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Should I Use the Self-Cleaning Cycle on My Oven?

Person activating the self-cleaning cycle on their oven
New Africa/Shutterstock

The self-cleaning feature on your oven sounds enticing. Why spend hours scrubbing away grease and grime when your oven can do it automatically? Before you fire it up, however, be aware of the pros and cons of using it.

Even though the self-cleaning cycle makes life easier, there are some risks to be aware of. In some cases, it can do more harm than good. Let’s take a look at the downsides to using the self-cleaning cycle and how to use it safely if you do opt to use it.

Reasons to Avoid the Self-Cleaning Cycle

Who doesn’t love the idea of an oven that cleans itself? Alas, there’s no such thing as a free lunch (or a labor-free oven cleaning, as it were).

Carbon Monoxide and Other Toxic Fumes

Do you know all that baked-on crud at the bottom of your oven? Well, the high heat from an oven’s self-clean feature burns all that charred food away. That’s how it makes your oven so clean. But in doing so, carbon monoxide is produced. Carbon monoxide is a hard-to-detect gas, which is dangerous for human and animal health.

Other toxic fumes are created during the high-heat self-cleaning cycle, such as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). These fumes are especially dangerous for birds due to the efficiency of their respiratory systems—meaning their bodies absorb the toxins fast.

Most ovens have a Teflon coating on the inside, which is made to withstand the normal heat from baking and even broiling. However, this coating isn’t designed for repeated exposure to the high temperatures used during a self-clean cycle.

Whether you’re worried about pet exposure or your own exposure, the smoke and outgassing generated by the self-cleaning cycle is something to be aware of.

Blown Fuses and Control Panels

Traditional self-cleaning cycles use high temperatures to melt away the build-up of grease and caked-on food. These temps skyrocket as high as 900-1000°F. That’s 2-3 times higher than the normal operating temperature of your oven, and it’s not surprising it’s a little rough on it.

Newer ovens are designed with the heating elements hidden, which helps to avoid smoking when food splatters or drips. But the downside to this design is that it’s difficult for air to circulate correctly around these elements. This sadly contributes towards damaged heating elements, blown fuses, and damage to electronics within the oven.

You’d think the manufacturers would be aware of this flaw, right? Indeed they are. But consumers love the self-cleaning feature so much that the manufacturers feel pressured to go along with it despite the risk of the self-cleaning function decreasing the longevity of the oven.

Appliance repair shops also recommend against using the cycle and will be the first to tell you that numerous service calls they get are the result of a self-cleaning cycle run gone wrong. Further, accessing hidden heating elements or replacing circuit boards damaged by the heat are neither fast nor cheap repairs.

How to Use The Self-Cleaning Cycle Safely

Even though there are some risks associated with using the self-cleaning cycle on your oven, you can still use it as long as you exercise caution. We have some critical steps to take to ensure that everyone stays safe and also to protect the longevity of your oven.

  • Do a quick, manual clean first: Use hot water, soap, and a plastic scrub pad or non-scratch spatula to tackle some of the grime and build-up. Remove as many caked-on chunks of food and grease as possible since these are the items that will be turned into ash and smoke by the cycle if they aren’t removed.
  • Remove everything from the inside: It’s best to remove all the oven racks before running the self-clean. The high heat will discolor metal racks and can cause warping (which will make them harder to slide in and out in the future). Enamel racks are approved for the self-clean cycle, but we still think it’s best to clean these by hand. The high heat will damage any forgotten cooking pans, so make sure you’re vigilant about clearing out everything.
  • Lock the oven door: This will usually happen automatically, or there might be a lever you need to use. Make sure small children are not allowed access to the kitchen since the high temperatures are hazardous—you don’t want to risk someone accidentally opening the door.
  • Time the cleaning: It’s generally recommended to do two hours for a light cleaning, and up to four hours for a more soiled oven. However, if you’re worried about fuses blowing and want to extend the lifespan of your oven, limit the self-clean to one hour. A little pre-cleaning followed by a shorter self-clean might be all that’s needed to get the job done.
  • Ventilate and evacuate the kitchen: Open all windows, turn on the exhaust fan above the oven, make sure the oven vent isn’t obstructed, and move all people and pets away from the kitchen area (or go outside, if possible). Do not allow anyone to go into the kitchen during the self-cleaning, yourself included! Make sure all carbon monoxide detectors are working.
  • Make sure someone stays home: Even though you want to stay away from the kitchen during the self-clean cycle, make sure you don’t leave your property altogether. Leaving your oven running at such a high temperature can present a risk of fire. Stay nearby (but not inside the kitchen) and make sure you have a fire extinguisher handy.
  • Wipe away remaining ash: Wait until the cycle finishes and the oven cools completely before opening the door. You can wipe away the remaining ash using a damp cloth or even a vacuum cleaner. Dispose of the waste material immediately. We advise using a dust-rated face mask during the clean-up process.

Cut Down On Self-Cleaning with General Oven Maintenance

After you’ve done a deep oven clean, either by hand or using the self-clean feature, you want to strive to maintain its cleanliness regularly. This will help avoid the build-up of nasty junk, thus reducing your chances of needing to do too many self-cleans in the future.

  • Regular cleanings: Wipe down the inside of your oven after every use (wait for the oven to cool down). It doesn’t have to be a deep clean, but tackling those spills and splatters right away will help a lot.
  • Avoid harsh chemical cleaners: Once cleaning chemicals are exposed to high heats, they can release harmful fumes, which can be bad for your health. Regular dish soap and hot water can cut through a lot of grease and grime. Here’s a list of some gentle cleaners you can make at home.
  • Limit self-cleans: If you’re a fan of the self-clean cycle, try to limit your oven to no more than six times per year, if even that.
  • Use aluminum foil: Consider lining the bottom of your oven with aluminum foil. This will catch all those drips and splatters, making it much easier to do an old-fashioned clean.

We get that there’s a lot of ease and convenience with using the self-clean feature on your oven. If you decide it’s right for you, make sure to keep those windows open and avoid entering the kitchen while it’s running. Either way, you can cut down on the amount you use it by staying on top of oven cleaning before it gets bad enough you need a scorched earth approach.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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