How to Clean the Microwave (Because It Smells Like Old Pizza)

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Cleaning your kitchen (or home) is no small feat. And between the sink, counters, stove and floor, it’s easy to forget about the microwave. But before you know it, you’ll open it up to heat up some leftovers and get smacked in the face with the smells of old pizza and stale popcorn. Yuck. Learn how to clean the microwave—with minimal effort, since we know it’s the last thing you want to be doing—with these methods and tips from cleaning expert Melissa Maker, founder of Clean My Space housekeeping service and host of Clean My Space on YouTube.

1. Use a Lemon

This is Melissa’s favorite approach, and it works wonders on microwaves with inexplicably stubborn aromas. First, halve and juice a lemon into a microwave-safe bowl containing two cups of water. Then, add the lemon halves and microwave for three minutes or until the bowl steams. “Remove with oven gloves, as the bowl will be hot,” warns Maker. “Take a clean microfiber cloth and give everything a nice wipe down. You can even use a little of the lemon water if needed.” Oh, and the best thing about this method? The lemony-fresh scent. See ya, popcorn of movie nights past.

2. Use Vinegar

If you have caked-on sauce or food stuck to the spinning plate or inner walls of the microwave, this one’s for you. “Spray [white vinegar] on the inside of the microwave and let it sit; that will help loosen any buildup,” says Maker. “Then, make a paste with equal parts baking soda and dish soap and use it on any heavily soiled areas, [like] old sauce splatters or discolored stains.” Wipe it all down with a damp microfiber cloth and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

3. “Cook” the Vinegar

If you’ve really been neglecting this beloved appliance, don’t sweat it. Just mix a tablespoon of white or apple cider vinegar with a cup of water, place it in the microwave and take it for a spin for a few minutes until the window starts to fog. Let the microwave cool for at least five minutes before carefully removing the bowl and wiping the inside with a clean sponge. For an even easier—and dare we say fun—take on this specific method, get yourself the dishwasher-safe Angry Mama.

OK, It Still Stinks—Now What?

Maker says microwave odors are the result of oils getting trapped inside and absorbed, so it’s imperative to get rid of oils from smelly foods as quickly as possible, aka right after the splattering happens. If you weren’t that proactive like, ahem, many of us, there are still a few ways to attack whatever scents are haunting your microwave.

Maker suggests wiping it down with a paste made from baking soda and water. Let the paste sit overnight before washing it out the next morning. “Make sure to rinse a couple of times, because the baking soda will leave residue behind.” Alternatively, Maker says you can also try leaving a cup of coffee grinds in the microwave overnight with the door closed to help neutralize and remove odors.

Additional Tips for Keeping Your Microwave Spotless

If you dread weekend cleaning projects, one easy way to make it feel less daunting is to clean the appliance periodically as you use it. “If you take something out of the microwave that may have stained or splattered, wipe it down right away, because it'll be so much easier to clean if you get to it quickly,” she says.

Also, be sure to remove the spinning plate when you clean—Maker has found that many people forget this step. Any ventilated areas or small holes in the microwave also deserve extra love and some gentle scrubbing; food may be lingering inside. Maker’s most ingenious tip? “Use a microwave cover to eliminate almost all of the splatter or messes that may accumulate in the microwave.”

Luckily, microwaves don’t typically get too filthy or germy, so there’s no need to scrub it daily or excessively. Maker suggests using visual cues to decide when it’s time for a cleaning: “If it looks or smells bad, that's when you know you've got to act.”

taryn pire

Food Editor

Taryn Pire is PureWow’s food editor and has been writing about all things delicious since 2016. She’s developed recipes, reviewed restaurants and investigated food trends at...