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Photo: Jen Causey

Plus, why and how often you should do it.

Jenny McCoy
February 21, 2018

Cleaning your oven is kind of like going to the dentist. Few of us look forward to the experience (and some of us outright loathe it), but oftentimes, it’s the thought of cleaning that’s worse than the cleaning itself.

With the right knowledge and basic tools, oven cleaning needn’t be an overwhelming chore—mentally, or in reality. Here to help is Debra Johnson, the in-house cleaning expert at Merry Maids, with advice on why scrubbing your oven is important, how often you should do it, and three fool-proof options for getting it done today.

As for the dentist...sorry, but you’re on your own there.

How Often Should I Clean My Oven?

There are three telltale signs it may be time to give your oven a scrubbing, says Johnson. The first: general appearance. Do you notice crust or residue on the bottom? Is the door coated or splattered in grease or grime? Number two: odor. When you fire up your oven, does a distinct smell arise? Catching a stanky whiff before you’ve cooked anything means there’s lingering grease, dirt or food inside. And lastly: smoke. A clean oven shouldn’t smolder, so this can also signify buildup.

How often you use your oven will impact how often you should clean it. For avid cooks and bakers who regularly rely on it, a general rule of thumb is to scrub it once every three months. If you rarely fire up your oven (say, just a couple times a month), cleaning it about once or twice a year should suffice. Of course pay attention to the signs listed above, and if something arises, don’t hold off on a cleaning just because it hasn’t been that long since your last one.

Why Is a Clean Oven Important?

Although it’s certainly not a glamorous task—and can easily be an “out of sight, out of mind” thing—regularly cleaning your oven improves the quality of the food you cook in it.

“The aromas of any stuck-on grease or dirt could influence the dish you’re cooking,” says Johnson.

Ew. Enough said.

RELATED: Roasting 101

Can I Use the Self-Clean Function?

Self-clean be a helpful tool if—and only if—your oven is moderately dirty, says Johnson.

When you press the self-clean button, your oven locks and climbs to a high temperature of upwards of 550 degrees. This heat helps to melt and remove your grease and grime, but if you have a large amount of buildup on the bottom, it can backfire and smoke up—and in some cases, start a fire.

“It comes back to frequency,” explains Johnson. If it’s been many months since you’ve given your oven a spruce-up and it’s splattered with caked-on food or other questionable chunks, for the sake of your own safety, you should roll up your sleeves and do the deed yourself.

If you do decide to go for the self-clean, you’ll want to remove the racks first and clean those yourself (see below for instructions). The self-clean cycle takes about two hours (exact time may vary based on your oven type) and you should stay at home while it does its job, just in case anything goes awry, recommends Johnson. When it’s over, you’ll see a white ash at the bottom that you’ll need to remove once the oven cools.

RELATED: This Oven Hack Will Change the Way You Cook

What Materials Do I Need to Clean My Oven?

  • A quality cleaner: You have several options here.
  1. Store-bought oven cleaner: This is the easiest, fastest process and will remove serious amounts of grease and grime. The caveat: oven cleaner can be quite caustic, so if you’re sensitive to harsh chemicals or prefer an all-natural approach, you may want to choose option 2 or 3, says Johnson.
  2. Baking soda, water, vinegar and a spray bottle: This DIY method is good if you have lots of buildup. You’ll be making a paste with baking soda and water that will need to sit for 10 - 12 hours (or overnight), so make sure you carve out enough time.
  3. Lemons (2) and water. Another DIY option that takes about 1 -2 hours; good if your oven is only mildly dirty and your racks don’t need a cleaning.
  • Rubber cleaning gloves: Please no disposable gloves. This is especially important if you go with option 1, as you’ll want a heavy-duty barrier between your skin and the cleaner, says Johnson.
  • Protective safety glasses: To guard your eyes from the cleaner. You won’t need these with options 2 or 3.
  • Old newspapers or paper towels: To pad the floor around your oven, in case anything drips out while you’re cleaning.
  • Damp cloth rag(s): To wipe off the grime once the cleaner has been applied. You may need more than one if your oven is especially grimy.
  • Scouring pumice or microfiber sponge (optional): Helpful if you’re tackling lots of buildup.
  • Large plastic garbage bag: You’ll need this to clean your oven racks with option 1.

