!
posted by taz at 10:02 PM on May 16, 2005

EIGHT years? What you have is more than likely just massive amounts of grease build-up and damn do you need some mad grease cleaner. I'm talking industry-grade stuff from a company like ecolab (that's where we get all of our chemicals) where the fumes make you nauseous, so beware. However, with eight years of buildup, I'm not even sure if it's 100% cleanable.
For industry-grade products, if they say dilute the product, it's for a reason and do it (think of your health...after all, they wouldn't tell you to dilute w/o good reason as that requires less product on your part).
If you use a blow torch, for the love of God, watch out for grease that might bubble of spurt off in your direction. Grease that hot can scar you, trust me.
posted by jmd82 at 10:03 PM on May 16, 2005

Oops, missed it:
IF you haven't tried it already, try using oven-cleaner that goes on as a foam and sits overnight before getting wiped off. That stuff seems to cut through tons of gunk, and it's probably toxic, but it's made for exactly the task at hand.
Yea, that stuff is beyond toxic. Do NOT use it indoors if at all possible. We use it at work and if I walk pass the grill when they're cleaning it, I feel like my lungs collapsed. Use a mask or very good ventilation of you use this stuff.
posted by jmd82 at 10:14 PM on May 16, 2005

You could try Simple Green. I've used it in cleaning auto parts.

I would only use a torch as a last resort.
posted by 6550 at 10:31 PM on May 16, 2005

it's unlikely to be practical for you, but extreme heat will turn all that gunk to CO2. You'd have to get it up to 500-600 I think, and I don't really have great ideas on how to do that. But it is what I'd experiment with . . .

(I used to play at the local blacksmith's forge when i was a kid - heat works wonders)
posted by anadem at 10:32 PM on May 16, 2005

read this
posted by scarabic at 10:52 PM on May 16, 2005

I would try getting the strongest foaming oven cleaner, spraying it all over the place and just letting it sit for a day or two, then repeating. It won't get it all off, but it should get some of it off each time.

You could also try getting a stiff bristled brush on a drill bit (There's probably a name for it, it's a small brush that can fit on a power drill) and using that with some cleaning product to scrub it.
posted by tomble at 11:06 PM on May 16, 2005

I think a pressure washer with the right tip and high enough psi (dangerous psi) doesn't sound unreasonable. It would obviously be the safest in terms of fumes and chemical safety. If they can cut steel and stone with water, I imagine it can remove pretty much anything. Somewhere inbetween cutting/deforming the steel, and not working, it seems there should be a middle ground where it can cut through the grease, and then move sideways under the surface of the muck to dislodge it.
While poking for some sample links re: pressure required to cut steel (up to 60,000 psi according to that first link), I also found this company that sells super high pressure equipment, and also services gas and oil wells. I can only imagine the two might be connected.
One of these pages indicates that 4000 psi is entering the pressure range required for paint stripping, which seems to be a fair analogy. These would of course be rental units, might be cost prohibitive, and I'm sure can slice your deli meat (or a full cow, neighbor, couch) with no fuss at all. This place rents them, you might get some ballpark rates or info out of them.

Degreasers are great because they can be stored easily, are cheap per use, and can be used on installed equipment, but I like to blow things up, so I'd use it as an excuse to make a bitchin' blog entry, while polishing the ol' Vulcan.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 11:13 PM on May 16, 2005

I'll second tombie's suggestion with the rotary brush attached to a drill. A mechanical solution is always preferable to a chemical one, especially one involving really noxious stuff.
posted by randomstriker at 2:39 AM on May 17, 2005

Have you thought about contacting a large commercial kitchen and asking them what/whom they use to seriously clean their ovens and stoves?

On the cast iron parts, I doubt you will ever get those completely clean. Cast iron is somewhat surface-pourous, and absorbs grease and whatnot. You should be able to get the surface layers clean, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:13 AM on May 17, 2005

Also, are you certain that it runs on propane? Just about every commercial stove I've seen is natural gas (CNG).
posted by Heatwole at 5:25 AM on May 17, 2005

Rent a sand blaster. It will give you a beautiful finish on both the stainless steel and the cast iron, once all the gunk is off.
posted by yesster at 5:41 AM on May 17, 2005

Its likely a double door convection oven - these are ubiquitous pieces of restaurant / catering equipment.

