Self-cleaning ovens have been around for decades, but consumer complaints about their long cycle times, high heat, and the strong odors that result have pushed manufacturers to introduce alternatives, such as steam-cleaning and low-heat cleaning. 

Tara Casaregola, an engineer, tests all of these options for Consumer Reports with the help of a technician. They gauge how well an oven’s self-cleaning feature removes a baked-on mix of eggs, lard, cherry-pie filling, cheese, tomato purée, and tapioca. As our range ratings show, the scores vary widely. Some ovens were spotless, earning an Excellent score in oven cleaning, while others were a mess, scoring a Fair or even a Poor.

Oven-Cleaning Options

Manual-clean ovens are still available, and it’s not just cheaper ranges, such as the Frigidaire FFGF3017W, $550, gas range that have one. Some pro-style ranges, such as the Thermador PRG304GH, $4,100, and the Wolf GR304, $4,900, lack a self-cleaning function. Our range and wall-oven ratings tell you whether a model has the self-cleaning feature and how it performed. Here’s a look at how the different self-cleaning methods did in our tests. 

Self-Clean Using High Heat 
The cycle can take 90 minutes to 6 hours, using heat that's 800° F or higher. The door latches shut, ensuring that it can’t be opened while the oven is set to this high temperature. Smoke and a strong odor might occur as the heat breaks down the food soils, leaving ash that easily wipes away with a damp cloth. 

“High temperature self-clean is still the most effective of the self-clean methods,” says Tara. "For most ranges with high-temp cleaning, you can choose from a few cleaning times, say from 3, 4, or 4 hours, depending on the level of soil in your oven.”

Self-Clean With Steam
Some self-cleaning ranges also have a feature that uses low heat and water that you add to the bottom of the oven to create steam. It's supposed to release the residue in as little as 20 minutes; then you wipe the interior and remove any water. Our tests have found that the steam does clean up light messes. 

Claimed to be even faster, LG's EasyClean uses low heat and water to clean small messes and light splatters in 10 minutes, helped by the oven interior’s enamel finish. But we found that the recommended multistep process wasn’t so quick, and includes scraping debris from the oven cavity with a plastic spatula, spraying the cavity with water, and wiping it dry.

Self-Clean Using Low Heat
As an alternative to high-heat cleaning that takes hours and emits strong odors, Whirlpool developed AquaLift for some of its Whirlpool, Maytag, Jenn-Air, and KitchenAid ranges. Whirlpool claims that its first-of-its-kind self-cleaning technology is odor-free and releases tough baked-on food in less than an hour, using a special coating on the oven’s interior that’s activated with low heat—200° F—and water that you pour onto the bottom of the oven cavity.

But of the 100-plus self-cleaning ovens we tested, only the models with AquaLift scored Poor in self-cleaning. While AquaLift didn’t create any noticeable odors in our tests, and much of the food soil that was covered in water on the oven floor was easily wiped away, only a little debris came off the walls, door, and oven window when we used a sponge.

Manual cleaning isn’t part of our standard tests, but we tried using the plastic scraper and scrub sponge that came with the AquaLift cleaning kit. We removed quite a bit of the window soil with the scraper and some effort, although little came off the walls even after running several cycles.

Shopping for a range? Our range buying guide can help you get started. Then check our range ratings and brand reliability information to find the best range for your budget.

How to Use Your Self-Cleaning Feature

Nancy Bock, of the American Cleaning Institute, knows how to make a self-cleaning oven shine. Nancy and our pros offer this advice:

• Wipe spills when they happen. The dirtier the oven, the longer the self-cleaning feature runs and the more smoke it produces. Your owner's manual will offer advice on how to tackle difficult stains, such as using a mix of white vinegar and baking soda.

• Remove the racks then wipe away loose debris. This will keep them shiny and easy to slide.

• Hand-clean the inside door edge. Go about 1.5 inches around the inside oven cavity frame. This area doesn't get hot enough during the self-cleaning process to remove soil. Be careful not to let water enter the slots on the door frame, and do not clean or move the oven door gasket (it's essential for a good seal).

• Skip commercial oven cleaners. Owner's manuals we reviewed say that the residue from the cleaner damages the oven’s interior during self-cleaning.

• Do not block the oven vents. Air must be able to move freely.

• Open your windows and/or turn on the exhaust fan. A strong odor might result, and the area should be well ventilated, so do this before you start the self-cleaning cycle.

• Protect your bird. If you keep a bird as a pet, move it to a well-ventilated room away from the oven. Some birds are very sensitive to the fumes from the self-cleaning process and the fumes can kill them.

• Stay clear of the area. This is especially important during the first hour or two when it's the smokiest. And keep kids away from the oven, as the exterior of the oven or range can get very hot.