Alongside drain and toilet bowl cleaners, the final member of the most-toxic-household-products trio is oven cleaner. The always, and at times painfully, straight-shooting Wired magazine chose one of the most popular brands of oven cleaner for next month’s “What’s Inside” article.
The list of toxic ingredients starts with butane, an organic solvent that is also an aerosol propellant and a favorite among teenage inhalant abusers. But, as Wired tongue-in-cheekily points out, “that’s not a worry here: Huffing fumes from the other ingredients would almost certainly kill you first.” In addition to butane, you can expect chemicals known to cause cancer, as well as confusion and nosebleeds: super-caustic lye – or sodium hydroxide – and a chemical that stunts brain growth in mice fetuses. All that and it makes oven-cleaning easy!
If you’d rather not sacrifice your health, and that of generations to come (of mice at least), or risk burning your eyes, throat and lungs as you apply the spray cleaner, there are greener ways to clean an oven.
Catch the drips
The first step in greening any cleaning task is to get proactive. That means wiping the oven down more often so you remove spills before they have time to bake on to the oven’s surface. Using an old baking tray or a sheet of (recycled) aluminum foil and reusing it for as long as you can to catch spills will reduce the need for toxic oven cleaners. But even without the tray or foil, you can clean the oven fairly easily with a few ingredients you may already have in your cupboards.
How often you clean your oven depends on how often you use it. However, if you see your oven smoking as it heats up, clean it immediately to prevent a fire hazard.
It’s true that cleaning the oven without conventional cleaners is a multi-hour process, but that doesn’t mean you have to scrub for hours. You also shouldn’t have to take the whole next day off to recover. Soaking goes a long way in cutting down both the grease and the elbow grease it takes to get it clean.
First, remove racks and soak in warm sudsy water for at least three hours, or overnight. Then wipe clean. If you have a self-cleaning oven, simply switch to clean mode. When it’s done and cooled, wipe the interior with a damp cloth.
If you have a non-self-cleaning oven, you can create a paste with ¾ cup baking soda, ¼-cup salt, and ¼-cup water and coat the interior. Let the paste set overnight and then scrape the paste and grime off with a plastic spatula. Wipe the entire oven clean with a damp cloth. Replace the racks.
Now you’re ready to bake a mean loaf of wheat bread or a spelt pizza without a toxic coating from cleaner residue or weekly visits to the physical therapist.