Popular oven cleaners like “Easy Off” and “Mr. Muscle” work wonders on grease, but can you use them on kitchen countertops?
Oven cleaner can be an easy way to get even the worst grease stains off your countertops. But oven cleaner on kitchen cabinets might not be a great idea. Depending on your countertop, the cleaner you’re using, and how long you let it set, results will vary.
What is an Oven Cleaner (Toxic Ingredients)
Oven cleaners are composed of two primary bases. The first is old-fashioned “lye-base” oven cleaners, intended to be used on a warm oven. The second is a monoethanolamide, an alcohol which breaks down even hard buildup – but is incredibly toxic. Many oven cleaners also include both.
Ethanolamine, monoethanolamine, or MEA is an alcohol and an amine, with similar reactive properties to ammonia. It’s one of the most commonly used chemicals for professional cleaning such as windshields and for scrubbing gasoline and petroleum to reduce their impact on the climate. Ethanolamine breaks down buildup in the oven, turning solids into a ‘gunk’ you can wipe off. In addition, this volatile chemical reacts with other agents in your cleaner and your oven to break down fatty acids and to create new solvents. Ethanolamine is also toxic to humans and should never be inhaled.
Ethanolamine is often combined with diethanolamine.
Diethylene Glycol Monobutyl Ether
Diethylen glycol monobutyl ether, commonly called DEG monobutyl ether is a glycol either solvent and one of several used in oven cleaners. Its nearest competitor, ethylene glycol, is very similar. Both are colorless liquids used as solvents and as paint strippers. Both can dissolve even baked on enamel, oil, dye, soap, and polymer, making them unsafe to use on painted and enameled surfaces.
Sodium Hydroxide (Lye)
Sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda or lye, is the most common ingredient in oven cleaners. Lye is a well-known caustic agent that dissolves proteins and can cause severe chemical burns if left on the skin. The cleaning agent works by dissolving the proteins in fats and lips, creating soap. For this reason, it’s also popular in drain cleaners, as it works to dissolve fat buildup. Heat such as hot water or turning on the oven speeds up this process, which is why many oven cleaners suggest that you pre-heat the oven. Many drain cleaners also ask you to pour hot or boiling water down after. Sodium hydroxide is also used to strip paint from wood, but damages wood surfaces by raising the grain and staining the color.
Methylene Chloride or dichloromethane is a naturally occurring solvent used to decaffeinate coffee, prepare flavor extracts, as a propellant, and as a paint stripper. The chemical has a high inhalation risk, meaning fumes are toxic. It’s also used to chemically weld plastic, such as to seal the casing for electric meters. In cleaners, methylene chloride is the primary ingredient for most professional paint strippers. It’s also extremely common in oven cleaners for its ability to dissolve hard buildup.
Of course, these ingredients vary by brand.
The chemical formula for oven cleaner changes depending on which brand you buy. For example, WhatsInsideSCJohnson.com lists the chemical formula for Mr. Muscle (Formula 35*8112) as being water, sodium hydroxide, isobutane, acrylic copolymer, sodium laureth sulfate, and fragrance.
If you go for the Easy-Off Heavy Duty Oven Cleaner, the ingredients are clay-treated paraffin wax, ethanolamine, sodium hydroxide, diethylene glycol monobutyl ether, water, magnesium aluminum silicate, and fragrances.
In each case, the primary ingredients remain the same. Butane-based propellants with a foaming agent and sodium hydroxide.
Effects Of Oven Cleaner on Different Countertops
The effects of oven cleaner vary depending on which countertop you have. For example, if you use oven cleaner on kitchen cabinets which are normally made of wood or laminate, you’ll get a different reaction than using it on stone or metal surfaces.
Effects of Oven Cleaner on Wood Countertops
Wood countertops, ranging from bamboo to butcherblock or solid wood, are incredibly popular. Unfortunately, they also stain easily. You might be tempted to use oven cleaner to remove buildup or heavy grease stains. But, oven cleaner can significantly damage wood countertops. For example, most oven cleaners actively strip paint and varnish topcoats. Once they eat through to the wood, they’ll cause damage, lifting the grain, and permanently changing the color of the wood.
Leaving oven cleaner on your wood countertop for a few minutes won’t cause any harm. But, it also won’t clean the problem. You’re much better off using an acidic cleaner on wood.
Oven Cleaner on Stone Countertops
Oven cleaner can be a very effective cement and grout cleaner, so you might be tempted to use it on stone countertops. But, whether you have a pumice, lava stone, granite, quartz, or other stone counter – they all have one thing in common. They’re highly likely to be covered with a sanitizing finish – which prevents the stone from absorbing liquids and becoming a haven for bacteria. Sodium hydroxide, the primary ingredient in most oven cleaners, breaks down this finish. That could leave your kitchen counter vulnerable to bacteria buildup – even if it doesn’t visibly damage the surface.
