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Jul 9, 2010 12:54 PM

Best and Safest Way to Clean a super dirty Oven

Hello Chowhounds,

I've just moved into a place that is pretty fabulous. I'm subletting and the only major problem is that the oven is a nightmare.

I mean I've never seen something so utterly dirty. It is an electric oven and has no self cleaning feature. There are charred bits/chunks all over the bottom, I can't tell if anything is caked on the racks and the door has caked on blackish/brown gunk I can only believe is grease.

So my question is waht is the best way to thoroughly (though I'm not looking forward to it) clean this oven. What products are not super expensive (especially since I'm subletting) and aren't going to possibly catch fire or leave lingering fumes. Beyond that, what do I do after the initially scrubbing? I've heard about bar keepers friend but I thikn that is for dishes only.

Suggestions? Let me know how long said detergent needs to sit and how much elbow grease (with what type of pad) will I need.

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  1. As a Navy wife, I lived in a lot of other people's houses over the years. Some were spic 'n span when we moved in, others not so much. At one house, I bought a used oven-stove combination that required very serious cleaning.

    The first thing I did was to remove all the bits and pieces of cooked on food spills from the oven. I used a putty knife, carefully. All junk or gunk that could be pried or scraped off easily went into the trash. Next, was a complete washing with one of those scrubby pads using detergent (Dawn has worked well for me) and ammonia. Note: I learned the hard way to use the non-scented ammonia! Let some of the soap-ammonia remain on the oven walls and bottom for 30-60 minutes, soak the racks in a sink full of the same detergent-ammonia mix with very hot water.

    Scrub, wash and rinse the entire inside of the oven. You'll use a lot of muscle for this. Just before going to bed, turn the oven on to 250 or 300 degrees. After it pre-heats, turn it off. Place a pie pan or other shallow (ovenproof) dish in the oven filled with straight ammonia. Close the oven door (and kitchen door, if possible) and leave the area overnight.

    Next morning, wash, scour and scrub the oven walls again. Use a new scrubby pad, the other one will be ready for the trash can. I'm always amazed at how easily the rest of the filth comes off.

    NB: I've never used Barkeepers Friend. Its claim-to-fame is being gentle and not scratching. Cleaning a filthy oven doesn't need gentle, it needs power. If you want to use some kind of scrubbing agent, use one of the harsh ones like Comet.

    I really don't like oven cleaner and only use it as a last resort. Perhaps it would work on your dirty oven but I cannot speak to this. I should also mention that I do not prize a pristine oven; it need not gleam. I liken this to the wheels on my car - they do not get shined often because I know they're going through mud pretty soon and it seems silly to worry about how clean and shiny they are. Ditto for the oven interior. I certainly don't want it to smoke when I cook and that's the only reason for me to clean mine. I don't need a perefctly clean oven window either. Waste of my time and energy.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Sherri

      How did you get under the burning elements (I have an electric)? Did you spray on the burning elements as well? I guess the preheating burns the chemicals off without catching fire. I got some of the mean green suggested below, but we'll see how that works and go from there. I don't need perfectly clean, but want something that doesn't look gross or unkept. Thanks for the advice.

      1. re: burgeoningfoodie

        Most of the electric bottom heating elements that I have seen can be gently lifted an inch or two off the oven floor. Do NOT spray any cleaner - whatever you use - directly on this. Remove any pieces from the element by hand then, just pick it up and clean under the element. By using the oven, the heating elements will eventually self-clean.

        1. re: Sherri

          Right and it's not like I'm going to cook directly on an element anyways :-)

          1. re: burgeoningfoodie

            If you can remove them (they are often easily removable with a screw or 2) it wll make cleaning much easier. Probably not worth doing for a simple wipe down, but if your oven really is super-crappy dirty, it's worth taking a couple minutes to remove the element. Oh! And be sure to turn off the electicity to your oven before you do this (breaker box).

