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The dangers of self-cleaning ovens

18 April 2016

As technology evolves and appliances become ever increasingly user-friendly, convenient and intuitive, self-cleaning ovens have rapidly risen in popularity. This is natural and understandable – after all, nobody wants to spend hours scrubbing away inside a grimy oven when they could be getting on with their busy lives.

The benefits of self-cleaning ovens are evident: they negate the need to buy expensive store-bought solutions that are an assault on the senses and they promise to save us hours of cleaning time. However, there are certain downsides to self-cleaning ovens that more than outweigh the pros. Depending on the type of oven used, utilising the self-cleaning feature on your oven may be more dangerous than you first thought, and may be doing damage to you, your family and even your pets. They might even prove to be more toxic than the chemical-packed oven cleaning alternatives you can buy from your local shop.

Your oven may be coated with Teflon

It is worth noting that a fair number of self-cleaning ovens in the UK are coated internally with a more friendly enamel layer. However, some are lined with Teflon, so it is important that you look into this before buying. Teflon is a synthetic resin. It is very tough, which makes it ideal as a coating for non-stick cooking utensils. In order to bake away the grime and grease that has built up inside the oven, the self-cleaning function causes the oven to reach temperatures of approximately 480 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, once Teflon reaches this temperature, it releases toxic gases.

Teflon’s breakdown chemical is highly controversial, as it is fairly unanimously considered a cancer-causing agent for both humans and animals. It is also a chemical that is “persistent and accumulative”, meaning that it does not break down into a harmless substance over time. Rather, it remains and accumulates. The smaller the body, the more impactful the substance will be so if possible opt for an oven coated with enamel.

Acrolein and Formaldehyde are harmful chemicals

On top of Teflon, other chemicals to be aware of in self-cleaning ovens are acrolein and formaldehyde. Humans can’t break down these chemicals, leading to symptoms such as dry and itchy eyes, headaches and lung irritation. They can also worsen conditions such as asthma. Users should pay particular attention during the first few cleaning cycles. If users insist upon utilising the self-cleaning cycle, play it safe and try to time the cycle for when you are out of the house.

Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas

The North Iowa Municipal Electric Cooperative Association asserts that your self-cleaning oven can produce a carbon monoxide during the cleaning cycle. Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odourless and tasteless gas that is often the real cause of many suspected outbreaks of food poisoning or flu. It is extremely toxic to both humans and animals.

There is no way to eliminate the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning while using the self-cleaning cycle, but in order keep the chances to a minimum, follow manufacturer’s instructions and remove as much charred food as possible before you turn on your oven (defeating the point of a self-cleaning oven a little in the process).

Not entirely self-cleaning

On top of all the relevant dangers brought on by using the self-cleaning function, the reality is, self-cleaning ovens do not do all the work on their own. Before the self-cleaning cycle can be effective, the user is required to hand clean any pooled grease or thick spills from the oven floor, door frame and walls. Any large pieces of food should be removed. This will significantly reduce the amount of smoke and flaming that occurs during the cleaning process. 

Considering all the preparation work involved, some consider it just as easy to complete the work themselves. If this is the case, for the benefit of your health it is recommended to use warm, soapy water and an environmentally friendly cleaning solution, bypassing all the potent chemicals included in traditional oven cleaning solutions.

Written by Richard Crawford, owner of TheOvencleaners