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How to clean a toaster the right way

This small-but-mighty appliance works hard for you. Here's how to make it sparkle (and keep your kitchen safe).
"The first thing to do is to make sure that your toaster is unplugged before you begin cleaning," Ron Shimek told TODAY Home.
"The first thing to do is to make sure that your toaster is unplugged before you begin cleaning," Ron Shimek told TODAY Home.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

Sweeping the floors and wiping down countertops seem like obvious kitchen cleaning jobs, but it can be easy to forget about small appliances like your toaster (or toaster oven), where crumbs and other gunk might be lurking within.

"If your toaster has a burnt smell while toasting or leaves crumbs all over the counter when you move it, there’s a buildup of crumbs that need to be cleaned out," Joni Gonzales, a professional cleaner and home organizer who also blogs at Life Unflaked, told TODAY.

A buildup of crumbs can not only cause the appliance to work less efficiently, it could also lead to a spontaneous kitchen fire (yikes). Here's how to clean a toaster or toaster oven the right way.

How to clean a toaster

1. Unplug the toaster.

This might sound obvious, but it bears repeating, since water and electricity most definitely do not play well together. "The first thing to do is to make sure that your toaster is unplugged before you begin cleaning," said Ron Shimek, president at Mr. Appliance, an international appliance repair company. In fact, because of fire risk, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends always unplugging appliances like toasters when they're not in use.

2. Read the manual.

"Since every toaster is a little different, it’s important to always reference the owner’s manual for safety and suggested cleaning instructions for your specific appliance," said Shimek. If your paper copy is long gone, check the manufacturer's guidelines on the company's website or on a site like Manuals Online.

3. Banish the crumbs.

It’s important to understand how to clean inside of a toaster. "Most toasters have a removable tray, or one on a hinge — turn it over and open or remove the tray," said Gonzales. Next, shake off any crumbs and wipe off stubborn ones with a dry dishcloth. Note that this process can be messy, so do it over the sink or your trash can. If the tray is extremely grimy or sticky, Shimek said it's fine to wash it with mild dishwashing soap and warm water. "Just be sure it's completely dry before you pop it back in," he added.

You might also notice some crumbs caught in the coils. Gonzales suggested using a clean, dry paintbrush to gently brush them loose before shaking them out.

4. Spruce up the exterior.

Shimek explained that in most cases you can simply wipe the exterior with a damp cloth, using either mild dishwashing soap or white vinegar. (Again, always refer to the owner's manual for tips on your toaster's specific finish, especially if your toaster is coated in some kind of retro-style enamel.) "Always take care to avoid getting moisture into any knobs, buttons, switches or the toaster’s internal cavity or components," said Shimek. Need some extra detailing? "I like to clean out any nooks and crannies on the exterior with a toothpick or dry toothbrush," Gonzales said. She also uses a damp Magic Eraser to remove burn marks on the finish. (You may want to do a spot test on a hidden area first.)

5. For stainless steel, bring in the big guns.

On stainless steel appliances, Gonzales also uses Bar Keepers Friend cleaning powder for especially stubborn dark marks that won't come off with the eraser. "Cover the bread slots first to keep the powder out, and then use a damp cloth sprinkled with Bar Keepers Friend to scrub the stainless steel, which will remove any burnt-on gunk," she said. For the finishing touch, she wipes it down with a damp microfiber cloth and buffs to a shine.

6. Give it time to dry.

If you used water to clean the outside of your toaster or the crumb tray, you'll want to dry it thoroughly with a clean towel and let it sit for several hours to air dry, or even overnight, before you fire up any bread products again. Got roommates or family members in the mix? Leave a note so they know the deal, too.

How to clean a toaster oven

If you have a toaster oven rather than a toaster, the process for cleaning a toaster oven and how to clean a toaster oven tray is similar.

Toaster ovens sometimes have both a metal rack and a tray at the bottom, so those should both be kept clean. You might also have more baked-on grease, if you heat anything besides bread in the toaster oven.

To clean a toaster oven, follow instructions for how to clean an oven. Try a paste of baking soda and water, leave it overnight and wipe off in the morning. Spray any continued spots with a solution of vinegar and water. The fizzing action will loosen up the grease!

This article was originally published on May 13, 2021.