Guide to Self-Cleaning Oven Technology

What Is a Self-Cleaning Oven and How Does One Work?

With pungent cleaning products, endless scrubbing and hard-to-reach places, cleaning the oven is one of those jobs we all put off. So could a self-cleaning oven be the answer?

Self-cleaning ovens use one of two methods to lift away burnt-on food, meaning you need considerably less elbow grease to get it looking sparkling clean. In this guide, we’ll explain two types of self-cleaning oven – catalytic and pyrolytic – and discuss the pros and cons of each. We’ll look at:

What is a self-cleaning oven?

A self-cleaning oven has a cleaning setting that removes a lot of the burnt-on food and grease that builds up on the inside of the oven. If you do a lot of cooking (roast chicken, bacon and anything topped with cheese are among the worst offenders) a self-cleaning oven saves a lot of time and will help you achieve an oven to be proud of without hours of back-breaking scrubbing.

Unfortunately, you’ll still need your rubber gloves to hand. However efficient the self-clean function is, there will still be some manual cleaning involved. And while lots of people swear by their self-cleaning ovens, there are a couple of drawbacks too. We’ll explore the pros and cons below.

Stoves Electric Oven

How do self-cleaning ovens work?

So just how do self-cleaning ovens work? Put simply, the self-clean mode works by getting very hot and releasing burnt-on food and splatters. It may burn away residue with heats of over 400ºC, or use a special lining to absorb grease and grime.

Self-cleaning ovens fit neatly into our busy lives – they save time and effort, not to mention the discomfort of getting down on your knees and struggling to reach all those tricky places.

There’s also less need for chemical oven cleaners. Just select the self-clean mode and leave the oven to do the hard work for you. When the cycle is finished, you can sweep away charred residue or use a cloth to remove the loosened grime.

Types of self-cleaning oven

Here we’re comparing two types of self-cleaning oven – pyrolytic and catalytic. Pyrolytic cleaning is tougher on grime and uses high heat of over 400ºC to burn away food deposits, meaning you can sweep them away. Catalytic ovens have a special lining that helps absorb grease and grime, which you can then remove with a damp cloth.

Other ovens have a steam-clean setting. The idea is that you place water inside an oven-safe bowl, turn the oven on for around half an hour and let the resulting steam loosen food spills and splatters. It’s economical and eco friendly, but you’ll still need to do quite a bit of scrubbing to get your oven spotless.

What is a pyrolytic oven?

A pyrolytic oven has a special self-clean setting that uses a super-high heat of 400-500°C to turn food residue and grease to ash. While this can take 2-4 hours to complete it dramatically reduces the time you need to spend manually cleaning the oven.

Pyrolytic ovens are the easiest and most effective type of self-cleaning oven. And while they’re more expensive than other types, as they become more popular they’re also becoming more affordable.

How does pyrolytic cleaning work?

When you run a pyrolytic cleaning program the oven is heated to extreme temperatures of over 400ºC. Everything inside – baked-on food, grease and even sugar – is turned to ash ready for you to wipe or sweep away once the oven is cool. Pyrolytic cleaning is a lot more thorough than catalytic.

Although the high heat may sound scary, pyrolytic ovens are actually very safe. The oven door locks shut during cleaning and won’t reopen until the oven is cool enough for you to open and remove the ash. They’re also manufactured with several layers of insulation to contain the heat.

Pyrolytic cleaning often takes a few hours to complete, depending on how dirty the oven is – some even have different programmes ranging from light residue to intensive cleaning. Another consideration is the strong smell emitted as grease and food is burned inside the oven.

What is a catalytic oven?

A self-cleaning catalytic oven is made with a catalytic lining, treated with special materials and chemicals, that’s great at absorbing grease. When you run the self-cleaning programme the oven reaches 200ºC or higher to soften and burn off baked-on food and grease. You can then wipe away any residue with soapy water.

Catalytic ovens are quicker than pyrolytic ones, taking around 30 minutes to do their work. Because they’re made to clean at a relatively low temperature, they clean the oven anytime you cook at 200°C or higher. For that reason, they’re sometimes known as ‘continuous cleaning’ ovens.

How does catalytic cleaning work?

If you have a catalytic self-cleaning oven it will have absorbent surfaces on the walls or sides, which feel rough to the touch. These liners are treated with special chemicals and materials – high metals and non-volatile binders – that act as a catalyst. When activated by high temperatures of around 200ºC, a chemical reaction takes place and the lining destroys and softens splashes of fat via oxidation.

