How to steam-clean your microwave with just water, lemon, and vinegar

A person wearing rubber gloves cleaning the inside of their microwave
Pre-clean your microwave with steam, and all you’ll need is a damp cloth to wipe away residue. MediaProduction/Getty Images

More than 90% of American households have microwaves, which are key to reheating leftovers or cooking a quick meal. But between sauces, soups, and spills, the microwave can end up very dirty.

While it’s easy to shut the door and forget about the mess, we all need to clean our microwaves now and then. Luckily, there are simple, quick ways to clean a microwave without scrubbing. Here’s how.

How to pre-clean your microwave

A bowl of water with lemon sliced floating in it sitting inside a microwave
Microwave water with lemon and vinegar added to steam-clean the inside of your microwave. MarianVejcik/Getty Images

To clean a microwave, you can use the appliance itself to your advantage, says Alex Varela, General Manager of Dallas Maids, a cleaning service in Texas.

“Because a microwave is an appliance that is capable of generating heat, you can use that in your favor,” he says. “The key cleaning agent here is steam.”

Steam kills the most common bacteria and softens up grime, making it easy to wipe away.

To generate steam in your microwave, fill a large mug or measuring cup with about one cup of water. Heat the water for about five minutes, or until the liquid comes to a rolling boil. Once the microwave beeps, leave the door closed for another five minutes so that the steam can permeate any stuck-on food stains.

Varela recommends adding a splash of white vinegar and a squeeze of lemon juice into the water that you heat up. Vinegar will remove any lingering odor, while the lemon will add a fresh scent, he says. Vinegar and lemon supplement the steam, which is a powerful cleaning agent on its own.

After that, you can simply wipe the inside clean with a kitchen towel or paper towel.

“Any food and grease residues will be soft by now and you’ll be able to wipe them down using a microfiber towel, or a clean kitchen sponge,” Varela says.

If you have any stubborn stains, treat them with a paste made from baking soda and water, says Shirley Langridge, manager of Maggie’s Oven Services, an appliance-cleaning service based in London. Simply mix up the paste and cover the stain or food. Leave it for five minutes, then wipe away with a wet cloth.

“There will be no need for any scrubbing,” Langridge says.

If your microwave still smells funky, you can repeat the steam cleaning with additional materials. Here’s what Langridge recommends:

  • Coffee grounds: Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of coffee grounds to a ½ cup of water. Microwave the cup for ten minutes. “Coffee aroma neutralizes bad odours and contributes to a pleasant scent,” Langridge says.
  • Vanilla extract: Put 4 to 5 tablespoons of vanilla extract in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat it until boiling. Then, leave the microwave closed for 30 seconds, allowing the steam to fill the microwave.

Insider’s takeaway

A messy microwave is pretty much inevitable. Cleaning your microwave isn’t just about aesthetics; it can also help the appliance last longer.

“Keeping your microwave clean is really necessary to prevent damage to the interior, caused by burned food,” says Langridge.

It’s easy to forget about a dirty microwave in between uses, but it will make you cringe when you open the door. Next time you notice a mess, remember that it’s a quick and easy ten-minute process to get a sparkling microwave. The heat and steam do most of the work for you, making it easy to wipe away grime and get back to heating up your meal.

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