Green oven cleaning tips

First published September 2007, updated May 2011

While microwave ovens are pretty easy to clean in an environmentally friendly way (see my tips on using lemons as part of green cleaning), convection ovens can be a real nightmare.

I used to use the chemical cleaners and I remember one occasion when I was living in a small place where the fumes nearly knocked me out and left me with bloodshot eyes and breathing problems for days. Food cooked after that incident had an aftertaste of oven cleaner for some time.

Granted, I didn’t use it as directed as that was back in my “more is better” phase;  but even used as directed, many oven cleaners aren’t the most environmentally friendly products as they contain very harsh chemicals. – here’s an example from a popular brand:

Diethylene glycol monobutyl ether – This is a volatile organic compound harmful to aquatic organisms

Monoethanolamine (MEA) – studies on a wide variety of freshwater fish show that MEA can be toxic.

Butane – a fossil fuel.

Sodium hydroxide – this is caustic soda or lye which is used in many products, including in the soap making process (but in far less quantities in soap). Aside from irritating skin and eyes, if exposed to concentrated quantities or ingested, it can kill. Sodium hydroxide released into waterways can alter pH levels and also readily combines with water vapor in air, creating a corrosive mist. While Sodium Hydroxide isn’t terribly environmentally damaging in small quantities, oven cleaners have large amounts of this chemical.

There are more green ways to tackle the mess, such as environmentally friendly commercial products that contain plant-based solvents (citrus oil) and plant-based surfactants (from soy, coconut or corn). These tend to be in refillable spray packs rather than pressurized cans.

If you’re into making your own green cleaning products, here’s a few ideas for an oven cleaner..

– Coat oven surfaces in a paste of water and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and let stand overnight, then scrub off. Washing Soda or sodium carbonate is a naturally occurring mineral that can also be used.

– 2 tablespoons liquid soap + 2 teaspoons borax + warm water, spray on, allow to sit for a while and then scrub off

– Citrus and tea tree oil are said to be particularly good for baked on messes.

– Soak particularly tough areas with vinegar for two hours, wipe off and rinse with warm water.

It’s likely that all of the above earth-friendly methods will take a little more elbow grease than the heavy duty chemical products; but  minimizing negative impact on the environment and reducing health risks (plus providing a little exercise) is a good consolation.

Of course, prevention is better than cure :).

Using covers when cooking and lower temperatures to prevent splatter should reduce the number of times you have to undertake this onerous and messy chore. You can also place a couple of layers of aluminum foil on the floor of the oven (shiny side up), underneath but not touching the heating element, to help catch spills. Wiping out your oven with a cloth soaked in vinegar is also said to slow down grease buildup.

While on the topic of prevention, avoiding the oven where possible will cut down on the amount you need to clean it – and there are other green benefits associated with doing so. Microwave ovens use far less electricity and tend to be easier to clean; although some recipes really require the use of a convection oven to achieve certain flavors and textures.

Another oven cleaning avoidance option is an electric frypan – while still rather electricity intensive (but not as power hungry as a standard electric oven) they are much easier to clean. Covered electric frypans work extremely well for meals traditionally cooked in an oven such as roasts.

Have some green oven cleaning tips? Please add them below!