Q: Can you recommend an environmentally safe oven-cleaning product? —Nancy Sullivan, Albuquerque, New Mexico
A: I haven’t found any commercially available, environmentally safe oven cleaners; even the ones that advertise “no fumes” contain toxic chemicals. However, baking soda works fine. Cover the bottom of the oven with a layer of baking soda about 1/4-inch thick. Using a clean spray bottle, spritz water on the baking soda until it’s thoroughly damp but not flooded. Dampen it again every few hours throughout the day, and leave it overnight. In the morning, just wipe out the baking soda with a sponge, and you’ll get all the grime. Give it a rinse, and you’re done. Pumice stones—available at hardware stores—will remove baked-on black spots, while vinegar can be used to cut grease.
The easiest thing to do is to prevent messes in the first place. Put a cookie sheet or a sheet of aluminum foil on the lower rack, or line the bottom of the oven with foil and replace it when soiled. If you do get a spill, wipe it up as soon as the oven has cooled to keep it from baking on the oven.
Self-cleaning ovens can also be used—with caution. They use a very hot temperature (approximately 900 degrees Fahrenheit) to burn off spills without the use of any chemicals. However, there have been reports of fumes and smoke produced from ovens lined with nonstick finishes and also from the food spills that are incinerated. The College of Engineering at Iowa State University says self-cleaning ovens can cause smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to alarm during the cleaning cycle. The California Air Resources Board recommends using the self-cleaning oven cycle only when the house is unoccupied and well-ventilated.