Cooking And Cleaning

By Sharon Naylor

January 4, 2012 4 min read

Your microwave speeds up your food prep time and can even reheat your morning coffee in a hurry. But when the scents of your garlic-and-onion-laced dinner leftovers or your morning java linger inside your appliance, it can create a quite unpleasant funk.

And how easy is it to overcook food with those strong electromagnetic waves? Frequently, a burnt smell emanates from the microwave that can last for weeks and change the taste of other foods or drinks you heat up. The smoky scent of burned popcorn, for instance, is one of the worst offenders that seep into the plastic of your microwave's walls and floor.

Here are some ways to eliminate the bad smells from your microwave:

--Home repair and cleaning expert Mrs. Fix-It advises, "If your microwave smells smoky, put a (microwave-safe) dish of water with a few slices of lemon inside. Turn it on high for five minutes, and the steam from the water and the citrus will work together to eliminate the odors." If you don't have lemon slices, add a few squeezes of bottled lemon juice to deliver that sweet smell of citrus.

--Another home remedy that adds to the lemon-and-water steam bath is adding a few whole cloves into the bowl and microwaving for five to seven minutes. After the microwave cycle ends, leave the bowl inside -- not opening your microwave door -- so that the citrusy steam can continue to work its magic inside the machine. The bowl may be hot to the touch and the water close to boiling, if not boiling, so leave it alone for a while to avoid burning your fingers. Use a potholder to carefully remove the bowl.

--An alternative to the lemon-juice-and-water solution is to mix white vinegar and water and use that for your microwave's steam bath.

--If you'd rather not use steam, form a paste with baking soda and water and use that to wipe down all of the interior surfaces of your microwave. Wipe down with a moist paper towel to fully remove the baking soda paste.

--Use a clean paper towel to wipe down the sides, roof and bottom of your microwave, as well as the inside surface of the door and the seams. Remove the glass platter from your microwave and let it run through your dishwasher.

*When Burnt or Smoky Smells Are Tougher To Eliminate

If you've had a truly smoky emergency in your microwave, the odor can be much more difficult to remove completely. A Utah State University report suggests creating a stronger solution of 1 quart of water, 2 tablespoons of regular dish detergent and 1/4 cup of chlorine bleach. (Remember to use protective rubber gloves and eyewear whenever you're working with bleach.) The report suggests wiping down the entire interior surface of your microwave with this mixture, including the door, gaskets and tray. Use a damp, clean paper towel to remove any leftover cleaning solution and then dry with a new paper towel.

"Hints from Heloise" author and columnist Heloise suggests for strong, smoky odors the water-filled bowl with half a chopped lemon, including rinds, and four or five whole cloves. "Put it into the microwave and bring to a boil; let stand for 10 to 15 minutes, then remove and leave the door open for several hours or overnight to further air out the oven."

In the future, to prevent bad microwave smells, be sure to wipe down any spills or splatters inside your microwave, such as bacon grease or tomato sauce, very soon after cooking to prevent new burnt smells, and follow Heloise's advice: Never leave a steam-filled microwave door closed after cooking. Always leave it open for a few minutes to allow all of the steam to escape.

Finally, don't use commercial oven cleaner inside a microwave, and don't spray the inside of a microwave with scented air freshener or other aerosol odor-eliminating sprays. Chemicals in those products should never mix with edibles.

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