I confess: the one thing I have never, ever cleaned successfully is my oven rack. Has anyone? No matter what I cook, and no matter how careful I am to put pans underneath bubbling pies and roasting vegetables, the racks somehow get covered in a layer of greasy gunk and are now permanently reddish-brown. I’ve tried scrubbing them with dish soap and baking soda, but long ago gave up hope that they’d ever be silver and shiny again. Besides, I had more visible cleaning problems to tackle.
Then a friend told me about a surprising cleaning tool for oven racks and stovetop grates: dryer sheets. I don’t typically stock dryer sheets, since they’ve got lots of chemicals, which I try to avoid adding to my laundry. But, sources confirmed (when I Googled it later), that dryer sheets are excellent at tackling stubborn oven buildup—and I had half a box left behind by a former roommate that I didn’t want to waste. Could dryer sheets have an unintended, actually useful purpose?
I decided to test it out one weekend, loosely following instructions I found online.
First step: Put the oven racks in the kitchen sink and fill it with hot water. Everything I read suggested doing this in the bathtub, lined with towels to prevent scratches, but since we don’t have one, I made do with the sink. If you’re lucky enough to have a tub, I’d suggest doing this there—the sink was cramped.
Once the racks were covered, I submerged a handful of dryer sheets (I used five for two oven racks), poured in a few tablespoons of dish soap to help break up the food grease, and swirled the water a bit to mix it all in. The dryer sheets turned the water foamy and I could already see a bit of rust-colored burnt-on food coming off of the metal—a good sign.
Then, I walked away and let the racks soak while I cleaned the rest of the apartment, had some lunch, answered emails, and lounged around on the couch with a book. (If you’re trying this at home, couch-lounging is totally optional; you could also leave the mixture overnight.) One reader, Ronyvee, recommends a similar method just in a plastic bag. “I put our racks in a large black trash bag with soap, dryer sheets, and enough warm water to cover the racks,” she says, “tie off the bag and leave it in the yard, flip it over halfway through the day. Works like a charm. Be careful, though, the water can get very hot if left in the sun.”
A few hours and an ice cream later, I headed back to the kitchen, drained the sink, and used the wet dryer sheets to wipe down the racks, one rung at a time—and the built-up grime wiped off easily, no elbow grease needed. I felt like I was in one of those infomercials: The metal racks were clean and silver, the way they were intended. (I even did one side of the racks at a time, so I could admire the difference.) I gave the racks and the inside of the sink a once-over with some dish soap to rid them of any dryer-sheet chemicals, then rinsed them. Easy.
This trick, I read, can also be used to loosen caked-on food residue from pots and pans. I was so excited by the results of my oven rack experiment and had a few dryer sheets left over, so I pulled out a few particularly sticky sheet pans and dishes, laid dryer sheets in each one, filled them with hot water, added a bit of dish soap, and left them for a few hours. It worked well on all but one: a glass baking pan that’s been used so many times to roast sweet potatoes, it’s now permanently orange. It may be that there’s just no remedy for that sticky sweet potato residue (or perhaps it just needs a longer soak).
If you have a few extra dryer sheets lying around, this is an effective way to put them to good use without tossing them. Plus, it’s a hack that requires minimal effort: The dryer sheets literally do the work while you sleep (or read, or catch up on Netflix, or go out to dinner).
All out of dryer sheets? Luckily for us, you weighed in with your favorite methods for ridding racks of grease and gunk:
Trash Bag + Oven Cleaner
Cosmiccook writes: “I like a clean oven. When new, my oven was this beautiful race car blue. Since it’s self-cleaning, I’m limited to what I can use on the oven itself, as the self-cleaning isn’t 100 percent effective.” The solution? “I use the black plastic bag in the sun method (fill up a plastic bag with water and oven cleaner, pop the racks in, and leave it out in the sun for 24 hours) with oven cleaner. The heat from the sun mimics the oven heat for the cleaner.
Bar Keeper’s Friend + Water
Says Heidi: “For that sweet-potato encrusted glass pan, and any other metal or oven component, Bar Keeper’s Friend is the BOMB because it doesn’t scratch, and it’s safe even for glass cooktops.” Her trick? “Dampen the surface (a misting spray is best but just get it wet, but not puddled), apply a few thin sprinkles of the powder, lightly scour and LET IT DRY. Then wipe off the dried residue with some elbow grease and a dry paper towel. Works on glass shower doors too.”
Last but not least, according to Smaug (“I’d hardly count it as a trick, but…”), an oven cleaner actually does a very good job of cleaning ovens. “Who’d a thunk it.” According to us, an oven cleaner you can feel good about using is Method’s Degreaser, but perhaps you have other recommendations, Smaug?
Have a clever hack for cleaning your oven or stove? Let us know in the comments!