How to Clean a Microwave

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How to clean your filthy microwave fast and get rid of that burnt food 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.

The Easy Way 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 One: Make it Steamy

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 until the water begins to boil. Leave the door closed and wait 5 minutes for the steam to loosen grime.

Step Two: Wipe Away 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 clean underneath it.

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 food cooked onto your microwave. Once you’ve loosened all the grime, wipe it away with a clean, damp cloth.

Step Three: Stuff and Soak It

Another quick and easy way to deal with stubborn splatters in your microwave is to stuff it with a hot, damp bath towel and close the door. Choose a towel that’s big enough it’ll press against the ceiling, walls, and floor of your microwave. Get it damp but not so wet that water will drip out of your microwave. Push it inside your microwave and close the door. Do not run your microwave with the towel in there. After 5 minutes or so, any remaining mess inside your microwave will easily wipe away.

Hand in a rubber glove using a microfiber cloth to clean the door of a microwave

Step Four: Spray Inside and Out

Don’t 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 will damage your microwave oven’s plastic parts. Use a non-toxic homemade all-purpose cleaning spray, or even just warm, soapy water, and wipe the ceiling, walls, and floor of your microwave. Wash the turntable in a sink of hot, soapy water and towel-dry it before putting it back in place. Clean the door inside and out, using a toothbrush to get in the hinges if needed. Finish by wiping all surfaces of your microwave with a dry cloth.

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Step Five: 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. If you can’t wash your microwave’s filters, you should replace them twice a year.

Clean microwave isolated against a blue background

How to Keep Your Microwave Clean

Like anything around the house, the more often you clean your microwave, the easier it is to clean. A good rule of thumb is to disinfect the handle daily since it’s one of the dirtiest places in kitchens. Then, wipe the inside with a soapy cloth every couple of days or immediately after any splatters.

It’s even easier to clean your microwave if you keep food from splattering in the first place. Cover everything — even if you don’t think it’s likely to make a mess. You can use a paper towel, an overturned bowl, or another plate. My family uses these mesh microwave splatter screens, and I love them. They let steam escape as your food cooks, so things don’t get soggy, but they keep stuff from splattering all over. After use, I rinse it under the faucet and give it a few shakes to dry.

Finally, when it comes to cooking microwave popcorn, please don’t trust the buttons to get it right. Learn how long it takes to microwave your favorite brand, then STAY NEAR THE MICROWAVE while it’s making popcorn. Listen for the popping to start slowing down and stop the cooking cycle when the pops are 2 seconds apart. If you forget and scorch your popcorn anyway, don’t bother eating it — burnt microwave popcorn is as yucky as it smells. Toss the bag and do these steps to clean your microwave before the smell takes over your home. Then try again.

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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. 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.

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