You’ve probably heard it before: An oven’s self-cleaning function can be super stinky. So stinky, in fact, I don’t recommend running it, well, ever. Just because there’s a better way. In the spirit of spring cleaning, I figure now is as good a time as any to talk about that better way.
I have a completely safe, natural, and effective method to get the job done — no harsh chemicals and no high-heat auto-cleaning with smoke detector funny business. It takes a little time and some elbow grease, but the payoff is well worth it. Plus, you most likely have everything you need to take on this project already in your cupboards.
When I first moved into my house, the oven was coated with a suspicious black, sticky grime. It was as if someone had roasted a dozen whole chickens without using a pan. My first instinct was to run the auto-cleaning setting (which would have been a terrible idea, because our oven is more than 20 years old). This basically turns up the heat to a point where anything left inside is burnt to a crisp, which you can then wipe out once it cools. It kind of works, but in some cases actually makes everything worse, and in our case, set off the smoke detectors — most likely a red flag.
What’s the alternative? You can buy extremely harsh chemicals that will eat through any remaining debris, but the fumes are strong enough to singe off your eyebrows. The accompanying dizziness probably isn’t worth it either.
Instead, you can clean your oven naturally with a little vinegar, baking soda, and good ol’ elbow grease! Here’s how I did it.
Empty the oven: Remove your oven racks, pizza stone, oven thermometer, and anything else you have inside the oven. Set aside.
Make a baking soda paste: In a small bowl, mix a 1/2 cup of baking soda with a few tablespoons of water. Adjust the ratio of both as needed until you have a spreadable paste. For me this took about 3 tablespoons of water to get the desired spreadable consistency.
Coat your oven: Spread the paste all over the interior surfaces of your oven, steering clear of the heating elements. I used gloves for this portion, as my oven was pretty grimy. It helped me really get in there and coat the dirtiest nooks and crannies without having to worry about all that grime under my nails. The baking soda will turn a brownish color as you rub it in; it also might be chunkier in some places than others, which is fine. Just try to coat the whole oven to the best of your abilities, paying extra attention to any particularly greasy areas.
Let it sit overnight: Allow the baking soda mixture to rest for at least 12 hours, or overnight.
Clean your oven racks: Meanwhile, clean your oven racks. See the full cleaning tutorial here.
Wipe out the oven: After 12 hours or overnight, take a damp dish cloth and wipe out as much of the dried baking soda paste as you can. Use a plastic or silicone spatula to help scrape off the paste as needed. I found that the damp cloth was enough for me, but a spatula might come in handy in those hard-to-reach places.
Spray a little vinegar: Put a little vinegar in a spray bottle and spritz everywhere you still see baking soda residue in your oven. The vinegar will react with the baking soda and gently foam.
Do a final wipe-down: Take your damp cloth and wipe out the remaining foamy vinegar-baking soda mixture. Repeat until all the baking soda residue is gone. Add more water or vinegar as needed while wiping to really get the oven clean and shiny.
Replace your oven racks: Replace the oven racks and anything else you keep in your oven, and you’re done!