You could be doing more harm than good. Here's what you need to know.

Krissy Brady
October 02, 2020
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Cooking and baking have been at an all-time high since the pandemic started, and with comfort-food season just around the corner, maintaining our ovens has become an all-important necessity—but some of us may be doing more harm than good during the process.

"Ovens are an integral part of every kitchen and should be handled with care," says Natalie Barrett, cleaning service supervisor at Nifty Cleaning Services in Australia. "However, there are many activities, both during use and maintenance, that can lead to unintentionally damaging the appliance."

oven
Credit: Getty / Westend61

It's no secret that using abrasive cleaners is a huge no-no (doing so can damage the enamel and eventually cause the oven to malfunction), so what other oven mistakes should we be avoiding that don't get as much airplay? Here's what appliance and cleaning experts had to say on the subject.

11 Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Oven

1. Overloading the Oven

Trying to cook too many things at the same time decreases your oven's overall performance and increases the risk of having a fire in your home. "If the racks are crammed full, the heated air can't circulate freely," says Paul Berry, owner of Mr. Appliance of San Antonio, a Neighborly company. The solution? Stagger cooking times and keep food items warm on the stovetop by covering them with a lid or foil.

2. Spraying Knobs with Cleaner

One of the most important habits to break is spraying the controls directly with a household cleaner. "The liquid could get behind the knobs and switches and short out the control panel," says Berry. "Instead, spray a rag with liquid cleaner and rub the controls to prevent shorting."

3. Adding Foil to the Bottom of the Oven

You might think this trick makes future oven cleaning easier, but it can actually block airflow and interfere with the heating element, which can cause oven failure or make recalibration necessary, says Berry, who recommends simply cleaning your oven regularly (say, weekly wipe-downs with a damp washcloth) to keep the inside spick-and-span.

4. Putting Off Cleaning the Oven

Dirt buildup can prevent the oven's heat sources from thoroughly warming the oven. This might cause your oven to work harder than it needs to, not to mention lead to undercooked food. "Regular cleaning of the burned-on foods from the oven's floor, racks and walls (a minimum of twice a month) will save you the hassle of unblocking heating elements and allowing them to run efficiently," says Harry Knowles, an oven repair expert at Fantastic Services in the UK.

5. Neglecting Rust on the Racks

Not only can exposed rusted coating on oven racks cause damage to your baking dishes, but any rust that chips off can increase the chance of your racks catching fire. "The next time you spot brownish, splotchy stains of rust, clean them using a nonabrasive scouring pad and a solution of soapy water and vinegar," suggests Knowles. "This approach will help to soften rusty flakes and prolong the life of your oven racks."

6. Not Treating the Door with Care

Sometimes people get carried away when cleaning the door, aggressively scrubbing the glass and compromising its condition. "This unwanted effect is further magnified via the use of hard materials instead of a soft sponge for removing the grime," says Barrett.

Between the scratches from scrubbing, the accidental slamming of the oven door when our hands are full, and using the door as a temporary shelf for hot pots before putting them on the kitchen table, these habits can all add up to creating micro-fissures in the glass that can eventually cause it to shatter, even explode. Bottom line: Be gentle with your oven door.

7. Relying Too Heavily on the Self-Cleaning Option

Yes, the self-cleaning feature is convenient, but it's not meant to be a substitute for regular cleaning. It's also not meant to be used on heavily soiled ovens. "Many times people postpone and procrastinate the cleaning of their ovens and opt for the self-cleaning option, only to realize it's too late," says Barrett.

If the grime and residue has been building up for a while, it's not rare to see smoke during the self-cleaning process, she explains. Such a scenario can even result in a fire.

Plus, the self-cleaning feature lasts for two hours and heats the oven up to 500-600 degrees in the process, making it extremely strenuous on your appliance. "As a general rule of thumb, you should always consult the oven manufacturer's instructions before using the self-cleaning feature, and only resort to using this feature once or twice a year," says Berry.

8. Leaving Racks in the Oven During Self-Cleaning

"One mistake that people tend to make when they use the self-cleaning feature is forgetting to remove the oven racks prior to beginning the cycle," says Berry. "Removing them first will prolong the life of your racks and potentially help to reduce the harsh chemical smell when using the self-cleaning feature, as residue tends to accumulate onto the racks during regular oven use."

The most efficient way to clean the metal racks is to remove them from the oven entirely and soak them in boiling water with a little dishwasher detergent. (The bathtub is a great place to soak them, says Berry.) Let them soak for two hours, then scrub the racks with a stiff brush, making sure to rinse and dry them before returning them to the oven.

9. Frequently Using the Delayed Start and Bake Options

Even if the delayed start and bake options help busy homeowners and run the oven on much cheaper late-night energy rates, your device has to work harder to reach the required temperature from a mechanical point of view, says Knowles, and using these features nonstop can literally waste the appliance's life.

There are also safety risks associated with a pre-programmed oven. Adds Knowles, "A new appliance is unlikely to get faulty in the first year of its operation, but there's always a fire warning related to using any high-wattage appliance unattended."

10. Not Installing Surge Protectors

A thunderstorm or lightning strike is a huge threat to your electric oven's operation if you haven't installed a surge protector. "To protect it—or any other appliance—from extreme weather and excess voltage, have a surge protector plugged in during the installation of the device," says Knowles.

11. Forgetting to Maintain the Range Hood

Because the range hood is often used in tandem with the oven, it should be included as part of your oven-cleaning routine. Not caring for it properly can come with safety risks.

"Oil and grease build up in the filter, fan and on other places in the extraction system," says Barrett. "What's worse than condensed fat dripping onto the oven is a fire that started because the range wasn't given a good cleaning."