That yellow gunk is oil/grease/shortening. You need to learn to not mind it - it is effectively impossible to get rid of. Additionally, getting rid of it and replacing it with a layer of cleaner (good luck getting all of the cleaner up) will alter the taste of anything you cook in the oven.

If you feel you must clean it out, use Simple Green and elbow grease. Elbow grease is the most ecologically friendly and most effective cleaner available to you in this situation. A nice steel coil scrubber with a dishrag helps.

If you do use oven cleaner, dispense with simple cleaning methods -
- if you can, remove the blower unit and any electrical equipment that the unit uses.
- Spray oven cleaner on the unit
- wait 20 minutes
- using a scrub brush, work the oven cleaner for a few mins
- Then using a garden hose, hose it out
- repeat as needed

Leaving oven cleaner on for a few days is a mistake and a waste of hope - there is a point where its dissolved all that it can. You usually reach this point after a few minutes.

If you need to clean the racks (this is DIFFERENT than cleaning the oven), soak them in buckets/sinks/pans with simple green or just regular old dish detergent (I like Dawn brand), then hose them off.
posted by Fuka at 6:17 AM on May 17, 2005

A janitorial supply place can can recommend and supply a detergent, we used to use a product called C-Spray which was basically a 90% solution of Simple Green (which is about 5%). Warning that some of these cleaners (like c-spray) will etch glass and aluminium when used full strength.

When we were cleaning commercial equipment like this we would truck it down to the local U-Wash car wash and alternate between spraying with detergent and spraying with the car wash wand until it was clean.

Considering you already have it unloaded at your home you may be better off to call a mobile engine steam cleaning place. A truck mounted steam cleaner is to a Steam genie what a OTR tractor is to a pickup.
posted by Mitheral at 6:21 AM on May 17, 2005

take it to a place that steam cleans auto engines. not only will they clean the oven but they are also equipped to properly dispose of the waste.
posted by probablysteve at 6:29 AM on May 17, 2005

Rent a sand blaster.

This was my initial reaction, too, but I can't help but think that using a sand blaster on food preparation equipment is a bad, bad idea. I have no specific reason, just a vague intuition that it might be bad for your health. Oh, and if you do go that route don't actually use sand (silicosis), obviously.
posted by Ryvar at 6:32 AM on May 17, 2005

When I moved into my house, areas of the kitchen were so covered in grease that they were as sticky as tape to the touch. I tried scraping without much success but Greased Lightning really did the trick. Not too hard to find either; I picked it up at Home Depot. You may want to give it a shot.
posted by Sully6 at 7:35 AM on May 17, 2005

There are a LOT of different cleaners being recommended here - please be careful about mixing cleaners or trying one after the other. Toxic!
posted by agregoli at 8:24 AM on May 17, 2005

Have you thought about contacting a large commercial kitchen and asking them what/whom they use to seriously clean their ovens and stoves?

I worked in one of these, and we just used Grease Off...Dunno who makes it, but it comes in a blue plastic container. However, this is intended for daily use (or bi-daily in our case), not to remove years of gunk.
posted by jmd82 at 9:50 AM on May 17, 2005

Oh, and if you do go that route don't actually use sand (silicosis), obviously.

Isn't silicosis a respiratory disease caused by breathing in sand?

If so, as long as the proper safety equipment is worn while performing the sandblasting, once the dust settles it's just _dirt_. Some animals eat that stuff to help them with digestion. I doubt you're going to die from it, even if you did manage to ingest a miniscule amount of it...
posted by shepd at 9:53 AM on May 17, 2005

I truly doubt this will work for such stubborn grease, but when I worked at a pizza place once, we'd clean the oven every night like this:

1. Make sure it's good and hot.
2. Fill a liter pitcher 3/4 full with ice.
3. Saturate the pitcher with seltzer water to the brim.
4. Pour onto extremely hot oven in one fluid motion.
5. Scrub with a coarse brush with a long handle.
6. Repeat.

It's probably not enough to cut through your mess, but damn does it sound exciting and sizzly when you're doing it.
posted by jbrjake at 9:59 AM on May 17, 2005

I highly recommend Castrol Degreaser solvent for this application. It can cut through every type of fat/oil based application and when mixed with an abrasive material, a little elbow grease, make quick work of any ugly project.

