One holiday, when we were hosting Thanksgiving for the family, I discovered (much too late) that my oven desperately needed cleaning. Just as guests were arriving and I was heating up the side dishes, the oven started smoking. Enough to set off the smoke alarms. I didn’t want to shut off the oven because our sides weren’t yet warmed up. So instead (after temporarily removing the batteries from the smoke detectors), I opened all the doors and windows, despite the frigid Midwest temperatures. My family members laughed with me about it, but I still vowed to keep my oven clean from then on!
And here’s what I found out: If you take good care of your stovetop and oven on a daily basis, those big cleanups aren’t so bad. And getting a range to look its best is a pretty rewarding task!
BTW, most of us use the terms range and stove pretty interchangeably for that appliance we use for cooking. Technically, a range is an oven with a stovetop on it. It’s an all-in-one setup, the most popular arrangement. A cooktop is a cooking surface (the stovetop) with no oven attached. You might have one in your kitchen island, for example, and your oven elsewhere. All of these tips will apply no matter what you’re cooking on — or what you call it!
Tips for taking good care of your stove
Before we get out the elbow grease and learn how to clean a stove, here are some dos and don’ts to keep your stove in good shape:
- Don’t let food boil over on your stovetop. To prevent boil-overs, use pots that are big enough for the contents. I’ve used a too-small pan — thinking it would be easier to wash — only to have to wash the stove in addition to the pan! (Aside: My dear mother-in-law Helen once told me that she had never let anything spill on her range. I chuckled at her little joke — except she wasn’t kidding! I just couldn’t imagine it, but she was so careful to avoid spills and splatters that she never had anything on her stovetop after cooking. My style is more like disaster management.)
- Wipe up spills promptly. If you do get food on the stove while cooking, clean it up as soon as the surface cools down enough. It’s much easier to wash food off when it’s just been spilled (especially if the stove is still slightly warm). You’ve probably discovered that stainless steel isn’t all that stainless. Liquids left on your stainless stovetop can definitely leave a permanent mark. And sugar-based foods can pit and etch a glass or ceramic stovetop.
- Choose the right cookware. If you have a glass or ceramic stovetop, don’t use cast iron or other cookware that has a rough bottom. It can scratch the surface when you move it around. (A very heavy pan can also crack the glass or ceramic, if you accidentally drop it.) Also use flat rather than rounded-bottom pans on a flat glass or ceramic stovetop. Otherwise, the pans might rock as they heat, and not heat properly.
- Keep the bottoms of your pans clean. Otherwise they’ll bake food residue onto the stovetop. (This is especially important for glass and ceramic stovetops.)
- Skip the foil. Do not line electric coil bowls with aluminum foil in an effort to keep them clean. The foil will reflect the heat back onto the coils, and this can damage them.
- Have maintenance done—or DIY— when necessary. Check your owner’s manual, but you can probably replace any light bulbs that have blown out in your oven. Most take a 40-watt appliance bulb. If you have a bad element, you may be able replace it yourself, too — it’s usually simply a matter of unscrewing it, removing the element, and replacing with a new one. If your burner channels need cleaning out, use a pipe cleaner, not anything wooden like a toothpick, because it can break off into the channel. If you’re at all unsure, hire an expert! Making a mistake with an electric or gas appliance can be dangerous.
How often should I clean the stove?
How often you should clean your stove depends on how much you cook, of course, and how messy you are when you cook. (Are you like me, or are you like my mother-in-law?)
Here are some general guidelines that I use that you might want to adapt.
- Daily. Wipe up spills after cooking — on the stovetop and in the oven. Every time.
- Weekly. Give the stovetop and exterior of the stove — including the control panel, knobs, oven door, etc. — a good washing once a week. Not a dig-in, take-everything-apart washing, but enough to get all the surfaces clean and keep grease from accumulating.
- Every few months or so. Every now and then (twice a year, at the very minimum), take everything apart — remove the grates, take the knobs and burners off, etc., and wash it all. Thoroughly clean the oven.
What should I use to clean the range?
Most commercial oven cleaners contain ingredients that are harsh and corrosive. You’re advised to wear long gloves and avoid inhaling the fumes for good reason!
Did you know that in the Environmental Working Group’s ratings of oven cleaners, one rated a D and the rest scored an F, because of chemical hazards and sustainability issues?
Whether you’re just wiping up the stovetop after cooking or digging in for a deep clean of the oven, the best ingredients are a natural liquid soap, water, and baking soda. Some people like to use vinegar, too, for its cleaning and disinfectant properties. (Vinegar doesn’t disinfect against all bacteria and viruses, but it does eliminate some of them.)
For everyday wiping up, liquid soap and hot water on a clean cloth are all you need. Rinse with a clean, wet cloth and dry. (I sometimes include vinegar in my rinse water.)
If you need some abrasion (for bigger cleanups and oven cleaning), skip the abrasive commercial cleaners, which can scratch your stovetop (especially if it’s ceramic or glass) and damage electric or gas elements. Instead, make a paste of baking soda and water. Add a drop or two of liquid soap. Rub this on stubborn or very dirty spots. Leave on for half an hour or so, then wipe off with a clean cloth. Rinse the cloth repeatedly and continue rinsing until all of the soap is removed. Dry well.
