How Does a Self-Cleaning Oven Work?

By Jennifer Merrigan

Whether it’s melty cheese from that pizza you just cooked, or juices from your favorite casserole that bubbled over the baking dish, your oven takes quite the beating. If you don’t want to clean your oven by hand, you might be able to use your oven’s self-cleaning feature if it has one. Keep reading to learn how self-cleaning ovens work, the differences between the various types of self-cleaning ovens, and helpful tips for keeping up with oven maintenance.

Types of self-cleaning ovens

There are three main types of self-cleaning ovens: pyrolytic cleaning ovens, steam cleaning ovens, and continuous cleaning ovens

A pyrolytic oven has a smooth enamel coating that makes it easy to remove the dirt and grime that’s accumulated in the oven over time. This oven will self-clean under a timed cycle of two to four hours on high heat. During this period, the oven temperature will reach 900 degrees Fahrenheit, turning any baked-on food into powder.

Steam cleaning ovens clean slightly differently than pyrolytic ovens. A steam oven has a proprietary enamel coating that releases dirt when the steam cleaner is activated. Unlike a pyrolytic oven, a steam oven’s self-cleaning system is much quicker and doesn’t require high temperatures.

Unlike the other two self-cleaning ovens, a continuous cleaning oven has a porous enamel finish that allows for grease and grime buildup to spread out and turn into ash over time under normal oven temperatures. While this is an efficient way to clean small splatters, it’s inefficient for larger spills.

How does a self-cleaning oven work?

Before diving into how to use the self-clean feature on your oven, there are several safety precautions to consider:

  • Read your manual thoroughly—Even if you’ve used the self-cleaning feature on an oven before, review your product manual and make sure you’re using the self-clean feature correctly on your specific oven model.
  • Understand the potential of carbon monoxide poisoning with a self-cleaning oven. A concerning amount of carbon monoxide can be emitted when the self-clean feature is being used, so try to stay out of the house as much as possible. One way to mitigate the amount of carbon monoxide emitted during a cleaning cycle is to clean up oven spills when they occur.
  • If you or a loved one in the house has asthma or respiratory issues, make sure they’re not in the house while the oven is cleaning.
  • If you have pets at home, make sure they’re not in the house while the self-clean feature is on. Even if your home is well ventilated, toxins can still escape the oven and permeate the air, causing harm to pets. In particular, pet birds are highly susceptible to Teflon toxicity caused by self-cleaning ovens, as their respiratory tracks are extremely sensitive to toxins in the air.

Using a pyrolytic self-cleaning oven

Before activating a self-cleaning cycle, remove all foil from your oven. You should also remove the metal oven racks and clean them separately. 

  1. Get rid of as much baked-on food and grime as you can to reduce the amount of carbon monoxide emitted during the self-cleaning process.
  2. Lock the oven door by fastening the lever near the door handle or by pressing the “door locking” button. The oven will reach 900 degrees Fahrenheit during the cleaning cycle so you don’t want anyone opening the oven during that time.
  3. Set the timer for how long you want the oven to self-clean. Depending on how dirty the oven is, you’ll generally want to clean it for three to four hours.
  4. The oven will turn off automatically once the cleaning is complete, but be sure to let the oven cool before unlocking and opening the door.
  5. Once the oven has cooled, open the oven up and wipe away any excess residue with a damp cloth or vacuum cleaner attachment.

Using a steam self-cleaning oven

When using a steam-cleaning oven, pour water at the bottom of the oven to create steam during the cleaning cycle. Reference the owner’s manual to know how much water needs to be poured in the oven.

  1. Similar to the pyrolytic cleaning oven, lock your oven before starting the steam cleaning process.
  2. Once the cleaning cycle has completed and the oven has cooled, soak up the remaining water at the bottom of the oven with a sponge and scrub away any remaining dirt.

Do I need to use oven cleaners for a self-cleaning oven?

Using chemical cleaners on a self-cleaning oven is not necessary and often discouraged. If you do choose to use an oven cleaner in between cleaning sessions, keep in mind that the residue left behind may release dangerous toxins during the self-cleaning cycle.

Preventative tips to keep your oven clean

While using the self-cleaning cycle on your oven is an easy and convenient way to clean your appliance, it shouldn’t be done frequently. To keep your oven clean in between cleaning cycles, here are a few tips:

  • Don’t overfill your baking dishes.
  • Cover your food while cooking.
  • Clean spillage immediately.
  • Place a drip tray, such as a roasting tin, on the bottom shelf of your oven.

If your oven needs to be cleaned, use natural products like baking soda and vinegar.

Frequently asked questions

How hot does a self-cleaning oven get?

The hottest a self-cleaning oven gets is around 900 degrees in a pyrolytic cleaning oven. A steam cleaning oven reaches around 250 degrees.

How often should I use my oven’s self-cleaning function?

You should use your oven’s self-cleaning function about every six months, but you may use it less frequently if you keep your oven clean and void of food debris and spills.

How long does it take a self-cleaning oven to clean?

It typically takes between three and four hours for a pyrolytic cleaning oven to finish its cleaning cycle, while a steam-cleaning oven takes around one hour.

How do you manually clean a self-cleaning oven?

The best way to manually clean a self-cleaning oven is with natural ingredients like baking soda and vinegar and a scrub brush to remove any caked-on food. If you have a particularly tough spill to clean up, you may want to use a simple solution composed of dishwashing liquid and water.

Can you use an oven cleaner on a self-cleaning oven?

It’s not advised to use an oven cleaner in a self-cleaning oven due to the toxins that can be emitted from the chemical residue during the self-cleaning process.

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