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What Is The Effect of Oven Cleaner On Kitchen Countertops?

Bill Nelson

Commercial oven cleaners are effective in the oven but are toxic and can be damaging to other kitchen surfaces they may contact.

Ovens get dirty. If you must use oven cleaner, limit to the oven.

Commercial oven cleaners are a stew of toxic and aggressive chemicals—they need to be, in order to have the desired effect on the carbonized, greasy accumulation of drippings on the bottom of your oven. Variously acidic and alkaline, these chemicals not only work together to soften baked-on foodstuffs, they also interact with components of the oven gunk itself to enhance the oven cleaner’s properties. Sodium hydroxide, for example, also known as lye, is harshly alkaline and can cause chemical burns to human skin. When the lye comes into contact with fatty triglyceride molecules—grease—it saponifies, creating a crude form of soap. Monoethanolamine, also a common ingredient in oven cleaners, neutralizes some of the fatty acids in oven gunk and converts others to solvents. Monoethanolamine is a carcinogen. Another carcinogen, methylene chloride, a solvent frequently found in paint strippers, is also a common ingredient in oven cleaners.

In other words, the chemicals in oven cleaners are dangerous for the exactly same properties that make them effective at cleaning your oven.

Outside surfaces can be handled with safer, greener cleaners.

Its Effect on You

When you spray this caustic foam into your oven, the damage to the oven’s surface is minimal. But the damage to your lungs and mucous membranes from the volatile organic compounds released may be another matter.

Fortunately, the bottom of your oven isn’t a food contact surface. Your countertops, however, are a food contact surface. Oven cleaner that spends any appreciable time on your countertops will begin to attack the finish and penetrate the material itself. That effect is even more pronounced if the cleaner encounters food residues. Remember, oven cleaners are formulated to specifically interact with those residues. Under no circumstance should commercial oven cleaner be deliberately used on any surface that comes in contact with food. The chemical taint can persist, even after you wipe the oven cleaner off. Accidental spills or drops of oven cleaner on a countertop must be wiped away immediately and well-flushed with water.

Besides the damage to your countertop, oven cleaner residues can taint your food.

Its Effect on Your Countertops

The harsh chemicals in oven cleaners will also attack the finish of many countertop materials, resulting in permanent damage or the need for extensive restoration.

Granite and marble countertops are seemingly impervious, but natural stone is porous and requires periodic sealing in order to remain non-porous and stain resistant. Oven cleaner will attack the surface sealant, allowing the toxic chemicals to penetrate the stone.

Quartz and other engineered stone is crushed natural stone bonded with resin and often tinted with colorant. Oven cleaner compromises the resin and the colorant, marring the surface of the counter and discoloring it. The surface can be re-polished, but there is no practical cure for the discoloration.

Solid surface countertops, like Corian and Avonite, are acrylic with added mineral compounds and colorants. Oven cleaners will attack the surface finish and, as with engineered stone, can also cause permanent discolorations. The finish can be repaired but the discoloration is forever.

Wooden countertops are sealed and varnished. Chemicals in the oven cleaner will soften and disfigure the varnish and possibly allow the toxic compounds into the wood. The countertops, once damaged, will need to be stripped and revarnished.

Stainless steel countertops are protected from corrosion by an invisible layer of chromium oxide. When scratched, the chromium in the stainless steel reacts with oxygen to “heal” the scratch. Oven cleaner’s acids and alkalines are too caustic for the protective chromium oxide layer to restore itself. Once the chromium oxide is compromised, discoloration and corrosion can set in, requiring extensive refinishing.

Laminate countertops, like Formica, are sensitive to cleaners containing harsh acids or alkalines Oven cleaner can discolor and etch the surface, causing permanent damage. Replacement of the damaged surface is the only solution.Tile countertops are especially vulnerable in the porous grout between the tiles, but some oven cleaners can mar the finish of the tiles, as well. Individual tiles can be chipped out and replaced, but it’s best not to incur the damage in the first place.

A Better Solution

While effective, oven cleaners can be risky to use. They are damaging to your household environment and destructive when they stray beyond the oven. A greener approach is to physically remove as much of the baked-on material as possible (a metal spatula works well for this) and then apply a paste of baking soda and water to the bottom of the oven. Leave the paste for several hours, spraying it with water periodically to keep it moist. Sponge off the paste and residue.

If you prefer to use a commercially-formulated oven cleaner, Arm & Hammer makes one with a baking soda base.