There are fewer strange memories of my childhood than that of coming home to a foaming oven, my mom in those yellow rubber gloves, on her knees in front of the frothing beast. I can still smell the Easy-Off oven cleaner as if there was an open can right next to me. It never seemed right that we would need to make such a fussy mess to clean our indoor fire pit. And, actually, we don't need to.
Though the big companies who make different cleaning products for every square inch of your dwelling would assure you there is an irreplaceable need to use their specially formulated oven cleaner, you can do a good job without the chemical overload and with stuff you probably already have in your house that costs you less than $5.
Salt is a mineral miracle. It preserves, seasons, exfoliates skin and it can clean your oven. Turn on your self-clean oven setting if you have it, or set the temperature to about 125 degrees. When it's warmed up, slightly dampen the caked on areas with a spray bottle of water or vinegar, then pour salt directly over the grime. Then, turn off the oven and let it cool down. You can then scrape off the salted areas and wipe down with a wet towel to get the crumbs out.
If you need a bit more oomph in cleaning your oven, try baking soda and vinegar. They are like the dynamic duo of natural cleaning products and, yes, they sure do work wonders. White vinegar is as effective as those expensive and toxic hand sanitizers and bleach in killing germs. Baking soda is so versatile it's a shame we don't give it more respect than a strange looking bald man.
Spray down the oven with vinegar, or a vinegar-water mix. Then sprinkle baking soda over the affected area. Let it sit for several minutes. It will react with the vinegar and may get bubbly. Gently scrub with a steel wool or coarse brush until you've removed the gunk, then wipe down with warm soapy water and a sponge.
If you're still battling some seriously stuck-on stuff (btw, congrats for regularly using your oven!) you can let the baking soda and vinegar mix sit on for hours. You may even add another layer and wait over night before scrubbing.
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Photo: Soopahgrover courtesy of Creative Commons