If your kitchen smells like a campfire every time you bake, you need to clean your oven. "But wait!" you say. "My oven has a self-clean setting. Why would I need to spend time cleaning it by hand when I could be doing something that's not hard and boring?" Great question. Basically, the self-cleaning function on your oven is lying to you. You can't set your oven to self-clean, put your feet up in for an hour, and come back to a sparkly-clean oven. The self-cleaning function is essentially just a screaming-hot temperature function. It burns everything stuck in your oven to a char, and then you then have to scrape out all that charred gunk. It can be really messy, smelly, and, if you have a lot of crap stuck inside the oven it can set off smoke alarms. 

So, what should you do? Cleaning your oven with a simple baking-soda paste is way better. PS: This works on toaster ovens too.

Of course, you can buy oven cleaners in powder, liquid, or wipe form. Those are magical and will erase everything (including a few brain cells if you inhale them too deeply). When I moved into an apartment that had previously been occupied by 20-something guys who never cleaned their kitchen, oven cleaner-strength wipes were the only thing that removed the three-plus years of grease spatter stains from the fridge. (Side note: Why is it standard practice in so many apartments to put the white fridge next to the stove, so it's begging to be covered in bacon grease and barbecue sauce splatter?) While these extra-strength cleaners work like a charm, I avoid using chemicals labeled “do not inhale” on surfaces that come in contact with food, so I go the more natural route when cleaning my oven.

  1. Remove all the racks from the oven and hand wash them with a scrubby sponge. If they seem very covered with grease, soak them in hot, soapy water for a while—if you have a tiny apartment sink like I do, you may have to complete this step in your bathtub. If you have no bathtub and a tiny sink, just do the best you can with hand washing. If the grease won't come off the racks with dish soap, use extras of the paste you're about to smear inside the oven.

  2. If there are any easy to remove chunks of charred food in the bottom of your oven, scrape them out and into the trash.

  3. Mix together a paste of 1 cup baking soda and ¼-⅓ cup lukewarm water, keeping in mind that you may need more paste if you have a large or double oven. If there’s a lot of grease on the oven walls, a thicker paste may be your best bet. Use a large, clean paint brush or rubber glove-covered hands to spread the paste all over the oven, including the inside of the door. Let the paste dry a bit, then close the oven door and let it sit for 12 hours. It goes without saying but I’m going to say it anyway: Don’t use your oven while you’re cleaning it.

  4. After 12 hours, use a spatula or scrubby sponge to scrape the hardened paste from the oven, taking the caked-on gunk with it. Fill a spray bottle with ⅓ cup white vinegar and ½ cup water, and spray any bits of paste that won’t budge with the spatula. Next, spray the whole oven with the vinegar solution, and wipe the oven again with a dish towel. 

  5. Finally, wipe the oven with a clean damp dish towel to make sure you’ve gotten rid of all the baking soda paste. 

Admire your clean oven and get it dirty again.