Welcome to the fourth installment of a series of special “spring purge” posts. The topic? Environmentally dubious household items that you might want to take a second look at while tackling spring cleaning duties. And when I say “take a second look at” I mean you should reconsider using and/or replace with a more eco-sensible alternative.

So far, I‘ve recommended a household purge of antibacterial cleaning products containing the potent chemical triclosan, a partial purge of the common paper towel roll, and aerosol air fresheners that can compromise your health through lowered air quality. Today, inspired by the eco-friendly oven-cleaning skills of Ivette Melendez from San Francisco's nonprofit cleaning service cooperative, WAGES, I’m taking a look at purge-worthy commercial oven cleaners which rank on the top of the household "eradicate list" along with drain de-cloggers and toilet bowl cleaners.

The reason why oven cleaners — most of you are probably familiar with products like Easy Off — are on the chopping block today? I think I’ll let the handling instructions for Easy Off do the talking:

Causes burns to skin and eyes on contact. Contents under pressure. Contains sodium hydroxide (Lye). Wear long rubber gloves when using, will burn skin and eyes. Avoid contact with skin, eyes, mucous membranes and clothing. Do not ingest. Avoid breathing spray mist. Do not puncture or incinerate container or store in temperatures over 120 degrees F. Container may explode if heated. Do not place in hot water or near radiators, stoves or other sources of heat. Store containers in an upright position in a cool, dry secure area inaccessible to small children and pets. Keep from freezing. Keep out of reach of children.
So yeah, I’m not sure if I’d ever want to cook food in an oven that’s recently been doused with a lemon-scented spray in an aerosol can that will burn skin on contact. Additionally, Wired, as part of the magazine’s always enlightening/disturbing “What’s Inside” column had this to say about five of Easy Off’s key ingredients:

Butane: “One of the most commonly abused inhalants, butane poses severe health risks. But that's not a worry here: Huffing fumes from the other ingredients would almost certainly kill you first.”

Monoethanolamine: “MEA is a volatile organic compound, which can cause confusion, nosebleeds, and cancer in humans and animals alike.”

Diethylene glycol monobutyl ether: “Breathing DEGBE vapors while consuming excessive alcohol can lead to kidney and liver problems. So remember, friends don't let friends drink and clean.”

Sodium hydroxide: “You know that scene in Fight Club where Brad Pitt explains what happens when you mix lye with melted animal grease? That's exactly what happens when you spray this stuff into your oven.”

Diethanolamine: “The problem is that while DEA is technically not a volatile organic compound, it has been shown to limit brain development in the fetuses of pregnant laboratory mice. Just don't use Easy-Off to clean your kid's Habitrail.”

Ack. So if you don’t have a self-cleaning oven (which are actually more well-insulated and, thus, more energy-efficient than non-self-cleaning ovens unless, of course, you clean it all the time) what’s the best solution to use when cleaning the inside of a greasy, grimy oven? A paste made from baking soda and water. Combined with a bit of elbow grease and tools like scouring pads, spatulas, and razor blades, baking soda paste does the trick without leaving a post-clean batch of chocolate chip cookies with monoethanolamine aftertaste.

In addition to baking soda and water, there are recipes for other nontoxic oven cleaning solutions out there that call for inexpensive ingredients like vinegar, dish detergent, and borax. If you’d prefer not to go the DIY route, Restore offers a commercially available, nontoxic oven cleaner.

And in case you missed it yesterday, take a look at the below video where Ivette Melendez from WAGES tells viewers how to go to town on a dirty oven with just a natural, all-purpose surface cleaner, a microfiber towel and a razor blade.

Bottom image: Lobstar28; MNN homepage photo: stickytoffeepudding/iStockphoto

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

The spring purge: Oven cleaners
Avoid baking a diethylene glycol monobutyl ether casserole by ditching toxic, store-bought oven cleaners and opting for a cleaning solution as simple as baking