Cleaning Showdown: We Tried 5 Easy Methods for Cleaning a Microwave — And Found a Clear Winner

published Mar 11, 2023
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As something you can literally just close the door on, microwave messes are easy to hide and forget about. But going to heat up your coffee on one of those mornings and getting slapped in the face with last night’s spaghetti sauce splattered all over your microwave’s interior is … unpleasant. Fine, it’s gross. No one wants that. 

Cleaning the microwave is not a particularly fun chore, though. Especially if those splatters have been left to dry for any length of time. The angles are awkward and the back corners are so far away, and getting inside to scrub and wipe feels faintly claustrophobic. 

So home cooks have spent the last few decades trying to come up with a better way. People swear by some super hands-off methods. Other people love specific types of cleaners. And some even use wacky-looking gadgets. What’s the best way to get the job done? I wanted to find out. I tested five easy and popular methods to find the very best one. Here goes.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How I Tested the Methods to Clean a Dirty Microwave

While there are several ways to clean a dirty microwave, I narrowed it down to just five popular methods, using an all-purpose cleaner, Dawn dish soap and water, vinegar and water, lemon juice and water, and just plain water. Many of the methods relied on the steam bath approach and required heating a microwave-safe bowl filled with the cleaning agent to loosen up the grime.

To test, I poured a can of tomato sauce into a small glass baking dish and microwaved it for three minutes. Then, I opened the microwave for 10 minutes so the sauce could dry, mimicking real-life conditions. I repeated this before each and every one of the testing methods. 

For each steaming method, I used one tablespoon of either soap, lemon juice, or vinegar, and half a cup of water. I microwaved for two minutes, and then let the steam sit in the microwave for another two minutes before wiping. I used an O-Cedar sponge for each trial run.

The ratings: The rating system for this testing session is simple. I rated each method on a scale of 1 (worst) to 5 (best). I considered how easy the method was, how long the method took, how much scrubbing it required, and how well it worked.

Note: Be sure to always check your manufacturer’s instructions before cleaning your microwave. Spot test if you are unsure.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman

Microwave Cleaning Method: Lemon Juice and Steam 

  • Cleaning time: 7 minutes
  • Rating: 2 / 5

The method: High in citric acid, lemon juice is supposedly one of the best natural cleaners around. Plus, it smells great. I squeezed half a lemon (about a tablespoon of lemon juice) into a bowl and added half a cup of water. I microwaved it for two minutes, and let the steam stay in the interior for another two. When the time was up, I used my sponge (both the soft side and the scrubby side) to clean the splatters.

How it went: The splatters came off, and it seemed like they were loosened by the steam, but I had to do a good deal of scrubbing with the more abrasive side of my sponge. I also didn’t love using half a lemon that I could have used for cooking. (If you have your own lemon tree, though, this might be a convenient and cost-effective method.)

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman

Microwave Cleaning Method: Vinegar and Steam

  • Cleaning time: 6 minutes
  • Rating: 3 / 5

The method: Vinegar’s acidity is known for cutting down grease and grime, so I was hopeful this would be the winner. I performed the same steaming steps as above, but used a tablespoon of white vinegar instead of the lemon juice. After steaming, I wiped down the interior with a sponge, using the scrubby side where necessary. 

How it went: I liked that it was a bit more simple to pour vinegar into the bowl than it was to halve and squeeze a lemon. It also felt much more economical. And the vinegar steam cleaned slightly better than the lemon juice and steam, but in comparison to the other methods below, this one didn’t cut it.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman

Microwave Cleaning Method: Steam

  • Cleaning time: 7 minutes
  • Rating: 3 / 5

The method: For this method, I used a half cup of water to steam the interior of the microwave. I scrubbed and wiped with the same sponge. 

How it went: Using regular old water was of course easier than having to add anything extra to it, and performance-wise, the plain water worked just as well as the water plus vinegar method above. (As a bonus, you can add a drop of vanilla into the bowl before steaming to fill the kitchen with a pleasant scent.)

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman

Microwave Cleaning Method: All-Purpose Cleaner

  • Cleaning time: 2.5 minutes
  • Rating: 4 / 5

The method: I sprayed all-purpose cleaner on all of the splattered areas in the microwave and let things sit for a minute. I wiped out the interior with the same O-Cedar sponge. 

How it went: This method worked quite well and was actually the fastest because I didn’t have to wait for the microwave to create a steam bath. I did wait for the cleaner to soften the mess, but it still cut down on time to only have to spray rather than prepare a solution and then heat it up. The performance was quite good. I had to wipe for a bit, but I barely had to use the scrubby part of the sponge. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman

Microwave Cleaning Method: Dawn Dish Soap and Water Steam

  • Cleaning time: 5 minutes
  • Rating: 5 / 5

The method: I squeezed a few drops of Dawn into a bowl and added half a cup of water. While you can use any dish soap, Dawn is a total winner when it comes to eliminating grease and can tackle just about any job around the house. I microwaved the bowl for two minutes and let the interior steam for two minutes after that. Then, I wiped the microwave down with the sponge. 

How it went: I was actually quite surprised by how well this method worked and how easily the sauce splatters wiped away. It was by far the most powerful method, well worth the slight bit of extra effort to prepare the soapy solution and wait for the steam to do its work. Next time I have a dirty microwave, I’m using a Dawn dish soap steam bath, for sure, because I know it’ll get the job done and easily cut the grease with the least hands-on time.

How do you clean your dirty microwave? Tell us your tricks in the comments below.