HOME & LIVING
11/29/2014 07:00 am ET Updated Dec 03, 2014

WTF Is A Self-Cleaning Oven, Anyway?

Unless you've mastered the clean-as-you-go approach to hosting, the aftermath of a dinner party can feel a lot like the hangover that comes with it -- fond memories of a great time overshadowed by the stomach-churning odor of dirty dishes in your kitchen sink. And let's not talk about that molten mess you left crystalizing behind your oven door.

Short of hiring help, there's only one other way to handle this madness: By keeping that door shut and letting your oven clean itself. But how does that self-cleaning mechanism work, anyway?

We went to an appliance pro, Consumer Reports' deputy home editor, Celia Kuperszmid-Lehrman, for answers.

HuffPost Home: How exactly does the feature work?
Celia Kuperszmid-Lehrman: Typically, this cycle uses high heat to burn off spills and spatters in the oven. An automatic safety lock on self-cleaning models prevents the oven door from being opened until the oven has cooled. Some models have a countdown display that shows the time left in the cycle.

HPH: Does it mean that you never have to scrub your oven again?
CKL: If you get one of our highly-rated models, yes. All you should need to do is wipe up some ash.

HPH: Are all self-cleaning features created equal? If not, how might they differ from one oven model to the next?
CKL: Sadly no. Some are much better than others at cleaning up messy, baked-on foods according to our tests. A few professional models may not have a self-cleaning feature.

HPH: How often is self-cleaning generally recommended?
CKL: It depends on your tolerance levels and how much you cook; check out the owners manual.

HPH: What are the biggest mistakes people make when using this feature?
CKL: 1. Not leaving enough time for the cycle, which can take 3-6 hours, because it takes time for the oven to heat up and to cool down once the cycle is finished. 2. Not ventilating the kitchen while the cycle is running. Open the window a crack and turn on the range hood, otherwise it can get smelly.

HPH: Is there any new technology around self-cleaning ovens?
CKL: Some manufacturers offer lower-temperature self-cleaning cycles that use water and steam. They were faster, but really couldn't handle big messes, especially grease on the oven walls and on the window in the oven door.

Now that that's settled, check out our guide to tackling those dirty dishes.

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