First Time Cleaning an Oven

In the 6 years we’ve lived in our house, we have never once cleaned the oven. In fact, I have never in my entire life cleaned an oven. And I’m referring to planned oven cleaning, not the emergency cleaning that has to happen when an apple pie bubbles over or the cheese slides off a homemade pizza, sticking to the bottom of your oven in a burnt crisp immediately upon contact.

Before Cleaning

Unlikely Inspiration
My not-so-guilty secret is I like to watch QVC to unwind. The personalities are so outgoing and energetic, I really enjoy watching them practice their craft. The other night, QVC was doing a segment on Bio Cleaner and I was curious if it actually worked as well as it appeared on TV. This led to me watching a YouTube video of a woman trying to clean her stovetop with this product, and somehow (memory lapse) led to an internet search of how to clean your oven.

How I Did It ... Using Baking Soda
I found these step-by-step instructions on The Kitchn and decided to give it a shot, right then and there at 10pm at night. After taking everything out of my oven, mixing baking soda with water to make a paste, and using an OXO pastry brush to apply it to all the grungy parts of my oven interior (aka all of it), I left it to sit for 12 hours while I went to bed.

Okay, not really. What I actually did is I brought the oven racks upstairs to the bathtub and followed The Kitchn’s instructions to get those clean. It involves lining your tub with an old towel, dumping some laundry detergent in (they say 1/2 cup), and filling it with hot water before letting it soak for 4 hours. I let it sit overnight.

Before Scrubbing

The next day, I spent quite a bit of time scrubbing the oven racks with a pot-safe Scotch-Brite sponge. For the really burnt on parts, I used my Bambu pot scraper, which, side note, was not a great idea in retrospect (the scraper edge is now covered in grooves from rubbing it repeatedly on a section of the rack). The gunk was pretty caked on, so I wound up refilling the tub with hot water, adding more detergent, and letting it soak a second time before repeating the scrubbing and scraping. Eventually, it was clean enough for my liking and I figure it’ll improve with future cleanings.

After Scrubbing

Between the first and second soakings of the oven racks, I started working on the oven interior itself. You could actually see the baking soda had turned a rusty brown color from soaking up the burnt-on bits. At first, I used a regular washcloth to wipe the dried paste off and scrub a bit. Then I switched over to the Scotch-Brite for a bit more oomph, but I found it didn't work any better than the washcloth. The cleaning instructions also suggest spraying stubborn bits with vinegar, and although I did get some foaming action, I didn’t notice it helping with the actual cleaning.

12 Hours After Applying Baking Soda

The scrubbing and wiping involved a lot of rinsing and re-rinsing of the washcloth, and it looked like I was scooping out handfuls of dirty snow from the oven. At some point, I had enough of the scrubbing and finished up by wiping the surfaces down with a washcloth. My rationalization is it's more effective to let the baking soda action on the gunk loosen it up for removal, rather than using elbow grease.

A lot of burnt-on crustiness did come off, but not all of it. Remember ... this was 6+ years of accumulated gunk! And who knows if the people who owned the house before me ever cleaned the oven either. I wound up doing two applications of the baking soda paste and then it was good enough that I was happy to let it be. I put us on a 3 month cleaning schedule and I figure it'll get better each time, until it's at the point that I can switch us to a 6 month or annual cleaning schedule.

Ta Da! Clean Oven

Before I move on to how the cleaning has improved my oven performance, a word on the oven door and glass. Ours had droplets of very sticky, stubborn goo that wouldn't budge with the baking soda paste or dish detergent. I wound up using a razor blade that we use to clean our electric stovetop to scrape off the goo. That worked pretty well, although there are some residual smudges I have yet to figure out how to remove.

Before Cleaning

After Cleaning

Improved Oven Performance
I read online that having a clean oven helps with efficiency, and I think the years of caked-on grime explained why my oven never got to the correct temperature. All this time, I thought I needed to re-calibrate it. Sure enough, the first time I used my oven after cleaning it, I noticed the difference. I used to have to add at least 5 minutes to the baking time and getting things to brown or crisp was a challenge.

I'm happy to report that my blueberry-banana muffins came out nicely browned on top at the lowest end of the recipe baking time. This has been such an unexpected and nice surprise. I kind of looked at cleaning the oven from an aesthetic and yuckiness factor, but having an oven that actually bakes now is a major added plus!

Supposedly, the gunk also creates off odors in the food you put in the oven. I can attest that there were unpleasant smells during cleaning and they made my hands stink even though I wore gloves. Or maybe the inside of my gloves just smell.

In Conclusion
Cleaning your oven is something I’ve always heard about, but never quite understood why I needed to do. After seeing all the gunk that came off the interior and racks, I am sold and will repeat every 3 months, at least until the residual gunk is removed. Not to mention the best part of all, which is an oven that actually works. Anyway, if you haven’t done it, give it a try. It’s not a quick project, but it feels great, and is a good excuse to binge-listen to that podcast you’ve been meaning to finish.


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