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How to Steam Clean an Oven

Using steam power is a popular, chemical-free method for cleaning a host of household surfaces, but how well does it work on gunky oven interiors? Read on to find out.

A gas oven in a modern kitchen. Anthony Tieuli

Ugh! Few household chores elicit groans like cleaning the oven. Regular use of the appliance is bound to deposit grease on all inside surfaces, not to mention the occasional casserole or pie that bubbles over, causing clumps of baked-on crud. Between the hazardous chemicals in commercial oven cleaners (caustic soda, dichloromethane, and ethylene glycol possibly among them) and the major mess usually involved, it’s no surprise that this task is often deferred—indefinitely.

Those wishing for a fast, easy, non-toxic way to get it done may be considering steam cleaning, which has become a go-to technique for cleaning (and disinfecting) lots of household surfaces. So, can you effectively steam clean your oven? The answer is possibly—depending on the type of oven you have, the steam-cleaning method you use, and the amount of gunky buildup you’re contending with. Read on for three approaches to steam cleaning the oven.

If Your Oven Has a Steam-Clean Setting:

Modern ovens may have an automated steam-clean setting in addition to a self-cleaning function. Steam cleaning is generally intended for routine maintenance, with the self-cleaning mode (called pyrolytic cleaning, which uses very high heat to turn residue into ash) for tougher stuff.

Steam cleaning is much quicker and, because it uses lower heat, a safer alternative.

  1. Each model will have its own steam-clean procedure, but basically, you will:
  2. Remove cookware, racks, and accessories, then wipe up any loose debris and grease.
  3. Pour about a cup of tap water into a reservoir or directly onto the bottom of the oven.
  4. Close the door, select the steam-clean setting and press “start.” The cycle takes between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on the model; the time may elapse on the oven’s digital display and signal when done.
  5. When the cycle is finished and the oven has cooled, open the door and wipe up any remaining moisture with a dry cloth or sponge.

If You Have a Handheld Steam Cleaner:

Handheld steam cleaners are useful for cleaning and disinfecting everything from curtains and upholstery to hard surfaces such as countertops. If your oven has no steam-clean function but you have a steam cleaner, you can use the device on your oven’s glass, metal, and enamel, employing the brush or scraper attachment on grease and baked-on crud.

Just remember that steam is hot! Be careful when using the device inside the oven, especially if reaching in toward the back wall.

To clean an oven with a handheld steam cleaner:

  1. Remove racks and cookware. Fill the steam cleaner with distilled water (tap water can leave mineral deposits in the tank) and put on the brush or scraper attachment.
  2. Select the appropriate heat and pressure setting for your unit and turn it on. Wave the cleaner with the attachment back and forth across the interior surfaces. No need to press hard; let the vapor do the work.
  3. Use a clean, dry sponge or towel to wipe off grime, grease, and condensation as you go.

If You Don’t Have a Steam-Clean Setting or a Steam Cleaner:

No fancy steam-clean function or handy steam-cleaning device? You may still be able to harness steam power to clean your oven, especially if the grimy buildup isn’t too bad.

Even if you must ultimately resort to using a conventional product on stubborn stuff, steam cleaning first may enable you to speed through the nastier process. All it takes is a wide oven-safe pot or baking dish (a casserole dish is ideal), water, and distilled white vinegar.

To steam clean your oven:

  1. Remove the racks, clean them separately, and replace one in the center of the oven.
  2. Prepare a cleaning solution of about a cup of vinegar and enough water to fill a casserole dish. Set the vessel on the oven rack and close the door.
  3. Turn the oven on to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and leave it on for between 20 minutes to an hour, depending on how greasy and grimy the oven is.
  4. Remove the casserole dish and allow the oven to cool. Then use a damp sponge or rag to wipe surfaces clean. Try a scrubber pad and a sprinkle of baking soda on stubborn spots if necessary.

Bottom line

Steam alone simply may not have the oomph to thoroughly clean tough, stuck-on stuff from the interior of your oven, but it can be a smart solution for removing light soils. Consider steam-cleaning with one of the methods described above if a lasagna or fruit cobbler should overflow onto the oven floor—or you prepare a dish known to give off grease, like roast chicken or that Thanksgiving turkey.