Photo: moodboard/Getty Images
Cleaning your oven is likely not high on your list of favorite household chores. It's a small, dark place that practically no one ever sees, so why bother, right? If you're moving out of a rental apartment or selling a house—or if you set off the fire alarm every time you preheat—you may wish you had bothered giving your oven a little TLC, however.
Before cleaning your oven becomes an emergency, strap on those rubber gloves and follow the oven-cleaning tips below for your cleanest oven ever. You may not get many oohs and aahs from your friends, but you'll sure be glad you did it.
Step 1: Soak the Oven Racks
Remove the oven racks, and give them a good cleaning before diving into the oven. Their shiny, slick metal surface is surprisingly easy to clean. A large sink, abrasive cleaning pad and regular dish soap usually combine to do the trick, but if you have tougher grime to work off, try soaking them in a bathtub filled with dish soap and hot water before scrubbing them down.
Step 2: Break Out the Vacuum
Now that the wire racks are out, use a vacuum fitted with an attachment to collect all the bits that fell to the bottom of the oven and burned. Another common place where crumbs like to hide is the space where the door meets the oven. If you are wary about using your vacuum or don't have a flexible attachment, a wipe-down with a damp microfiber cloth will do in a pinch.
Try These: How to Make Perfectly Crispy Oven Fries
Step 3. Use Baking Soda Plus Water
A number of oven cleaners are available at the supermarket, but many of these products are laden with chemicals that you likely don't want near your food. A simple paste of baking soda and water is all you need to break up the grime. Start with two parts baking soda to one part water. The paste should be thick, and not watery, and it should stick to where you apply it.
Place some baking soda paste on all the surfaces that need to be cleaned, including the glass door. Wait at least 15 minutes before scrubbing lightly with an abrasive cleaning pad. Repeat the process until you're satisfied with the cleanliness.
For tougher stains, leave the paste in place longer, up to 24 hours if needed. Some people swear by adding vinegar to the mix. While it bubbles and churns and looks impressive, it doesn't make much of a difference, ultimately. Plus, it leaves a sharp odor behind that can alter the flavors of foods you cook.
When you're ready, wipe away the paste, dirt and grime with a damp absorbent rag. The wicking power of microfiber works really well too.
Step 4. Work on the Trouble Spots
If you have a seriously neglected oven, there may be a few grimy spots left behind. You can muscle through them by reapplying the baking soda paste for several rounds. You can also use a razor blade to carefully pick away at the burnt-on spots.
A Few Other Common Questions about Oven Cleaning
Can't I skip all those steps and press the handy-dandy "self-cleaning" button?
Ignore that button. The self-cleaning option on most modern appliances turns your oven into an incinerator, heating the inside up to 900° Fahrenheit or more. Even the most well-insulated ovens can't contain that type of heat, so your range (if it's part of your oven) and everything else nearby heats up too. You would be unwise to leave the house while it's cleaning (which can take hours), and it's often pretty stinky as well.
I cleaned my oven, and it looks amazing. I never want to go through that again. How do I keep it clean?
You should plan on cleaning your oven twice a year, or more frequently if you use it a lot. Focus on two times of the year: after the holidays and also toward the end of spring when oven usage tends to wind down for the warmer months.
The more frequently you clean it, the easier it will be to clean each time. If you're a baker or a casserole connoisseur and the bottom of your oven tends to get dripped on, you can make life easier by placing a rack in the bottom position and covering it with aluminum foil. The foil will catch the drips, but it's thin enough to let the heat pass through so it won't affect your baking.
Read More: Do I Really Need to Preheat My Oven?