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I spilled some sauce, cheese, and pepperoni in the oven last night while trying to transfer some homemade pizza from the pizza peel onto the pizza stone, so I decided to clean it today.

I wiped the bottom and glass door, but the rest of the stuff was crusty and stuck to the bottom of the oven. I started the cycle and went about my business.

About 15 minutes later I hear a loud POP and I run over to find little flames dancing at the bottom of the oven. I freak out, turn off the self-cleaning feature, grab the fire extinguisher and try to open the door, which wouldn't open (which I later found out was a safety feature because the temperature inside was close to 900 degrees, whew!)

Anyway, now my kitchen and living room are filled with light smoke that I'm trying to ventilate, and I am terrified to run the self-clean again for fear of my house bursting into flames unless I watch it (which I don't particularly want to, since the smoke is nasty).

So, were these little dancing flames and the resulting smoke safe and normal in the operation of the self-clean cycle? If not, what can I do before running the cycle again to minimize flames and smoke?

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Damn. That safety feature probably saved your life. For future reference, if you ever see a fire in an enclosed space, let it burn itself out. –  hobodave Feb 28 '11 at 18:29

4 Answers 4

up vote 28 down vote accepted

Smoke is normal in an electric oven, but flames are definitely not.

In order to start a fire, you either need a spark, or you need to heat something beyond its autoignition temperature (AKA kindling point). You might have had a short - or you might actually be using a gas oven with spark ignition - but I'm guessing your issue was the latter.

Cooking oil or grease being heated beyond its autoignition point is one of the most common causes of kitchen fires (grease fires). Supposedly, some oils have autoignition points as low as 550° F (or 288° C), though I'm not sure which oils those are. Olive oil would be my guess as the lowest, but pepperoni grease could very well have ignited at self-cleaning temperatures (which, as you noticed, go up to nearly 1000° F).

Fortunately for you, all modern ovens have a mechanical interlock which prevents them from being opened during a self-cleaning cycle. If you'd opened it, you would have made the problem a lot worse by (a) supplying the fire with abundant oxygen, and (b) drawing all the hot air and flames out of the oven and into your kitchen, quite possibly setting your whole home on fire. Heat wants to move to where it's cold; that's why you keep your doors and windows closed in the winter.

There are a multitude of oven cleaners available for self-cleaning ovens - you are supposed to use these before you run a self-cleaning cycle. Yes, I know it's odd, but "self-cleaning" doesn't really actually mean that it cleans itself, it just gives you a little extra help. You need to try to clear out all the grease and big chunks of food first using one of these cleaners, then run the self-cleaning cycle to deal with anything you might have missed.

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Thank you for the detailed explanations and the Easy Off recommendation. :) I picked up a can at the grocery store, liberally coated the inside of the oven with it and letting it soak overnight. This morning I was EASILY able to wipe off all the grease and crustiness with a DRY paper towel! I guess that's why they call it Easy Off. Some areas are still crusty, so I'll repeat the overnight soak for them, but this product is GREAT! Thanks again for the recommendation. I don't even NEED to use the self-clean feature now... Easy Off did all the work! –  Michael Moussa Feb 27 '11 at 17:11
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If I do see a fire sould I turn off the self clean button? And then just let it brn out? OR just leave it all alone? thanks –  user5189 Mar 8 '11 at 14:05
    
@rosalie: As a very general fire safety rule I would always recommend shutting off the heat source if you see fire, although there's no guarantee that it will actually stop the fire (it probably won't). The most important thing is really to keep it contained; oven or microwave, don't open any doors until the fire is out. –  Aaronut Mar 8 '11 at 15:40
    
Another thing to add is that, in general, if you are worried about a fire, call the fire department. –  derobert Mar 7 '12 at 3:43

this happened to me yesterday. The flames were so bad, that my entire oven is charred from it...and the inside panel of tempered glass broke. Fortunately, the fire dept came and made sure everything was okay...but I unfortunately had to go out last night and buy a new oven (it was only 2.5 years old). so much for 2 year warranties.

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I suppose this can be interpreted as "no, it's not normal, it can destroy your oven", so it sort of answers the question. –  Jefromi Oct 10 '13 at 17:05

I had a little fire going on in my self-cleaning oven, and I was worried about it too. I called the fire department, and the fire guy was a tad snarky with me. He informed me that that's what happens when you use the self-cleaning feature. No worries.

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This isn't exactly correct - while unless the fire is enormous it will be fine, as other answers mention, the idea is to clean it a bit yourself first so that there's not significant fire during the cleaning cycle. So this is what happens when you use the self-cleaning feature on a dirty oven you haven't cleaned first. –  Jefromi Apr 4 '13 at 22:59

A oven is a box for containing high heat. It really is the best place to have a fire.

Though electric ovens are not supposed to have fire in there they do a fine job of containing it. Even if you somehow manage to set the heating element aflame (I've done this and still don't know how).

Leave it closed and wait for it to go out.

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+1 for A oven is a box for containing high heat. Mine usually contains half pizzas. –  belisarius Feb 25 '11 at 23:27

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