How do you clean your oven?
April 13, 2021 2:13 AM   Subscribe

Basically the title. We actually don't use our big oven a lot but use our air fryer/toaster oven thing and I am ashamed to say have kind of let it get out of hand with the cleaning. So now we are rewarded with a rancid smell from the oven every time we use it.

I use vinegar wipes for most everything else in the kitchen but it isn't quite strong enough to get the stuck on oil and grease. And I am hesitant about buying a strong chemical cleaner because it just doesn't seem like a good idea to use something like that and then heat it up. And then I forget about it until the next time we use the oven...
posted by massofintuition to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have the manual, or can you find it online? A lot of ovens have self-cleaning functions, and it's not necessarily obvious from just looking at the appliance itself.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:55 AM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

There's probably a drip tray where fat had accumulated and turned rancid. You'll need to consult a manual to find instructions on self-cleaning and manual cleaning though. Not all have obvious removal instructions.
posted by kschang at 3:06 AM on April 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

The rancid smell is from partly oxidized oils evaporating off the heated walls and racks. All that a self cleaning cycle does is heat the interior even more strongly so that the gunk burns off even faster. If your oven doesn't have a specific self-cleaning cycle you can just turn the thermostat up as far as it goes and run it empty, with an exhaust fan running in the kitchen (or in an adjacent bathroom, with kitchen windows opened and interior doors arranged as required to simplify the airway between kitchen window and bathroom exhaust fan as much as possible) to get rid of the stink, until it stops stinking. If it hasn't actually been used much, this won't take long.

On the other hand, if this is an oven in a rental, and the previous tenants have done the traditional previous tenants thing and left it behind in a completely filthy state, running it super hot is going to stink bad and make tar inside that smells even worse. If that's where your oven is at then there's really no substitute for an alkaline cleaning paste and elbow grease.

Commercial oven cleaning pastes are all based on lye, which is hellaciously alkaline and will eat your flesh. So if you'd rather the paste did less work and the elbow grease did more, just use a paste of bicarbonate of soda instead, which is gentler both on your skin and on what you're trying to get off the oven.

Vinegar is acidic and does a much worse job of cutting grease than alkalis do.
posted by flabdablet at 3:10 AM on April 13, 2021 [9 favorites]

And yes, you'll want to get the drip tray out and clean that separately.
posted by flabdablet at 3:11 AM on April 13, 2021

There are people who do oven-cleaning as a service. For a one-off major clean, I'd get someone in to do the job. They'll leave it in a clean, usable state, so maybe worth the cost.
posted by pipeski at 3:52 AM on April 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have found this to be helpful, but the first stage will drive you out of the living space for a few hours.

An oven safe glass or ceramic dish with a few ounces of ammonia set into a warmed [not hot] oven will disperse the alkaline ammonia throughout the oven space [and yes, into the kitchen] and soften the rancid oily residues. Leave this for eight hours.

After eight hours or so, test to see if the dirt wipes off more freely. Cloths with very warm [almost too hot] water are my go-to for wiping. I prefer not to have water dripping off my cloths as the drips are messy. You will need to change cloths as they become caked with grime. A cloths usefulness can be extended by rinsing and wringing, as needed.

If after wiping, stubborn areas remain covered in residue, repeat the process.
posted by Glomar response at 5:13 AM on April 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Since the oven is portable (I presume), any stinky operation could possibly be done outside.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:32 AM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I use Easy Off oven cleaner every once in a very long while. Just spray it all over, let sit and ventilate the rest of your kitchen and then wipe the gunk away.

We also have an oven mat/liner (not sure the exact product name) but it goes in the bottom of your oven. Nothing sticks to it so when a pie bakes over or a sweet potato dips sugars down all you have to do is wait until the oven has cooled down, pull the liner out and rinse it off. It is truly that easy
posted by raccoon409 at 5:44 AM on April 13, 2021

I use a mix of baking soda and water: 1/2 cup baking soda to 3 tbl water, and add a drop of dishwashing liquid; it should make a paste like pancake batter.
I spread it all over the oven interior with a brush (I do scrape off the chunky parts before I do this), let is sit, then wipe it off with a wet micro fibre cloth.
Also, I suggest your remove the oven door; it will make it easier to clean the inside.
Here's more details
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 6:29 AM on April 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

Second on the baking soda method.
Use old towels you can chuck out.
And hot hot hot water to remove the paste.
posted by markbrendanawitzmissesus at 6:34 AM on April 13, 2021

FWIW, I generally recommend against using the "self-clean" function on modern (electronic control) ovens, since manufacturers tend to skimp enormously on thermal protection for electronic circuits, resulting in damage to the unit.

I don't know if it's because manufacturers are evil, or stupid, or both, but it's a particular achilles heel in many models.
posted by aramaic at 7:24 AM on April 13, 2021 [13 favorites]

Don't laugh, but I use toothpaste for this. It works really well and is not toxic. I use hot water and paper towels. If you don't mind using some manual labor to clean it. You can make up a spray solution, and use a large toothbrush or similar to get into the small spaces. I also use a bar brush type scrub brush filled with Dawn Dishsoap, which is also very good at cutting grease. The barbrush has a soap dispenser in the handle, and is a bit like using a palm sander. It works really well. Paper towels mean that you can work with minimal water, and discard the grease without washing it down your drain.
posted by effluvia at 7:28 AM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

One thing you can do is put the bicarb / baking soda in a foil or glass tray and bake it down into washing soda. This creates a stronger alkali that's also useful for ramen or boiling bagels but not as caustic as lye. You still want long rubber gloves.

