Face it, your oven is filthy—but there's no need to be ashamed. It seems like every time you use it some new spill or stain forms and slowly bakes into that once-pristine enameled surface.
Luckily, most ovens include self-cleaning modes that can wipe away all that sticky grease and crusty residue. Even manual cleaning can be made easier with proper maintenance and the right cleaning products.
So are you ready to say goodbye to all that grime? First you need to take stock of your options. Not all ovens are alike, so be sure to check your owner's manual to see what kinds of self-cleaning settings are available to you, as well as what the manufacturer recommends. With that in mind, here's the lowdown on the three most popular ways to clean an oven.
Aside from luxury ovens, this is the most common type of self-clean function, and also probably the easiest. Pyrolytic cleaning raises the oven temperature to a blistering degree—usually between 900°F and 1,000°F. The cycle lasts a few hours and reduces all that grime to ash, which can be easily wiped away once the oven cools.
While there's some variation between ovens, you'll want to remove the oven racks and wipe out any crumbs before running the cycle. Make sure you won't need to cook anything for at least a few hours, as the cleaning mode will lock your oven and render it unusable for the whole period. When the cycle is over, you'll be able to wipe away the remaining debris with a damp cloth. (Just wait until the cavity cools down!)
Pyrolytic self-cleaning tends to be the least labor-intensive, as it handles both small and large messes fairly well, and unlike manual cleaning it doesn't require the use of nasty chemicals.
However, there are a few downsides. Pyrolytic cleaning often results in an unpleasant smell, so it's best to clean on a nice day when you can crack a window. (Never leave your house with the oven running at such high temperatures!) It also tends to release fumes that can be toxic to birds, so move your pet parakeet to another room during the cleaning process.
Some self-clean modes use the power of steam to clean the oven—often alongside a pyrolytic option. These ovens are coated in an enamel that releases grime when it encounters steam and low heat, allowing you to easily wipe it away when the cycle finishes.
The steam clean option tends to work much faster than pyrolytic cleaning (one cycle usually takes under an hour). Furthermore, it doesn’t require nearly as much heat or energy, and it doesn't give off any nasty fumes.
That said, the clean isn't as thorough or effective. If your oven has both pyrolytic and steam self-clean cycles, you may want to run the steam clean on a more routine basis. This will limit the need for the pyrolytic mode, which is more appropriate for big messy stains.
Good old fashioned elbow grease
Not all ovens offer self-clean options, and not everyone likes to use them. For whatever reason, if you find yourself relying on your own two hands to make that oven sparkle, we have some cleaning recommendations.
It's a good idea to first remove your oven racks and wash them according to the manufacturer's instructions. Soaking the racks in a sink full of warm water mixed with a few drops of dishwashing soap can help loosen some of that grime, which can then be scrubbed and rinsed away.
There are a lot of harsh chemicals designed to remove all sorts of burnt scum from your oven cavity. If you have a mind to avoid them, heed this tip from wikiHow: Place 4 tablespoons of baking soda in a 1-liter spray bottle, then fill the rest of the bottle with water. Spray the oven cavity with a focus on the dirtiest areas. Wait at least one hour, then use a scraper to chip away at the worst parts. Spray again and wait another hour. Scrub with a rough sponge, then wipe the oven down with a solution of one part water, one part vinegar. If your oven still isn't clean, it may be time to try harsher chemical oven cleaners.
You may also want to try a manual steam clean method to loosen caked-on filth prior to scrubbing. eHow suggests filling an ovenproof dish with one part water, one part vinegar, and placing the dish inside the oven cavity. Set the oven to 250°F and let it sit for 30 minutes. Afterwards, turn the oven off, remove the dish, and scrub with a sponge.
How to avoid the mess
Of course, the best way to avoid a filthy oven is to not make a mess in the first place. That's probably not a realistic goal, but it may help to place a cookie sheet or swath of foil under your food to catch any splatters and spills—just know it may affect how your oven cooks. Also be sure to clean up individual messes as quickly as possible. It'll be easier to avoid stubborn stains when they haven't been baking in your oven for a year!
Oven maintenance will never be barrels of fun, but it can keep any cleanliness issues from spiraling out of control, and it can cut down on the amount of elbow grease you'll need to use.