Self-cleaning ovens work by raising the oven temperature to an extreme heat in order to turn residue on the inside oven to ash. Some newer models of ovens produce steam to loosen residue without needing extreme heat.
The term self-cleaning can be deceptive. Prior to starting the self-cleaning cycle, the inside of the oven must be wiped to remove any excess dripping or residue. Then, once the cleaning cycle is complete, someone must wipe the carbonized material from the oven to complete the process.
There are some drawbacks to using the self-cleaning cycle, the largest being that the oven must reach temperatures near 900 degrees Fahrenheit to carbonize the material stuck on the surfaces of the oven. To get to this temperature, the oven utilizes a locking mechanism, which prevents the oven door from being opened. The self-cleaning cycle runs for 3 to 6 hours before the oven door can be opened again. The energy used to reach such high temperatures for such a time is substantial. Another common complaint is the smell that emanates from the oven during the cleaning cycle is foul and can be toxic to household birds.
Other alternatives for cleaning an oven include using an oven cleaner product, which utilizes harsh chemicals to break down grime, or good old-fashioned elbow grease.