How to give your slow cooker the deep clean it needs

Make way for endless more soups this fall . . .

Published October 17, 2021 11:59AM (EDT)

 (Rocky Luten / Food52)
(Rocky Luten / Food52)

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Slow cookers are a godsend for busy families, bustling professionals, and anyone who loves having a low-effort, perfectly cooked meal waiting for them at the end of a long day — so, all of us. This set-it-and-forget-it style of cooking couldn't be more comforting (or stress-free); find evidence of this in our roundups on warm and nourishing soups, another filled with all the most in-season produce for fall, and another still on the cookers themselves.

But, while pulling together one of these slow-cooked meals is as easy as pushing a button, cleanup still requires some effort. Everything from scorched BBQ sauces and glazes to rings of crusted, stuck-on food emerge after hours of simmering — and their ceramic interior bowls require specific precautions before scrubbing commences.

That's where we come in. There are a couple of different ways to go about it, and we're going to walk you through the two best, depending on the extent of the mess you're trying to tackle: one from the OG slow cooker brand, Crock-Pot, and the other, a tried-and-true home remedy. Read on for step-by-step instructions for the easiest, fastest ways to clean a slow cooker.

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The way your grandma does it

Some of our (my) grandmothers have cleaned their slow cookers for decades without having to leave their homes for any fancy equipment or harsh chemicals. Most slow cookers have a ceramic bowl that is dishwasher safe — an easy move for an average mess, but if what you're dealing with is more caked on, you'll need a bit of elbow grease and pantry items.

  1. Cut a lemon in half, squeeze out the juice and remove the pits (save the extra for a cocktail reward once the scrubbing is done!).
  2. Add enough salt to the lemon juice to make a paste when stirred together.
  3. Grab the coarse side of a sponge or a dish brush and turn the slow cooker on its side or, if the messy part is on the bottom, leave it standing up.
  4. Pour the mixture onto the stuck-on food or stain and scrub for a minute or two.
  5. Let the mixture stand for five minutes, then rinse it all away.

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The way Crock-Pot does it

Crock-Pot agrees that it doesn't take brand-name cleaners to get the job done. But of you need a recipe for the deepest clean possible, the brand says to take the following steps:

  1. Fill the ceramic bowl with water above the food line.
  2. For a three-quart cooker, add 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar. Add a full cup to a six-quart cooker.
  3. Carefully — it will start to bubble — add 1/2 cup baking soda (or a full cup for a larger cooker), wait for the bubbling to subside, then add a few more tablespoons.
  4. Cover, plug it in and turn it on low for an hour.
  5. After an hour, turn the slow cooker off, unplug it and wait until the water is cool enough to touch and scrub with a soft sponge.
  6. Allow the ceramic to cool, rinse it thoroughly under warm water and set it aside to dry

Going through the steps of deep cleaning your slow cooker might take a little bit of time, but if you use the countertop appliance regularly, it's worth the extra steps to keep it in tip-top shape. For a Crock-Pot or other brand of slow cooker, many consider using liners that help prevent burning and the hard-to-clean messes that comes with it. However, like most things, liners come with some pros and cons. They can help you get through post-dinner cleanup (much) faster, but because they're single-use plastic or nylon, they're not a great choice for the environment, because of the amount of energy they take to make. These plastics and nylons also can't be reused or recycled and aren't biodegradable, meaning they'll likely stick around in a landfill somewhere for an infinite amount of time, too.

It's likely no surprise, then, that our advice is to follow the tips we outlined above for the quickest and easiest way to work through the mess. Taking these steps every now and then will keep your slow-cooking wonder in top shape, and get you back even more of your time to enjoy the things you actually like to do.

By Ariel Scotti

MORE FROM Ariel Scotti

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