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.