Um, I think something's wrong with the stove?
December 27, 2020 6:17 PM   Subscribe

Help me decide if this is sounding bad enough to risk having to call someone to come into my apartment during a pandemic.

I'm not sure what's going on with the stove, but...

* The last few times I've tried to cook anything on it (boiling water, heating frozen rice), it has started STEAMING UP, A LOT, within 30 seconds of turning it to boiling. It cooked an omelet a lot faster than I was expecting it to, a lot smokier too. It's steaming up super fast if I turn it up to 6 or higher and the apartment filled with steam/smoke, but did not set off the (newly replaced) fire alarm. It doesn't start to super steam if I turn it to 4 or below, and when I turned it to 5, it steamed up at a normal rate and I was able to cook the rice successfully.

* I was cooking egg rolls in the oven and while the oven part seems just fine, both times when I literally just took the tray out of the oven and sat it on top of the stove (note: one time I had just turned the burner off, but the other time the burner hadn't been on all day), the fire alarm went off for maybe a couple of minutes before turning itself off. NO smoke, NO fire, nothing obvious set this off.

* I assumed the microwave above it was fine (I think that was a separate installation), but I just rewarmed some food and somehow there is now a HOLE in the plastic. WTF? From reheating for 2 minutes?!

None of this crap has ever happened before.

I really, really don't want to have to go to management for help and have people come in here during a pandemic, but.... Does any of this sound legitimately wrong/severely bad enough to have to call for help come Monday morning, or am I just a crazy person? I'm afraid to even heat anything at this point after even the microwave just did something weird, but I don't want to be A Crazy Person Complaining yet again either, plus having people in here if I don't absolutely have to either.
posted by jenfullmoon to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Is it a gas or electric stove?
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:21 PM on December 27, 2020 [1 favorite]


Confused. Is "steaming up" A term of art? Gas stove or electric? Plastic? In a microwave? Why? I'm confused.
posted by Floydd at 6:28 PM on December 27, 2020 [15 favorites]


With gas stoves burners, you'd see if the flames looked different. I'm guessing electric - glass top or burners? The oven element is separate from the burners. Carefully look to see if a burner has food or anything on it, and especially to see if it may be cracked. It's not uncommon for a burner to develop a flaw, and it's not hard to replace a burner if it's not glass-topped. Or swap burner elements so a defective burner element is in the back, and not use it for the duration. Try heating a pan of water on each burner and observing carefully.

The oven setting off the smoke alarm even with no visible smoke is not uncommon.

The microwave is a different issue. It's not clear if the hole is in the microwave, and if so, where, or in a container.

Maybe take some pictures of the stove and post them. An electric stove will be on its own circuit breaker, which should trip and halt the electricity in case of a problem.
posted by theora55 at 6:41 PM on December 27, 2020 [2 favorites]


- Is there a chance that something spilled into below the burners or under the top surface of the stove? You should be able to open it up or tilt/pull up the burners somehow to see.

- Are the shield things below the burners caked/coated with burned or other material?

- Does your microwave have a turntable? Maybe try putting some large flat food in there (big pancake, pita, four slices of bread) and see if they burn in a particular spot. Photos will help your case.

- If you have an IR thermometer, you can point it at the burners and check their temperatures and maybe compare that to what (some source I don't have handy) says is normal.

- Ditto to checking the temperature inside the oven, but this should be easier and you can use a normal oven/cooking thermometer.

- Check your smoke detector and smoke detector batteries.

Just some ideas. Good luck.
posted by amtho at 6:55 PM on December 27, 2020


Best answer: it has started STEAMING UP, A LOT, within 30 seconds of turning it to boiling

Like Floydd, I'm a little confused about what you mean here.

If you mean you had a burner turned all the way up in order to boil something, and then the air in your apartment became loaded with unusual amounts of steam 30 seconds after the contents came to the boil: this is more likely to be an apartment heating/ventilation issue than anything wrong with the stove. A pot of water boiling on a maxed-out burner just does rapidly add a huge amount of water vapour to the air, and if your apartment is cooler and/or more humid than usual to begin with (had somebody just had a shower and forgotten to run the bathroom exhaust fan?) or an extractor fan over the stove isn't working or didn't get turned on, then that vapour will rapidly condense into a thicker-than-usual fog.

If this is an electric stove, any burner that's been turned up to maximum heat will typically take quite some time to cool down again. If you've just boiled a pot of something or other, then you turn down that burner and right away use it to cook an omelet, the omelet will definitely get a lot more heat dumped in it than if you'd just set the burner to an omelet-friendly temperature from cold.

Again, though, I'm unclear about whether your omelet actually burned. Which was it, smoke or steam?

