Ovens tend to get a lot of use during the holidays, and between drips, drops, and turkey basting spills, they can get fairly dirty. And they may not get cleaned very often — in a survey by the American Cleaning Institute, 69% of participants agreed there are areas of the home they do not clean, but should, and I would guess ovens are near the bottom of most of our to-clean lists. While technology has made cleaning easier these days, beware of one perfect-sounding feature: your oven’s “self cleaning” option can be misleading.
The self cleaning function is harder than you think
While the phrase “self cleaning” might bring to mind images of bubbles filling the oven and water jets rinsing out the filth, your oven has neither water hoses nor cleaning liquid to clean out the mess. The self cleaning option actually uses immense heat — well above regular cooking temperatures — to decompose food solids to ash for easy removal.
The oven is heated to 470 degrees Celsius, burning the food particles to dust. As a safety precaution, the oven can mechanically lock until the appliance cools down to below 315 degrees Celsius. If you are not prepared for this, it can cause chaos in the kitchen.
Twitter user @0mwac shared this experience:
Depending on how dirty the oven is, it can be a life changing experience. Smoke alarms going off, smoke billowing out windows, etc.
— OMWAC (@0mwac) November 30, 2020
These fumes emanate from both food particles and the enamel lining that coats the oven interior. Fumes circulating in the kitchen can irritate pets, children, and adults, especially those who suffer from respiratory conditions.
How to use the self-cleaning feature properly
If you are going to use it, there are a few things to consider to make the process a bit easier. Do regular oven cleanings after cooking and baking — no need for the deep clean after each bake, of course, but wiping down the oven will result in less build up that can reduce the level of smoke when using the self-clean option. If you haven’t cleaned your oven regularly, do a quick wipe down of the excess crumbs and droppings beforehand.
Make sure to remove stainless steel racks before self cleaning. The high heat can damage or warp the oven racks, causing more headaches than the cleaning is worth.
I spoke with Lowe’s Department Manager Juan Rivera, who makes his own steam cleaning setting by pouring a cup of water at the bottom of the stove before turning on the self cleaning function. “It helps ashes not stick to the bottom of the oven during high temperatures, and adds moisture,” he says, combining steam with the oven’s self-cleaning heat.
Consider steam cleaning instead
See if you have an oven with the steam clean option available, as steam uses lower temperatures to break up the solids and provides a less abrasive option for cleaning your oven. “Because Steam Clean uses a lower temperature, the oven door does not automatically lock, like it does in Self-Clean mode,” says GE Appliances. This is one less smokey option for oven cleaning.
Or just hand clean your oven
The Spruce suggests cleaning your oven every three months, and even if you’re not into scrubbing with harsh chemicals, there are other, simpler ways. Cleaning with vinegar and baking soda is an eco-friendly way to get rid of odor and grease.
“Sprinkle the base of the oven with baking soda. Spray vinegar over the soda until it produces a light foam,” green cleaning coach Leslie Reichert told USA today. Reichert suggests making the baking soda into a paste and leaving it on hard stains overnight. In the morning, you can wipe down the oven with ease. It’s a bit more time consuming, but maybe a less worrisome option than cranking your oven to over 800 degrees. Regardless how it’s done, your oven won’t truly clean itself. It’ll take a bit of work.