Ask a Clean Person: What’s Cookin’? Oh. Ew.

My problem is a strange one: what to do about an oven that smells like pee? Whenever the old gas range in my new apartment gets turned on, the room gradually fills with the smell of urine. Like, stale, nasty urine-stink. At first, I thought it was the fan vent above the stove, but soaking and scrubbing that has done absolutely nothing for the problem. I can only conclude that the issue lies within the oven itself and not the burners, since it seems to be primarily preheating that unleashes the smell. My landlord will throw a fit if any parts are replaced/dismantled, so I need to find a way to sanitize this one into submission.

As is so often the case with the questions you all toss my way, there’s some good news and some bad news here. And for you there’s actually good news, bad news, and then good news again.

So shall we start with the good news? Yes, we shall! The good news is that this isn’t actually all that strange; it’s more common than you’d think.

The bad news is that the urine smell? Is exactly that, the smell of urine. Coming from mice. Yeah, sorry. I tried to warn you that bad news was on its way! But if you all require a moment to collect yourselves and/or barf in a handbag I’ll be happy to accommodate your need for a time-out.

Right so! It’s gross, but it happens. The miceies! They love the heat! So they hang around the oven and you know how it is — when you gotta go, you gotta go. The first thing to do here is to clean the oven. I’ve gone over oven cleaning instructions before, so I’m going to leave this link here as a reference for you and also take a moment to say that I still love that “(THIS IS THE FUN PART, SYLVIA!)” line a whole lot. You crazy people are a fun lot to write at!

While we’re still on the subject of the bad news I’ve got for you, I also need to tell you that a regular cleaning of the oven is unlikely to completely eliminate the problem. The mice, you see, they umm … they get into the insulation of the oven and do their business there too, not just in and around the body of the oven. And in order to address that, you’d have to take apart the oven, which I’m absolutely not qualified to instruct you how to do. Also, if you have a gas stove please please please be very careful when futzing around, okay? Let’s not have any gas line explosions in our family!

The thing that in your case actually turns out to be good news is that your landlord won’t abide by you dismantling the oven, which means that once you’ve tried to clean it on your own your next step will be to pick up the telephone. You call that landlord right up and say, “HEY LANDLORD! Assorted vermin has been piddling in my ovenspace, you get over here right this instant to clean it up and/or replace the appliance. Well, yes of course I’ve cleaned it thoroughly, what do you think I’m some kind of housekeeping novice?? They must have gotten up into the insulation!” Or say it nicely, if that’s more your style.

I have a mouse in my apartment, so the Super came over while I was at the office and helpfully put sticky traps in the kitchen, which I saw when I arrived home that night. What I did not see was the sticky trap he put IN THE OVEN until an hour ago when I was merrily preheating and suddenly toxic smoke started billowing out. So not only were my bulgur-stuffed peppers lunch plans derailed, I now have a puddle of quickly cooling sticky trap glue at the bottom of my oven. I know you did a question on oven cleaning before, and I am happy to proceed as instructed, but will it work on glue? And will I create a toxic nightmare using Easy-Off Oven Cleaner on top of the glue? Help!

See how smart you are, asking about mixing chemical substances before you just go around winging it and suffocating on a toxic cloud? So smart! Wicked smart, even! Your landlord, on the other hand … woof. That was, um, not a wicked smart thing to do.

So this is sort of too-easy-to-be-true, but the answer is vegetable oil. You’ll want to rub a small amount of the oil (you can always add more) to the sticky spot, let it sit for 5 or so minutes, and then wipe away with a clean, dry cloth. You may need to scrape at it a little bit too, and of course you can repeat as necessary.

Somehow, plastic melted all over the oven. I have no idea what it was or how it happened, and both of my roommates claim innocence as well. I peeled the hardened plastic bits off of the racks and scrubbed the floor of the oven with steel wool and 409 (I had no idea what else to use, and it was around) but when I turn the oven on, it still smells like burning plastic and emits enough smoke to set off the fire alarm. Because of that, I’m hesitant to use the oven cleaning setting. What can I do? There are only so many things that I can make in a toaster oven.

Ugh oh ooooof that sounds wretched; burning plastic smells are no fun at all. Also you should consider getting rid of your roommates, seriously, they are revolting. And also no help at all! Jerks.

You’ve got two routes you can go here: hot or cold. You didn’t specify if you had a gas or electric stove, but I do think it’s worth noting that if you have a gas stove, you can unscrew the bottom panel of the stove, which will make cleaning it waaaay easier. Just be sure to turn the gas off before you do!

Okay but back to getting the melted plastic out from inside the oven. If you choose to go the cold route, you’ll need to get a giant bag of ice and basically plant it on the area where the plastic has melted. Once it’s had a chance to freeze, which will shrink it, which in turn will loosen it from the oven interior, you can scrape it up with a sharp-edged scraper. If you do have a gas stove and want to go use the chill method, you really do need to take that bottom panel out, as the heat from the gas source will melt the ice and the plastic bag its in, making an even bigger mess.

The other option is heat, and this is the one you’ll need to use if the plastic is stuck to the side walls unless you want to hold the bag of ice against the side of the wall, which I don’t think you want to do, right? Right. It’s also the way to go if you’ve got a gas stove that you’re not up to disassembling.

To prevent the plastic from smoking, you’ll want to turn the oven on to the lowest heat setting possible, usually around 200 degrees, and heat it just until the wax is melted. Then using a scraper tool (it needn’t be sharp since the wax is pliable), scrape up the melted wax. If the wax re-hardens during this process, just shut the oven door and turn the heat back on until it’s again melted to a point at which you can get back to your scraping.

Previously: Laundry School Commencement Exercises.

Jolie Kerr is not paid to endorse any of the products mentioned in this column, but she sure would be very happy to accept any free samples the manufacturers care to send her way! Are you curious to know if she’s answered a question you have? Do check out the archives, listed by topic. More importantly: is anything you own dirty?