My mother, bless her heart, has always been an excellent homemaker and had all sorts of nifty little tricks. One of her sayings was always that you weren’t finished baking until you had cleaned up, and the dishes weren’t done until you had wiped down the counters and the stove.
My college roommates weren’t as lucky as I was to have grown up with such habits. They were second nature to me but foreign practices to the poor roommates. My husband-to-be benefited from listening to me complain about my roommates and the dirty kitchen, because he knew what to avoid doing so he didn’t push my buttons when we finally shared a kitchen! He’s always been a dear about cleaning the stovetop when he does the dishes, even though it does extend the time in the kitchen before evening leisure.
How to Clean an Oven, Naturally
I’ve never used oven cleaner in my life. I’m a little afraid of it; it seems like it’s a pretty toxic substance. People who have self-cleaning ovens say it’s the greatest, and I guess that just uses high heat to knock out the gunk, but it still uses energy and isn’t something I would want to do regularly. Since we’re focusing on conserving energy in the kitchen this week, let’s explore an alternative that just takes a little human fuel instead of fossil fuel. (It’s worth a click over here to my comprehensive list of natural, homemade cleaners, too.)
Here’s what I do when I have a spill in the oven:
- Immediately, while it’s still warm, and preferably before it’s baked on (as soon as you smell the problem, even if your food isn’t done yet), sprinkle a generous layer of salt on the oven floor. I keep plain old cheap salt around just for this, even though I use real salt in cooking/baking nowadays.
- If you can, before the oven cools down all the way, get the oven mitts on (or just be really careful!) and reach in with a rag and scrub as hard as you can. No, this isn’t very scientific or tricky, but it works to get the bulk of the gunk out.
- Later, when you can take the oven racks out and really get in there, use more salt, baking soda, maybe vinegar and water spray to scrub out the remainder. You might not get every last spot out, but I guarantee you won’t have a burning smell in your kitchen the next time you turn the oven on. (If you have my 3 favorite natural cleaning bottles under your kitchen sink ready to go, this step is easy.)
- As an added bonus, the last step can be a real marriage builder if you put on your “skinny jeans” and call your husband to the kitchen saying, “Dear, I made a real mess in the stove and I have something I think you need to see.” Then reach waaayyyy back in the oven and clean it well until he figures out what you mean! 😉
- If you have serious baked-on nastiness, try making a paste of baking soda and water and spreading it on the problem areas. Wait at least 30 minutes before tackling with a plastic scraper, like the kind you’d use to wash a non-stick pan or baking stone. (I had help from Miss Thrifty for that tip.)
- Orange-based cleaners are also pretty helpful in getting stains off that baking soda and salt alone can’t handle. They are often more natural, but I can’t vouch for the ingredients of any particular brand.
Of course, the best way to keep a clean oven is to avoid spills in the first place, but when a baking potato without foil explodes (yes, this has really happened to me – twice!) you just have to deal with what you’re given!
To try to avoid the spills:
- Don’t cover the entire bottom of the oven with aluminum foil. It hinders the heat moving around the oven.
- Do put a cookie sheet on the shelf under or immediately under something (like a very-full pie) that you think might try to sabotage your beautiful oven by spilling over.
- Be wise about the size of casserole dishes you choose for juicy main dishes.
- Poke all your potatoes if you bake them without foil.
If you’re tempted to use a nasty, toxic oven cleaner, just remember – your spill will all bake off eventually, and it doesn’t hurt anything or even smell THAT bad to have something in the bottom of the oven.
Keeping a Clean Stovetop
So many people have dried on, cooked on food and drippings under their burners, and it’s definitely one of those problems that snowballs as you allow it to go unaddressed. When we keep up on the simple habit of wiping everything down after each meal, our stovetop stays fairly (very?) clean. A friend visiting my mother, in fact, commented on how great her cooking surface looked. My mom told her that it’s not really that difficult. This is all you need to do:
- Wipe everything down with your washcloth and soapy water when you do the dishes.
- Take the burners apart and get under them (gas or electric!) whenever you drip or let a pot overflow (for me, usually that’s every meal!).
- When something is cooked on or stained, use baking soda as an abrasive. I keep some in an old Parmesan cheese shaker under the sink for easy access. Just shake on and scrub with the wet cloth. It might take a little elbow grease, but baking soda won’t scratch your surfaces or harm your family with icky chemicals. Plus, it’s super cheap.
- If you have removable burners or drip trays, don’t be afraid to soak them in your dishwater. Adding a little baking soda can help release tough, baked on food. Mine go right in the dishwasher when I need a few extra items to make a full load.
What about you? What’s the worst thing that ever made a mess in your oven? Do you have other tips to get the gunk off?
Other posts you may enjoy:
- Natural Dishwasher Detergent Experiments
- Called to Be Good Stewards of the Earth
- Energy Use in the Kitchen