Ultimately, many people put off oven cleaning until they move or until it starts to concern them. There are actually several good reasons to keep your oven looking nice and take care of spills as soon as possible. The self-clean function is also not a good alternative to regular cleanings -- when things get too bad, the intense heat of self-cleaning can bring the fire department, either from smoke or, worst case, from an actual fire.
Oven messes tend to be baked-on before you can get to them, so a simple wipe-down is rarely the answer. Still, if you make a spill on the door or oven bottom while putting a casserole into the oven, save yourself a lot of trouble later and take care of it if it's safe to do so. Heavier cleaning will involve either strong chemicals with equally strong odors or less powerful cleaning agents and repeated cycles of scrubbing. Beware of metal scraping tools damaging the oven's enamel surfaces or leaving scratches on an elegant stainless steel interior.
Ovens get dirty from three main sources: spills during food transfer, overflow from pans, especially if they have no cookie sheet or other protection below them, and spatter from fat. Once the material hits the walls of the oven, the heat during the remainder of the cooking cycle will dry it out and create a substance which sticks tenaciously wherever it has landed.
Clean your oven and the rest of your stove weekly if you can, monthly at least and the next day after any major cooking activity such as a holiday meal. Hasten to remove big spills and other messes which are likely to give off fumes for a long time as they dry from repeated heating -- onion casserole smells in your cupcakes just won't be appetizing, so clean it up.
Your oven cleaning routine can be as simple as spraying with vinegar and wiping the inside to remove greasy films, using a bit of scrubbing to remove larger spills. If you've had some larger accidents, hopefully, you took care of those right away, so your routine cleaning is simple. If you tend to be a messy chef or someone in your house is, you may want to use a more powerful oven cleaner periodically.
Spot cleaning for small spills and spatter will produce less cleaning product odor, which is a big motivation for taking care of spills soon after they happen. You can spray the spot, wait a bit, scrub and then rinse as directed on the product and let the oven air just a bit. Remember that you are potentially saving yourself the trouble of a big, wholesale cleaning project later.
Sometimes the oven is just a mess. To clean, you'll need to soak with oven cleaner, scrub and wipe, and probably repeat. Although the powerful stuff does a nice job, some of the more environmentally and nose friendly products work pretty well when you let them soak and repeat a few times. Don't walk away and let it dry out or the dried cleaning product will release fumes if you cook before removing it. Remember to air out before cooking.
Soaking may make some headway in your cleaning project, but you may find that using a non-metallic abrasive sponge, plastic scraper, and other tools can help you remove baked-on food faster. Cycle between soaking and scrubbing if you're rehabilitating a neglected oven and you'll get there eventually. Remember to let fumes from cleaning products clear before cooking.
Vinegar, baking soda as an abrasive and natural products which include enzymes and grease removers can do a great job on your dirty oven. Strategy is an important part of using natural products, combining soaking, scraping, scrubbing, and, of course, more frequent cleaning to keep the mess under control. One big benefit is the reduced issue with chemical smells and less risk of contaminating the next food you cook in the oven.
Cleaning product fumes and fumes released from spills can contaminate the food you're preparing. Foods with fats in them are especially prone to absorbing smells and tastes. This is one big reason why a spotless oven is a worthwhile goal -- your food will taste its best without anything on the oven walls to mix in during your cooking time.
Self Cleaning mode is a mixed deal -- it can be a great solution for a moderately messy oven and one that doesn't involve any chemicals or effort on your part. Just make sure there's nothing in the oven like pots and pans with plastic handles and operate the cycle according to the stove's directions. It produces intense heat, over 500 degrees F, so it's not for every situation. Large amounts of grease can smoke you out of your home or ignite, resulting in a fire in your oven. So, enjoy the quick and easy self-cleaning mode when it's the right thing to do, but be careful.