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How Does a Self-Cleaning Oven Work to Remove Buildup?

Reviewed by Professional Cleaner Jennifer L. Betts
woman setting self-cleaning oven

Are you wondering what goes on behind the scenes when you turn on the self-cleaning feature on your oven? Considering that providing heat is the primary function of an oven, it shouldn't be too surprising to find out that self-cleaning ovens work their magic using heat.

How Does a Traditional Self-Cleaning Oven Work?

When you turn on the self-cleaning cycle on your oven, the appliance starts out by heating up, just like it would if you turned on the appliance to use it for cooking. However, when the oven is in self-cleaning mode the temperature rises far beyond the level used for even high heat cooking. When you activate the self-cleaning cycle on your oven, the following steps take place:

  1. The oven door locks, to prevent it from being opened during the high heat self-cleaning cycle.
  2. The oven heats to a very high temperature, which can be as high as 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. The high heat causes the grime stuck-on the enamel coating that lines the oven to decompose.
  4. The decomposed grime becomes an ashy substance that can easily be removed.
  5. Once the oven has cooled, you'll just need to swipe a damp cloth over the ashes to remove them from the oven.

This is a general overview of how most self-cleaning ovens work, but the process may vary a bit from one brand or model to another. Be sure to follow the self-cleaning oven instructions provided by the manufacturer for your specific oven.

How Does a Steam Cleaning Oven Work?

While the majority of self-cleaning ovens are the traditional style that rely on high heat, some ovens offer a steam cleaning feature. This type of self-cleaning cycle offers a gentler, lower temperature approach to cleaning, but it isn't as effective with the worst cases of baked on grime. If your oven has a steam clean option, the basic procedure will likely involve:

  1. Start with a cool oven.
  2. Pour around a cup of water into your oven.
  3. Turn on the steam clean cycle.
  4. The temperature will rise to around 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. The heat and moisture will soften the oven buildup on the enamel lining significantly.
  6. Wipe down the inside of the oven with a soft cloth to remove the buildup.
  7. If there is still caked on grime at this point, additional scrubbing via elbow grease and oven cleaner or a vinegar-based cleaner will be necessary.

Please note that the oven door will not automatically lock during steam cleaning. However, it should remain closed during the entire process. Opening the oven while steam cleaning is going on could lead to serious injury.

Preparing to Self-Clean Your Oven

The purpose of self-cleaning cycle is to make it easy to get rid of baked on grime that sticks to the oven so you don't have to spend hours scrubbing it clean with baking soda or another cleaning product. However, you do need to do a bit of cleaning before using your oven's self-cleaning feature. Just do a quick wipe down the inside of the appliance before getting started to remove surface build-up or drippings. This will help keep smoke and fumes to a minimum during the self-cleaning cycle.

Expect an Odor During Self-Cleaning

Even if you wipe down your oven prior to using the self-cleaning cycle, you should expect the appliance to emit a bit of smell during the procedure. The more grime is caked on to the oven walls, the worse the smell is likely to be. The odor can be bothersome to people and pets alike. Consider opening a window before you start this process, or set up a fan to draw air out of the room.

Make Easy Work of Keeping Your Oven Clean

Rather than going through the manual labor of scrubbing baked on grime out of your oven manually, consider using the self-cleaning cycle the next time your oven needs to be cleaned. This option relies on high levels of heat to do the hard work of loosening up the baked on residue that tends to accumulate inside the appliance with regular use, allowing you to direct your energy to other household chores.

How Does a Self-Cleaning Oven Work to Remove Buildup?