Also, when you talk about the fire alarm, are you actually talking about a smoke alarm? If what was recently replaced is in fact a smoke alarm, was it replaced with the same type? If you replace an optical smoke alarm with an ionization type, or vice versa, and/or the new alarm is sitting in a different spot from the old one, then you're going to see a new and different pattern of false positives.

On the microwave: I have also blown holes in plastic films by reheating small quantities of film-sealed food for two minutes. That's well within the range of normal microwave oven behaviour. The hole forms when steam from the food condenses to form a droplet of water on the inside of the film, which the microwave carousel then rotates into one of the oven's high-intensity microwave zones and boils off; the boiling droplet softens the film in that spot enough for the buildup of steam pressure inside to blow a bubble and then a hole.
posted by flabdablet at 7:18 PM on December 27, 2020 [1 favorite]


Did something change? Did you replace a burner on your stove? It sounds like things are just heating up faster than they did previously? Is that what you're saying?
posted by hydra77 at 8:49 PM on December 27, 2020


Response by poster: I have absolutely no idea on the difference between a gas and electric stove to be able to answer that. There's no obvious flame lighting up, if that helps any. It's not one of those totally flat white stoves, it's got the burners with coils.

Steaming up = smoke/steam all over the place in the air throughout the entire kitchen and living room, very conspicuous clouds coming off burners. I don't quite think it is straight up smoke (didn't smell like it), but under the circumstances I don't trust myself to judge correctly.

I tested all four burners and had the same quick steaming issue on all four of them. Just cleaned the burners--two of them get used more than the other two so yes, things fall into those--but all four behaved the same, though. The "clean" burners also steamed up excessively.

There was a new hole in the plastic container after 2 minutes of use, I've never had that happen before. No visible anything happening differently in the microwave, but it is on a turntable.
flabdablet, that does explain the microwave, thank you! Will attempt the rest:

A pot of water boiling on a maxed-out burner just does rapidly add a huge amount of water vapour to the air, and if your apartment is cooler and/or more humid than usual to begin with (had somebody just had a shower and forgotten to run the bathroom exhaust fan?) or an extractor fan over the stove isn't working or didn't get turned on, then that vapour will rapidly condense into a thicker-than-usual fog.

Don't know on the fan over the stove. Apartment is frigid this time of year, but it is every year and this is a new thing, so am not sure if that would make a huge difference. Shower hadn't happened recently and the fan in the bathroom runs by default, and bathroom is on the other end from the kitchen.

If this is an electric stove, any burner that's been turned up to maximum heat will typically take quite some time to cool down again. If you've just boiled a pot of something or other, then you turn down that burner and right away use it to cook an omelet, the omelet will definitely get a lot more heat dumped in it than if you'd just set the burner to an omelet-friendly temperature from cold. Again, though, I'm unclear about whether your omelet actually burned. Which was it, smoke or steam?

Didn't actually burn the omelet, but I did turn on the burner for boiling, then turn it off a few minutes later when my omelet prep went a little longer than I thought it would, then turned it back on and it seemed like the thing was cooked after 5 minutes + all the apartment steam. (I gave up on cooking it for the full time out of fear of setting off the alarm.) So that explains that, at least. Just not sure why it was pulling that again on another day.

I suppose I should say that I usually don't cook multiple foods at one time because I live alone, but on the fire alarm days, I was attempting Chinese food, using the burners I don't normally use, and was heating up some sauce on burner #3 at level 3 (which went fine) and then tried heating the rice on a higher temp on burner #4) and then things went overly steamy. Tried moving the rice from burner 4 to 3 and had the same effect of oversteam.

Maybe I'm just a cooking idiot who shouldn't make more than one thing at a time, really....
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:23 PM on December 27, 2020


What you're describing is that you have an electric stove. The burners with coils turn electricity into heat. If you had a gas stove, which it sounds like you do not, you'd have burners with gas jets and a flame when you used it.

Just to make sure I'm understanding this right, is the "smoke/steam" happening when you just turn all four burners on briefly without any pans or food on them, at least once you turn it up beyond low heat? You turn it on, and smoke comes off the burner?
posted by zachlipton at 11:12 PM on December 27, 2020 [1 favorite]


What you're describing is that you have an electric stove.

Seconded. And the thing about electric stoves is that they're very slow, both to heat up and cool down, and the burners all leak heat into the stovetop and make that and each other hot as well, and if you're not used to allowing for all of that then it makes them a pain to control.

Nothing you've described says to me that your stove is working any worse than the fundamentally awful design of electric stoves dictates. I suspect that the main thing going on here might be that this is the first time you've given it a lot to do while your apartment is as cold as it is right now.
posted by flabdablet at 2:23 AM on December 28, 2020 [3 favorites]


What are you cleaning the heating elements with? If there is a residue on them from cleaning them, it will smoke.

