Before & After: I Cleaned the Oven in My Rental Kitchen for the First Time in 7 Years
First, I need to come out in my own defense: I am not a monster. Yes, seven years is a long time to not clean your oven, but I have my reasons. The first few years I lived here, I was in school and working multiple restaurant jobs. I was exhausted and could barely get out of bed on my days off, much less give my oven the attention it deserved. I also spent years and years asking my teenage daughter to clean it and, well, she never did. (Moms: You can relate, right?) She has since grown up and moved out, and the responsibility is now mine again. And I’m not going to let myself down.
For my work here at Kitchn, I have to shoot photos and videos from my home kitchen and, every time I shoot inside my oven, I’m filled with a combination of disgust and shame. People are going to see this? I’ve spent the last year upgrading my kitchen and organizing its contents, but I have one final place to tackle before I reach kitchen nirvana: the oven. (Technically, I should work on the fridge, too. But that’s another article for another time.)
I thought about using a store-bought oven cleaner, but I love Mother Earth and thought I should try to spare her (and myself) from having to deal with the fumes. Instead, I decided to put the baking soda and vinegar method to the test. Would it be able to clean an oven with seven years’ worth of gunk? Kitchn editors swear by this method, but I had my doubts. Here’s what I did and how it went.
Step 1: The method begins with making a paste of baking soda and water. This Kitchn article says to use a ratio of 1/2 cup baking soda to 3 tablespoons of water. I ended up using about 2 to 3 cups of baking soda, so before you begin, make sure you have more than enough baking soda and vinegar. (Note: I needed that much because I needed to coat everything extremely well, because it had been so long.) Also, remove the racks and any tools, like thermometers, from the oven. Once your paste is made, pull on a pair of gloves and rub the baking soda paste all over the surfaces inside the oven.
How it went: The baking soda paste worked as soon as I started to apply it. Don’t skip on the gloves — they are necessary! I rubbed the paste in with my gloved hands and they started to turn brown from the all the nasty mess that instantly started coming up. I was hopeful. If the solution was working this well just on application, what magic would occur after an overnight soak?
Step 2: Allow the paste to sit on the surface for 12 hours or overnight. After the paste has dried on the surface overnight, it’s time to scrape off the paste using a damp washcloth. If you have bigger, hard-to-reach, chunks you can use a rubber spatula to scrape them off.
How it went: I let the paste sit in my oven overnight. I peeked and watched the baking soda paste get darker and darker as the time passed. When scraping the chunks off, use your least favorite rubber spatula. Thankfully I had that foresight because pieces of my rubber spatula were breaking off. I would have been sad if it was a spatula I favored. Again, don’t forget your gloves.
Step 3: Once you have scraped off the excess paste, spray the oven down with white vinegar. The vinegar will react with the baking soda, causing it to foam. Continue to wipe until the paste has been removed.
How it went: This is the fun part that makes you feel like Bill Nye the Science Guy. The vinegar helps you find where the residual baking soda is and then you can wipe it away. It took me about an hour to wipe the oven clean. A lot of caked-on baked-on mess accumulates over seven years. But what I was left with was a shiny and clean oven surface!!!
Honestly, I was shocked that this method worked so well! Seven years is a long time to not clean a well-used oven. All the surfaces inside the oven were shiny and like new. The only part that didn’t clean up that well was the glass window on the door of the oven. But Clean Queen Lisa Freedman, Kitchn’s lifestyle director, told me all I need is a magic eraser to sort that out. This little test proved to me that — with a little time, effort, and ingredients I usually have in my home — I can clean even the dirtiest oven! Bonus points for never having to use a stinky, specialized cleaner. I’ve made myself and Mother Nature very happy.