The kitchen is one of the hardest working rooms in my home and the oven, arguably, is our most used appliance. Midwesterners are known for “hotdishes,” with tater-tot hotdish being a family favorite. In addition, we cook up everything from homemade bread, to cheesy lasagna, to gooey chocolate chip cookies. In other words, our oven gets quite a workout. With all the goodness, though, there is one big downside: our oven gets dirty. Really dirty. All the drippy cheese from our favorite pizza falls and burns to the oven floor. Hot oil from our Thanksgiving turkey splatters the oven door.
Let’s face it--ovens get pretty gross over time. But even with all that mess to deal with, many of us still wonder: How do you actually clean the oven?
Luckily, cleaning the oven is far easier than you might think.
The following tips and suggestions are meant as a guide. Every oven is a little different, so reference your oven’s manual for the proper care and cleaning.
Most ovens come equipped with a convenient self-cleaning function. With the touch of a button, the oven locks and heats to an extreme temperature, often ranging from 800-1000°F. This intense heat burns away all the greasy grime that has built up over time. If you’ve never done it before, prepare to be amazed. Prior to starting the cleaning cycle, remove anything from your oven drawer if you have one. Oven racks should also be removed as they can warp and/or discolor at high temperatures. Once your oven is empty, sweep up any crumbs and scrape away any larger patches of burnt-on food to reduce smoke and fumes while cleaning.
Those extreme temperatures can cause unpleasant odors, so remember to turn on the exhaust fan and, if weather permits, open the windows. Due to the extreme heat and fumes, keep children and pets out of the area. The entire process will take a few hours, so schedule cleaning during a time in which you won’t need your oven.
Now is also the best time to clean your oven racks. Place your oven racks in the bathtub and run the warm water until the racks are just covered. Sprinkle in 3 cups of baking soda and allow the racks to soak for 3-4 hours. When the time is up, simply grab a non-scratch scour pad and wipe down each rack. If you notice any tough spots, apply a little dish soap to the scour pad for extra cleaning power. Once clean, simply rinse and dry. Be prepared, your bathtub is going to get dirty. Please note: Baking soda should not be used on aluminum as it can discolor the finish.
The oven door will unlock when the temperature reduces to 200-500°F.   Make sure it cools to room temperature before continuing the cleaning process. Upon opening the oven door, you will notice your oven is covered in a fine ash.
Don’t worry, this is totally normal! All that ash is actually the incinerated food, grease, and grime that was stuck to the walls, floor, and ceiling. With the oven cooled, wipe down the inside of the oven with a utility rag or some recycled paper towels to remove this layer of ash. Warm water works fine, or make an easy homemade cleaner of 1 part white vinegar mixed with 1 part water.
Even after the cleaning cycle is complete, and the inside has been wiped down, you may still notice some build up left on the oven door. Make quick work of this build up with a mixture of baking soda and water. Start by sprinkling a generous amount of baking soda on the oven door, then spray with water and mix into a paste. Allow this mixture to sit on the door for 30-60 minutes as this allows the water to soften any burnt-on bits. Using a non-scratch scour pad, scrub down the door. Baking soda is a mild abrasive that will help remove those stuck-on bits. It may take a little elbow grease, but trust me, the extra effort will be worth it once you see that sparkly oven door.
If your oven doesn’t have a self-cleaning function (or you’d simply rather not use it), you can also use the above method to clean your entire oven. Start by removing the racks (and anything else you may have in your oven). Add a cup of baking soda to a bowl; then add just enough water to form a spreadable paste. Apply this paste to the inside of the oven, making sure to avoid any heating elements. Allow the mixture to sit for several hours to loosen the grime. When the time is up, use a non-scratch scour pad to wipe down the inside of the oven, then remove any baking soda residue with a clean, wet cloth. If you have a gentle all-purpose cleaner on hand, that also works great for giving your oven a scrub.
It is recommended that you clean your oven every 3-6 months. Consider it as part of your regular home maintenance.
I hope you have come to realize just how easy it is to keep your oven clean and ready to make your family’s favorite dishes.