Self-Cleaning vs. Easy-Clean Ovens

Grill inside oven

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What is the difference between a self-cleaning oven and an easy-clean oven? A range oven either needs to be cleaned by hand (manually) or has a self-cleaning cycle that makes the process much easier. An easy-clean model is still a manual clean oven, but it might have a better-than-average interior finish that makes cleaning easier.

If you're buying an oven, you should confirm whether it has a self-clean feature or not, because the cleaning process is very different for each type. Regardless of what type you have, your oven will need to be cleaned and how often depends on how messy your cooking and baking tends to be.

Benefits of a Self-Cleaning Oven

  • Chemical fumes: Manual clean ovens require the use of very strong oven cleaners, smelly formulas. You must ventilate the kitchen by opening the window or turning on an above-range exhaust fan. Make sure to wear protective gear such as eyeglasses, rubber gloves, and mask if you have any problems with strong scents. A self-clean process uses no chemicals, simply heat to clean.
  • Labor intensive: A self-cleaning oven tremendously cuts down cleaning efforts. Even though the cycle can take four hours, the oven is doing the cleaning automatically, and you can do something more worthwhile with your time. On the other hand, manual cleaning requires lots of elbow grease, bending, and scrubbing.
  • Time saver: The self-cleaning cycle allows you to do other things. You can do the cycle in an evening, whereas manual cleaning takes longer.
  • Cost consideration: You might pay $100 or so extra for the self-clean feature, but with manual clean, you must purchase oven cleaners and scouring pads. Using energy during the self-clean cycle is a trade-off for time and effort saved.

Self-Cleaning Oven Cycle

A self-cleaning feature is an oven cycle that minimizes your efforts when it comes to cleaning the oven. And they generally do a very good job of cleaning the built-up grease, drips and burnt-on splatters that can take hours to clean manually.

A self-cleaning cycle is available on ranges at all price points. This is not an expensive oven feature, but it generally adds around $100 or so to the ticket price and is well worth it.

When a range model has a self-cleaning cycle, it is usually denoted on the control panel and in the product manual, but it also has a locking handle on the oven door. If you're not sure if your oven has such a feature and there's no locking handle, your oven does not have this feature and you must clean it manually.

Self-cleaning involves making sure there's nothing inside the oven except the racks, setting the cycle and locking the door. You should follow the step-by-step instructions in your manual—a great reason to keep the manual. The length of the cycle varies with the oven model but is manually set for around three to four hours in duration, depending on how dirty the oven is.

Some have delay or time start settings. Leaving the racks in during cleaning is usually optional. At the end of the cycle, the oven will automatically turn off and then requires a cool-down period at the end of which, the door can be unlocked and the oven ready to use.

Some areas must be cleaned manually because they are outside of the heated areas. That's the inside of the oven door and around edges of the door and oven opening, close to the gasket seal. Care should be taken to not wash or get anything on this gasket which can wear it down more quickly.

These areas are usually cleaned before starting the self-clean cycle. And to reduce the occasional smoke during the process, remove any loose burnt debris from the oven, before starting the cycle. Also, the oven light must be off during cleaning and sometimes instructions call for sliding a protective shield over the light inside the oven.

During cleaning, heat builds up considerably and dirt, grease, drips and such are burnt to ash during the process. Sounds scary, but it isn't. You should ensure though that there is no paper or linen in the range drawer because of this high heat.

And with some models, manufacturers may recommend to pull the range out to allow at least one to two inches of clearance on all sides due to the heat generated. Note that no cleaning sprays are used with self-cleaning, only high heat. Once the oven has cooled down, it usually needs a damp wipe to remove the gray/whitish ash film residue.

Easy-Clean or Manual-Clean Ovens

Some manufacturers offer an "easy clean" oven which is a manual clean but one that might be easier than other models. An easy-clean should not be confused with a self-clean oven. Though the interior finish matters when it comes to scouring an oven, you still have to clean it by hand. There is no locking feature but the easy clean finish should cut down on cleaning time over the average manual clean oven.

If you have cleaned an oven, you know how much of a chore this is. A manual oven cleaning includes spraying the cool oven with a stinky oven cleaner—you should wear a mask, protective eyeglasses and use rubber gloves.

You leave it for a few minutes for the formula to break down crusted areas and then scrub the entire oven with a cleansing pad while being careful not to get anything on the exposed element. Rinse wipe after cleaning to remove detergent residue and then clean oven racks, which need to be washed in the sink.

The Bottom Line

Whether you chose an oven with a self-cleaning cycle or one that must be cleaned manually, be prepared to clean that oven as required to avoid oven grease fires or smoke that can impact the taste of your baking. If you're concerned about cleaning time, effort and/or have problem hands or bending is difficult, a self-cleaning oven is a good choice. And it is the best choice for those with sensitivities to scents or chemicals.