For older spills, you need to invest some time to reduce the amount of elbow grease required. Moist baking soda is nontoxic and surprisingly effective at loosening even really old baked-on gunk. The trick is getting it to stick to vertical surfaces, and keeping it moist (baking soda does very little if it's dry). After some experimenting, here’s my answer: Mix 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with 2 cups of cold water in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil, whisking constantly, and simmer, still whisking, until it turns clear and gooey. Mix in about a cup of baking soda, or enough so that the mixture becomes a paste with the consistency of yogurt. Smear the paste in a thin layer over all the walls of your oven, keeping it off electrical elements as much as possible. The layer should be thick enough to be white, but doesn’t need to be any thicker than that. Once an hour for the next 12 to 24 hours, at least while you're awake and at home, spray the baking soda paste with water to keep it damp. You'll see the baking soda start to turn brown in spots as it works. After the 12- to 24-hour period, scrub the paste off a test area to see if the grime is well loosened. If it is, get to work on the rest of the oven. Scrub stubborn spots with steel wool or a steel coil scrubber (your fingers will thank you if you use your sponge to hold it). When you're finished, rinse with water.
Cleaning grubby microwaves is easy! Spray the insides with your nontoxic spray, put a cup of water in a microwave-safe container in the center of the microwave, microwave on high until the water boils (in mine, that takes two minutes), and then wait 10 minutes. Use the microwave's timer to keep track. When it beeps, use a sponge to wipe the microwave clean. If any stubborn stains remain, repeat the process but add a splash of vinegar to the water before heating it.
Finish with the Small Stuff
Polish off your kitchen duties by attending to the little things. Scrub out all your trash and recycling containers and let them dry outside in the sunshine. Put two cups of vinegar in your dishwasher and run it empty. Run a pot of water with ¼ cup vinegar added through your coffee maker (followed by two pots of plain water). And finally, pour ¼ cup of baking soda, followed by a teakettle of boiling water, down each of your drains.
Now…doesn’t your kitchen look and smell wonderful?
Farm gal, library worker, and all-around spendthrift Jean Nick shares advice for green thrifty living every Thursday on Rodale.com.