Vintage Experiments in Oven Cleaning

Cleaning materials: A grater, a bar of soap, a scrubbing brush, a lemon, vinegar, salt

I love the idea of vintage cleaning. It seems like a way of making cleaning fun. Not that the old ways were more fun, just that experimenting is fun.

This is my cooker.

Rangemaster range cooker


Doesn’t look too bad on the outside. On the inside however,  this was what it looked like:

Standard rangemaster cooker oven


And because I have a range, there are two ovens to despair of.

Fan oven rangemaster dirty


Ugh. I’m blushing. Normally when it gets like this and I can’t bear it any longer, I use oven pride. I feel guilty about using it, but I have no idea what else will work. Surely some vintage books can come to the rescue?

Here’s where I looked for answers:

The Home of Today Book
The Home of Today published in the 1930s


Flatlay of The Good Housewife's Encyclopedia
The Good Housewife’s Encyclopedia published in 1963


Flatlady of vintage book Kitchen Hints
Kitchen Hints published in 1982


There’s not a huge amount of advice. I begin to wonder if cleaning ovens is a bit like breaking wind. We all do it but it’s not the done thing to talk about perhaps. Or maybe they paid someone else to do it. I did read an advert in our local paper about a man who will come round and clean the oven for you. Maybe that is the true vintage solution? I enjoy that fantasy for a while. Back in reality, the 1930s manual has this advice:

Vintage oven cleaning advice from the 1930s. Stove: To Clean Bars of - When the bars look burnt and shabby, rub them with a piece of lemon before putting on the blacklead; it will then be easy to polish them.


My stove bars are looking burnt and shabby. A quick google tells me blacklead is for cast iron. My stove bars are made of chrome (I think) so that’s probably not going to work. I have a lemon though. I decide the inside of my oven is made of enamel and look for advice on cleaning that. The 1963 encyclopedia has some tips:


Advice on cleaning enamel from 1963 vintage homemaking book. "Enamelware - To Clean: Clean enamelware in hot soap and water or detergent and water. Do not use abrasives. Soak utensils to which cooked food has stuck and then use a scrubbing brush. A little salt and vinegar on a rag will remove stains.


These sound promising. And I have all the materials to hand. Seems non toxic too. The 1982 book has the following offering:


Excerpt from 1980s vintage Kitchen Hints book Cookers: A neat and dramatic way of cleaning all the fiddly bits of a cooker, if they have been badly neglected, is to put all the removable parts in a dustbin bag, take it out of doors, pour in two cups of household ammonia, fasten with a tie and leave outside for several hours. The fumes from the ammonia will loosen stubborn dirt, and afterwards you can rinse the whole lot clean with a garden hose.


I’m not sure what their definition of “badly neglected” is but I’m certain it applies to my shelves. This appeals on some level because it is similar to the oven pride method, but that somehow feels like cheating so I decide to try the older methods first. I gather my materials for battle.


Cleaning materials: A grater, a bar of soap, a scrubbing brush, a lemon, vinegar, salt

I pull the shelves out. Grate the soap (almond oil soap) and add some hot water. It lathers up really well. I sponge it onto the bottom of the oven to leave to soak.

grated soap on chopping board next to grater and bar of soap

A sponge and soapy water in a basin

Soapy water sitting in two ovens


Next, I tackle the shelves.

dirty oven shelves


I confidently get my lemon and go to work.

Using a lemon to clean oven shelves


After ten minutes I realise nothing is happening. The lemon does not clean the shelves. At all. All I’ve done is wasted half a lemon. I vaguely remember there being something about quicker methods in the back of the 1930s book for “women who work or have hobbies.” Yes, here it is:


Excerpt from vintage book extolling the virtues of steel wool.


Why women who don’t work are not allowed to use steel wool is beyond me but I’m happy I have another method to try. I think they mean what my Mum used to call “Troll Wool” but I don’t have any of that. I figure a steel scourer will be a comparable alternative.


Steel scourer cleaning oven shelves


This definitely has an effect. I am using a lot of elbow grease, and it is shifting the dirt. I finish one shelf and look at my clock.  It has taken 22 minutes to make one shelf cleaner, but still not perfect.

cleanish oven shelf


I have four left to go. This is not fun. Why did I think it would be fun? I decide that maybe, just for science’s sake, I should try the 1980s method. I don’t have any ammonia. Will bleach do? I decide to try. I put the oven shelves in a double-bagged bin bag with two cups of bleach. I balk at the idea of doing it outside, there seems to be too much chance of bleaching my garden. I stick the bag in the shower, open a window and shut the bathroom door.


Bin bag, string and bottle of bleach.

Bin bag in shower


I leave the 1980s in the bathroom and head back to 1963. The oven has been soaking for an hour. I sponge off the soapy water and a surprising amount of dirt comes with it.

Double oven looking a bit cleaner


I mix some salt and vinegar into a paste and get scrubbing.

salt and vinegar paste and a rag in a basin

scrubbing brush in oven


This definitely shifts more dirt because the scubbing brush is filthy. It smells very strong, but in a nice chip shop sort of way. After a good old scrub though, nothing else seems to be coming off, so I stop and rinse the ovens out. They definitely look better, but not immaculate.


Convection oven cleanish


cleanish fan oven



A few hours later I tip out the oven racks and bleach. I rinse them off in the shower.

oven racks in shower being rinsed with shower.


Still dirty oven shelves


A tiny bit of dirt has come off. Apart from that “the fumes” don’t seem to have done a thing. This was neither “Neat” nor “Dramatic” Perhaps proper ammonia would have worked. But it’s back to the steel wool for me.



Lemons don’t work.

Steel wool works.

Bleach fumes don’t work.

Hot soapy water works (I’d like to try this method with carbolic soap and see if that has more power).

Salt and vinegar and a scrubbing brush works (but now I want chips).


Respect to my ancestors! I’ll definitely use the soapy water, salt and vinegar again. I wonder if I did this once every six weeks, instead of once in a blue moon, it would eventually get my oven like new. If I do that, I’ll let you know.  In the meantime, I’m open to more suggestions – I’d love to hear your vintage cleaning tips!






2 Comment

  1. Angeline Smith-Patey says: Reply

    Use vim with steel scourers on racks for stubborn stains. I fill the sink with very hot water put in some washing up liquid and bleach and soak racks then use scourer to clean them. Remember to open the windows when using bleach.

    1. Caroline says: Reply

      Great tip, thank you. Oh wow, do they still sell Vim? I remember Vim, we had a cat who was obsessed with it and would try licking the sink after my mother had scrubbed it clean (not very hygienic!). Where do you get your Vim supplies Angeline?

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