If you cook often or even just once in a while, you are bound to eventually experience an accumulation of hardened oils, greases, and other materials inside your oven. It’s essential that you remove these periodically in order to avoid your oven becoming a fire hazard or your food losing quality.
Unfortunately, if you don’t have a self-cleaning oven, it’s not as easy as initiating a self-cleaning function and reducing the materials to ash. Instead, you’ll have to use oven cleaner to effectively clean your oven.
However, you may find yourself wondering how harsh these chemicals are and are they harsh enough to destroy your countertops if anything spills? What exactly is the effect of oven cleaner on kitchen countertops?
While oven cleaner can potentially cause irreversible color damage to your countertops, the exact answer to this question will depend on the material your countertop is made out of, the type of oven cleaner you use, and how long it has been on the countertop.
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What is An Oven Cleaner and How Does it Work?
The gunk in your oven is often sheathed in an almost impenetrable charred carbon crust. In order to effectively break it down and remove it, you need to use some rather harsh chemicals. The most common brand of oven cleaner, Easy-Off contains ingredients such as butane, monoethanolamine, sodium hydroxide, diethanolamine, and more.
Those sound like a lot of big words, but what exactly do they do? Butane is an aerosol propellant that helps to loosen up carbon molecules. Monoethanolamine (MEA) is a mixture of ethanol and ammonia. It’s a hazardous chemical but serves the purpose of aiding in the breakdown of grease on your oven surfaces.
Arguably the most dangerous chemical in oven cleaner is sodium hydroxide, or more commonly known as lye. However, most brands of oven cleaner only contain 10 percent or less of this ingredient.
While butane and MEA are softening the solid organic overlay, they allow sodium hydroxide to attack the principal fatty triglyceride molecules.
The net result of these ingredients, and others, is a spray foam product that softens caked-on grease, dissolves the burnt remnants of greasy food clinging to the walls of your oven and allows for an easy scrape-off removal.
Are My Countertops Safe Against Oven Cleaner?
Even if you’re being incredibly careful, you could still end up spilling some oven cleaner on your countertops. So, is this something to worry about? The harsh chemicals in most standard oven cleaner brands could possibly cause color damage to your countertops that may be permanent.
Sodium hydroxide, or lye, has a history of being used as a paint stripper and should obviously never come into contact with a surface that has been sealed or painted with a clear finish.
Most stone countertops are generally sealed with polyurethane and the grout sealant used on tile countertops is also vulnerable to damage caused by lye.
If you accidentally spill some oven cleaner on your countertops, acting quickly to remove it may help reduce or prevent any damage. In fact, use vinegar or another acidic product to help neutralize any lingering lye.
Alcohol and Your Countertops
In addition to lye, the alcohol (either MEA or ethanol) found in oven cleaner can be harmful to your countertops. Alcohol is known to be a powerful solvent and while it’s doubtful that it’s going to eat into your countertop, it could cause irreversible discoloration to the surface.
Specifically, Corian, vinyl, or any other synthetic countertop material is especially vulnerable to color damage caused by alcohol. Discoloration most often occurs when the spill remains on the countertop for a long period of time.
However, some homeowners have experienced color damage to vinyl after simply wiping the surface clean of oven cleaner.
Oven Cleaner and Aluminum
One other important thing to note about oven cleaner is the potential dangers when it comes into contact with aluminum. The aluminum will break down the sodium hydroxide in the oven cleaner and release dangerous, flammable hydrogen gas.
This reaction could also result in permanent discoloration of aluminum surfaces. Therefore, you should never use oven cleaner on any sort of aluminum material.
The Effect of Oven Cleaner on Kitchen Countertops
While it may make sense that since oven cleaner works so well at removing grease and stubborn stains from your oven, that it also works on your countertops. However, there is more to the story as the toxic chemicals in oven cleaners can cause permanent damage to your countertops.
Let’s examine the possible effects of oven cleaner on the most common kitchen countertop materials:
- Wooden countertops. Most wooden countertops are sealed in a clear or varnish coating that is susceptible to damage from oven cleaner. The chemicals will penetrate through the wooden countertop’s top layer, soften it and leave it sticky and gummy. Your countertops will likely never return to the original look and may need refinishing or replacing.
- Tiled countertops. If your kitchen has tiled countertops, you should avoid using oven cleaner. If spilled and left on the surface for too long, the oven cleaner will eat away at the grout and the top glaze of the tiles.
- Stone countertops. Countertops made from natural stone such as granite or marble are generally tougher materials. However, oven cleaner could still cause irreversible discoloration to the surface. Additionally, natural stone countertops that come into contact with oven cleaner may lose their sheen and become dull.
- Formica countertops. Similar to stone countertops, Formica is a strong material that isn’t as susceptible to damage from oven cleaner. Regardless, there is always potential for permanent color damage.
If oven cleaner has damaged the surface of your kitchen countertops, it’s possible that they can be restored by polishing them. Also, help prevent any further damage by sealing your kitchen counters and oiling your butcher block. These simple actions can even keep your countertops clean and reduce your cleaning efforts.
Alternatives to Commercial Oven Cleaner
It’s always a safer option to use natural cleaners rather than a chemical-based oven cleaner. Although it may seem like it requires extra effort to clean your oven the natural way, there are some rather easy ways to go about it.
In fact, you can mix together a paste using ingredients you probably already have in your home. This alternative does not contain any alcohol or lye and will work just as effectively as the commercial oven cleaning products you’re used to.
- Mix together ½ cup dish soap, 1 ½ cups baking soda, and ¼ cup of vinegar. Once combined, add in a sufficient amount of water so that it is a paste-like texture.
- Using a brush, paint this mixture on the inside of your oven. For best results, let stand for 6 to 8 hours or overnight.
- Scrub off the paste and softened grease by using a saturated kitchen scrubber. Dip the scrubber in a bowl of water and change the water as needed.
Another option for cleaning your oven naturally is by using steam. Combine equal parts water and vinegar in an oven-safe bowl. Place the bowl into the oven and set the temperature to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Leave the bowl in the oven for at least 30 minutes. Remove once the time is up and you should be able to easily wipe off any residue using a damp sponge.