With regards to getting someone in to look at it during a pandemic, if you open your windows, stand well away from the technician/maintenance person, all wear masks, and wipe down surfaces afterwards then the risk is pretty tiny.
posted by knapah at 3:00 AM on December 28, 2020 [6 favorites]


I have found that electric burners that haven't been used in a while can get a bit smoky - grease and dust builds up on them a bit while you're not using them and then it burns off when you finally do.

And setting off the fire alarm when you are cooking in unfamiliar ways seems pretty common to me too. I don't think there's anything wrong with your kitchen, you're likely just doing more than usual and encountering more problems than usual.
posted by mskyle at 3:19 AM on December 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


The microwave thing seems like confirmation bias - “everything is going haywire!” But I suspect whatever you were using to heat up your food just developed a weak spot and is done now. “Thank you for your service, bowl! Farewell!”

I think if your apartment is especially cold, that could account for additional visible steam as well. My electric stove (which is a baseline cheap but relatively recent purchase) behaves less optimally when I have multiple heating elements going. That draws a lot of power! So, like, my normal burner that I use for boiling won’t get as hot if I have a third element going. Two is usually fine. Then I turn off one extra element and suddenly that burner is back to full power. Not sure if this describes your situation.
posted by amanda at 7:08 AM on December 28, 2020


Since you clearly don't know what's going on, I suggest you have someone look at it, relative, friend, neighbor, superintendent.

That said, it sounds to me like something spilled and collected near the burners out of sight. For steam, you need water, and there is no source of water in any kind of stove that I'm aware of.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:30 AM on December 28, 2020 [4 favorites]


I think we could all use some clarification about whether the "steaming up" is a consequence of cooking on this stove or merely of turning on the burners with no pot on top. Also, if it's the latter, how long it takes for the smoke/steam to stop coming off the burners.

I also have an electric stove, though mine has the even-worse round hotplates rather than the coil-style burners, and I know for sure that if I use a hotplate that I haven't used for some time, especially if I've been cooking anything vaguely greasy on one of the other burners, then the rarely-used hotplate will let off a fair bit of oil smoke until all the old cooking-oil spatter has been vaporized. But there's no doubt at all that this is oil smoke, not steam; it stinks.
posted by flabdablet at 10:29 AM on December 28, 2020 [1 favorite]


And there won't be enough of that oil smoke to make the kitchen noticeably foggy, just enough to make it smell bad. Well, not unless there's actually old oil pooled on the hotplate. But that will generally only happen if there's been a spill, not mere accumulated cookery spatter.
posted by flabdablet at 10:37 AM on December 28, 2020


It sounds to me that when you turn on the burners/eyes and they heat up, they emit a smoke, which you are describing as steam. Unless it's actually WET, it's not steam, it's smoke. My money is on that the burners have been wiped down when cold with some kind of cleaner that is leaving a residue, and you're seeing that burn off when the burners are being used. Since you don't use ALL the burners all the time it's also possible that it's accumulated grease/dust as another user said above.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:07 AM on December 28, 2020


How did you clean the burners?

https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/how-to-clean-electric-stove-bu-130998
posted by TORunner at 11:24 AM on December 28, 2020


You have an electric stove. I bet some crumbs or old food is caked to the bottom of the coil burner. Then, when you turn it on, it’s smoking up. Google image search for how to clean a stove like yours. You got this!
posted by samthemander at 4:01 PM on December 28, 2020


Response by poster: With regards to getting someone in to look at it during a pandemic, if you open your windows, stand well away from the technician/maintenance person, all wear masks, and wipe down surfaces afterwards then the risk is pretty tiny.

I don't have windows I can open. There's front and back doors and the kitchen is far away enough from both doors so that I really cannot get "fresh air" to circulate into the kitchen to purge virus. (Plus, December.) I can do the rest of it if I have to, but that is why I really, really don't want to have to bring anyone in here to "look at it" unless I absolutely have to, hence this question. Unless the joint is going to burn down, I don't want to need help!

I have only used water to clean the burners--no special cleansing agents! (Which I guess now I am kind of glad about if using the wrong thing does damage....)

I think we could all use some clarification about whether the "steaming up" is a consequence of cooking on this stove or merely of turning on the burners with no pot on top. Also, if it's the latter, how long it takes for the smoke/steam to stop coming off the burners.

Either?

Anyway, I tested it again tonight. I accidentally turned on the wrong burner with no pot for a few minutes before realizing and it did start to steam up fairly quickly--the giant burner, which I rarely use. I turned everything off, waited until the stove was ice cold on all burners, used burner #3, and then boiling eggs went like normal--took about 5 minutes to boil, didn't misbehave, had a reasonable amount of steam and nothing abnormal/setting off an alarm/being in the air all over the place. So I am hoping this is all a false alarm and no need to have someone come in.