Get it (in a purple bottle) at automotive supply stores. Use gloves, goggles.
posted by omidius at 11:05 AM on May 17, 2005

This is a highly toxic thread.

My dad has been a restaurant manager for as long as I can remember, so as a kid I was frequently conscripted to clean off excessively disgusting kitchen equipment. I have cleaned stuff that is on par with what you're talking about and what worked the best for me was definitely the cold-formula oven cleaner. I would probably use this in conjunction with a pressure washer.

Apply the cleaner to the grease, let it sit, then pressure-spray it off. Obviously this is going to be done outside, so the Earth would appreciate it if you could devise some ingenious way of properly disposing of the runoff material (as much of it as possible, call your city for disposal options). You will need to do this a few times (possibly several) to get it all off, but with patience you can get it clean.

Using strong solvents is not out of the question (although in this case strong environmental foresight is required of any reasonably moral human being) but I would recommend staying away from strong acids as they are probably not necessary for this project.

Also, if you decide to sand blast it, please make a video and have a friend post it. That sounds like it would be fun.
posted by baphomet at 11:41 AM on May 17, 2005

Afterthought: I think probablysteve has the best answer, since his involves trained professionals cleaning up the environmentally hazardous stuff that this project will generate.
posted by baphomet at 11:43 AM on May 17, 2005

Contact Vulcan and ask them. Be very cautious about cold water on hot metal, as above; metal can warp or crack with rapid heat change. The cleaning cycle on a residential gas oven runs the oven at high heat, at leat 600F, for a couple of hours. The crud gets incinerated. It makes a bad smell in the house, so if you try it, do it in a well-ventilated place.
posted by theora55 at 11:59 AM on May 17, 2005

Truck-mounted high-pressure steam cleaner sounds like the trick to me. The temperature will soften the gunk, the pressure will rip it off the metal. This should, I think, remove the bulk of the mess.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:26 PM on May 17, 2005

Damn... you gotta show us some pictures. Is it really THAT bad?
posted by Witty at 2:37 PM on May 17, 2005

Damn... you gotta show us some pictures. Is it really THAT bad?
Meh. Welcome to quite a few restaurants out there. You normally can't see the kitchen for a reason...
posted by jmd82 at 5:08 PM on May 17, 2005

My experience (motorcycle shop, machine shops) says sandblasting is not effective at removing sticky or resilient stuff. Also, it'd be a bitch getting all the sand out afterward.

Go with the steam-cleaning first. It won't introduce anything you'd dislike in your food. If it's still not clean enough, you can try the toxins after.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:11 PM on May 17, 2005

Just a few random answers:

It is a natural gas oven, but Vulcan sells a conversion kit. I don't have it, and it isn't hooked up, so no heat options.

I'm only worried about cleaning the outside of the oven. The cast iron pieces are fine. The inside of the oven isn't bad, as it was hardly ever used. The restaurant had a seperate convection oven.

It is that bad, and maybe I'll post a follow-up with before and after pictures.

The pressure washer helped, but I have low water pressure at the house (long story), so it isn't enough.

I thought about the sandblasting idea too, but I didn't think it was quite that bad.

I also thought about the blowtorch, and I'm probably going to try that next.

Grinding is an option, but I really want to maintain the look of the oven.

I like the C-Spray idea, because I've always had good luck with Simple Green, but I always thought it could be stronger.

I'll post a meta follow-up after I actually get this thing clean. I was just floored when I saw how bad the back of it was. We went through a whole box of latex gloves moving the thing.

Lots of good answers, thanks everyone.
posted by bh at 5:36 PM on May 17, 2005

Grinding and sandblasting are unlikely to work, given my past experiences. The goop will gum up any abrasive; with sandblasting, you'll just end up sandblasting sand that's stuck to the goop.

I think you'll find the blowtorch is a very poor option: it will ruin the stainless steel. High temperature + excess carbon = bad steel.

The thing about high-pressure steam washing is that it uses a pump mechanism to boost pressure. Normal household pressure in the 100psi range. A commercial pressure washer boasts upward of 4000psi. Add in superheated water (under pressure, temperatures can be over 100C) and you've got a wicked tool. Toss in a commercial degreaser/solvent, and it should be the end solution to your problem.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:35 PM on May 17, 2005

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