It sounds complicated, but the process of using a catalytic oven couldn’t be easier. If you regularly cook at high temperatures the oven will stay cleaner all on its own. If not, run the cleaning programme or turn the oven to 220ºC for half an hour every month or so to keep the liners working effectively. Used correctly they should last for the lifetime of the oven.

One thing to bear in mind is that the catalytic liners may only cover some of the oven interior, meaning you’ll need to clean the rest in the same way as a standard oven.

Beko Electric Oven

Catalytic vs pyrolytic oven cleaning – which is best?

Love the idea of a self-cleaning oven but not sure which type is best for you? Both catalytic and pyrolytic ovens have their pros and cons, so let’s take a look at some of the key considerations.

How easy are they to use?

Catalytic ovens are very easy to use in that you don’t need to do any special preparation or even use a special cleaning mode for them to work their magic – the grease-absorbing lining will activate anytime you cook at 200°C or higher. Even if you do run a separate cleaning cycle, it only takes half an hour.

On the flip side, there is more manual cleaning to do than with a pyrolytic oven, as a catalytic model won’t remove tougher residues and you’ll still need to do some vigorous wiping afterwards. Another consideration is that the oven isn’t likely to have the lining on every surface, meaning you’ll still have to attack those hard-to-reach places manually.

With pyrolytic ovens, it’s all about the preparation. Before running a self-clean cycle you’ll need to remove any metal oven grates and shelf supports, plus any pots and pans and even stray pieces of aluminium foil. You should also try to remove large crumbs or pieces of food, plus wipe up any spills.

How well do they clean?

No self-cleaning oven is 100% self cleaning, but a pyrolytic one is as close as you can get. There’s no doubt they do a more thorough job, and finishing up afterwards is as simple as wiping, sweeping or vacuuming away the ash.

The biggest test of an oven’s cleaning power may surprise you – it’s not a sunday roast or cheesy pizza, but sugar. Once sugar bakes on to the inside of an oven it’s almost impossible to remove, yet a pyrolytic one will burn right through it and leave no trace. Something to consider if you’re a keen baker, or love to cook with honey or molasses.

By contrast, catalytic ovens give you a big helping hand, but there’s still likely to be some scrubbing involved. They won’t remove burnt sugar, and you’ll still have to clean the parts where there’s no catalytic coating, including those awkward corners.

How expensive are they?

On to cost. Pyrolytic ovens are generally more expensive to buy than catalytic ovens, partly due to the extra insulation and heat resistance. Saying that, as pyrolytic ovens become more popular they are becoming more affordable.

The high heats used by pyrolytic ovens during the cleaning cycle also bump up the cost. According to one source, a single self-clean cycle can use 8kWh of energy – roughly the equivalent of a month’s use of a traditional oven. You can go some way to combatting this by running the cleaning cycle in off-peak hours, or immediately after cooking.

How convenient are they?

Here the catalytic oven has a couple of advantages. It only takes half an hour, as opposed to up to four hours for a pyrolytic oven. There’s also no need to prep the oven before cleaning, other than wiping up any obvious food spillages.

We’ve summed up the above points in this handy comparison table:

Pyrolytic oven Catalytic oven
Cleans at 400-500°CCleans at around 200°C
Removes all food residueRequires some manual cleaning
Requires more preparationNo preparation needed
Takes 2-4 hoursTakes 20-30 minutes
More expensive to buy and runLess expensive to buy and run

How to use a self-cleaning oven

People are often nervous about using the self-cleaning function on their pyrolytic oven due to the high heat involved. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe.

Pick a time when you’ll be at home but won’t need to use the kitchen much – that way you won’t have to breathe in too many fumes. Read the manual before you start, open the kitchen window for extra ventilation and follow these simple steps:

  1. Remove metal racks, shelf supports, pans and foil from inside the oven and wash these separately.
  2. Loosen as much baked-on food or grease as you can with a non-stick spatula
  3. Lock the oven door, or check that it locks automatically.
  4. Choose the cleaning time depending on how dirty the oven is: 2 hours for light cleaning, 4 if it’s really dirty.
  5. When the cleaning cycle has finished, wait for the oven to cool and the door to unlock.
  6. Use a cloth, soft brush or vacuum to remove the ash, carefully sweeping it into the bin.

Find your new self-cleaning oven at Marks Electrical

While self-cleaning ovens don’t stay spotless all on their own, they do save you a lot of time and effort. And since both types have advantages and disadvantages, the decision mainly comes down to personal preference.

For more help choosing your next oven, take a look at our oven buying guide or get in touch with questions – we’ll be happy to help. You can also browse our current range of self-cleaning ovens.


Latest Posts

Choosing The Best Oven For Baking

How to Install a Fully Integrated Dishwasher

What is Dishwasher Salt and What Does It Do?