Thanks, y'all, this has been reassuring.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:37 PM on December 28, 2020


Smoke (as people keep explaining, not steam--smoke is bad when cooking, steam is generally good) should not be coming off hot burners with no pots on them. If there are no residual cleaning products on them, then they're either coated in old grease that needs to be removed or you have a SERIOUS problem--a problem that somebody should look at, even during a pandemic.

Is this a new stove? Or a new stove to you (i.e., you've moved into a new house or apartment and this is an unfamiliar appliance)?

How do your burner trays look? (The black or silver things that sit underneath your stove's coiled elements.) Do they have old, caked-on grease or food (likely from a pot boiling/spilling over)? If so remove them and wash them. If they're really bad, they might require a bit of elbow grease and scraping (using something like steel wool if they're really extremely food encrusted).
posted by sardonyx at 8:54 PM on December 28, 2020 [1 favorite]


Unless the joint is going to burn down, I don't want to need help!

The thing about stoves is that the cooktops are designed to get stinkin' hot without burning the joint down. So as long as the mystery smoke is definitely coming off a burner and not from somewhere inside the stove's control panel where there could be wiring, and only smells of burning cooking oil rather than having the acrid plastic stench of burning PVC insulation or burning circuit board, the worst that could possibly happen is that the affected burner stops working.

I had forgotten that the coil-style burners typically have some kind of tray underneath (the hotplates on my own terrible electric stove are just big circular bumps on the cooktop with no gap underneath them). Definitely worth turning on a burner with no pot on it, then looking closely to see where the smoke is coming from.

If it appears to be coming from the surface of the burner coil itself, then it's just residual surface gunk burning off the coil, and the right thing to do about it is just let it keep smoking until it stops, then turn off the burner. This cleans up the burner in much the same way as a self-cleaning cycle cleans up an oven.

If it's coming from the tray underneath the burner as sardonyx suggests, then it could be a relatively deep reservoir of collected gunk being toasted by radiation from the underneath of the coil. The right thing to do about that is to turn off the burner, let everything cool right down, then get the tray out and clean it. Because in the absolute worst case of this scenario - say, if there were a little lake of cooking oil just sitting there in the tray - there is some small chance that a really hot burner left turned up high with nothing on top might smoke up enough tray gunk to to start a very small fire on the stovetop.

But even in this absolute worst of worst-case smoky electric cooktop scenarios, you're really unlikely to see a small cooktop fire escalate into a house fire. Well, not unless you habitually keep dangling rags hanging over the stovetop for that specific purpose. Remind yourself that gas stove owners deliberately start fires on their cooktops every time they cook because that's how their stoves work. There are reasons why houses are designed with large clear spaces above stoves.

If you ever do have a fire on a stovetop, turn off the affected burner, clap an empty metal pot upside down over the fire to deprive it of oxygen, and it will go out. This is both quicker and safer than calling for help, even when there isn't a raging pandemic.
posted by flabdablet at 11:06 PM on December 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


I have only used water to clean the burners--no special cleansing agents! (Which I guess now I am kind of glad about if using the wrong thing does damage....)

About the only way you're going to damage an electric stove burner with a cleaning product is if the "cleaning product" in question is a heavy-duty corrosive like battery acid that actually dissolves metal.

Barring that kind of truly heroic idiocy, the worst possible consequence of a poor choice in cleaning product is that some small amount of it could get left behind on the surface of the burner, to be turned into smoke when the burner is next turned on. The only "damage" being done here is to the residual cleaning product on the burner, not to the burner itself.

Using plain water to clean a stove burner is unlikely to remove an oil film that might be clinging to it; oil sticks to metal rather harder than water does. In fact, if you use a cloth soaked in plain hot water to wipe down all the burners at once, and one of them is a bit greasy from cooking oil spill or spatter (such as might happen during an unaccustomed foray into Chinese cookery), then the most likely effect will be to spread a thin oil film over burners that didn't already have one. That oil film will then smoke off for a little while the next time the affected burner is turned on.

Again, a little bit of oil smoke coming off a burner that hasn't been used for a while is normal and harmless behaviour for an electric stove. I think that a great deal of the confusion on display in these answers has come from your idiosyncratic use of the phrase "steaming up" to cover multiple phenomena that most people don't group or label that way.
posted by flabdablet at 12:44 AM on December 29, 2020 [4 favorites]


Your stovetop should not be producing steam unless there's a pot of water boiling on it. Take a video, post it.

Also, there will be some form of label on the stove, possibly on the stove door. Get the model number and call an appliance repair shop and chat with them. Or probably someone here would be willing to do a video chat.
posted by theora55 at 5:20 AM on December 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


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