How to Clean an Oven

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 07, 2022
5 min read

In the era of self-cleaning ovens, the best way to clean your oven is still with old-fashioned elbow grease. For the cleanest results, be sure to thoroughly scrub and soak all areas and parts of your oven, including the:

  • Interior
  • Exterior
  • Oven racks
  • Glass door
  • Knobs and controls

Before you start, put on gloves and long sleeves to protect your skin. You can also lay down plastic or newspaper to keep the ground dry in the area around your oven.

You may be tempted to keep using your oven over and over again without ever stopping to give it a good scrub. After all, it gets hot enough to kill most harmful bacteria and viruses on a regular basis.

But there are still plenty of good reasons to take time out of your busy schedule to make your oven shiny and clean. If left uncleaned, your oven could:

  • Create enough smoke to set off a fire alarm — sometimes triggering a call to the fire department and creating a nuisance for this valuable community resource
  • Catch on fire from grease build-up
  • Start infusing your food with unwanted, burnt flavors
  • Begin to attract ants and other insects from left-over crumbs
  • Begin to perform worse because of the built-up grime

A good place to start is the inside of your oven. Make sure your oven is off and cool, then empty out any racks or trays that you have inside — you’ll clean these later.

The simplest way is to use a plastic scrubber or a sponge and hot, soapy water. You don’t want to scrub with anything too abrasive — like steel wool — because you might scratch your oven. 

Place a soaking-wet cloth over particularly stubborn areas to loosen baked-on grime. Then wait for a couple of minutes — longer for thicker areas — and scrub again.

If just soap and water aren’t enough, a baking soda soak is a time-consuming — but safe and effective — alternative. This is especially true since baking soda can help with grease that’s been baked into your oven.

Mix baking soda with just enough water to create a paste. Then coat the sides and base of your oven. Don’t drip the paste onto any part of the heating element. Let the paste sit for anywhere from fifteen minutes to overnight. It needs to sit for a longer time if your oven is particularly dirty.

When you’re done, scoop the paste out and scrub any remaining grimy spots while they’re still damp. You can rinse your oven with a wet cloth to get out any remaining baking soda.

You want to take extra care when cleaning your oven door, particularly in the region around the window.

Make sure you keep your cloth damp but not soaked with whatever cleaner you use. If too much liquid is present, it can seep into the cracks between the panels of glass on the window. This can leave streaks. You’ll need to completely disassemble the oven door if you want to clean these streaks.

Exactly how you do this depends on your oven model. Otherwise, you’ll have to settle for only getting the outer and inner surfaces of the windows cleaned.

The area tends to be greasy, so dish soap is always a good option for a cleaner.

Fully remove your oven racks to clean them properly. There are a couple of different ways that you can soak them to fully remove all of the baked-on grime.

One method is to fill your bathtub with hot water and add either one-half cup of dish soap or three-quarters to one cup of laundry detergent. Let the racks soak for two hours, and then clean and dry them. You can use towels to protect your bathtub from scratches. 

You can also cover them with a baking soda and water paste and let them soak. Then scrub the excess cleaner away.

Ammonia is another helpful cleaner for metallic oven accessories. You can dampen the racks with ammonia and use soap and water to scrub them clean.

The best cleaner for the outside of your oven depends on the surface. Use a sponge and soapy water for ovens with plain black and white finishes.

You’ll get the best results on stainless steel surfaces if you use cleaners that are made specifically for that material. Glass cleaner can also help remove fingerprints and smudges.

On most ovens, you can remove the knobs by gently popping them off. Use dish soap to clean them in the sink. When cleaning your oven’s control panel, don’t use too much liquid. You don’t want to damage any of the electronics.

Avoid using harsh chemicals that could harm your oven's surfaces. You also don’t want to use cleaners that could add bad tastes or smells to your food if they linger.

The safest cleaners for both you and your oven are:

  • Baking soda
  • Dish soap
  • Vinegar
  • Lemon juice

If you prefer to use ammonia as your cleaner, be sure that the area is well ventilated. And never combine ammonia with chlorine bleach, or you’ll create a dangerous gas.

Using your oven creates grease, grime, and crumbs. The more often you use it, the more frequently you'll need to clean it. On the plus side, the more often you clean it, the easier it is to keep clean.

Going long periods of time without cleaning your oven means that you’re exposing any spills and drips to high temperatures over and over again. This kind of treatment makes the original mess much harder to clean up.

The best thing to do is to clean any oven messes as soon as possible. This is when every spill will clean up the easiest. Just make sure that the mess has cooled and the surface is safe to touch.

Otherwise, you should give your entire oven a clean whenever you notice that grease and grime have built up.

Even though it’s often an option, many agencies — including the New York State Disabilities Office — don’t recommend ever using the self-cleaning feature on your oven.

The process can create a lot of smoke if your oven is too dirty. This can smell bad, irritate sensitive lungs, and require opened windows or other ventilation — no matter what the weather is like outside. It also reaches very high temperatures, which aren’t always safe in busy and crowded environments.

So the next time you’re wondering how to clean an over, try giving it an old-fashioned scrubbing before turning on the self-cleaning feature.