How to Clean an Oven

The oven – it plays a central role in your life, helping you keep your family fed and happy. However, it needs a little TLC from time to time. Bits of food, spattered grease, and other debris built up over time, creating a mess that must be cleaned. Not sure how or when to clean your oven? Don’t worry. We’ll take the confusion out of the process in this detailed guide. In no time at all, you’ll have a spotlessly clean oven.

Why Clean My Oven?

Let’s start with the basics – why should you bother cleaning your oven in the first place? This is a natural enough question. After all, the oven door keeps the interior from being an eyesore, and if food debris and spatter will just keep collecting, why worry about it? There are a few reasons that you need to clean your oven, at least now and then. First, understand that all that stuck-on food debris in there continues to cook, creating aromas and even smoke if you’ve got the temperature high enough. That will affect any food that you cook. Who wants their apple pie tasting like burnt pepperoni or their fluffy buttermilk biscuits with a hint of charred sausage? Second, there’s a chance that some of that debris might catch fire eventually. Let’s say you’ve got a pool of grease at the bottom of the oven. It could easily ignite, causing an oven fire. Food scraps themselves can also catch fire, causing damage, and potentially threatening your entire home.

As you can see, there are some pretty compelling reasons to keep your oven spic and span. No, you don’t need it spotless – it’s a workhorse used almost every day, so it’s going to get dirty unless you clean it after every use, which is just too much effort. So, how often should you clean your oven?

When Should I Clean My Oven

Set a Schedule

The first option is to simply set a regular cleaning schedule for your oven. It doesn’t need to be very frequent, just enough to keep the grime and debris build-up down. Once every three to four months should be more than adequate unless you use the oven very heavily and frequently cook dishes that spatter the inside. For those who don’t use the oven very often, you can probably get by with cleaning it once or twice a year.

Keep an Eye on Things

The second option is to just keep an eye on your oven and clean it when debris and spatter starts to build up. Here are three important tips to help you identify when it’s time to get cleaning:

  • Appearance – Do you see visible spatter inside the oven or the inside of the window? Can you spot burnt, baked-on debris on the floor of the oven? If so, it’s time to clean it.
  • The Odor – When you turn the oven on, do you notice a burnt or acrid smell? If so, it’s definitely time to clean it.
  • Smoke – If you notice smoke from your oven while cooking, it’s time to clean it.

An Ounce of Prevention

Cleaning your oven doesn’t have to be a hassle, and we’ll cover some simple but effective cleaning techniques later in this guide. However, there are things you can do that will make it even easier on yourself when it comes time to scrub out your oven. Perhaps the single best thing you can do is to put an oven-safe mat at the bottom of the oven. These rest under the bottom heating element and catch food debris that falls. While it won’t do anything about the spatter on the walls, it can do a lot to minimize the amount of food that collects at the bottom of the oven.

In addition to using an oven mat, here are a few additional tips to help keep the oven clean and minimize the amount of actual cleaning you need to do:

  • Wipe up spills and clean up debris as you go. You’ll likely need to wait for the oven to cool, but this will help you stretch the time between deep cleanings.
  • Use a roasting bag. These surround whatever it is that you’re roasting, keeping the juices inside where they belong. As a benefit, you’ll find that your food is juicier, too.
  • Minimize cooking directly on the rack. Use a pan, pizza stone, or another utensil to help minimize the mess.

Can I Use the Self-Cleaning Function?

Most ovens sold today have a self-cleaning function. The manufacturers also recommend only using the self-clean function, rather than oven cleaners and brushes. Should you go that route? Yes and no. Yes, you can certainly use the self-clean function on your oven. It’s a handy tool for many people. However, it’s not a good fit if your oven is particularly grimy. Only use the self-clean function if your oven is light to moderately dirty. Why is that?

To understand why the self-clean function is of limited use, you need to know a bit more about how it works. What it does is heats the interior of the oven to an incredibly high temperature, basically turning any sort of build-up inside the oven into ash that you then wipe out without needing to use caustic cleaners. The problem? If you have a lot of build-up, the self-clean function will fill your home with smoke. In some cases, it may actually catch fire.

How do you tell if your oven is safe to use the self-clean function? Give it a good eyeball. Do you see a lot of debris on the bottom or grease on the sides? Has it been more than a few months since you cleaned it last? If so, you’ll need to go the manual route. Not sure how? We’ve got you covered.

The Nitty-Gritty: Cleaning Your Oven

Now it’s time to get to the meat of things. How do you clean your oven? Well, it starts by assembling your supplies. You’ll need:

  1. A good pair of gloves – go for thicker kitchen gloves, rather than those thin neoprene or latex gloves that can rip or tear easily.
  2. Oven cleaner – you can buy this in a spray can, but you can also make your own if you’d rather use something a little gentler on the environment.
  3. Scrubbing pads – you will need something with which to scrub away the debris in the oven. We recommend a stiff-bristled brush rather than something like steel wool that might compromise the oven’s interior.
  4. Paper towels – you’ll need these to wipe out the interior and remove both the cleaner and the debris.

If you’re looking for a gentle but effective DIY oven cleaner, the following recipe will work:

  • Combine 1/2 cup baking soda with three tablespoons of water.
  • Mix it up to make a paste that spreads easily (you may need more or less water).
  • Spread the paste over the interior of the oven (not the heating elements).
  • Let the paste sit overnight.
  • Wipe out the oven the next day.
  • Use white vinegar and a spray bottle to clean the remaining build-up.
  • Wipe it all down again.

If you’re using commercial oven cleaner, simply follow the directions on the can/bottle. Make sure to work in a very well-ventilated area.

Cleaning Oven Racks

Cleaning your oven racks is a separate step. Remove them from the oven and soak them in very hot water (as close to boiling as you can get). Add a little dish soap to help remove built-up grime. Note that the baking soda mix we talked about above can also work wonders on your oven racks.

Cleaning the Door

The door to your oven (and specifically the window that lets you watch your food cook) should be cleaned at the same time as the oven’s interior. Go back to your baking soda mix here and gently apply it to the glass and the interior of the door. Let it sit for a minimum of 20 minutes, and then wipe it away. If you’ve got tough spots left over, spritz them with vinegar and then wipe them clean.

Cleaning the Oven Knobs

The knobs on your oven will also get grimy over time. Simply pull them off and wipe them down with a rag and cleaner. You may also be able to run them through the dishwasher if they are plastic. Note that metal knobs may discolor in the dishwasher, so handwashing is recommended.

Rinse and Repeat

By this point, you should have thoroughly cleaned your oven. The trick now is to keep it clean and free of debris and build-up. Follow our preventative tips to help minimize the amount of food debris that collects in your oven, and make sure to give it a thorough cleaning as often as necessary. When you clean it regularly, you’ll find it takes far less time and is much