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Clean the Oven without Chemicals
The oven after cleaning
The Filthiest Oven in the Northern Hemisphere
Have you seen Trainspotting? You know, the scene with the dirtiest toilet in Scotland? Well my oven was in that league. I wish I had taken a picture to show you. Actually, no I don't, I was far too ashamed. My late mother would clean the oven every Sunday evening after having done us a traditional roast dinner. I certainly did not inherit the Domestic Goddess gene from her. I hate cleaning ovens, I despise rubber gloves and sweaty fingers inside them, I am scared of oven cleaners.
No, my oven was in a sorry state. It was probably last scrubbed clean in about 2007. Since then a parade of veggie roasts, Christmas feasts, pizzas and occasional sausage casseroles have left their mark on its textured sides which in theory were self cleaning. It all came to a head when I opened it up one last time to cook a pizza and the remnants of eight years of abuse assaulted my senses. There was no way I could allow this continue and no way I was going to spray evil gunk on it and wipe it off.
Cleaning without Chemicals - the Truth
This is a favourite bugbear of mine you know. So many articles on line tell you how to clean this and that, including the oven, without chemicals. They are not truthful. Why? Because water is a chemical, cotton dishcloths and scrubbing brushes are composed of chemicals and so are you. So before I even start I want to get rid of that silly idea that chemicals are bad, wicked and unnatural. We are composed of chemicals, as is the entire Earth. None of those chemicals are unnatural. They are all produced by completely natural processes from elements originally produced from the centres of dying stars that went supernova. What bloggers are trying to say, with eye-watering inaccuracy, is that you can avoid using dangerous chemicals and that is an altogether different ball game.
Self cleaning oven any one?
Cleaning the oven with water
So, forget for a minute that water is a chemical (arguably the most important chemical on the planet) could we just clean the oven with water? That was step one in my quest. To answer this question, we need either a little bit of chemistry or a lot of common sense. In order for water to clean anything, the grime has to be dissolved or lifted by water. Now as most oven grime is burned on grease, which repels water, this is not going to happen at normal temperatures.
Steam will lift virtually anything though, so could I steam my dirty, stinky oven? Of course, some modern ovens do have a steam cleaning function built in but mine is not modern. It came with the kitchen 25 years ago and is too small to replace without replacing the units. My steam cleaner is far too big and awkward and lacks small attachments so I couldn't use that. I tried putting water in a big meat tin in the bottom, and heating it in the oven at 350 F for 30 minutes. Result? One steamy kitchen and one still very dirty oven.
White Vinegar for Cleaning or Baking
Clean the oven with white vinegar
It is to be remembered that vinegar is indeed a chemical and can cause irritation when breathed in, splashed in the eyes or wiped off with bare hands. This particular chemical is organic, a weak acid, more properly called dilute acetic acid.
Cleaning the oven with white vinegar seemed to be a reasonable proposition. I remembered once, years ago, seeing one of these programmes where cleaning ladies do up the home that detergents forgot. I seemed to recall them putting a tray in the oven containing half white vinegar and half water then setting it on to steam nicely. Not being sure about my recollections, I checked this out on the net and a couple of bloggers said it was indeed possible.
Two things worth remembering - firstly, do take all the ovenware and shelves out. I did not. It made not a blind bit of difference to the shelves which were coated in black particles and inky grime anyway. It did make a difference to my Le Creuset ovenware. You will see in the header photo that my ovenware is now black on the outside.
The second thing to remember is that it must be white vinegar. To use cider vinegar or wine vinegar is downright wasteful. Pickle vinegar contains sugar, which may well caramelize on the oven surfaces if it splashes, and so does malt vinegar. White vinegar is stronger and doesn't smell so bad.
The net result of this was a kitchen that smelled of vinegar and smoke. The windows were misted up nicely again and it did a great job of cleaning my windows when I wiped it off. Inside the oven, the grime remained but had reverted to a rubbery consistency in places. So, one stinky kitchen, two big steamy windows, five traumatised cats who had been kept out of the kitchen, and one virtually unchanged oven later, I brought out the big guns.
Baking Soda in Bulk
Cleaning the Oven with Baking Soda and White Vinegar
Last and desperate measures here. Of course baking soda is actually a chemical too. More properly called sodium bicarbonate, it is quite harmless in normal use and can be used for all sorts of cleaning jobs, in addition to baking, or settling tummies after over-indulgence.
What you need to do is make a paste, about the consistency of thick paint. I used five tablespoons of sodium bicarbonate and mixed in a good squirt of washing up liquid, then added two tablespoons of water, two of white vinegar which fizzed delightfully, then more bicarb because it was very runny. Wiser folk than I have suggested you paint this on your oven with one of those baking brushes. Don't, it is much cheaper to use a one inch paintbrush from one of those bargain sets of ten for a dollar that you bought to paint the house last spring and then forgot about. There is no point ruining a perfectly good baking brush.
I painted this on the bottom and both sides of the oven. I didn't do the top or the back of the oven because that was a grill covering the fan. You shouldn't paint the elements in any case. Then our best friend is time. Leaving the oven overnight is the best plan. The white gunk turns brown and dries.
All you need to clean your evil oven
Even a lifehack needs a little rub down you know...
Now this is where it gets quite interesting. I have seen people moan like crazy in forums because the next stage of this claimed "lifehack" costs physical effort. Actually it doesn't need much. All you need is a pair of rubber gloves and then scrub it gently with a wire scourer. The stuff comes away really easily and you can rinse the scourer in warm soapy water. I don't recommend you do this without gloves because it is rather messy and the baking soda and vinegar could irritate your hands. I am not saying it will, and, even if it does, it won't be the hospital job you would get from oven cleaner, but who likes to have black goo all over their hands anyway? Not me, that's for certain, so I put up with the sweaty marigolds for five minutes. Yes, that is all it took. The stuff came off really easily. The water in the sink was like strong gravy in colour, smell and consistency - eight years of food decomp in one bucket. Yuk!
If you look at the oven picture you will see an area at the bottom that needs a second go and there is also some rusty brown stuff near the front. That came from the final couple of stages and is only there because I forgot to wipe up afterwards. I used a sponge in half water and half white vinegar just to wipe all the insides, then threw away more "gravy". Finally, I steamed the oven again with water only. What you see is the run down from that final steaming.
Impressed? No? Well, you would be if you had seen the rotten thing before and if I had also wiped the bottom. Will I do it again? Darned right I will, anything that easy deserves repeating in a week or so. THEN you will see...