Out, Out Damn Spot – The Fine Art of Oven Cleaning

Those of us who aren’t proactive with oven cleaning (and you know who you are) eventually find that the task before you is overwhelming, it can feel gargantuan. I found myself in that situation with the vintage oven I purchased for my apartment.

The oven before cleaning

Having come from a home that had been rented to multiple tenants (none of whom seemed to have the slightest interest in domestic cleanliness) and, well, being almost 50 years old, it was quite a mess, as you can see – and this was after the initial attempt at cleaning it out with hot water and bleach cleaner, which picked up the majority of the crusty drips and spills. Now I have a great way to make this process much easier that I’ll share with you shortly. But first, it’s important to discuss the different types of ovens, and the special cleaning needs they have.

Oven Cleaning by Type

It’s important to know what type of oven you have. You can damage your oven by cleaning it the wrong way. Consult your oven manual to determine if it is self-cleaning, textured, or a non-self-cleaning oven. Follow the recommendations in that manual for cleaning.

Self-Cleaning Ovens:

The self-cleaning cycle of your self-cleaning oven is designed to incinerate any stains, drips or spills to a powder-like ash that can be easily wiped away once the oven has cooled down. The trade-off is a hot smelly kitchen during the process, but that’s a small price to pay for the ease and convenience. Just plan accordingly. These ovens require very little scrubbing. The exception to that rule may be the door and/or glass. Be sure to be careful with the oven gasket. It doesn’t respond well to rough treatment or harsh scrubbers. Just wipe it clean with a sponge. One caveat, remove the plastic knobs from your self cleaning oven during the cleaning process. The high heat can warp the plastic.

Continuous Cleaning Ovens:

These ovens have a rough textured ceramic surface in them that allows the dirt, grime and spills to continuously burn off during normal use. Just give these ovens a quick wipe down with a damp sponge and they should remain spic-and-span.

Regular, Garden Variety Ovens:

The key to keeping these ovens clean is being proactive. When you see a spill, wipe it up as soon as the oven cools. Spills, splatters and spots get progressively worse as they go through multiple heating cycles. They become progressively difficult to clean off. When it comes time to do a thorough cleaning, use an oven cleaner that eats through the grime. Be sure to wear gloves and use a plastic scrubber to scrub away any stubborn grime. Wipe the oven clean several times and once it’s dry, turn it on to 400º for 20 minutes or so to burn off any remaining fumes, then wipe it clean again once it’s cooled down.

For Electric Ovens Only:

If you have an electric, non-self-cleaning oven, you can forget the harsh chemical cleaners in favor of some good, old fashioned ammonia. This method of oven cleaning worked beautifully on the vintage oven I mentioned above.

For This Method You’ll Need:

  • Ammonia
  • Medium sized bowl
  • Pot of boiling water

Put the bowl of ammonia on the top rack of the oven. On the lower rack put the pot of water that has just come off a rolling boil. Close the oven door and let it stand over night.

The oven cleaning method

The Next Day The Real Work Begins

After about 7 or 8 hours, open the oven and remove the pot and bowl. In most cases you can just wipe away the spots and stains with a damp sponge. The ammonia fumes are very good at softening grime. In my case it wasn’t quite so easy. I had to resort to a nylon scrubber dipped in the ammonia, mixed with dish washing detergent and water to remove the baked on splatters of melted hard candy or exploded batch of crystal meth or whatever it was that had so tenaciously adhered itself to the walls and floor of the oven.

It took several hours of scrubbing, letting the ammonia mixture sit on the spots, then scrubbing again. In between times I worked on the racks in the sink. Here’s another tip for removing stubborn grime from pots, pans and, in my case, oven racks: put the baked on mess in a black plastic bag, pour undiluted ammonia over it, tie the bag and put it outside for several hours to soak off the crusty residue.

The oven, all shiny and clean

It was quite an afternoon. Oven cleaning can be hard work, even under the best of circumstances. My back and shoulders are sore – not to mention my hands. And my fingers are dry, even after being sheathed in fetching orange rubber gloves. However, it was worth it. I can now step back and admire a clean oven.

 

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