Get a mat for the bottom once it's done.
posted by holgate at 7:28 AM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Seconding aramaic's warning - if your oven isn't a direct vent, meaning it vents outside with a power fan, I would avoid using the self cleaning option on modern oven, especially if the controls are near the vent. My GE controls are on the back above where it vents (smart!) and it's the primary failure mode of this model. A control board is several hundred dollars, but you can also cook sensors and worse, the wiring.

If your device is an electric stove check if the element has anything on it that is slowly burning off. You can scrape that gunk off - or just replace the whole burner element. Check both top and bottom. Electric elements that are old degrade and become inefficient so it might be a double plus good. These aren't generally particularly expensive - just get it from somewhere that is easy to make returns- they can get damaged in shipping.

Find a nice day where you can vent your whole kitchen and use the power chemicals. I usually do a second wipedown with baking soda. Heat makes most
posted by zenon at 8:20 AM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I use the Easy Off labeled “no fumes” and it works really well without chemical stink. I don’t bother with gloves either and my flesh has not been eaten. I just spray the inside of the oven, close the door and let sit for an hour and fifteen minutes according to the instructions, and wipe away the greasy gunk with paper towel. Then I go over the inside again with a damp rag to remove any remaining residue. It’s a bit awkward reaching into the corners but not difficult at all, there’s no scraping or scrubbing involved. Only wiping.
posted by keep it under cover at 8:30 AM on April 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

If it is a gas oven - there are a few more layers below the "floor" of the oven compartment. Grease or crumbs that fall down cannot be seen but can cause worse smells, as it is closer to the flame. Follow the instructions on this igniter replacement video to see how to remove the bottom panel - usually just two bolts or screws.

As a bonus you can take the bottom panel and the wire racks to the bathtub or outside for scrubbing and cleaning where you can easily rinse.
posted by sol at 9:12 AM on April 13, 2021

Sorry:... heat makes most of these special chemicals work so after I double clean I run the stove a final time while airing out the kitchen.
posted by zenon at 9:51 AM on April 13, 2021

I don't know if it's available for you, but Ecodoo oven cleaner was The Shit for getting baked on grease off my oven, especially when following by scouring powder on the glass door. You do need gloves, but a wipe down with a wet cloth after didn't seem to leave any residues or fumes. I do run the oven empty for half an hour afterwards just to be safe.

(Baking soda, on the other hand, has always just been shit every time I've tried it. And I've tried it multiple times just in case I was somehow wrong the last time. It has always done sweet Fanny Adams for burnt on residue. Maybe UK baking soda is just different or something?)
posted by stillnocturnal at 10:16 AM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Ecodoo works because it's caustic as hell, just like every lye-based oven cleaner.
Ingredients > 30% water, 5-15% potassium hydroxide, <5% nonionic and anionic surfactants,
Natural gum, aromatic composition
They make a point of telling you it contains "NO ammonia or caustic soda, or strong acids". This is fundamentally dishonest, giving as it does the impression that their product isn't loaded with harsh chemicals like all those other oven cleaners. But OF COURSE a fucking oven cleaner isn't going to contain acids, strong or otherwise. Acids are useless for cutting grease. Alkalis, on the other hand, saponify it (turn it into soap) and the stronger the alkali the better that works.

Caustic soda = sodium hydroxide. Ecodoo contains potassium hydroxide (caustic potash) at about the same concentration that other products contain caustic soda. Both of these chemicals are also known as lye, and both will give you severe chemical burns if you let them.

So yeah, it works, but not because the perfume they use smells nice from being loaded with citrus oils and not because it's organic or in some other way "friendly". It's based on well understood chemistry that's every bit as brutal as its competition.
posted by flabdablet at 10:43 AM on April 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

After swearing off using EasyOff to clean out ovens, I discovered kind of by accident that I can get EasyOff-like cleaning effects using Scrubbing Bubbles! I spray it on, let it sit and foam up for a few minutes and then wipe it out, then I do a diluted vinegar wipe-down, followed by a clean water wipe-down. I had nothing but a gritty mess when trying the baking soda method. Also, I always use rubber gloves during any oven cleaning process.
posted by Lynsey at 12:29 PM on April 13, 2021

If you're going to be the one cleaning the oven, make your life a lot easier by removing the oven door and racks. Different brands have different hardware; you can look only for videos showing the mechanism for your brand's.

My cleaning method: before removing the door, pour a few cups of ammonia in a glass or ceramic baking dish and put the dish in the oven. Close the door and leave it overnight. The ammonia fumes will saponify the hardened grease on oven surfaces (turn it into soap). The next day, remove the door and use a wet scrubber-sponge to remove the softened grease. (You can clean the door before removing it to see if it's easy enough.) The ammonia in the dish has very strong fumes, but once you get rid of it, the oven itself won't be noxious.

There's no rule that says you have to clean the whole oven at once.
posted by wryly at 1:07 PM on April 13, 2021

Oh yeah, don't get me wrong, I'm under no illusions that Ecodoo is friendly, although their marketing does try to give that impression. You absolutely need gloves. But I bought it after trying baking soda and three gentle, eco-friendly cleaners that did basically nothing at all to my oven, so it's a good last resort, and seemed a lot less fumey than some other hardcore cleaners (to me, anyway, and I'm sensitive to these things generally, but YMMV as always).
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:18 PM on April 13, 2021

So in case your oven is now sparkling clean but still a stink, there's this: Our mini convection oven was smelling badly every time we used it, even though reasonably clean. I eventually traced it to a dead mouse. It had climbed in though an incredibly small exhaust vent and then been electrocuted. RIP
posted by BrStekker at 7:06 PM on April 15, 2021

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