What You Should Know Before Using A Self-Cleaning Oven

There's more to self-cleaning ovens than an appliance that magically washes itself in some sort of feat of Harry Potter-esque trickery. What "self-cleaning" usually means is actually, well — burning. With temperatures upwards of 900 degrees Fahrenheit, an oven on its "self-cleaning" setting simply uses high temperatures to burn off leftover drips and grime inside the oven. While traditional oven cleaning sprays can be toxic to humans and leave lingering odors, a self-cleaning cycle presumably uses no outside chemicals (via EnviroClenz and Maggie's Oven Services). This high-heat cleanse can usually remove the worst of food buildup from baking spillage, but there are, of course, downsides.

According to EnviroClenz, even the safer-seeming self-cleaning cycle is a "potentially hazardous endeavor to both your indoor air quality and to the health of the occupants within the home," as it can release carbon monoxide from the burned organic matter into the air, make respiratory problems worse, or put your animal friends in danger. Even with the oven locked and a catalytic converter— a mechanism that reduces emissions (via Whitebeam) — built into some modern day ovens (via How Stuff Works), the fumes from an oven's cleaning cycle can still enter the outside air.

Cleaning options for pesky oven spills

As an alternative to self-cleaning ovens, the Independent recommends less hazardous commercially available cleaners, which have evolved over the years. Easy Off's fume-free spray and Goo Gone Oven and Grill Cleaner won't take as much of a toll on the air quality, but baking soda and water can also do the trick. You can spray these cleaners on, let them sit, and then wipe them off without turning the oven on once.

Some self-cleaning ovens have a "steam clean" setting that claims to do the job in less time with lower heat, but Consumer Reports found these cycles to generally perform poorly. The publication recommends cleaning messes as they happen, and warned users of the high-heat self-cleaning option to clear all oven vents. It also mentions to clean the inside edges of the oven, and steer clear of the kitchen with the cleaning cycle on, with kids and pets far away and the exhaust fan running. With self-cleaning ovens, the less fumes, the better. And of course, as with any tricky cleanup job like baked-on pie filling: when something sounds too good to be true, like an oven that cleans itself, it usually is.