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How Does a Self-Cleaning Oven Work? Everything You Need to Know!

Fragment of the nicely decorated small luxury kitchen with modern appliances

Anyone who has ever tried to clean an oven knows how much work it is. Cleaning an oven is a huge undertaking, given that the inside of an oven is so large and the nooks and crannies numerous. Luckily, self-cleaning ovens make this job much easier by using extremely high heat. As the name suggests, they clean themselves (at least to some extent).

However, how do these ovens accomplish this task? And how well do they work in practice? We’ll answer these questions and more below.

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How Does It Work?

Self-cleaning ovens largely work by heating to a very high temperature. This burns off spills and spots without using any chemical cleaner. However, there is often a thin layer of ash left behind, though this is often dealt with very easily. You may have to put some elbow grease in, though, as it is possible for some spots to be left behind.

The exact temperature the oven will get to varies. In some cases, it may get as hot as 800° F. Others get even hotter. The temperature may vary between cleaning, as well, as external factors (like the temperature of the room) may affect the temperature of the oven.

Many of these ovens simply get “as hot as possible” during one of these cycles. Today, many consumers expect this feature to be on their ovens.

Luckily, this cleaning mode seems to work, too. In several studies, the ovens do get quite clean when put on a self-cleaning cycle. Of course, this doesn’t mean no scrubbing is required. You may have to wipe out a bit of ash. However, it’s much easier to clean a self-cleaning oven than one without this feature. It’s a serious step up.

women hand opening the oven door to control the roast
Image By: brizmaker, Shutterstock

What Are the Different Types of Self-Cleaning Ovens?

All self-cleaning ovens work the same. They heat up to a high temperature to burn away any of the grime inside. As we’ve explained, the exact temperature can vary. However, beyond that, these ovens all work relatively similarly.

However, some high-cost ovens now have a different feature called “AquaLift.” This takes the place of a self-cleaning cycle, but it functions very differently. This mode is a steam-clean cycle that helps clean your oven—but to a lesser extent than a self-cleaning cycle. These steam-cleaning cycles don’t seem to work as well as a self-cleaning cycle. But, they can still make cleaning easier.

Where Is It Used?

Practically all oven models today come with a self-cleaning function. Those without it are usually very inexpensive—or they’re equipped with an alternative like we discussed above. Overall, though, the self-cleaning cycle is very popular and is now considered a base feature to most consumers.

However, whether or not this cycle is actually used is another thing altogether. While the cycle is very easy to utilize, many people go months between cycles. There isn’t an official recommendation on how often you should use this cycle, but it works best when the oven is less dirty. If you wait too long, you may find that the self-cleaning cycle isn’t as useful.

Advantages of a Self-Cleaning Oven

The primary advantage of a self-cleaning oven is that it reduces the amount of work you need to do to clean your oven. Because they basically burn all the spots away, you’ll be left with very little work. Cleaning an oven is a huge headache, anyway, so reducing the work involved is always a plus.

While there are many claims that self-cleaning ovens aren’t safe, this is largely a myth. Consumer Reports has tested dozens of self-cleaning ovens and found them to be safe. Problems with a self-cleaning oven are rare—and the resulting problems hardly ever prove to be dangerous. They do not release extra carbon monoxide into the air (at least, not any more than normal cooking). There is little evidence for all the claims surrounding the potential dangers.

Disadvantages of a Self-Cleaning Oven

Largely, self-cleaning ovens are extremely safe. They do not release chemicals into the air and don’t break parts of the oven. However, there is always the risk of something breaking when you run the self-cleaning cycle. Of course, as we’ve explained, this is exceedingly rare.

We did find that instances of ignition problems are far more common than problems associated with self-cleaning cycles. In other words, your oven is far more likely to break for some other reason.

Still, we wouldn’t necessarily recommend running the self-cleaning cycle right before Thanksgiving!

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is it worth getting a self-cleaning oven?

Yes. Self-cleaning ovens work very well and usually aren’t much more expensive than others. The cycle works very well to clean your oven, reducing the amount of work you have to do. Time is money, and you’ll be saving a lot of it by investing in a self-cleaning oven.

With that said, some of the fancier ovens are now being equipped with alternative cleaning cycles. These often don’t work as well as a plain self-cleaning oven. Therefore, we don’t recommend them.

When should you not use a self-cleaning oven?

Self-cleaning ovens are very safe. However, you shouldn’t use this cycle with anything inside the oven. Be sure you double-check. While this isn’t necessarily dangerous for you, the self-cleaning cycle will destroy anything in the oven. After all, that’s the point.

We also recommend using the cycle while at home. Supervise the oven at least somewhat to ensure that grease fires and other hazards don’t start.

Is it safe to run a self-cleaning oven while at home?

Yes. In fact, you should only use a self-cleaning oven while at home. It doesn’t release any chemicals that aren’t released during normal cooking. If you’re concerned, you can turn on your over-range fan (which you should be using any time you use your oven, anyway). If you don’t have one over your oven, consider opening a window.

There is no danger of running a self-cleaning oven while you, your pets, and your children are home. We don’t recommend leaving the oven on when you aren’t home, anyway, as you never know when a fire may start.

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Self-cleaning ovens are extremely common today. Simply put, this cycle limits the amount of work you have to do to clean your oven. Many studies have found these cycles to actually work. However, this isn’t true for all cleaning cycles. Some companies have come out with other cycles for cleaning purposes, but these often work less well than a basic self-cleaning cycle.

Today, most models have this feature. However, the temperature that the oven heats to may vary. Most of them at least reach 800° F. Many ovens do get much hotter than this, though.

Featured Image Credit: romakoma, Shutterstock


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