Self-Cleaning Option = Harmful Toxins: How to Clean Your Oven Safely

I recently moved into a new house and was greeted by a mess of an oven – caked on grease everywhere! Not one into using anything with chemicals to clean, especially with my three little precious ones around, I needed an alternative.

The easiest thing to do would have been to press the self-clean button, but that is not a viable option since it can actually be more toxic than standard chemical based oven cleaners on the market. Self-cleaning ovens are lined with Teflon, and when the temperature of the oven is running at around 900 degrees, toxic gasses are emitted into the air. How toxic? Toxic enough to kill birds, just like cooking in a Teflon coated pan (AvianWeb). The danger doesn’t stop with birds though; the coating is also toxic to humans – the smaller the body, the more the person can be affected. According to Environmental Health of California, “A scientific advisory panel to the US Environmental Protection Agency recently unanimously recommended that PFOA (a key component of Teflon) should be considered a likely human carcinogen. This classification means that there is evidence of cancer causing effects from both human and animal studies.”

“Teflon’s breakdown chemical, PFOA, is a serious concern for a number of reasons. In addition to evidence that it is a likely cause of cancer, it falls into the category of chemicals which are persistent and accumulative. This means that rather than breaking down into harmless substances over time, they remain as they and accumulate in the environment”(Teflon Labeled Cancer Risk).

lab glass 2

Teflon isn’t the only chemical to be wary of with a self-cleaning oven. “Substantial amounts of Acrolein and Formaldehyde can be emitted from self-cleaning ovens on the first cleaning cycle. The gases are released from the insulation around the oven when it gets hot”(Kincaid). “Both Acrolein and Formaldehyde could be present at harmful levels in a kitchen where an oven is on the self-clean cycle. Both chemicals have similar mechanisms of action, and they will produce similar irritant effects. The combined effects will be additive”(Kincaid). For effects of these chemicals, see here: Acrolein and Formaldehyde

Our bodies cannot readily breakdown the chemicals used in making Teflon, nor can it fully eliminate Formaldehyde and Acrolein in a timely manner. The result is a host of symptoms, including asthma, headaches, dry and itchy eyes, birth defects and lung irritation. In addition, some of these chemicals are know carcinogens.

What to Use Instead

I resort back to my most basic and effective cleaners: baking soda and vinegar. These two items, along with a little elbow grease, is all you need to clean even the grimiest of ovens – I should know!

What to do:

1. Coat the bottom of your oven with baking soda.

2. Pour or spray white, distilled vinegar on top of the baking soda – don’t flood it, use just enough to moisten the baking soda and get it bubbling. You can dilute the vinegar with water if you wish.

3. Close the door and let that sit for about 4 hours.


My oven, after letting the baking soda/vinegar solution sit for a coulpe of hours.

4. Open the oven and use rags to scrape off the baking soda. When most of the baking soda/vinegar solution is off, use a sponge and scrub the remainder of the grease off.


This was taken after cleaning up the baking soda/vinegar solution, but before really scrubbing anything!

5. As far as the rest of the oven, scrub any grease spots withe the baking soda and vinegar. You can always use a razor to scrape any hard to remove spots from the glass part of the door, but I have never needed to do this.

6. Never use it again. Marvel at your clean oven and make something healthy and delicious to celebrate!

Works Cited

Kincaid, Laura. Acrolein & Formaldehyde:Toxic chemicals from Self-Cleaning Ovens. Examiner. September 21, 2009. Web. June 2, 2013.

Teflon Labeled Cancer Risk. Environmental Health of California. Web. June 3, 2013.

About Raising Natural Kids

A mother of two looking to raise awareness about the everyday issues that parents face, focusing on raising children holistically.
This entry was posted in Cleaning, Home Appliances, Toxic Chemicals Around Children and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Self-Cleaning Option = Harmful Toxins: How to Clean Your Oven Safely

  1. Mike Tanner says:

    Great info – I’m not a massive fan of those toxic chemicals you can buy – using baking soda seems to be a pretty popular choice these days! I admittedly did resort to professional oven cleaner kent or oven cleaner birmingham based companies to do mine when it got bad until I read posts like this, so thank you! But I actually have a tip that I found really helped: EVERY time you use the cooker, just give it a quick wipe over, inside and out. I found a sponge (just water, nothing else) as the oven was cooling down to remove the spillages and grease from that cook really helped stop the build up and I don’t reach that horrible black, baked on stage any more! Thanks for the advice.

  2. Pingback: 9 Harmful Toxins Blogs

  3. Gin's things says:

    It’s scary the amount of chemcials in everyday life, I agree with the more natural cleaning option, it works great for everything!

    • leigh says:

      TBH, so far as I’ve seen, the old fashioned and more natural products actually work BETTER than the conventional and modern chemical options. The wife does most of the spot cleaning, but when i clean i want it to look brand new. my wife asks me how i get things so clean and i usually reply, “I didn’t use your frufru nancy sprays!”

      the only things i use for EVERYTHING:

      baking soda

      I work in a pharmacy and we have to disinfect everything frequently. many of the cleansers are just too expensive and may leave a residue to be using several times a day and just seems wasteful. it’s an industry standard to just grab a bottle of rubbing alcohol off the shelf and apply the spray bottle topper on the bottle it came in and that’s our everyday cleaner/sanitizer. I also use it frequently when i have a cold and I’m filling prescriptions because it rubs in faster than hand sanitizer. never really got into using it around the house though because it doesn’t have a lot of muscle for actual cleaning and picking up dirt. just disinfecting.

