I put my stovetop grates in the dishwasher from time to time, but over the years, they've built up a tough layer of baked-on crud from foods that boil over. So when I heard about the video above, I knew I wanted to try it. I simply put one of my cruddy stovetop grates in a sealable plastic bag filled with some household ammonia and let it sit overnight.

My before-and-after photos will show you that yes, this method does work well. It may not get grates to shine like new, but it certainly removes the burnt-on layers. But before you run off to try this, keep reading. There are some other things you need to know.

stove-grate-beforeMy stovetop grate before cleaning with ammonia. You can see layers of baked-on gunk and very little shine. (Photo: Robin Shreeves)

stove-grate-afterMy stovetop grate after cleaning with ammonia. Almost all of the baked-on gunk is gone, and it has a lot of its shine back. (Photo: Robin Shreeves)

What you need to know about ammonia

The bottled ammonia sold at the grocery store is ammonium hydroxide, a mixture of the chemical ammonia combined with water. Ammonia is a naturally occurring gas that's used in cleaning, fertilizers, plastics and rubber. It's also controversially used in food as a way to kill harmful bacteria and prevent foodborne illness.

Although it's natural, it can be harmful. It must be kept out of reach of children. It irritates the eyes and skin. If swallowed, it will burn the throat and can be poisonous. Even just the fumes can cause itchy eyes, coughing and breathing difficulties. Those with asthma should take special precautions around ammonia.

Household ammonia, strong as it may smell, is diluted. While it can cause irritation and illness, it will usually not cause death if ingested. If digested, do not induce vomiting; instead, drink up to four ounces of water or milk, and immediately call a physician or poison control.

How to handle ammonia properly

There should always be proper ventilation when you use ammonia, particularly if you're using it straight from the bottle as this method of cleaning stovetop grates calls for. Open window when you do this, and doing this task outside would be even better.

Gloves are a good idea if your skin is going to come in contact with household ammonia, you can use protective eyewear to keep your eyes from becoming irritated.

A few last words about this method

Make sure your zipper bag is closed tightly. I learned this the hard way. My bag had an actual zipper on it, and it did not form a seal when I slid it across. When I picked up the bag to flip it over, ammonia poured out all over me and onto my kitchen floor. That's when I realized just how important proper ventilation is. I started to cough and wheeze and had to run outside for a moment. When I came back in, I opened the kitchen window. I put more ammonia in the bag, closed it with chip clips, and set it in the sink to soak overnight.

cleaning-oven-grate-in-ammonia When the zipper on my bag wouldn't form a seal, I improvised. I folded over the top of the bag and used chip clips to keep it closed. (Photo: Robin Shreeves)

Reading comments from others who have tried this method, I noticed several suggestions for using ammonia to clean larger grates from grills. People suggested using a trash bag or a large tub to soak the grates in. I'm going to try this with the grate from my kettle grill. But one word of caution: Ammonia can damage aluminum, so don't use an aluminum tub to clean your grates.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.