How Does a Self-Cleaning Oven Work?

A self-cleaning oven sounds like a wonderful feature, but do you know how to use it?

Self-cleaning ovens are known for their ability to break down layers of gunked-on food without the use of cleaners or scrubbing. But since they reach such high heat, many homeowners are nervous to try this feature.

How a Self-Cleaning Oven WorksView in gallery

If you’re interested in running the self-cleaning oven cycle, here’s what to know first.


How a Self-Cleaning Oven Works

Self-cleaning ovens work by heating to temperatures that reach over 800 degrees F. Some use only heat, while others have a steam clean feature. In heating to such high temps, self-cleaning ovens burn stuck-on food leaving you with only a pile of ashes to clean up afterward.

Depending on how much gunk is in your oven, you may experience smoke or harsh smells in the home during the self-cleaning cycle. 

After the cycle is over and the oven has cooled, you can wash out the ash using a damp sponge or paper towel.


How to Use Your Oven’s Self-Cleaning Cycle

If you’re ready to take advantage of your oven’s cleaning feature, here’s what to do. (As a good measure, resort to your owner’s manual first for specific directions.)

Step 1: Remove Pans and Racks

Remove everything from the oven, including pots, utensils, foils, and oven racks.

Step 2: Scrape Out Big Messes

If you have messes in the oven, like large amounts of cooked food that’s cooked over, the self-clean feature will cause it to smoke, setting off your smoke detectors. So, take a non-metal spatula and scrape out as much as possible.

Step 3: Ventilate the Room

Because the oven reaches such high heat, it can cause fumes the first few times you use it and smoke from burnt food. Open windows and ventilate the room before hitting the button.

Step 4: Lock the Door and Start the Cycle

Most ovens lock automatically as soon as the self-clean cycle starts. If yours doesn’t have this feature, lock it yourself. Then hit the self-clean button.

Step 5: Wipe Out Ashes After the Oven has Cooled

A typical self-clean cycle takes one to three hours, but the oven door doesn’t unlock until temperatures cool.

Once the cycle is over and the oven has cooled, use a damp sponge or paper towel to wipe out the ashes. Then, place the metal racks back in place.


Safety Precautions You Must Take When Using the Self-Cleaning Cycle

Since a self-cleaning oven heats to extreme temperatures, it’s essential to exercise caution when using this feature.

  • Don’t use ovens older than ten years – Ovens older than ten years are more prone to blowing fuses or breaking parts (like the door lock) during the self-cleaning cycle. Because of this, it’s best only to use this feature on newer models.
  • Don’t use cleaning products – While you might think a cleaning product paired with high heat will help with the process, it doesn’t. Using any cleaner beforehand can result in the release of toxic fumes.
  • Don’t touch the oven or oven door during the process – Keep kids out of the room, and don’t touch any part of the oven. You may get burnt if you touch the stove or open the oven door.
  • Don’t leave the house – While the oven is cleaning, you need to babysit it. Stick around to stop the process in case of excess smoke or a malfunction.
  • Read your user’s manual – Before using the self-clean feature, read the user’s manual. While all ovens function the same basic way, it’s important to know whether you need to lock the oven door manually and how long the cycle will take.