Oven Cleaner on Laminate and Poly Counters
Some oven cleaners are fine to use on plastic surfaces like laminate countertops. However, most are not. If you have an ammonia or bleach-based cleaner, you can easily spray it on and wipe it up within a few minutes. But, long-acting chemical solutions like oven cleaner can actually dissolve the plastic coating on your countertop.
That happens because most oven cleaners contain a combination of ethanol or MEA, as well as butane-based propellants. All three of these ingredients dissolve plastics. This means that leaving oven cleaner on your counter for a few hours could result in a hole in the finish.
Oven Cleaner on Metal Countertops
The effect of oven cleaner on metal countertops will depend on what type of metal you’ve used. For example, if you have pure stainless steel, similar to what’s inside your oven, you’ll likely be fine. Oven cleaners are very alkali and are designed not to corrode metal. On the other hand, your oven cleaner may cause corrosion if you have aluminum counters. For example, you may get pock marks and pits as the lye oxidizes the aluminum.
If you’re not sure, try taking your oven cleaner to an aluminum pan. If it causes damage, you definitely don’t want to use it on your metal countertops, even if they’ve been sold as stainless steel. That’s important, because most stainless steel countertops include a significant amount of aluminum to make them flexible and lightweight enough to be practical.
Oven Cleaners on Resin and Solid Surface Countertops
Resin, polyurethane, and solid surface countertops may dissolve if you use oven cleaner on them. However, this does depend on the ingredients. In most cases, any 24-hour or long-term oven cleaner will dissolve resin if left on too long. However, in most cases, the oven cleaner is a greater threat to the sealant or topcoat on your resin or solid surface countertops. Ethyl alcohols will break down both – leaving your countertop stripped, uneven, or pocked. For that reason, it’s always important to ensure that your cleaner does not contain ethyl’s before using it on this type of counter.
Oven Cleaners on Porcelain and Ceramic Countertops
Oven cleaner is completely safe for porcelain, ceramic, and glass countertops. This means you can use it to remove hard grease and built-up stains. However, you should keep in mind that oven cleaner fumes are toxic. Exposure to fumes can cause headaches, nose bleeds, dizziness, and other immediate symptoms. Always use oven cleaners in a well-ventilated area. Additionally, you should seal and vacate the room while you let it set to work on stains. Oven cleaner contains cancerous agents, primary ingredients from substances such as antifreeze, and chemical agents that dissolve proteins. They are extremely toxic to people and pets. This means letting an oven cleaner sit on a countertop is dangerous to anyone who comes into the room. Therefore, you should always seal the room to prevent accidents.
5 Alternate Ways to Clean Kitchen Countertops
While oven cleaner is one of the strongest chemical cleaners on the market, it’s not safe for many materials. It’s also not safe to use around people or pets. In fact, there are plenty of healthier ways to clean your countertops.
Bleach is one of the most popular kitchen cleaners for a reason. It kills bacteria, dissolves relatively quickly in the air, and causes minimal damage to most countertops. You can use pre-packaged solutions like Clorox wipes for maximum safety. However, if you have staining, such as that caused by mold or fungus, applying bleach directly is a great way to go.
In most cases, you want ½ cup of bleach per gallon of water for a good cleaning solution. In fact, you should never use full strength bleach.
Additionally, bleach isn’t fully safe for some countertops. If you bleach your counters every week, you’ll quickly find that the bleach eats through the top layer in a matter of a few years. In addition, some countertops specifically ask for non-bleach cleaning methods. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations on your specific countertop to be sure.
Otherwise, bleach is mostly safe to use on occasion, such as during a monthly deep clean. Or, if you’re trying to work out a particularly stubborn stain. Just don’t rely on it as your primary cleaning method.
Baking Soda or Borax
Baking soda and borax are very closely chemically related (Sodium bicarbonate and sodium borate). Both are lightly caustic and widely used as cleaning agents. They’re also especially effective when combined with a light acid such as lemon juice or vinegar. That makes them a great choice for a safe cleaning agent for your countertops.
Like bleach, baking soda and borax aren’t always safe. For example, they can cause slight scratches on laminate countertops. This happens when you scrub the countertop with the baking soda still on and the grains bite into the laminate. Eventually, this damage worsens, and your countertops become more prone to staining. For this reason, you should always wipe baking soda or borax off before scrubbing or use a fine brush like a toothbrush to prevent damaging the countertops.
The chemical Ammonia breaks down fat, which makes it a great resource to use when cleaning your kitchen. Ammonia is also completely organic. Most of it sold in the U.S. is a byproduct of potatoes. However, it isn’t safe to use on all countertops. For example, you should never use ammonia on granite countertops. However, it is safe to use on many popular quartz countertops.
