Unless you always diligently line the oven with aluminum foil, every home cook will occasionally need to clean the oven. Even a self-cleaning oven isn't a self-sweeping oven. It just burns off spilled food at extreme temperatures. The charred remains (and typically some of the stuck spilled food) will still be in the oven.
According to the supermarket cleaning aisle, you will need an expensive special product just for cleaning the oven, and it likely contains harsh chemicals that may even linger in the oven and ruin the flavor of your food. Instead of buying an oven cleaner, we tried three do-it-yourself oven cleaners. All three worked, to varying degrees. For a fair comparison, we split the bottom of the same oven into three sections and cleaned up several months' worth of drips and spills from pies, casseroles and more. Starting with the most effective method, here are our results.
1. Baking soda paste: Martha Stewart suggested cleaning the oven with baking soda and water. We were pleasantly surprised to find it was both the simplest (you don't need to make a macramé cleaning elf or anything like that) and most effective way to clean the oven. You simply coat all the oven surfaces with a paste of baking soda and water, then let it work overnight. Presumably to keep your hands spotless for serving hors d'oeuvres, Martha recommends donning gloves and scraping off the resulting grime with a plastic spatula. This takes some muscle, and fails to remove the baking soda residue, so we found an old sponge easier and more effective (albeit messier).
2. Salt, vinegar and heat: The Organic Authority didn't quite live up to its name with its oven cleaning method. The ingredients are certainly organic, but they don't provide an authoritative solution. OA Writer Jill Ettinger suggests turning on the oven to just 125 degrees (she doesn't specify Fahrenheit, but even if she meant Celsius, it would only equal 257 degrees Fahrenheit, which is still a relatively low oven temperature). Then spray water or vinegar on the oven surface, and salt onto any spills and grime. Turn off oven. Once the oven is cool, wipe out the salt and grime. We used vinegar, and tested the OA method on the right side of the oven floor, which had fewer total spills, but sported a couple of challenging, thick, caked-on spills. It failed to completely clean the worst spots, and the rest of the area required more elbow grease to clear up than did the baking soda method. To be fair, the Organic Authority did suggest a vinegar and baking soda solution for more serious messes, but it is pretty similar to Martha's method.
3. Soap and baking soda: Surprisingly, the most complex DIY oven cleaner also was the least effective. Tipnut, a clearinghouse for homemaking and craft ideas, suggested sprinkling dry baking soda directly onto the oven floor. Then mix three teaspoons of Borax, ¼ cup vinegar and 1/8 cup liquid dish soap with two cups of hot water in a spray bottle, and spray on the baking soda. Leave the mixture overnight, and wipe away. While this seems like it would be at least as useful as the simple baking soda paste, the soapy solution took more effort to scrub away, and left more residue.
We should probably clarify that Networx is in no way sponsored by or affiliated with Arm & Hammer, but we have proven once again that baking soda can clean or deodorize almost anything. In fact, we used generic baking soda for this test - to great effect. Next time you need to clean the oven, save some money and spare the chemicals. Follow Martha's lead and use a baking soda paste.