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What is a Self-Cleaning Oven?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 01, 2024
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A self-cleaning oven is an oven which uses extremely high temperatures to burn away deposits left from cooking. The oven has a separate “cleaning cycle” which can be activated to start the self cleaning process, and the oven automatically locks during the cycle to prevent burns. Once the oven has cooled, it unlocks and opens, allowing someone to wipe away the charcoal left behind after the high heat burning. Generally, self-cleaning ovens are only available for home use.

Because of the high temperatures which the self-cleaning oven reaches during the cleaning cycle, the oven is heavily insulated. This makes daily operation of the oven more efficient, because it does not lose as much heat as a conventional oven. However, the energy required to heat the oven to 900 degrees Fahrenheit (482 degrees Celsius) is immense. The balance between greater operating efficiency and periodic high energy demand probably puts a self-cleaning oven on par with a regular oven, in terms of overall energy consumption.

Manufacturers of self-cleaning ovens recommend that their owners not use cleaning products in the oven. Residue from chemicals in cleaning products may let off gas while the oven is in the cleaning cycle, potentially filling the kitchen with unpleasant smells or dangerous gas. Pets, especially birds, should also be kept out of the area when the oven is on the cleaning cycle, because they are more sensitive to dubious air quality than humans are.

Although a self-cleaning oven is capable of turning spilled foods into charcoal, the oven should be wiped out before the cleaning cycle is turned on. This is especially true with spilled sugars, which can create a great deal of smoke as they are burned away. Make sure to scrape the oven out before running the cleaning cycle, and check to see whether or not you can safely leave racks in the oven. A self-cleaning oven certainly makes the task of cleaning an oven easier, but it doesn't take all the work out of it!

Professional grade stoves usually do not have self cleaning features, because of the presumed high volume of food which will be passing through the oven. A self-cleaning oven could not deal effectively with the accumulated oven detritus of a busy restaurant. Homeowners who feel that they need restaurant grade stoves, therefore, should be prepared to clean them by hand. Some manufacturers also make what is known as a continuously cleaning oven, an oven with a specially treated interior that burns away spills as they form.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon210663 — On Aug 31, 2011

We recently bought a new self-cleaning oven, and we waited a few months before trying out that feature. When they say extreme temperatures, they mean it. This wasn't like setting the oven to the highest temperature setting for cooking a pizza or something. This was enough heat to warm the entire house on a winter's day. I had no idea a home oven could even get that hot and survive.

The oven was probably not as dirty as it could have been, so the smoke situation was at least bearable. I wouldn't recommend doing it at all if your kitchen's ventilation is not spectacular. We had a screen door to the outside only a few feet away from the oven, and we could close off the kitchen with a swinging door. Even with that, the rest of the house definitely got smoky. I'd recommend using a box fan or two to draw the smoke away from the oven while it's in self-cleaning mode.

The other consideration we discovered is time. Once the oven is locked down and heated up, the self-cleaning cycle can last for hours. Be sure you have that much time to spend, since leaving the oven unattended may not be such a good idea. The oven door will not unlock until the oven has cooled down almost completely. I will say that the end result is an easily wipeable pile of ash instead of a greasy combination of burnt food and caustic oven cleaner. If you can survive the hours of smoke and heat, I'd say the self-cleaning option is worthwhile if your oven is not excessively dirty in the first place.

By anon160557 — On Mar 16, 2011

Don't wait until the oven is so filthy that the self-cleaning function makes a thick smoke or even starts a fire inside. If you use your oven so heavily that it needs drastic cleaning, just do it more frequently. If you think it could do with a cleaning, you're probably right, so don't procrastinate - turn it on Self Cleaning.

By anon145380 — On Jan 23, 2011

When I used the self cleaning cycle on my oven, massive amounts of smoke started pouring out of it within 30 minutes.

Even though we shut it off immediately and opened all the windows (in January!) it still caused extensive smoke damage throughout my entire house. The stench is unbelievable and we haven't been able to remove it from our house. The HVAC system picked it up, everything.

We've cleaned every ceiling, wall, floor, carpet, upholstery, cabinets, curtains and still can't get rid of the smell. Two weeks later and my entire house reeks. The stove was ruined and my over the range microwave is so saturated with smoke smell we can't even turn it on. It's ruined as well. Hours of backbreaking labor and hundreds of dollars in expense all directly caused by the self cleaning cycle. And the smell still isn't gone. Total nightmare.

By k1911 — On Jul 13, 2007

Self cleaning ovens smoke like crazy. I have never been able to actually use one don't bother to get one.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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