How to Clean an Oven and Oven Racks: A Step by Step Guide

When it comes to the “household to-do list,” there are a few things that are seemingly always at the bottom.

Organize the garage? No thanks.

Clean the windows? Maybe next month.

Clean the oven? Doesn’t sound too important.

Having a clean oven may not seem too important (no one’s looking in there anyway), but there are some signs that you should move that to the top of the list. Not having a clean oven can be seen, smelled, and even tasted.

Excess build up in your oven can cause your oven to smoke while you’re cooking, and it usually doesn’t smell very good. This build up being cooked right along with the food you’re cooking can even begin to affect how your food tastes.

That’s right. Your favorite frozen pizza is at stake here.

Exactly how often you should clean your oven will be dependent on a couple things:

  1. How often you use your oven
  2. How good you are at not spilling anything in your oven (easier said than done)

For home cooks who use their oven only a few times a month, cleaning it once every 6 months should do the trick. For those of you firing it up every day, you may want to clean it out every month.  

Once you’ve decided your oven needs a cleaning, the big question becomes apparent: how do you clean an oven?

Option 1: Let it clean itself

The first option would be to use the self-cleaning feature on your oven, which we don’t really recommend. This feature works by locking your oven door and cranking up the heat to over 500 degrees to burn anything that may be in there into oblivion. If you haven’t kept your oven clean recently, this can result in a smelly smokey mess and can sometimes be dangerous.

Option 2: An oven cleaner

The next option would be to get an oven cleaner. You can find these at most stores and they are relatively easy to use, however they are full of chemicals. If that doesn’t bother you and you just want to get this whole oven cleaning thing over with, go for it!

Option 3: With baking soda and vinegar

The 3rd option which is our preferred method is to use a few household items to create our own oven cleaner. The 3 main ingredients are baking soda, water, and white vinegar. While this process does take a bit longer, it’s very inexpensive and there are no chemicals involved.

What Will You Need?

This natural oven cleaning method will require a few things:

  • Baking Soda
  • White vinegar
  • A spray bottle
  • A scrub brush or sponge
  • Gloves
  • A spatula or scraper (optional)
gloves, a spray bottle, baking soda, white vinegar, and a scrub brush on a counter top
Total cost: about $15 from Target

How to Clean an Oven: A Step by Step Guide

Step 0: Document your starting point!

To make sure you get the most satisfaction out of this somewhat thankless task, make sure to snap a photo of your oven before you start! That way you can clearly see just how much you really needed to clean your oven.

open dirty oven
It’s pretty clear my oven was due for a cleaning

Step 1: Remove everything from your oven

Anything in your oven will need to be taken out, including the oven racks. If you think those could use a clean as well, now would be a great time to do that! Our oven rack cleaning guide is at the bottom of this page.

Step 2: Create the oven cleaning miracle paste

Will it be worthy of its name? I guess we’ll find out.

To create the paste, you will need ½ cup of baking soda and about 3 tablespoons of water. Combine those 2 ingredients in a bowl and stir it around until you get an even consistency. It should seem like a light frosting.

You may need a bit more than this depending on how large your oven is and how many places you think could use a little bit extra. I started with 1 batch and made another after I applied the first coat. I ended up using about half of the second batch I made.

baking soda and water paste on the countertop
This was 1 batch, which covered most of the area I wanted it to

Step 3: Apply the miracle paste

You’ll want to get those gloves on for this.

Apply the paste to the inside of your oven with your hands and make sure to get it anywhere you see there may be residue. It can tend to clump up a bit and that’s okay.

Step 4: The waiting game

This will definitely be your favorite step.

It involves doing absolutely nothing for at least 10 hours (ideally overnight) after the paste has been applied. So just relax and let the paste do the work for now!

an open oven with baking soda paste applied
The next morning the oven looked like this. I chose not to do the back of the oven as it was pretty clean but that will be up to you!

Step 5: The first wipe

I hope you kept those gloves! This is where things get messy.

After you’re freshly rested and ready to finish the job, it’s time to for the first wipe. Get a damp dish towel and wipe off all the hardened paste. You will likely need to do this a few times and rinse your towel between wipes.

Step 6: Give it some vinegar

During step 5, you will get most of the baking soda paste out of the oven but there will still be some leftover, and that’s a good thing.

Next, pour some vinegar into your spray bottle and spray it around your whole oven that needs a little bit more TLC. You will see it bubble a bit as it reacts with the baking soda, which is where the magic happens.

Step 7: The final wipe

The moment of truth. Grab your wet dishtowel and wipe all the baking soda/vinegar reside out of your oven. If you have some stubborn spots that won’t come up, use your spatula or scraper. This will help get any really stuck on spots.

And with those steps completed, you should be left with a clean oven! You can now put the racks back in and enjoy a squeaky-clean oven.

Depending on how old your oven is, there may still be some dark spots that you just couldn’t get off. While they may be visually frustrating, they shouldn’t cause you any problems while you’re cooking.

open clean oven
The end result!

Cleaning Your Oven Racks

If you’re going to go through all this trouble to clean your oven, might as well get those racks looking good too, right? Cleaning your oven racks won’t be as involved as cleaning the oven and you can do them both at the same time. To clean your oven racks, just follow these 7 steps

Step 1: Set them in your bathtub

If you are concerned about your bathtub getting scratched or dirty, lay some towels down before you place the racks in there.

bath tub with oven racks and water in it
Might need to clean to bathtub too after this!

Step 2: Sprinkle some baking soda

That’s right, the baking soda is back!

Generously sprinkle baking soda over the top of the oven racks, with special attention paid to any extra dirty parts.

Step 3: Add some vinegar

Pour some vinegar over the tops of the racks after you have added the baking soda. You will hear some fizzing, which is a good sign!

Step 4: Cover your racks with hot water

After your racks have some baking soda and vinegar on them doing the hard work, add some water.

You will want to get the water hot and then plug the tub. You don’t need too much water in there, just enough to cover the racks.

Step 5: Wait!

If this was your favorite step in the oven cleaning process, you’ll be glad to see it’s back.

Let your racks soak for a few hours, ideally overnight.

Step 6: Get to Scrubbing

Using your scrub brush or sponge, give your racks a good scrubbing while they’re still in the tub. After soaking, the baked on reside should come off pretty easily.

Step 7: Let them dry and put them back in the oven

After you’re satisfied with your cleaning job and they’ve had some time to dry (or you dry them yourself), just stick them back in the oven!

clean oven racks
Fresh, clean, oven racks

And there you have it. With just a few items you probably have in your house already, you can clean your oven and oven racks without the use of any chemicals!

Even though it may seem like a lot of work at the beginning, you will be rewarded each time you open your oven and see a clean oven!