Most of us hate oven cleaning, so it's no surprise that manufacturers have produced self-cleaning cookers. Sadly, however brilliant the idea is in principal, there are downsides - even dangers - in practice. There are a few things to know before you self-clean your oven. Here's an introduction to the most important points.
What is Self-Cleaning?
There are two main systems on offer. When asking the question 'How does a self-cleaning oven work?' it's useful to understand the difference between the traditional, high temperature technique, and steam cleaning.
Traditional high temperature self-cleaning
This requires a special coating on the interior of the oven and relies on heating to very high temperatures of 900°F to 1000°F, that's around 500°C, much higher than normal cooking temperatures.
Several problems have been identified with this type of self-cleaning feature, these include:
Toxicity - Self-cleaning at these temperatures may produce carbon monoxide, acrolein and formaldehyde. These poisonous gasses can be hazardous to yourself and your pets, particularly birds.
Energy consumption - Getting your oven that hot takes a lot of fuel, and typically the cycle needs to run from 2 to 4 hours to complete.
Wear on oven components - The extreme heat can burn out control panels and reduce the overall life of the appliance.
Water is added to the bottom of the cooker and it's heated to produce steam. This is a much quicker process than the traditional method, generally requiring a cycle of 20 to 40 minutes and far lower temperatures, around 200°F, or just under 100°C. This eliminates the problems of high energy use, toxicity and undue stress on the components.
On the downside, owners report that steam-clean cycles clean the bottom of the cooker very well but aren't nearly so effective on the sides.
How Effective is Self-Cleaning?
Do self-cleaning ovens really work? Yes, they do, to a degree. But they don't totally eliminate the need for manual labour. You'll always get better results if you remove as much spillage or food deposit as possible before starting the cycle, and you'll have to wipe out the oven at the end of to remove ash or softened residue. In the case of the steam process, if the oven was very dirty to start with you might still have some scrubbing to do when the auto-cycle is complete.
Oven Cleaning Tips
How Often to Clean an Oven - Experts recommend using high-temperature self-cleaning no more than six times a year to reduce wear and tear and keep your energy costs down. If you wipe out spills every time you use the oven you'll cut down on the amount of grease and food reside that has a chance to bake on. Ideally you'll do this when the cooker has cooled down enough to be safe to work with, but before it's fully cold.
What you should clean your oven with - If you have a self-cleaning oven, consult the manual for any instructions about cleansers you should avoid. Some will damage the coating that makes self cleaning possible.
A standard detergent and lots of hot water will do nicely for the wipe down after cooking. On a manual clean oven, if you don't like the idea of using powerful oven cleansers, you'll find lots of ideas for natural cleaning options on the net.
If you decide to run the self-clean feature
Consult your manual for any specific instructions before starting. Remove shelves and clean them by hand.
Make sure there's plenty of ventilation, remove pets and advise anyone with asthma or other respiratory problems to leave the house
Don't run a self-clean cycle before an important party at home. You don't want to be hunting around for a oven repair man just before Christmas!