Note: These are my favorite range-cleaning ingredients. Other natural recipes enlist salt, borax, washing soda, and/or essential oils. You might want to experiment with these ingredients, too. (Keep in mind that an essential oil scent will linger in your oven, so you may want to include a drop or two only in cleansers for the exterior of the stove.)
How to clean a stove thoroughly
Learning how to clean a stove thoroughly is pretty simple. Give yourself about an hour (put on a good podcast or playlist), and follow these steps:
Remove any grates from the stovetop and oven and soak them in hot soapy water. (Do this first thing, so they can soak while you tend to the rest of the range.) If they don’t fit in your sink, turn them once in a while so all of the parts soak for a bit. Or consider soaking them in the bathtub. Let soak for at least 15 minutes (longer is better), while you tackle the rest of the range.
When you come back to them, scrub them well. Use a brush and your baking soda/water paste if necessary. Rinse well and set aside to dry.
Take off any removable parts, such as burner caps and drip pans, and soak these in a bowl of soapy water. (I’m assuming your sink is full of grates!)
Wash the stovetop surface well. Don’t soak it — you don’t want standing water on it. If it’s very grubby, apply your cleaner (see above) and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then wipe well with a clean, wet cloth. Dry well with a dry towel.
If you have electric coil bowls, be sure to wash these out well, too. Don’t wash the electric coils, though. Simply wipe them clean, as needed.
Rinse and dry soaking parts (caps and pans, for example) and put everything back together, including any stovetop grates.
Note: Some stoves enable you to lift the cooktop so you can clean under it. Check your owner’s manual for directions so that you do this without damaging the top. If this is a step you can take, clean underneath after removing the grates, caps, pans, etc.
Knobs and Dials
Take these off by pulling straight out on them. Wash in hot soapy water (soak if needed), rinse and dry.
Clean around and under the area where the knobs sit. Don’t get water into the openings, though, or you can damage the ignition or other electrical systems. Use a damp cloth to wipe the exterior rather than spraying on a cleanser, for example.
Slide the knobs back on.
Wash, rinse, and dry the entire exterior surface of the range. Again, use a mild liquid soap and warm water.
I have tried many promising recipes for getting the oven window sparkling clean — but honestly, I’ve never been able to get it to look like new. (If you have a solution, please share!) Here’s what I do to get it as clean as possible:
- Rub with a paste of baking soda and hot water. Leave on for about half an hour.
- Spray with vinegar. Let sit another 10 minutes.
- Rinse with a clean, wet cloth. (It takes lots of rinsing before the glass is soap-free.)
- Dry thoroughly with a clean towel.
You can also clean between the interior and exterior glass on the door by taking it apart. This involves removing the oven door. Family Handyman thinks it’s simple, but I’m not so sure. Please let us know if you give it a try!
Self-cleaning ovens generally get the job done by heating up the oven to over 800 degrees F. Check your manual for specifics, and follow the directions to the letter. There is usually a lock on the door for when the oven gets this hot, so nobody can open it. The process usually takes two or three hours. Some grates need to be removed and cleaned separately (your manual will specify; stainless racks need to be removed, for example).
When you open the oven (the door will unlatch when it’s cooled down), you’ll see ash inside (this is the food that was literally burned into ash). Wipe the inside of the oven with a clean, wet cloth until it’s clean.
Steam-cleaning options use steam to loosen the spills, making them easier to clean up. Check your manual and follow the directions, which usually involve pouring about a cup of water into a spot in the bottom of the oven (when it’s cool). Close the door and press the steam-clean option. The door probably won’t lock for steaming, because the oven doesn’t get as hot as it does for self-cleaning.
Once the cycle is over — it takes about half an hour — wipe out the moisture and softened grime with a clean, damp cloth. Rinse and repeat until the oven is clean. If you like, for bonus points, you can use liquid soap and hot water to clean after running the steam clean cycle.
Manual cleaning is needed when your oven doesn’t have self-cleaning or steam-cleaning cycles, or if you don’t want to use them. (I chose to manually clean rather than use the self-cleaning option in my old oven, because I found that the high heat of the self-cleaning oven baked on some items, leaving marks and stains that I couldn’t get out — including on the glass in the door.)
To clean your oven using elbow grease, simply:
- Remove and soak the grates as described above.
- Wipe out any large debris (you know, like those baked-on sweet potato drip bubbles). Use a spatula, if necessary, to gently scrape out bits, being careful not to scrape the surface of the oven.
- Apply your soapy hot water to the entire surface of the oven, including the inside of the oven door. Add baking soda for abrasion (see the section on what to use for cleaning, above). Let it soak for about 15 to 30 minutes. If the oven is very dirty, with stubborn grime, you can spray the soapy surface with vinegar after soaking.
- Rinse with a clean, wet cloth. Rinse out your cloth often, and wipe until the entire oven is soap- and dirt-free.
- Dry with a clean, dry towel.
- Finish washing the grates, rinse, dry, and place back in the oven.
Why clean your range?
Now you know how to clean a stove! If you’re still not convinced to actually do the work, here’s a little pep talk:
- Your oven and stovetop may not perform as well if it’s dirty.
- A dirty range can be a hazard — you might even start a fire if crumbs or grease build up.
- Using a dirty range to cook your food is unsanitary and unhealthy.
- Your range will last longer if you take good care of it (and that’s what this community is all about, right?).
- And, finally, your range performs an important task for you virtually every day — show some appreciation! In turn, it won’t set off your smoke alarms at Thanksgiving!
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