How to Clean Your Microwave

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Steam, soap, towels, and a good scrub are the keys to cleaning your microwave to remove cooked-on food and odors. Yep, even that burned popcorn smell.

Interior view of a dirty microwave coated in food splatters with bowl of water inside getting ready to clean

Cleaning your microwave is about more than appearances. All those splatters inside your microwave oven are teeming with bacteria, not all of which will die the next time it’s used. Crusty bits of food also pose a fire danger since they get hotter and drier with every use. Even if they don’t catch on fire, those food splatters in your microwave smell awful and attract household pests.

Fortunately, there’s a quick and easy way to clean your microwave and get rid of cooked-on food. It even gets rid of that burned microwave popcorn smell that somehow stinks up an entire home.

Steps to Clean Your Microwave

Time required: 10 minutes

Materials Needed

  • A microwave-safe bowl
  • White vinegar or a lemon (choose one)
  • Baking soda
  • An old toothbrush
  • Microfiber cleaning cloths
  • A bath towel
  • Soapy water or all-purpose cleaner
Closeup of female hands holding a bowl of water with half a lemon to clean the microwave

Step 1. Make Steam

Fill your microwave-safe bowl halfway with equal parts of water and white vinegar. Or, if you’d rather, use only water but add half a lemon. Put the bowl in the center of your microwave and heat it on high for 2-3 minutes. Leave the door closed and wait 5 minutes for the steam to loosen grime.

Step 2. Wipe the Mess

Carefully remove the bowl from the microwave. Dip the microfiber cloth into the water and wring it out. Use this damp cloth to wipe the mess on your microwave’s ceiling, walls, door, and floor. Use the toothbrush on any stubborn bits, especially the holes in the grate covering the microwave light and vent. Remove the microwave turntable and wash it in the sink.

Step. 3. Use Baking Soda on Stubborn Spots

If it’s been a while since you cleaned your microwave, you may still have a few tough areas to clean. Make a paste out of some water and a little baking soda and use it on the corner of a microfiber cloth to scour the mess. A dab of olive or another kind of oil can also help loosen stubborn spills.

Step 4: Soak Splatters that Won’t Budge

Another quick and easy way to deal with stubborn splatters in your microwave is to soak a hot bath towel in very hot water and stuff it inside your microwave so it touches the ceiling and walls, then close the door. Do not run your microwave with the towel in there. Wait 5 minutes while the towel’s moist heat loosens grime, then remove it, and the messes in your microwave will be easy to wipe away.

Step 5. Wipe it Again Inside and Out

Do not use harsh cleaners or bleach-based products to clean your microwave. They’ll add a smell that you don’t want your food to pick up and may damage your microwave’s plastic parts. Water and mild dish soap are enough in most instances. Use this to wash the interior and door, inside and out. Finish by buffing it dry.

Step 6. Wash the Filter

No one likes the smell of burnt microwave popcorn or other nasty cooking smells. To eliminate these odors in your microwave, you need to clean the filters. The sooner you do it after overcooking popcorn or other food, the easier it is to get the smell out.

Over-the-range microwaves have filters below them. When you run the vent fan while cooking on the stovetop, these catch grease and pick up greasy odors from microwaved food. Wash them in hot, soapy water or run them through your dishwasher on the top rack. Some countertop or under-cabinet microwaves have filters behind the door, which may or may not be washable. Check your owner’s manual to find out.

How Often to Clean Your Microwave

Wiping your microwave’s handle is part of a good daily cleaning routine. Once a week, clean the interior with a warm, soapy cloth or use a gentle all-purpose cleaner. You can make cleaning easier by wiping spills when they happen, and always use a microwave-safe splatter screen when heating greasy or saucy foods.


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  1. The worst microwave disaster I ever had and which ultimately required tweezers was an exploded spaghetti squash. Yes, I’d stabbed it with a sharp knife, apparently not enough. My microwave is a convection Advantium type and stainless steel inside. The “roof” is a grid of tiny holes. I did everything in the book to clean it but ultimately it needed individual strands to be pulled out. One by one. My vow was to never do that again and to never ever cook heat or otherwise insert food inside without a cover. I had a half dozen Bed Bath and Beyond coupons for $5 off so I bought a half dozen vented plastic covers. And to take it a step further, everything I reheat that can explode I cover first with a paper towel and a plastic cover. I had to clean my mom’s same model and hers was a disastrous mess of heated tomato products. It literally took an hour to scrub it clean. I used baking soda paste. Then a nice stainless polish food safe — it’s made for the pharmaceutical industry).

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Oh my goodness, what a nightmare! For anyone who reads this in the future after a similar spaghetti squash accident, try a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment first if you don’t have Liane’s patience.