      • ashley says:

        Rubbing alcohol is great on stainless steel appliances. Only natural, nontoxic thing I’ve found that actually gets smudges off.

  4. What great tips. I will be using this information tonight as my oven is in horrible shape. I didn’t know what to do or how to clean it since the only time I tried the self cleaner was horrible. It was on for 30 minutes and the smell was so horrible my eyes were burning. Luckily the kids we asleep. I had to open ever single window and turn all the fans on. My oven needs a cleaning.

  5. I have a gas range, so this wouldn’t work because of the flame slits on the bottom. I wonder if using the solution on a sponge would be the best option.

    • Tina Payne says:

      Tonya, you can make a paste with baking soda, vinegar, and a bit of Dawn dish washing liquid and use that to scrub with. Leave it on and then scrub off after a few hours.

      • Emily P says:

        I was told Dawn dish soap has formaldehyde in it. I’m not sure if that’s true and it was a couple years ago, maybe they took it out. But you might as well stick with the baking soda and vinegar paste to be safe.

  6. Right now all I have is apple cider vinegar. Can I use this instead with the same results? I want to get started on this now

  7. Heather says:

    Link to something about self cleaning ovens being lined with Teflon, please? Self-cleaning ovens have been around much longer than Teflon! Also, you can feel whether something has a teflon finish. My fairly modern stove is lined with the same baked on enamel (like a graniteware pot) that my 60 year-old vintage stove has.

    I would guess that the very newest ovens might be teflon-lined, but that’s it. Here’s my reasoning: About 7 years ago, we bought a brand new stove, for what will definitely be the first and last time. It was a fairly high end stove, lots of bells and whistles and digital junk. I overboiled something and it broke. When the repairman was there, he also warned me to never use the self clean, but for a much different reason. He said the circuitry in new stoves wasn’t built to take the heat of self-cleaning without burning out. A teflon-lined oven would self clean at a much lower temperature, “solving” the problem without actually having to do a better job of building the stove.

    IMO, the very best consumer quality stoves were made in the late ’40’s into the ’50’s. The technology was there for a good, easy to use stove, and the manufacturers had not yet started to incorporate electronics where they aren’t really needed or cheap out on construction quality. Additionally, gas stoves from back then don’t require electricity to cook food. I have had 2 of them, and they are a joy to cook on.

  8. Sara says:

    my oven self cleaning feature does not let the over go over 500 degrees.So I am assuming it is safe? Also I only use that feature 1 time a year.

    • No, not safe. As is, using teflon coated pans on the stovetop emits toxin, as seen by the birds who die when owners use them to cook (this is not a farce, but a fact that can be verified by bird owners). So, it takes a much lower temp than 500 degrees to be causing damage in the body.

      • Heather says:

        Teflon emits fumes at much lower temps than 500F. I am very glad I don’t have a teflon lined oven, as it wouldn’t be safe at 350F, either! I would be on the lookout for a good, used, NOT teflon lined stove, personally!

  9. comicjobgirl says:

    I also use an oven liner so that when the liner gets very dirty you just pull it out and clean that or throw it out when it is too far gone.

  10. dlg says:

    Pumice will get the baked on food off your oven without scratching the enamel.

  11. Eric Christensen says:

    I agree with your info, I’m a fan of old time remedies and or solutions; its easier and in some cases more cost effective. The old ways in my opinion were better. Dont get me started about cooking with aluminum pots a pans and their possible future affects on the human brain. Go info dude. Thanks Eric

  12. Christina says:

    Thank you for this! I have a bird and I was looking for a safe way to clean our oven that wouldn’t literally kill her. I’ll be trying this in the next few days.

  13. Heather says:

    We used this method to clean our oven right before Thanksgiving and it worked perfectly! Thank you!

  14. Just a quick comment to say thanks a lot for your post and also ask (including other commenters) if they have ever had to clean a cooker when moving in to a new house and has that made a difference to how they've cleaned it? I don't know what it is but I says:

    Just a quick comment to say thanks a lot for your post and also ask (including other commenters) if they have ever had to clean a cooker when moving in to a new house and has that made a difference to how they’ve cleaned it? I don’t know what it is but I just can’t bring myself to cleaning someone else’s grease and grime, especially in the oven! I don’t know if I’m weird but it really makes me cringe haha. I usually get my OH to do it, but I have been known to get the professionals in too I won’t lie! When we last lived in the area I got oven cleaning sutton coldfield to come and do it. Anyone else?

  15. Sarah says:

    Are there any new stoves that are not lined with teflon?

  16. Sonya says:

    We just recently sourced our homes high levels of formaldehyde to our oven. It is emitted even at lower temperatures. I am so irritated and angry that I have been gassing my four children for possibly 11 years. The oven manufacturer was of little help also. I am so scared for the possible long term health issues my kids may have from this. We thought we suffered from allergies all this time! We have constant post nasal drips!

  17. Pingback: How To Clean Your Stove: Tackling Those Tough Kitchen Chores - Baking With Mom

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