How to Clean Your Oven With Store-Bought Cleaning Products

  1. Remove everything from your oven—racks, pizza stone, thermometer, etc.
  2. Lay out newspapers or paper towels on the floor beneath your oven.
  3. Put on your gloves and safety glasses. Spray the oven cleaner around the inside of your oven, covering the back, sides, bottom, top, door, corners and crevices. If you have an electric oven, don’t spray on the heating elements; instead, simply lift them up and spray underneath. If you have a gas oven, don’t spray where the gas comes through. Close the oven when you’re done.
  4. Let the spray sit for the time listed on the label (most cleaners will need about 20 - 30 minutes).
  5. In the meantime, take your oven racks outside, spray them with the cleaner and place them in a large plastic garbage bag. Either tie or twist the top shut. Leave racks outside in the bag for the time listed on the cleaning label.
  6. Once the appropriate amount of time has passed, take a damp cloth rag, open the oven and wipe down all surfaces. If there are extra sticky spots, use a wet scouring pumice, microfiber sponge or other abrasive tool to remove all grime. Be sure to really hit every crack and crevice so that you aren’t leaving any traces of dirt or cleaner behind.
  7. Remove racks from the bag and rinse them in your sink with hot, soapy water. Again, use a pumice, sponge or other abrasive tool as needed on any crusted-on chunks. Dry racks and place them back in the oven.
  8. You’re done!

How to Clean Your Oven With Baking Soda and Vinegar

  1. Remove everything from your oven—racks, pizza stone, thermometer, etc.
  2. Lay out newspapers or paper towels on the floor beneath your oven.
  3. Grab a small bowl and mix a 1/2 cup of baking soda with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water. Tweak the ratio until you have a spreadable paste.
  4. Put on your gloves and using your fingers, spread the paste around the inside of your oven, covering the back, sides, bottom, top, door, corners and crevices. If you have an electric oven, don’t put paste on the heating elements. If you have a gas oven, don’t put the paste where the gas comes through. Close the oven when you’re done.
  5. Allow paste to sit for 10 - 12 hours, or overnight.
  6. In the meantime, place racks in your kitchen sink (or bathtub, if you have extra large racks). Sprinkle baking soda on your racks and then pour vinegar on top. This combination will foam. When the foaming stops, plug your sink or tub and run hot water until the racks are fully covered.
  7. Allow racks to sit for 10 - 12 hours, or overnight.
  8. After 10 - 12 hours, put on your gloves again and taking a damp cloth rag, open the oven and wipe down all surfaces. If there are extra sticky spots, use a wet scouring pumice, microfiber sponge, or other abrasive tool to remove all grime.
  9. If there are chunks of paste that won’t come off easily, put some vinegar in a spray bottle and spray it on the chunks. The vinegar will react with the baking soda and foam. Take your damp cloth again and wipe off all foam.
  10. Remove racks from the water and scrub with a cloth rag until all grease and grime is gone. Use the pumice or microfiber sponge on any tough spots.
  11. Dry racks and place them back in the oven.
  12. You’re done!

How to Clean Your Oven With Lemons

  1. Fill a medium-sized, oven-proof mixing bowl with water. Cut two lemons in half and place them in the bowl.
  2. Heat your oven to 250 degrees.
  3. Once heated, place the mixing bowl inside on one of the racks. Leave for one hour.
  4. After an hour, turn off the oven, open the door and let it cool slightly.
  5. While the oven is still warm (but cool enough that you could safely touch the inside without getting burned), put on gloves, take a damp cloth and wipe down all surfaces, including the back, sides, bottom, top, door, corners and crevices. If needed, use a wet scouring pumice, microfiber sponge or other abrasive tool to target any extra sticky spots. Be sure to wipe thoroughly so that you remove all grease and grime.
  6. You’re done!