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Ask The Green Mama: How to safely off-gas the chemicals in a new oven (getting rid of that gross new oven smell)

We purchased a new oven and were told to run the oven prior to use because there is something with the insulation that needs to burn off.  We are concerned with the toxic release and have been getting mixed answers on what to do. Just wondering if you have any tips on how to make our oven useable in the least toxic way? Thank you!!! Rebecca

Well, this is a worm hole of craziness! I am deep into deadline on my second book and I told myself I would just spend a minute or two looking into this question right now. I thought it would be a simple: just crank up the temperature and open the windows. And while this advice still holds there is definitely a lot more to it.

Why do modern stoves and ovens need to be off-gassed to remove the smell/chemicals?

It seems that modern stoves are more complicated than they used to be. This seems to be from a myriad of reasons.

  1. The insulation they use often has either a formaldehyde or an acrylic binding agent, both of which can offgass. And it seems that this insulation is largely supposed to NOT be directly exposed to the inside of the even that gets hot, but sometimes some of it is and thus it needs to be “burnt off” which is an incredibly toxic process.
  2. There is an interior enamel used on many ovens which itself can off-gas. If you have a self-cleaning oven, the chemicals released during this cycle are toxic enough to kill birds and have made many a person sick as well.
  3. Some ovens have an oil coating that is used during the manufacturing. I am not sure what this oil coating is, but likely it is petroleum based and thus off gassing petroleum byproducts which aren’t healthy.

How to safely remove the new oven smell in three easy steps

  1. Well, if you have the money you can buy an AGA stove (OH, I really wish I had one of these) or use a cast iron wood stove than you probably are safe as these are usually just straight cast iron without any sort of enamel coated finish. Don’t worry, most of us can’t afford this option either. For the rest of us:
  2. Don’t use the self-cleaning feature. Not only is the self-cleaning cycle use a lot more energy than it needs and can shorten the life of the oven, but self-cleaning ovens can emit the known toxins acrolein and formaldehyde as well as carbon monoxide from the burning food residue.  Indeed, birds have died during the self cleaning of an oven. All around, the materials (special enamels) used in self-cleaning ovens seem more questionable than other ovens so even if you never use the self-cleaning cycle, I wouldn’t opt for this option if possible. Although, this Tree Hugger article did say that self-cleaning ovens are better insulated and might be worth it if you avoid using the actual self-cleaning feature.
  3. Clean your oven BEFORE doing an initial bake-off or heat-off of the chemicals in the oven. Follow these Green Mama cleaning instructions to safely clean your oven (remember: BEFORE doing an initial bake off.)
  4. Do the “heat off” that the manufacturer recommends. Usually this entails heating the over up to 500 degrees for 50 minutes. Take out all the racks and other things and wash these yourselves.

VERY IMPORTANT: while you do this open all your windows, use every fan you have, and help blow the fumes out of the house. Take yourself and your family and your pets away. Continue with the windows open and the fans blowing for as long as possible afterwards as well. I read one guy that said while he did this he placed activated charcoal around his home.  The long and short of it is that activated charcoal chemically bonds with some of the more noxious chemicals that are released. Leave it lying around the house on lined baking trays for awhile and then bury it, compost it, or throw it out when you are done. Just make sure you are getting activated charcoal or activated carbon filters—like the kind you might use in an aquarium—and not chemically treated BBQ charcoal. You can also place little bowls of baking soda around the place to help absorb additional odours. Also, you can sprinkle baking soda on  your rugs, furniture, etc and then and then vacuum (with a HEPA filter) it up.

Good luck! Stay in touch please and tell me how it goes.