How (and why) to clean your oven

Last Thursday I hit the wall. Stress and lack of time alone and overwhelm finally stopped me in my tracks. For me, what that looks like is I start binge-watching something on Netflix. I still have the impulses to create something, or clean something, or improve something but I no longer have any energy to do anything about it. So I just park in front of a screen and stay there for as long as I reasonably can. Normal people probably call this resting.

Today, however, and this may be some sign of improvement, I decided to clean the oven. Why? I have no idea, perhaps because I decided at some moment a few weeks ago that Tuesdays are kitchen cleaning day, which means I clean one or two things in that room that I don’t normally clean. I probably decided that because I couldn’t remember the last time mostly anything had been cleaned in the house; and it was getting intolerably dusty and gross. I worked myself to a complete standstill and still did not have a clean house. This seemed like a more measured approach. We’ll see how it goes.

This past spring we just replaced our super-hurting kitchen floor that was being held down with lots of tape in multiple places so that floor can probably wait a bit longer for it’s first actual washing. Floor cleaning is typically just sweeping and wiping up messes as needed. Well, more than just typically. That is actually all they ever get. When I was a kid we moved every year for quite a while and I think my Mom did clean floors once in a while, but I can’t really see why she bothered, must have been social conditioning. When I reached adulthood I continued this pattern of migration for quite a while, so oven-cleaning was never really noticed; I mean beyond the excitement of having my first place on my own. When my husband and I got married and had our kids we started living in one place long enough and actually cooking in our oven enough for it to get dirty.

I have cleaned this oven before, even though it is only about fours years old. In all honesty, it seems like the minute I clean it someone cooks something in there (like several pounds of bacon on cookie sheets with no foil cover) that gets all over and smokes up the house, so it’s a bit of working theory for me now that cleaning it is probably inviting the testing of our smoke alarms for weeks afterwards.

Also, I didn’t have any “oven cleaner”. But, if I wrote it on the list, my husband would probably call me on it and say: “Do we really need these poisonous chemicals?” And, even if we do buy it later this week, I might not feel like cleaning the oven again for years, and it will sit in the cleaning cupboard, making me feel slightly guilty every time I notice it.

A young woman on Youtube, who had an oven that didn’t even look dirty to me (probably her first place of her own), recommended a baking soda paste that you leave on for 2 hours and then come back and spray it with vinegar. And then you have to scrub it really hard. That sounded like much more work than I was interested in doing.

I have used baking soda and vinegar to clean my bathtub for years, and I can tell you from experience that it not very helpful. It’s not nothing, but it’s not an enormous help. I bought some green kitchen cleaner a while ago and used that with baking soda, and it worked way better, with far less scrubbing. Vinegar and baking soda are great fun for making fizzy reaction for the kids to play with, but I somehow doubt that the chemical reaction does much of anything to the surface on which it is occurring. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what my experience and basic knowledge of chemistry tells me. I have even tried using a baking soda and water paste and a vinegar and water rinse on my hair and honestly, it barely even does anything for my hair. I still have to physically remove the excess oils and dirt with a bristle brush afterwards. If it can’t clean my hair, it’s not likely to clean my oven.

So, I decided to not follow the directions I found on the internet and instead to tweak them a bit to hopefully make it more effective. In addition to the baking soda and the water I added a teaspoon of TSP (trisodium phosphate) and a squirt or two of liquid dish soap.

After heavily misting the inside of the oven with vinegar I let it sit for 15 minutes with the door closed. Then I spread the paste all over it with a scrubber and let that sit for another 15 minutes. After scrubbing it all over with a scrub brush and a plastic scrubber pad and rinsing it with water and a cloth, I put the convection oven on to dry it all out and get rid of the cleaner smell for the next time we cook.

After all that time and effort, the oven was cleaner than before but still not as clean as the “dirty” oven that woman on Youtube had. I still sincerely doubt her way would have worked better but maybe it would, if I had followed her directions. But, she was still scrubbing hard, and to get it any cleaner I would have had to wear rubber gloves and use steel wool, and in that case it’s the steel wool and the elbow grease cleaning it, not the baking soda and vinegar, no matter how long it soaks.

At the end of the process my conclusion is that cleaning the oven is definitely not worth it. This is probably why my husband never does it, and never asks me to do it. He has a much easier time than I do with the calculus of what is worth doing and what is not worth doing.

Anyway, what is the actual point of cleaning the oven? If there is something spilled in there that is going to burn all to hell and fill my house with smoke, then yes, that would be worth cleaning up. But otherwise, does it really matter? Is it going to affect the food we are cooking in there? Is there some sort of prize the inside of my oven needs to be entered for, in which the shininess of the racks with be judged on their spotlessness? The only part of the inside of the oven that I could rationalize cleaning would be the window so we can monitor when something is cooking.

So, from now on, I will only clean the bits of the oven that are absolutely necessary, and for that I will use steel wool and dish soap and water. And I will only do it if my husband asks me to or if the smoke alarm keeps going off when we cook, or I can no longer see through the glass; because I really don’t have time to waste on things that aren’t worth doing. Which is the same place I have been at with the floor for ages.


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