Using Oven Cleaners Safely

oven cleaners woman cleaning

The Bottom Line

The same qualities that make oven and grill cleaners desirable and effective–dissolving tough, baked-on food and grease–also make them poisonous. Oven and grill cleaners often have a high pH, making them alkaline corrosives. Upon contact, via any route, they can cause tissue damage, burns, and, at the very least, irritation.

oven cleaners hands cleaning oven

The Full Story

It's time for spring cleaning, and one of your most unpleasant tasks for making your kitchen spotless is deep cleaning your oven. Removing all of the tough, baked-on food and grease in your oven calls for an equally tough cleaner, and that is where oven cleaners come in. Sometimes they are marketed as oven and grill cleaners and these type of cleaners are common in households. But what are oven cleaners? How do they work? And are they safe?

Oven cleaners are typically sprayed onto the oven surfaces and allowed to sit with the oven door closed for a specified period of time (10 minutes to 2 hours). The solution is designed to degrade baked-on food and grease and then thicken it so that it can be more easily wiped away.

Oven cleaners often have a high pH, making them caustic. This is what allows the solution to degrade and dissolve the hardened debris in ovens and grills. Remember that the pH of a solution tells us how acidic, neutral, or alkaline it is. pH ranges between 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. The further away the pH is from neutral the more caustic it is likely to be. A pH of less than 7 means that the solution is acidic, and the lower the number the more acidic it is. A pH of greater than 7 means that the solution is alkaline, and higher numbers mean more alkaline. The pH of many oven cleaners can be as high as 14. So the same quality that makes them capable of dissolving tough, hardened food and grease is what can lead to burns if the product is swallowed or gets on the skin. Even if the pH is not very high, many of the ingredients in oven cleaners make them quite irritating. Oven and grill cleaners intended to be used in commercial settings like restaurants can be more concentrated and stronger than those intended for home ovens.

Oven cleaners can cause burns or irritation of any exposed tissue, whether that is the mouth, skin, eyes, or airway. If swallowed, oven cleaners can cause vomiting and burns to the lips, mouth, throat, and further down in the digestive tract, like the food pipe and stomach. Symptoms of burns can vary depending on where the burn is. For instance, a burn on the lips can cause swelling, redness, and blistering. This can also be seen in the mouth and throat. A chemical burn in the throat can be life-threatening because it can lead to swelling, which can block off the wind pipe. There can also be drooling because the throat is burned and the individual is unable to swallow. A burn on the skin can cause redness, peeling, blistering, and swelling. If the solution is allowed to sit on the skin, it can start burning through the layers of the skin, causing deeper and more severe burns. When inhaled, oven cleaners can be irritating to airways, causing symptoms ranging from coughing and chest pain to shortness of breath. If in the eyes, oven cleaners can cause corrosion and ulceration of the eye tissues.

The length of time the product is in contact with the tissues affects the extent of injury. For example, if a person gets an oven cleaner on their hand by accident and rinses it off immediately, no adverse effects might occur. However, if it isn't rinsed off for several minutes, the oven cleaner sits on the skin and does its damage. This is why it's crucial to decontaminate right away if exposure occurs.

Here are first aid tips if exposed to oven cleaners:

  • If in the eyes, IMMEDIATELY rinse with running water for at least 15–20 minutes. Then use the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for guidance or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.
  • If on the skin, IMMEDIATELY rinse with running water for at least 20 minutes. Take off any clothing with the product on it while you're rinsing. Then use the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for guidance or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.
  • If inhaled or exposed to fumes, move away from the source and get into fresh air IMMEDIATELY. Then use the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for guidance or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.
  • If swallowed, rinse the mouth thoroughly. If it has only been a few minutes since the ingestion, drink a few sips of water or milk. Then use the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for guidance, or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.

These first aid tips, as well as the Prevention Tips above, are crucial for safe use of oven cleaners.

If you're concerned about exposure to an over cleaner, follow the first aid instructions (above) and then check the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 for guidance. Serkalem Mekonnen, RN, BSN, MPH
Certified Specialist in Poison Information

Poisoned?

Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

  • NEVER transfer oven cleaners out of their original containers. Certainly, NEVER transfer oven cleaners into food or beverage containers.
  • Store oven cleaners safely, locked out of sight and reach of children and pets and with the cap closed tightly.
  • Read the label carefully and follow the manufacturer's directions exactly.
  • Avoid direct contact with the product. Wear gloves and other types of personal protective equipment (e.g., protective clothing for upper arms, safety glasses, face mask) as specified by the manufacturer.
  • Avoid breathing in the product by using it in a well-ventilated area. Open windows if the label advises to do so.
  • Avoid bringing home oven cleaners used in commercial settings (e.g., restaurants).

This Really Happened

A 6-year-old girl drank an oven and grill cleaner that had been transferred into a cup. Within minutes, she was vomiting and complaining of severe pain. Her tongue looked red and she was drooling. She was taken to an emergency room where she received medication for pain and nausea and was started on IV fluids. The physician ordered "nothing by mouth," which means she could not have any food or oral fluids. A specialist in the gastrointestinal (GI) system was consulted. With the knowledge that this product can cause severe tissue burns and because the girl's initial symptoms were consistent with this, she was taken to have an endoscopy (placing a flexible tube with a light and camera on its end inside the throat and down into the stomach to determine the location and severity of injury).

The endoscopy revealed that the girl had sustained a burn in her digestive tract so the "nothing by mouth" order continued, and she received medication to help the burn heal along with pain medications to help her feel comfortable. The girl's symptoms improved over the next week and the burn was healing. She was discharged home after 13 nights in the hospital.

For More Information

May ME. Goodbye winter grime, hello safe spring cleaning! The Poison Post; 2015 Mar.

Soloway RAG. Caution with caustics. The Poison Post; 2008 Oct.

Spring poison prevention tips. The Poison Post.

For Pets:

Alkalis. Bloomington (MN): SafetyCall International [cited 2021 Feb 27].

Ingredients and toxicities of cleaning products. New York: American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals [cited 2021 Mar 01].

Lee J. Household cleaning products and your pet: what you should know about. PetHealthNetwork. Westbrook (ME): IDEXX Laboratories; 2013 Apr 30 [cited 2021 Feb 27].


References

Day RC, Bradberry SM, Sandilands EA, Thomas SHL, Thompson JP, et al. Toxicity resulting from exposure to oven cleaners as reported to the UK National Poisons Information Service (NPIS) from 2009 to 2015. Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2017 Aug;55(7):645–51.

Doğan Y, Erkan T, Cokuğraş FC, Kutlu T. Caustic gastroesophageal lesions in childhood: an analysis of 473 cases. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 2006 Jun;45(5):435–8.

Mason RW, Slaughter RJ. Inquiries to the New Zealand Poisons Centre concerning exposures to aerosol oven cleaners [abstract]. Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2015;53:322.

Poisoned?

Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

  • NEVER transfer oven cleaners out of their original containers. Certainly, NEVER transfer oven cleaners into food or beverage containers.
  • Store oven cleaners safely, locked out of sight and reach of children and pets and with the cap closed tightly.
  • Read the label carefully and follow the manufacturer's directions exactly.
  • Avoid direct contact with the product. Wear gloves and other types of personal protective equipment (e.g., protective clothing for upper arms, safety glasses, face mask) as specified by the manufacturer.
  • Avoid breathing in the product by using it in a well-ventilated area. Open windows if the label advises to do so.
  • Avoid bringing home oven cleaners used in commercial settings (e.g., restaurants).

This Really Happened

A 6-year-old girl drank an oven and grill cleaner that had been transferred into a cup. Within minutes, she was vomiting and complaining of severe pain. Her tongue looked red and she was drooling. She was taken to an emergency room where she received medication for pain and nausea and was started on IV fluids. The physician ordered "nothing by mouth," which means she could not have any food or oral fluids. A specialist in the gastrointestinal (GI) system was consulted. With the knowledge that this product can cause severe tissue burns and because the girl's initial symptoms were consistent with this, she was taken to have an endoscopy (placing a flexible tube with a light and camera on its end inside the throat and down into the stomach to determine the location and severity of injury).

The endoscopy revealed that the girl had sustained a burn in her digestive tract so the "nothing by mouth" order continued, and she received medication to help the burn heal along with pain medications to help her feel comfortable. The girl's symptoms improved over the next week and the burn was healing. She was discharged home after 13 nights in the hospital.