How to clean and care for a toaster oven

While I don’t turn on my regular oven every day, my toaster oven is a different story. Whether for baking or toasting, there’s hardly a meal, let alone a day, when we don’t put this countertop appliance to good use.

Of course, the more you use something, the dirtier it gets, and the more it needs cleaning. The toaster oven is no exception. One word of caution: Before you get to work, be sure the appliance is cool and unplugged. Now, here are a few cleaning and care tips to make sure your toaster oven stays in tiptop shape (which you’d be well-advised to pay attention to even if you use it only occasionally).

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Empty out that crumb tray. Have you ever popped something in to toast and smelled something burning? Yeah, me, too. Check the crumb tray.

“That should be removed on a regular basis and cleaned,” says Mary Rodgers, director of marketing communications for Cuisinart. In fact, Rodgers says she believes many people aren’t even aware that there is a removable crumb tray or drip pan at the bottom of the toaster oven.

In many cases, it resides in a slot that you access from the outside bottom front edge. Simply pull it out and dust off the crumbs. If it needs a little more work, because of grease or other drips, you can wash it with warm, soapy water and a nonabrasive sponge or cloth. Let it dry completely before putting it back.

Wipe down the glass door. If you can’t see inside the oven, it’s well past time you cleaned the glass door — and maybe the whole interior. The door is a useful bellwether, Rodgers says, because if the inside of the door is dirty, it probably means the rest of the oven is, too. She uses a glass cleaner such as Windex on hers, though you can also go the soap-and-water route. America’s Test Kitchen vouches for another option offered by appliance manufacturer Breville, which is warm water combined with a Magic Eraser. Again, stay away from anything abrasive, to avoid scratching the glass.

Clean the interior and exterior. Warm, soapy water and a soft cloth work well for both the inside walls and outside of the toaster oven, Rodgers says. Don’t use abrasive scrubbers that can scratch, and steer clear of anything with metal that can shed and potentially come in contact with the heating elements. In fact, it’s best to avoid the heating elements in general as much as you can so you don’t damage them.

Similarly, Consumer Reports uses a mix of a little vinegar, dish soap and warm water, applied with a damp sponge to the interior. The baking tray and rack can be cleaned with soap and water, too, and soaked as needed to remove stubborn stains, it says.

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If you decide to use a spray cleaner, Breville recommends applying it to the sponge and not the surface of the oven.

No matter what you employ, allow the oven to fully dry before plugging it back in and turning it on.

Mind the gap. For both the sake of your walls and your toaster oven, do abide by the manufacturer recommendations on how far away the toaster should be placed from the wall. Generally, it’s a few inches. This allows for proper venting and circulation for the oven, and may also prevent residue from building up on your walls. Rodgers says some ovens have little stoppers that prevent you from placing the appliances flush to the wall, but if not, every so often check the spacing. Over time, the appliance may be pushed against the wall as it’s used or during counter cleaning.

Using foil for cooking is okay, as long as you’re careful. A lot of what you might make in a toaster oven can be messy. If you’d rather not gunk up the baking tray, it’s all right to line it with foil, though you’ll want to check your appliance manual to make sure — some models may not recommend it. If you do use foil, Rodgers says to make sure it does not come in contact with the heating elements.

Similarly, don’t line the crumb tray at the bottom of the oven with foil, where it may overheat, according to Breville.

Stay on top of it. The best offense is a good defense, as they say. I’m not going to recommend you clean the toaster oven after every use, as I’ve seen espoused from other sources. Eye roll. Even Rodgers emphatically shook her head when I asked about this advice. Her rough guidance: Take a crack at every month, but address more immediate needs as they come up, such as when the crumb tray needs emptying or you’ve cooked something especially messy or strong-smelling. Rodgers cooks a lot of salmon and chicken thighs in her toaster oven, which can leave odors or splatters. Those are the times that call for prompt attention. (You can watch Rodgers give a cleaning demo on one of Cuisinart’s air fryer toaster ovens in this video.)

If you leave a mess in the oven, “it will bake on, and it gets a little harder to remove,” she says.

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