Thursday, January 26, 2012

How to Get An Immaculately Clean Oven

We have a gas range with a black glass/enamel top and a stainless front.  I love my stove and oven, and when we've lived elsewhere I have specifically missed the oven/range from THIS house.  But we've been in this house twelve years now, on and off, and it has been impossible for me to clean the burnt-on stuff from my stove-top*, and the truth is that I've not really worried too much about the oven.

But, the stove-top definitely did drive me batty, and I really thought I'd tried everything.  Boiling water, soapy Brillo pads, dry steel wool, Windex and elbow grease, you name it.  I could wipe down and clean up the stove top, but I couldn't CLEAN it.  Likewise for the grates.

Until recently.

I saw a pin (you knew this was coming!) about how to clean the cooked-on grease from the grates and catch-plates (we don't have catch plates though, which is part of the stove-top problem).  You put the catch plates and grates in a zip-top bag with just about an inch of ammonia -- not enough to cover, just enough to generate fumes.  Then you seal the bag and leave the grates in overnight.  The next day when you open the bags and go to clean the grates, the gunk comes right off with minimal work.

I tried this with our grates and it worked like a champ.  Our grates fit across two burners, so I bought a box of two-gallon Ziploc bags and put the grate in with ammonia, then stood it up in our sink and put another bag over the top.  It wasn't a perfect seal, but it worked well enough and I was amazed by how it changed the appearance of our stove top.

That made me think about how I could emulate this effect for my actual stove-top.  What I decided to do was to put ammonia in the four "burner wells," so to speak, and then cover my entire stove-top with Saran Wrap, sealing it at the edges where it is glass.  (Our stove-top itself is glass, but the wells are enamel.  I'll update this post with a photo asap.)

IT WORKED LIKE A CHAMP!  Our stove hasn't looked this good since the day we installed it in the house -- although I do regret all my steel wool use now, because although I managed to not be able to clean the stove, I did manage to scratch it.  (I know.  How can it scratch if it can't get through the gunk, right?  Your guess is as good as mine.)  Anyway, it's like making your bed -- I never realized how crummy it looked (okay, that's as lie, I knew it looked wretched, but over time the effect dulled enough to where it failed to bother me), but now that it's incredibly clean -- pristine, if you will, and I think you should -- it makes the entire kitchen look better.

Great, so what does this do for me if it's my oven that's a mess?

Well, I always kept my oven decently clean, but never fussed with the grates or really scrubbed the inside, because it's a self-cleaning oven. But a few weekends ago, we had a little mishap with au gratin potatoes overflowing and burning onto the bottom of the oven, and they literally went on fire. 


Oh, you read that right.  They went on fire.  (Okay, well not the potatoes, we saved those, of course, duh, we're talking food here -- but the spilled part?  Fire.  With flames.  Big ones.)  Mick panicked like I've never seen, really.  The man does not like fire.  Poor guy, he married a pyro.  I could watch and play with fires forever, and he freaks if I light a match.  Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean ...

So just imagine the two of us -- oh yeah, with friends over for dinner, watching all this unfold! -- in the kitchen when the oven is on fire.  AWESOME.  Next time, we'll YouTube it.  I bet it would go viral.

That meant, of course, that I really had to reckon with scrubbing the oven so that anything I'd missed in cleaning that mess wouldn't light up again. This was particularly important because about a year ago our heating element died, and I didn't want to have to replace it again.  They are not cheap, and the appliance companies and their affiliates won't sell them to mere civilians.  Last time, we were fortunate enough to have a friend in town who is actually an appliance person, so he was able to use his "industry credentials" to get the element at his cost.  Believe it or not, he paid about half of what we'd have been charged for the part, plus we didn't have to pay labor costs because he and Mick did it themselves. (Neither did we have to wait a week for a repairman to come out and pay a general service fee.  You know. $75 because we took your phone call.  Those charges.)    And besides, if I needed to replace the element because of this fire issue, it 100% would have been because I was too lazy to clean the oven, and that kind of stuff I can't stand.

So anyway, I took some ammonia and put it on the floor of the oven.  Kept the racks in there, closed the door and -- here's the important part -- put a sticky note on the oven controls to remind me to NOT turn the oven on until I cleaned it!  (If you're wondering, ammonia is not flammable.  Even the bottle of ammonia recommended using it to clean an oven.  Just goes to show I could read my cleaning product bottles every once in a while, huh?!  But I am uber-conservative and didn't want to have the one bottle of ammonia that defied chemistry and caused my house to explode.  Really, I know it's ridiculous, but this is how my brain works.)

The next morning, it was amazing how the racks came out sparking like they were new, and the oven floor was almost perfect!  Now, our oven floor is not perfectly flat, and there are a few spots in the corners where I think I could put more ammonia to really finish this project, but the oven is in pretty amazingly great shape.

So, there you have it.  How to Get An Immaculately Clean Oven.  All you need are zip-top bags, saran wrap, ammonia and time. 



*spell check is contradicting itself on whether it is correctly, "stove-top," "stovetop," or "stove top".  I give up on trying to eliminate the little red squigglies.  But you may see some inconsistent use of the three in this post.  Sorry.

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