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Oven cleaners pose poisoning risks

The holidays are here and for many of us that means our ovens are about to start working overtime. Cookies, pies, casseroles, the bird — we be cookin’.

One of my fans reached out to me for some preholiday oven advice. She wrote, “I REALLY need to clean my oven so my Thanksgiving turkey doesn’t taste like everything else I’ve made in it of late. It’s seven years old and not self-cleaning. I’ve avoided doing it because I don’t want to set off a cloud of noxious chemicals in my kitchen for a whole day. Is there a non-toxic way to clean a non-self cleaning oven?”

Great question. No one wants their Thanksgiving dishes to be infused with burnt-on grease flavor and every other thing that’s found its way to the bottom of our oven for the past umpteen weeks — not to mention that unpleasant smoky smell that comes from baking in a dirty oven. Let’s start this cooking season with a fresh slate, or should I say grate.

The advantages of traditional oven cleaners are power and speed, but the disadvantages far outweigh the good, namely, toxic chemicals and caustic fumes in our home. Products like Easy-Off contain corrosive alkalis that may kick butt on burnt-on cheese, but can do the same to our bodies.

According to MedLinePlus.gov, “Oven cleaner poisoning can cause symptoms in many parts of the body,” things like “difficulty breathing, throat swelling … loss of vision … skin burns … low blood pressure — develops rapidly … severe change in blood acid level — leads to organ damage …” Nothing is worth all that, let alone a clean oven.

When going the green cleaning route, we have to provide the power. (Got elbow grease?) Never a fan of needless hard work, I’ve created a list of tips on how to oven clean smarter, not harder. As for the speed, alas, no lightning fast fix here, although time will work on your side, so have a little patience.

Soak the grates

■ Remove all of the grates.

■ Fill a utility tub or bathtub with hot water and a nontoxic cleaner like Simple Green. Let them soak, the longer the better — over night if you can. (Careful not to scratch your tub.)

■ Remove them and scrub off residue with a heavy duty scrubbing pad or fine steel wool.

■ For extra scrubbing, make a paste from baking soda and lemon juice and have at it.

Give your oven a steam bath

■ Remove the grates and wipe or vacuum out any loose debris.

■ Put back a grate on the bottom rack and place a large non-glass baking dish filled with water and about ½ cup of white vinegar.

■ Heat to 350 F and let the water bubble, steam and do its thing.

■ Shut off the heat, then carefully spray the inner surfaces with a water/vinegar solution (don’t burn yourself).

■ Close the door and let it stand at least 30 minutes.

■ Once cooled enough to work, wipe it down. If stubborn spots persist, scrub with a paste of baking soda and lemon or use Simple Green Heavy Duty BBQ and Grill Cleaner; it’s recommended for ovens, too.

Bonus info and tips

■ The sooner a spill is cleaned, the easier it is to get rid of.

■ Put foil or a cookie sheet under stuff that can bubble over; prevention is the best remedy.

■ Self-cleaning ovens that use pyrolytic cleaning (heat) create a lot of smoke and odor. It’s also a feature notorious for malfunctioning and too often damages components. I personally never use it.

■ Steam cleaning ovens provide a newer feature that cleans in less time with no smoke and odor but are not quite as effective as pyrolytic ones.

■ Regarding microwave ovens, don’t use any cleaners inside the unit. Bring a cup of water to boil in it, then wipe it down.

In a nutshell, hot water, steam, a few natural ingredients and soak time will transform your stinky/smoky ol’ oven into a fresh baking machine.

Norma Vally is a seasoned veteran of home improvement; her career includes four seasons as host of Discovery Home Channel’s Emmy-nominated series “Toolbelt Diva.” A columnist and author, Vally splits her time between Southern Nevada, Los Angeles and New York City. Follow her on Facebook at Norma Vally “Toolbelt Diva” and visit her at www.NormaVally.com. Email Norma@NormaVally.com.

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