How to Get That Burnt Smell Out of Your Microwave, According to Experts

updated Sep 20, 2023
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Anyone who has burnt popcorn in the office knows just how easy it is to nuke something too long and end up with a very smelly aftermath. So, whether you’ve burned popcorn or melted a plastic container, it’s now time to figure out how to get the burnt smell out of your microwave — but luckily it’s almost as easy as pressing the popcorn button. (Life hack: Make sure you can actually trust the popcorn button setting before you use it.)

Here’s how to clean your way back to a fresh-smelling microwave. 

Quick Overview

How do you clean a burnt smell out of a microwave?

  • Clean the microwave right away so you don’t “bake in” the smell.
  • Wipe down the microwave and then combine water, vinegar, and vanilla in a bowl. Heat for six minutes, and then let the mixture sit for about 20 minutes after the timer has gone off to continue steaming.
  • If smells persist, place a bowl of baking soda in the microwave and shut the door (overnight is best).

Will burnt microwave smell go away?

Yes, but it’s a good idea to remove the source of the smell as soon as you notice it. Each time you use the microwave, you’re essentially re-baking the burned-on debris, which will only make matters worse.

And it’s not just popcorn that’s prone to stinking up your kitchen. Rogue crumbs and debris from warmed-up leftovers can also leave your microwave smelling like a bonfire. In part, microwaves are so susceptible to lingering smells because the type of heavy-grade plastic used to construct them tends to hang onto odors.

“The longer you ignore the burnt smell, the harder it will be for you to deal with it — so take action as soon as you have burned something,” says Cyrus Bedwyr, a kitchen appliances technician and cleaner at Fantastic Services.

Is it safe to use a burnt microwave?

If your microwave simply smells and you can remove the burned-on residue, it’s safe to resume use once it’s clean. But exercise caution — and maybe invest in a new appliance — if any part of the microwave itself appears burned or damaged. As a general rule, a damaged appliance is a fire hazard

How to Get Rid of Burnt Smell in the Microwave

As annoying as burnt smells are, they’re also pretty easy to get rid of (assuming, of course, you didn’t wait weeks). More good news: You won’t even need any fancy cleaners to take care of the problem. James Scott, the co-founder of Dappir, a residential cleaning service in Tampa, FL, suggests a combination of three ingredients you likely already have on hand: water, vinegar, and baking soda. 

However, a cautionary note: Abe Navas, owner of Emily’s Maids in Dallas, says one of the biggest microwave cleaning mistakes is using a metal sponge. Not only could the metal scratch the inside of your appliance, leftover metal bits inside of the microwave could cause a fire when it’s in use.

Here’s how to remove burnt smells from your microwave:

1. Do a quick inside clean.

Clean up any crumbs and easily removable debris from the inside of the microwave. (Otherwise, you might just end up burning those in the process.) With a sponge or cloth, wipe away any splatters, too. Don’t forget the microwave’s ceiling! 

2. Make your solution.

Now, time to eradicate the burnt-on smell. Scott recommends combining a cup of water with three tablespoons of white vinegar in a microwave-safe bowl — the vinegar will cut through the grime in your microwave and make it easier to clean. 

To further neutralize the smell, Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company, swears by adding a tablespoon of vanilla extract to the solution.

3. Heat your solution.

Microwave the vinegar-water-vanilla solution for six minutes. You should notice the microwave filling with steam as the solution comes to a boil.

4. Let the bowl stand.

After the six minutes is up, allow the bowl to stand for 15 to 20 minutes so the steam can do its work. By now, the smell should noticeably dissipate. 

5. Remove the bowl.

Carefully take the bowl out of the microwave with an oven mitt or pot holder. 

6. Clean the microwave again.

Dip a fresh cloth inside the remaining solution to wipe down the inside of the microwave, including the top and the door. Wash the plate and the wheels with soap and water if needed. (You can also throw your glass microwave plate in the dishwasher.)

7. Use baking soda to stave off any remaining odor.

If your microwave still smells after you cleaned it, pour a cup or two of baking soda (the whole, open container will also work) into a bowl and put it inside with the door shut overnight. Or, Bedwyr recommends neutralizing any remaining scent with old coffee grounds in a bowl, left overnight or for the day. 

If, after all of these steps, you cannot seem to get the burnt smell out, it may be time to replace your microwave (especially if it’s over 10 years old).