We Tried 5 Natural Methods for Cleaning Ovens — And This One’s the Very Best

published Apr 29, 2023
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Graphic with a large image of and oven in a kitchen, and 5 methods down the side used to clean ovens: 1. baking soda paste, 2. white veingar and corn starch, 3. lemon steam, 4. white vinegar and water in pan, and 5. Apple cider vinegar and sugar
Credit: Oven: Margaret Wright; Cleaning Methods: Photo: Lucy Schaeffer: Prop Styling: Tom Hoerup

A squeaky-clean oven feels so good, like your kitchen is fresh and ready for anything. But getting to this point is probably the most arduous kitchen task there is. Baked-on grease, glass, and the fact that the door gets closed on the mess for sometimes extended periods of time means a time and energy commitment that we often put off, which of course makes the problem worse. 

Plenty of heavy-duty cleansers are specifically formulated for cleaning oven interiors, with all their unique and extremely stubborn messes. But it’s not always desirable to use a harsh cleaner with strong fumes. For those times when you prefer to use more natural methods or when you don’t have an oven cleaner on hand, it’s good to know which natural oven-cleaning method is the most effective. I tried five popular natural techniques and here’s how they compare.

How We Tested the Methods for Cleaning Ovens Naturally 

When I set out to test these methods, I was at my sister’s house visiting. She has two wall ovens and a countertop convection oven that she cooks in regularly. They were both overdue for a good cleaning. It was convenient to have three different ovens handy to test the various methods because I was able to try each method  on a significant surface area. I assessed each method based on how well it cleaned both the oven interior surface and its door. (Because some of the methods were whole-oven methods, these were done either in separate ovens or after the quicker, spot-cleaning type methods were attempted.)

The Ratings

Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being the least effective method and 5 being the best. Because all of these methods involve things most people likely already have around the house, I didn’t include cost ratings. For time estimates, I only included active cleaning time (preparing the methods and then actual cleaning) in my results, not any “dwell time.” In addition to active cleaning time, I evaluated each method based on ease of use and performance and then gave a total overall score to each method. 

Credit: Photo: Lucy Schaeffer: Prop Styling: Tom Hoerup

Natural Oven-Cleaning Method: Cornstarch and White Vinegar

  • Estimated active cleaning time: 15 minutes
  • Overall: 1/5

The method: To test out cleaning an oven naturally with cornstarch and white vinegar, I mixed 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 1 cup of white vinegar to form a paste and then heated it in a small pot. (I realized afterwards that I should have just microwaved the paste so I didn’t dirty the pot!) I let the paste cool and then spread it on the oven’s surfaces. I let it sit for about 20 minutes and then wiped the paste off with a paper towel. Finally, I wiped down the area with a damp cloth. 

How it went: I had high hopes for this method because I’m very fond of the homemade DIY glass cleaner Alvin Corn, which boasts cornstarch as one of its “secret” ingredients and also includes white vinegar. However, I was disappointed in this cornstarch and white vinegar paste when it came to cleaning an oven. The mixture didn’t seem to touch the baked-on grease on the bottom and sides of the oven. While it did lift some of the haze from the glass on the oven door, I felt like the effort of heating the paste and then having to wipe everything down afterwards wasn’t worth the payoff. After this method, you’ll still have more to clean.

Credit: Photo: Lucy Schaeffer: Prop Styling: Tom Hoerup

Natural Oven-Cleaning Method: Lemon Steam 

  • Estimated active cleaning time: 10 minutes 
  • Overall: 2/5

The method: This method involves a natural cleaning favorite — lemons — this time in the form of steam. It’s very similar to cleaning a microwave with steam. I sliced two lemons in half and squeezed the juice into a baking dish. I tossed the lemon halves into the dish as well. Next, I added water to the dish until it was about a third full. I placed the dish in the oven and turned it on at 250°F for a half-hour. Then I turned the oven off, let it cool, and took out the baking dish. I used a non-scratch scouring pad to tackle the steam-treated grime and finished by drying everything with a towel.

