While we're off living life, slow cookers keep dinner going and leave little cleaning behind. But even kitchen superheroes need a night off, and after a season of busy and chilly nights or a couple of messy Pinterest fails, your slow cooker probably needs a good cleaning — inside and out. Here's how to get it good and clean, so you can put it back to work (or tuck it away for next winter).
Eight hours is really closer to nine (or 10). The kids serve themselves. A stew boils over. Stuff happens, even if you're a slow cooker. And while a crusty slow cooker will still get the job done (that's the kind of appliance it is — always there for you), it's worth cleaning it up and out before you pack this wintertime favorite away. You'll be glad you did on that first fall weekend when your daydreams are made of flannel shirts and chili.
With all the ease slow cookers add to mealtime, it's a shame these things don't clean themselves too. They can, however, do the heavy-duty work overnight in lieu of a scrub-a-thon at the kitchen sink or multiple runs through the dishwasher. Common pantry items (baking soda, white vinegar, and ammonia) combined with heat or left to soak can loosen grime's grip and significantly reduce the need for elbow grease.
Before you get started, though, note that all slow cookers are not created equally. They can include a variety of surfaces (plastic, glass, aluminum, stainless steel) that require different treatment. Take a look at your instruction manual to ensure warranties stay intact before getting carried away removing parts and diving in with harsh cleaners.
How to Clean A Slow Cooker
How To Clean a Slow Cooker
What You Need
Microfiber or cotton cloth
Small scrub brush or toothpick
- Unplug the appliance before cleaning. This is also a good time to check your cord for any damage or needed repairs.
- Wipe down the exterior with a damp cloth. Start with the mildest form of cleaning possible, before moving to tougher cleaning methods. For most small appliances, warm water (or warm water and mild dish soap) is sufficient. Harsher cleaners may damage the finish or cause damage to working parts.
- Clean removable parts. Lids, handles, and knobs that are easily removed should be detached and cleaned individually with warm, soapy water or a mild cleaner.
- Remove stubborn stains from exterior. If your first go at cleaning the outside didn't get the job done, remove additional stains from the exterior with a baking soda and water mixture or cleaner specific to the surface (i.e., a stainless steel cleaner).
- Clean the bottom. Spills and splashes make their way underneath appliances, too. Wipe underneath the appliance and use a toothpick or small brush to remove any crumbs that may be lodged in open areas.
- Clean the stoneware insert. For regular use, washing in the dishwasher or soaking with a mild detergent works well.
- Cook off tough food. Fill the stoneware with water and "cook" on low for several hours. Stubborn, cooked-on food should come off much easier after this treatment. Then give it a whirl in the dishwasher.
- Add baking soda. Scrubbing with a bit of baking soda and water has a scouring effect without being abrasive. If cooked-on food remains, fill the insert with water up to the top, add a few tablespoons of baking soda and a few drops of dish soap, and then turn the setting to low. Remove water and wash as usual.
- Eliminate residue. Models with dark stoneware can show mineral deposits from repeated use and cleaning. A good deep clean is necessary sometimes. Fill the insert with water, add 1 cup white vinegar, and then let it soak for a few hours or overnight.
- Clean the slow-cooker interior. Beneath the removable stoneware of a slow cooker, the heating element is usually housed inside an aluminum casing. Food can spill over into this area, so the interior casing may need stain removal as well. This portion should never be submerged in water and should always be cool before cleaning. Because it contains the electrical portion of the appliance, most brands recommend using a damp cloth to wipe the interior.
- Use ammonia. For tough or cooked-on stains on the interior casing, fill a small bowl with ammonia, place it in the cooker, cover with the lid, and leave it overnight. Some internet searches may suggest oven cleaner for this portion, but proceed with caution if your product contains aluminum.
- Get picky. Use a small brush or even a toothpick to dislodge any lingering food particles. Some models have lid handles, knobs, feet, etc. that can easily be removed with a screwdriver to make access to crevices easier.
- If stoneware is scratched from scrubbing or discolored or stained permanently, grab a bottle of Bar Keeper's friend. Just a few dollars spent gets an easy fix. Slow-cooker enthusiasts have had this on their list of best products for years. Create a paste with Bar Keeper's to remove scratches and permanent stains, and the insert will look brand new.
(Image credits: Erika Tracy)