Lunch splatters dirtying the inside of your microwave? No worries. Here's how to avoid heavy scrubbing and easily clean a microwave with just vinegar and other natural ingredients. In no time, spills will be gone and every nook and cranny of your microwave will sparkle and shine.

By Alicia Chilton
Updated February 25, 2019
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We've all been there. Even though you clean your microwave regularly, a layer of debris forms inside after oatmeal erupts or sauce splatters. The exploded bits linger through a few cycles, and soon the dregs become rock hard. (Who has time to wipe down the interior after every use?) So how do you say hasta la vista to cooked-on carnage? Clean your microwave with vinegar and steam, and you'll need just a few minutes and a couple quick swipes with a cloth. Easy peasy!

How to Clean a Microwave Naturally

Rather than reaching for a store-bought cleaner, you can use natural cleaning products and home remedies to clean up your microwave. Learn how to clean a microwave with steam and vinegar, using this simple method.

And a safety note: unplug your microwave or leave the door open when you’re scrubbing the inside or exterior so you don’t accidentally turn the microwave on. Also, avoid getting cleaner or other liquids into the vents or inner workings of the appliance.

How to Clean a Microwave with Vinegar and Steam

Grab a microwave-safe bowl and fill it halfway with water. Add a few tablespoons of vinegar (white or apple cider vinegar will do), and place the bowl in the microwave.

Using high power, heat the vinegar and water for up to four minutes until boiling. The amount of time to heat the water depends on the power of your microwave. Look at the stickers inside the microwave door—often times, your microwave’s wattage will be listed here. Here's a handy list of microwave temperature cleaning times:

  • 1,200 watts = 1 1/2 minutes
  • 1,000 watts = 2 minutes
  • 800 watts = 2 1/2 minutes
  • 700 watts = 3 minutes
  • 600 watts = 4 minutes

Although the risk of bubbling super-heated water is minimal, some experts recommend placing a wooden skewer or wooden spoon in the water for bubbles to form around, providing a release for built-up air.

Turn off the power and leave the door closed for several minutes, allowing the steam to soften the debris.

Open the door and use oven mitts or pot holders to carefully remove the bowl of water. Use a damp cloth to quickly wipe the food debris out of the microwave. Carefully remove the turntable and any other removable turntable parts. Wipe down the turntable and other parts. Check your owner’s manual—sometimes these parts are dishwasher-safe and can be run through the dishwasher to get them good and clean. Dry all surfaces with a clean cloth and return everything to the microwave.

A vinegar-based homemade cleaner can also be used to clean the glass door, another stubborn spot where gunk loves to linger.

Microwave Cleaning Hack—Use a Lemon

As a fresh-smelling alternative, clean your microwave with lemon, everyone’s favorite citrus home cleaner. Squeeze the juice of a lemon into a bowl half-filled with water. Drop the lemon rind into the water as well. Or float slices of lemon in the bowl, squeezing some juice into the water. Follow the same steps above for cleaning a microwave with vinegar to generate steam.

Microwave the bowl on high for three minutes. Wipe down the surfaces with a clean cloth. And there you have it: a microwave that looks as good as the day you got it!

If your microwave emits a lingering cooking odor, lemon (and steam!) can again be put to work. Try this method from appliance manufacturer Frigidaire: mix 1 cup water, the grated peel and juice of 1 lemon, and several whole cloves in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Place in the microwave and bring to a boil. Boil for several minutes on high. Allow the cup and mixture to sit in the microwave until cool. Then, wipe the microwave interior with a soft cloth.

Don’t Forget the Exterior and Filter

Handles (one of the most overlooked places when cleaning) and touchpads are also dirt and grime magnets and need a daily wipe-down and an occasional deep clean. For routine cleaning, simply spritz an all-purpose cleaner on a damp rag then wipe down the microwave exterior. Give the underside of an over-the-range microwave some attention, too, especially if you’ve been cooking greasy foods.

Read the owner’s manual for instructions on how to clean or change the filter if your microwave has an exhaust system. If the filter is removable and can be washed, remove the filter and soak it in warm water and a few squirts of dish soap. Scrub to remove any debris. Rinse well, shake to remove excess water, and dry, then replace.

To clean a stainless-steel appliance, look to rubbing alcohol to eliminate fingerprints and give a microwave’s exterior a little extra shine. Dampen a soft cloth with a few drops of rubbing alcohol and rub over the stain. Always wipe with the grain of the steel to capture any small particles or pieces of fuzz. Check your owner’s manual before cleaning the exterior. Some newer stainless-steel appliances have particular easy-care finishes that may not require any more than simple soap and water for cleaning.

If your microwave sits on a countertop or other surface, unplug it and move it aside to clean underneath the appliance. You’d be surprised how much debris burrows its way under there!

While microwaves see their fair share of everyday food build-up and the occasional full-blown disaster (hello, exploding spaghetti), you can tackle the messes without batting an eye. The best ways to clean a microwave are pretty straightforward and simple. Grab a few cleaning basics (vinegar, soft cloths, water) and put the microwave itself to work, creating grime-loosening steam that makes achieving a like-new microwave effortless.

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