In some cases, ammonia is also bad for laminate countertops. You may want to exercise caution if you have laminate cabinets without a hard coat on top of the finish. Why? Ammonia will strip finish off laminate. On the other hand, if you have a hard finish, like you’d find on laminate flooring, ammonia is safe to use. Just make sure you dilute it according to instructions on the bottle.
Light acids like lemon juice and vinegar and popular and safe cleaners. In most cases, you can use these safely on any countertop except granite. Granite, which cannot be exposed to an acid unless it’s been coated, is unsafe with most cleaners.
Lemon juice and vinegar will discolor laminate and resin if left on long enough. Always remove cleaners within a few minutes for the best results. In addition, you should not use acid-base cleaners on untreated wood.
Diluted isopropyl alcohol is one of the best cleaning agents to use on granite countertops. In most cases, you want to mix isopropyl and water at a 50/50 ratio, let it sit for 3-5 minutes, and then rinse it clean.
Isopropyl is also popular as a disinfectant at 70% strength. However, you want to immediately wipe the isopropyl up after applying. Additionally, Isopropyl should never be allowed to sit on laminate or other plastic-coated counters because it is alcohol and may eventually dissolve or eat into the plastic.
In most cases, a good cleaning agent mixes several chemicals together. One of the most popular home mixes is baking soda with ammonia and vinegar. Here, a good recipe is ½ cup ammonia, 1/3rd cup vinegar, and ¼ cup of baking soda per gallon of warm water. Apply it and remove it within 3-5 minutes.
How To Remove Stubborn Stains from Countertops
If you’re stuck with stubborn stains, there’s usually a way out. Try these handy tips to remove stubborn stains from your countertops.
Wood, Laminate, and Resin Countertops
Wood, laminate, and resin countertops respond well to light ammonia, bleach, and baking soda or vinegar. You also don’t want to discount over the counter cleaning agents. Most countertop cleaners are specially formulated to safely clean your kitchen countertop. Take special care that you choose a non-ammonia or bleach base for un-varnished or unfinished laminate.
Stone and porcelain countertops are resistant to most cleaning methods. However, you should take extra precautions if you have unfinished or unsealed granite or slate countertops.
1. Prepare Your Surface
Remove objects from the countertop and wipe the surface. Use a hot cloth or towel with detergent. Afterwards, wipe clean with a wet cloth to remove detergent. This is to avoid mixing chemicals, which could cause a dangerous reaction.
2. Attempt to lift the stain
Light acids like ammonia, lemon, rubbing alcohol, and ethanol can be used to lift stains. Choose one appropriate to the countertop material, using the information listed above. To lift the stain:
- Apply an acid and allow it to sit for 3-15 minutes
- Start out with shorter periods of time and if it doesn’t work, apply more and wait longer
- Apply heat to increase the effect of the acid. For example, apply a hot cloth to the top of the stain
- Wipe the stain with a warm, damp cloth
If the stain is still there, move on to the next step.
3. Apply baking soda
You can apply baking soda when attempting to lift the stain. However, in this step, you should apply a simple paste of baking soda and warm water. Mix the paste so that it’s just thick enough to spread. Apply it to the stain in an even coat. Wait and allow the baking soda to dry. Wipe it off with a damp cloth.
Keep in mind that baking soda can be abrasive. You should never scrub the baking soda or scrub it off.
4. Removing hard buildup and glue
Apply a solvent such as ammonia, ethylene, or acetone directly to a cloth. Wipe the stain with the cloth. Take time to remove excess solvent as you go, as straight acetone and ammonia can damage or even delaminate your countertops.
5. Wiping up
Clean your countertop with a soft cloth to dry and remove scratches. This step is important to ensuring you haven’t left chemicals behind, as these could continue to eat into the countertop.
These steps use relatively mild cleaning agents. However, harsher ammonia, bleach, and kitchen cleaners designed for countertops are always an option.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re still wondering what you can use to clean your countertops, our frequently asked questions might help.
Does oven cleaner stain countertops?
Oven cleaner can stain countertops. For example, if you have wood countertops, it will almost certainly stain. On the other hand, if you have steel countertops, you might experience worse issues. For example, the aluminum in the steel might start to pit. And, if you have laminate or coated countertops, the oven cleaner might actually delaminate them.
What is the best cleaning product for kitchen countertops?
Most maid services use a simple solution of dish soap and hot water. Dish soap is a degreaser, meaning it will remove most of the accumulated grease on your countertops. Because grease is the largest problem in kitchens, that’s more than enough for most needs. However, you may want to use an over-the-counter kitchen cleaning product in a spray bottle. You may also want to occasionally sanitize your kitchen with bleach or ammonia. And, if you’re facing tough stains, baking soda and vinegar are your friend.
Most countertops are rated for different types of cleaners. This means that if you know who made your countertops, you can look up what cleaning agent is safe to use on it. In most cases, that won’t be oven cleaner. However, there are plenty of other ways to lift stubborn stains from your counters. Hopefully, this article helps.