To Self-Clean, or Not to Self-Clean, That is the Question

It’s Wednesday before Thanksgiving and you’re making the final food and cleaning preparations for your guests. As you go through your checklist you see the oven, open it, and see the burnt cheese on the bottom from your son’s frozen pizza and decide you should start a self-clean cycle. You set it to clean and go about the rest of your list.

Later the same afternoon as the kids are coming home from school, your daughter says the oven is doing something weird and in the midst of shoving clothes into the washer, you respond without thinking about it. “It’s cleaning, leave it alone.” A little bit later, your daughter yells to you, “The oven is beeping.” You tell her, “It must just be done cleaning, just shut it off.” After she informs you it won’t shut off, you come to investigate.

Here to your horror, is an error code in the display, a constant beeping, and indeed, it won’t shut off. It’s now shortly after 5 p.m., you have a Thanksgiving meal to make tomorrow, guests arriving in less an hour and no oven! Out comes your cell phone…Google…appliance repair…call – closed, call – closed, call – ring…ring…ring…answer, sorry we are booked until Tuesday. One more call…ring…answer, “What error code do you have?” he asks. You tell him hoping he has an easy fix. “Sorry, miss, that’s a bad control board and parts stores are closed until Friday.”

One word enters your mind as you hang up the phone, and you feel like making it reverberate through the entire house for as long as possible, but you’re an adult, and mother of four kids. The anger toward the oven surfaces and you feel like picking the whole stupid thing up yourself and dumping it on the curb.

Soon after, you start to calm down and bit and start to think about your options. Your husband is on his way home, so you text him to stop at the store and pick up a roaster oven. You also tell your mother to bring her roaster and her Crock-Pot. “We have no oven, I’ll explain later.”

No one would want to be in this situation. Many have been, or close to it. So how can it be avoided?

Some appliance repair specialists would say you should just never use the self-clean function on your oven. But what’s the point of having a self-cleaning oven if you can’t self-clean it? Would you buy a four-wheel drive vehicle and then never use the four-wheel drive because you’re afraid it’s going to break? No, you wouldn’t because the four-wheel drive is the whole reason you bought in the first place.  But let’s stop and think about what’s really going on with a self-clean oven.

What is it that a self-clean cycle does? A clean cycle heats up your oven to about 880 degrees for 2-4 hours. It gets the oven so hot that your food spills, however crusted and burnt on they may be, are incinerated – turned to ash. Compare that to normal baking temps of 350, maybe 425, or 450 and 880 degrees is about double, which is really hot. It’s really the hardest work your oven can do.

When your oven is going through it’s life doing it’s normal job of heating up to 350-450 degrees, things start to wear and age and get weak. It might be that some component is getting close to failing but still has some life left in it. But then you go and put it in a clean cycle and make it work really hard, which might put that component over the edge. It fails and your oven is out of commission. So is your self-clean cycle really at fault? No, it would have happened sooner or later anyway. But because the self-clean cycle is associated with so many failures, it gets a bad rep.

So what’s the solution?

What I tell my customers is this. Either run a self-clean cycle far enough in advance of a big day, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, so that you have time to get it fixed if it does fail, or wait until after the critical day. Just don’t self-clean right before you really need it.

Reminder: You should never run a cleaning cycle overnight or when you are not home. While extremely rare, anything that hot always has the potential for something disastrous.