      2. re: Sherri

        Does this work for melted tupperware and baby bottles??? Haha I know I know," what the heck was Tupperware and bottles doing in the oven?" Well me being a typical guy, I didn't check the oven before preheating to 425. Can I say learning curve?!!? As for those things were in the oven...the girlfriend thought that would keep the sugar ants away from them. Haha email me if I don't get back to y'all.

        1. Go to a Dollar General or Family Dollar and get a product called Mean Green Cleaner/Degreaser. It comes in spray bottle or in 5 gallon refill size. Spray in it oven and let it sit. You may have to wipe and spray several times depending on the severity of the oven. It isn't caustic and doesn't have a real chemically smell. If you can't find the Mean Green, get a product called Awesome Cleaner. I like it just as well. This stuff works as my husband uses it to remove oil and grease from farm equipment and I use them to clean my oven as well.

          3 Replies
          1. re: vafarmwife

            So I tried out Mean Green yesterday. After three rounds of spray, sit for 15, and remove. It only got about 1/3 of the gunk off and did better in some places than others. I shoudl say I used it on the oven door. May go with the ammonia or Oven Off approach next. I know the latter has the crazy fumes.

            1. re: burgeoningfoodie

              I just used "fume free" east off last weekend. It definitely wasn't fume free, but it wasn't overwhelming, and better than a cup of ammonia in a warm oven overnight (which is going to make your kitchen/entire home smell like ammonia). The spray itself had a pleasant lemon scent, and there was a slight chemical smell the first time I heated the oven after cleaning.

              1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                Wow that must be a really dirty oven if the Mean Green didn't cut it. I would call out the big guns then. My next suggestion would be Blue Wolf Cleaner and Degreaser. It was developed to clean coal mining machinery and parts. If this doesn't cut the grease in the oven, I would buy a new oven.


            2. 1. Hire maid. 2. Go to movies.

              4 Replies
                1. re: coney with everything

                  *LOL* Yes that would be the easiest route, but probably not the cheapest.

                  1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                    I wonder if steam wouldn't help loosen things...fill a roasting pan or such with water and put it in the oven at the highest temp. Let it go for an hour, don't let the pan burn dry, then try the other cleaners.

                    Before I had a self cleaning oven (ah technology, so wonderful) I used the fume-free Easy Off and it did work pretty well but I didn't let the oven get too bad either.

                    1. re: coney with everything

                      Steam works wonders on my oven (although it doesn't get as dirty as the OP's sounds). Stick in a big roasting pan of water, turn on to a low-medium heat and leave for an hour. A lot of stuff will just wipe off. You can add the juice of a lemon to help with the cleaning power.

              1. I may be tarred and feathered for this, but I have a dirty oven and I don't care. Spattered walls and bubbled-over fruit burned onto the bottom of the oven do not affect its function or the flavor of subsequent foods prepared in it AT ALL. The most that happens is some smoking, mostly while the run-over food is cooking. I'll wipe out the bottom afterwards but that is it. No scrubbing or chemicals. Combination lazy and not wanting to poison the groundwater. The pans and utensils I cook with need to be clean, but I don't stress about surfaces that food never touches.

                5 Replies
                1. re: greygarious

                  YEah but some grime is not the same as.. the oven I've inherited looks like a charcoal grill with ashes.

                  1. re: greygarious

                    Spattered walls and bubbled-over fruit burned onto the bottom of the oven do not affect its function ... AT ALL.
                    Actually, it does affect the function. The three mechanisms which transfer heat to your food are conduction (direct contact with heat source), convection (heated air or liquid moving from heat source to your food) and radiant heating (excited photons emitted by heat source or other hot objects then absorbed by your food). The carbonized crust will reduce the radiant efficiency of the walls/floor/ceiling of your oven. All things being equal it will take longer to cook something in a dirty oven than a clean one. Significantly longer???, well that's another question.

                    1. re: kmcarr

                      @kmcarr ... I agree (love your facts!).

                    2. re: greygarious

                      Where there is smoke, there's fire. I've had my lazy spills ignite, and you don't want that, trust me.

                      1. re: greygarious

                        I like your style. I feel like that too, but feel compelled to clean the blasted thing before my daughter comes round.