How it went: I enjoyed this method because I like lemons and I really enjoy how they smell. It was really quick and easy to set up this method, too. As far as effectiveness, this method was just OK. After steaming, the glass and metal parts of the oven door easily wiped clean. This was satisfying because they can be hard parts of an oven to get clean that make a big difference in how clean it looks when it’s closed. However, the steam didn’t put a dent in the baked-on grease on the back or sides of the oven’s interior or racks. 

Credit: Photo: Lucy Schaeffer: Prop Styling: Tom Hoerup

Natural Oven-Cleaning Method: White Vinegar Steam 

  • Estimated active cleaning time: 10 minutes
  • Overall: 2/5

The method: This method is very similar to the lemon steam method, but it uses white vinegar instead of lemons. I grabbed a deep metal baking dish and filled it with tap water and 1 cup of white vinegar. I preheated the oven to 350°F, but it took a really long time to boil, so I turned it up to 400°F. Once the vinegar began to boil, I turned off the oven and let the steam sit for about half an hour without opening the door. Then I took the dish out of the oven, let everything cool, and sprayed a water and vinegar solution on extra dirty parts of the oven before scrubbing with a wet sponge. 

How it went: Based on experience with this method in the microwave, I was hopeful that it could also work in the oven, but just like the lemon steam method, it cleaned the oven door but didn’t work on the really baked-on grease on the interior surfaces. I think this and the lemon steam method would be great for maintenance of an already clean oven, but it isn’t super effective for an oven that needs a deeper cleaning. 

Credit: Photo: Lucy Schaeffer: Prop Styling: Tom Hoerup

Natural Oven-Cleaning Method: Sugar and Apple Cider Vinegar 

  • Estimated active cleaning time: 10 minutes
  • Overall: 3/5

The method: I dissolved 2 tablespoons of sugar in 1 cup of apple cider vinegar. I sprayed the mixture all over the oven and let it sit for about 2 hours. Then I came back to wipe the oven’s interior with a damp microfiber cloth, spraying more of the mixture on trouble spots and letting it sit for half an hour before wiping again. 

How it went: I was quite skeptical of this method, but it surprised me! When I went to wipe after the solution had been sitting for the first long stretch, I only needed a quick wipe to get off a good layer of grease on the bottom of the oven interior. As with the other methods, though, it didn’t completely remove stubborn grease that had been repeatedly baked onto the oven interior surface. I liked how easy it was to prepare the solution, and I think it’s a great natural method for oven maintenance or for ovens that need a light deep cleaning from time to time. 

Credit: Photo: Lucy Schaeffer: Prop Styling: Tom Hoerup

Natural Oven-Cleaning Method: Baking Soda and Water Paste (The Winner!)

  • Estimated active cleaning time: 20 minutes
  • Overall: 4/5

The method: This method involves making a standard baking soda and water paste, making it thick enough to spread over the entire interior surface of the oven. The key to this method is contact time, which, in this case, was overnight (or 12 hours). Once this time has passed, use a damp cloth to wipe out as much of the dried paste as you can. Then take a spray bottle with white vinegar and water and spray the spots that need some extra attention. The baking soda will fizz and you can wipe up the remaining residue easily. 

How it went: This classic method worked the best of all the methods. Breaking the task into two parts (one that included the spreading and then the wait before wiping it out) made the entire task feel more manageable. I didn’t love cleaning out all the baking soda paste, but the residue did serve as a visual cue of where I’d cleaned and where I hadn’t. The easiest way to clean up the baking soda, I found, was to hold the wet rag for a little bit on top of the paste to soften it. Then I could wipe it more easily. Although it was a bit messy and a bit awkward to get the sides, the method worked the best of all the methods. Completely clearing away the very baked-on grease seems to require something stronger. But for routine, chemical-free, cleaning, using baking soda and water paste is definitely the way to go.