A cleaning sponge sits in front of an open microwave with a dirty interior covered in food splatters

How to Clean a Microwave Even When Nothing Else Works

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We’ve all been there: staring at a crusty microwave and upset that it got that bad. Again. Even when you’re good about wiping it out after every use, family members may not be. 

So, here are two ways to clean your microwave: the steam method for simple cleaning, and my towel hack for filthy microwaves that look like a Jackson Pollock painting.

Cleaning Your Microwave with Steam

1. Microwave a bowl of water and vinegar or lemon juice for 3-5 minutes until it’s boiling. Nothing makes vinegar or lemon juice better for cleaning microwaves—both are acidic, so they loosen stubborn food residue, and both help neutralize odors. Use what you have.

2. Wait 5 minutes then empty the microwave. Give the steam time to loosen the grime. Spread a towel under the door to catch drips and open your microwave. If your model has one, remove the turntable and the circular ring beneath it and set them aside for now.

3. Use baking soda on stubborn areas. Rub stubborn areas with a damp microfiber cloth and a bit of baking soda. The fizzing reaction will loosen more grime. Try an old toothbrush dipped in baking soda for crevices and corners.

4. Rinse, dry and reassemble. Use a soapy cloth to clean up the baking soda and food residue, then rinse with a fresh, damp cloth. Leave your microwave open to air dry while you wash the turntable and ring. Put them back when everything’s dry.

5. Clean your microwave exterior with a warm, soapy cloth then rinse. Using baking soda on stubborn bits is fine here, too. For stainless steel microwaves, follow the metal’s grain when rubbing. Buff it dry to prevent streaks and you’re done!

My Cleaning Hack for a Filthy Microwave

When my son moved home from college, he brought with him a microwave filled with four years of food grime. That horrifying interior looked like a painting by Jackson Pollock—an artist known for painting in mad, explosive splatters. 

The steam method did nothing for that dirty microwave. I probably should’ve just thrown it out, but I hate adding to the landfill. Also, I’m stubborn. Since I couldn’t fill it with hot water like I would a pan with burnt-on food, I did the next best thing.

First, I sprayed Dawn Power Wash on the walls and door. Then I soaked a bath towel in hot water, squeezed it out so it wasn’t dripping, and shoved it in the microwave. The towel was big enough that it touched all the surfaces—walls, ceiling, floor and door—so they stayed wet the entire time. 

An hour later when I pulled the towel out, wiping away the softened mess was a breeze. I just needed a baking soda and water rinse to get rid of the odor, and that microwave was clean as new. 


The handle and touch screen on a microwave are high-touch surfaces which need to be cleaned and disinfected daily. Wipe them with a soapy cloth to clean away food residue, then go over them with a disinfecting wipe or hydrogen peroxide to eliminate germs.

Disinfecting the inside of a microwave isn’t really necessary since the high heat generally kills most viruses and bacteria. If you’re concerned, using hydrogen peroxide to spray or wipe the interior will disinfect it—use enough that the surfaces stay wet for 5 minutes then wipe with a clean, damp cloth. 

Keeping Your Microwave Clean

  • Cover food when you’re microwaving it. You can find microwave splatter guards online or at the store, but a paper towel or even a paper coffee filter is just as good.
  • Wipe splatters right away. It’s easier to wipe up fresh spills than to scrub stubborn ones. I keep a bottle of soapy water as part of my kitchen stash for quick touch-ups just like this.
  • Clean the inside weekly. If you’re wiping splatters promptly, a quick soapy rinse once a week will keep your microwave clean.

So there you have it: steps to clean a microwave naturally using steam, and a stubborn woman’s solution for stubborn microwave messes. Because Jackson Pollock-style splatters look great on canvas, not in your kitchen. 

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