Summer vacation has ended, the kids are back in school, and it’s still hot. It never ceases to amaze me how it stays so hot for so long. I’ve lived in the South my entire life, and I think my brain has deluded me into thinking “Maybe it won’t be so hot this year” as a means of protection.

At any rate, the last thing you want to do when it’s hot outside is make it hot inside.

One of the easiest ways to keep it cool[er] inside—aside from cranking up the air—is to avoid using the oven. Speaking of the oven, when’s the last time you gave it a good cleaning? A month ago? A few months ago? A year? (Never?)

Oven cleaning isn’t something you should put on your weekly to-do list, but you should try to clean it every few months. Three to six months is enough time for grease and now-charred bits of food to have built up, and cleaning that up keeps your oven running more efficiently.

In this article, I’ll take you through two methods of oven cleaning: the natural method (my preferred and recommended one) and the self-cleaning method.

Natural Oven Cleaner

Using natural, homemade cleaners are the safest way to clean your oven, but you’ll need to use different cleaning solutions for your oven racks and the inside of your oven. To clean your oven racks, a simple soap-and-water mixture will suffice.

Pro Tip: You can make your own cleaning solution from borax, grated bar soap, and essential oils.

Unless you have a very big sink, the racks will probably not fit for a good soak. You can simply wipe them off if they aren’t very dirty, or let them soak in a bathtub. If you choose to use the bathtub, I would advise cleaning it before and after you clean the oven racks.

Cleaning your oven with natural ingredients

spoonful of baking soda

As far as the inside of your oven goes, you just need three ingredients—water, baking soda, and vinegar—and some time.

The water-and-baking soda method involves making the paste, spreading it on the inside of the oven, and letting it sit for 6 to 12 hours, depending on how dirty your oven is.

Pro Tip: When making the paste, there isn’t really a set ratio of baking soda to water. The best indicator that you’ve hit the mark is that the paste will spread easily on the oven.

After the paste has had time to dry, spray down the oven with vinegar, and wipe it with a damp cloth. Afterward, turn your oven on a low temperature (less than 300 degrees) so the oven will dry.

Once the oven is dry, you might find some leftover residue from the water-and-baking soda mixture. This probably means there was too much baking soda or that the paste sat too long. Just re-spray the affected areas with vinegar and re-wipe and dry.

Oven Cleaning Cycle

It’s time to address the elephant in the room: the self-cleaning feature that most ovens now possess. Is it convenient? Mostly (minus the hours that you can’t use your oven). You just hit a button, and it gets clean! Except you are supposed to wipe out the resulting ash, and that’s half the process of cleaning it yourself.

Now, I probably shouldn’t admit this (so mom, if you’re reading, just skip down a few paragraphs), but I’ve used the self-cleaning function two times, and both times, we ran it while I was asleep. After doing some research and finding out how hot the oven gets during this process—up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit—I will not be doing that again, in my sleep or otherwise.

The biggest problem, in my opinion, with the self-cleaning function is the level of heat used. The oven doesn’t use any cleaning chemicals in this process, which is fine and dandy. However, that level of heat mixed with the Teflon that covers the inside of many ovens releases chemical fumes.

After all the research about Teflon’s negative health effects, it seems silly to even cook with Teflon, much less inhale the fumes it releases when exposed to extreme heat. It can cause symptoms of sinus and eye irritation, and sometimes even flu-like symptoms. The fumes have fatal consequences for our avian friends, meaning you should take extra caution if you have a pet bird.

Lower Your Bills with Less Frequent Oven Use

Once you’ve cleaned your oven, it’s time to celebrate—by not using the oven! During the summer, using the oven warms up your house more than necessary, and there are alternate ways to prepare meals that keeps the heat where it should be: outside.

Cooking outside

cooking kebabs on the grill

Being able to cook outdoors is one of the high points of warmer weather, and I daresay a meal cooked on the grill is one of the greatest pleasures in life. Here are just a few benefits of cooking outside:

  • You don’t warm up your house with all the heat an oven expels.
  • Not warming up the house with an oven also creates less strain on your HVAC system.
  • There are fewer dishes to clean, since you aren’t using those Teflon-coated pots and pans.
  • You find more time to spend with family instead of cleaning.
  • You get a new variety of meal options, plus that flame-grilled taste that makes all food better.

Bottom line? Give yourself and your oven a break by giving it a good cleaning (my recommendation is the water-and-baking soda method) and finding alternate ways to prepare your summertime meals.