Most modern ovens have some level of ability to clean themselves, and this incredible feature removes much of that arduous manual labor that usually comes with trying to clean greasy or stuck-on food by yourself.
However, while shopping for your next oven, you’ve probably noticed that different ovens utilize different methods to perform their self-cleaning function. At first glance, it can be challenging to understand the differences between the two and which is most appropriate for your needs.
So that’s why in this article, I’m taking an in-depth look at exactly how these two different cleaning processes work, their benefits, drawbacks, and how they differ so you can get a clear idea of which cleaning method will work best for you.
What is a Steam Clean Oven?
A steam-clean oven uses water and heat to clean its interior. Unlike traditional self-cleaning ovens, which use high temperatures to burn off food residue and other debris, steam-cleaning ovens rely on steam to loosen and dissolve stubborn stains and spills. This cleaning method is typically gentler and less intense than self-cleaning, making it a safer and more energy-efficient option.
The oven will then heat the water to a temperature of around 250-300 degrees Fahrenheit (121-149 degrees Celsius), creating steam inside the oven. This steam will penetrate the stains and spills and help to loosen them from the oven walls, making them easier to wipe away.
What is a Self Clean Oven?
A self-cleaning oven, while still serving the same fundamental function as a steam clean oven, goes about it in a very different way.
It uses very high temperatures, which may be as high as 900 degrees Fahrenheit (482 degrees Celsius), to trigger a process called pyrolysis, which effectively turns the stuck-on debris and food particulate into ash which can then be easily wiped away.
It’s a very effective way to keep your oven clean without using harsh chemicals or scrubbing. However, to properly turn the food into ash, it must maintain this temperature for several hours.
So while it is far more effective at cleaning, it requires a significantly higher amount of time and electricity to run.
What are the Differences Between Steam Clean and Self Clean?
While the fundamental end goal of these two processes is exactly the same, to keep your oven clean. The way they go about achieving this is quite different.
So depending on your use frequency and needs, one method may be more appropriate for you than another.
1. Cleaning Method
Steam cleaning, as the name might suggest, uses high-temperature steam to help loosen stuck-on food particulate and assist in breaking down grease. It will also dissolve many of those hard-to-clean, stuck-on stains too!
Are prolonged exposure to this hot steam, most of the food can easily be wiped away with a damp cloth or sponge, removing the need for strenuous scrubbing. Self-cleaning works by heating the internal oven to a very high temperature, which triggers a process called pyrolysis.
This essentially turns all the stuck-on grease, food particulate, and stains to ash which can then easily be wiped away with a cloth after the cleaning cycle is complete.
The steam used in a steam clean oven must be very hot to effectively break down the food particles. As such, it will usually heat the water to around 250-300 degrees Fahrenheit (121-149 degrees Celsius), depending on your model.
While this is perfectly adequate for general cleaning and will make wiping away most common food residue a breeze, it’s often not hot enough to address those stuck on stains or pieces of burned food.
The temperature setting in a self-clean cycle is significantly higher than in a steam clean. It usually sits around 900 degrees Fahrenheit or 482 degrees Celsius and is maintained for several hours.
While the duration of a steam-clean cycle can vary from model to model, generally speaking, they take about 20-30 minutes to finish, which is significantly faster than a self-cleaning oven.
Some new oven models will even have a quick clean option that performs a very short 10-15 minute steam clean designed to be used daily. This short duration makes steam cleaning far more convenient to use frequently.
The duration of a self-clean cycle is also significantly longer because the food needs prolonged exposure to the high temperatures before it turns to ash and can be easily wiped away.
While the exact duration will vary from model to model, it will generally take several hours to complete a self-cleaning cycle.
4. Energy Consumption
As a result of its lower temperature and shorter duration, steam cleaning cycles use significantly less energy to run.
However, it’s crucial to factor in how often you will need to use a cleaning cycle, as while at first glance steam cleaning is more eco-friendly, it’s also intended for you to use this cleaning cycle more frequently, which makes it hard to distinguish which method is the most energy efficient.
Because self-cleaning uses a significantly higher temperature to clean, and the cleaning cycle lasts for much longer, a self-clean cycle uses much more energy than a steam clean.
While this may make it seem less economical at first glance, due to its increased effectiveness, you will need to run a self-clean cycle less frequently, which offsets much of the increased energy cost.
Because steam cleaning doesn’t produce the ashy smoke that self-cleaning does because it’s just water, that steam still needs to be vented.
This is not only to help your oven dry out after the cleaning cycle finishes so it doesn’t sit inside the appliance and turn moldy, but the steam that’s vented out of the oven will also carry much off the residual grease and food particles with it which in turn makes wiping things down afterward much easier.
So while a steam-clean cycle does produce less smelly fumes, it still requires adequate venting, and you should turn on your extraction hood while the cycle operates if possible.
As mentioned, self-cleaning works by superheating the oven and creating a process called pyrolysis, which turns the food particulate into ash.
As you can imagine, this produces significantly more fumes and pollutants than steam cleaning, so you should keep your extraction hood on while this process is underway.
6. Suggested Use Frequency
Ultimately, how often you use a steam-clean cycle will come down to personal preference and how often you use the oven because it uses less energy and completes a cleaning cycle so fast that you can use a steam-clean cycle far more frequently than a self-clean.
Generally speaking, once a month is a good frequency. A good general frequency for self-cleaning is once or twice a year.
This is because it’s a far more effective cleaning method, so you don’t need to run it as often, but also because it uses much more energy, running it too often can become expensive.
Steam cleaning is commonly found on cheaper ovens with a smaller total capacity. This is because self-cleaning is quite a brutal cleaning method, and the energy consumption and duration make it less optimal for smaller ovens.
As a self-clean option provides a far deeper clean, it’s usually something you will see on higher-end oven models with larger capacities. This is because a steam clean might struggle to deal with the larger surface area.
8. Overall Effectiveness
Because steam cleaning uses a lower temperature, doesn’t trigger pyrolysis, and has a shorter duration, its overall effectiveness is lower than that of a self-clean.
Compared to a steam clean, a self-clean cycle is considerably more effective. This is because it uses a higher temperature and runs for a more extended period in order to produce pyrolysis.
Because the food particulate is reduced to ash, it’s also easier to clean afterward.
Steam Clean Oven VS Self Clean Oven: are they the same?
Now we’ve explored these two cleaning methods in detail, here’s a quick rundown of their differences so you can see which one will work best for you at a glance:
- Steam cleaning uses heated steam, whereas self-cleaning cleans by superheating the internal temperature to trigger pyrolysis and turn the food debris into ash.
- Steam clean operates at an average temperature of 250-300 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas a self-clean oven operates far hotter at roughly 900 degrees Fahrenheit.
- A full steam clean cycle usually takes around 20-30 minutes, whereas self-clean can take several hours to complete.
- Because steam cleaning uses a lower temperature and has a shorter cleaning duration, it uses far less energy overall compared to self-clean.
- Self-cleaning produces far more smoke and fumes due to the pyrolysis process, but a steam clean still produces steam and water vapor that needs to be extracted too.
- It’s generally suggested that you should run a steam clean cycle about once a month. In contrast, a self-clean can be run far less frequently at just once or twice a year.
- You will usually find steam cleaning available on smaller, more budget-orientated ovens. While a self-clean is generally reserved for more premium ovens with a larger capacity.