One of the biggest advantages of having a slow cooker is how easy they make things. With a slow cooker, you can dramatically decrease the amount of time you spend in the kitchen, while also saving money by using cheaper cuts of meat and less energy.
But, this advantage doesn’t seem to carry through when it comes to actually cleaning slow cookers. Instead, the process of cleaning it can seem frustrating, especially if you’ve left a meal cooking for longer than you should have.
So, what do you do about it? Certainly, issues with cleaning shouldn’t be a reason to give up on your slow cooker entirely. For that matter, the challenge of cleaning isn’t actually as bad as it first seems. Instead, there are various tips and tricks that you can use to make it much simpler to keep your slow cooker clean.
Everyday Cleaning Strategies
There are two different aspects to cleaning your slow cooker and in this post we’re taking a look at each of these areas. The first is what you need to do on a regular basis to keep your slow cooker clean and working well, while the second area is what to do if you run into a serious case of baked on food or stains.
Clean Quickly And Clean Well
The first thing to note about cleaning a slow cooker is the sooner the better. This might seem obvious but many people do leave their slow cooker uncleaned for quite some time. Or, they may give it a basic clean but leave some baked on food behind, simply because it is too difficult to get off.
Realistically, you want to start to clean your slow cooker immediately after it cools down from cooking each time you use it. This makes it much easier to remove anything that is baked on and to avoid stains. Plus, doing this is better for your slow cooker overall.
One of the first practical steps you can take is to transfer any leftovers out of the slow cooker and into containers. Some people do this as a matter of course, while others may keep leftovers in the slow cooker bowl and simply transfer that to the fridge. By leaving leftovers in the bowl like that you increase the chance of stains taking hold. Plus, you’re just creating a harder job for yourself once you finally do empty the pot.
In many cases, if you empty the pot out immediately, then cleaning should be relatively simple. Often all you’ll need to do is rinse out the slow cooker bowl with hot soup water and possibly scrub it a little bit.
If this isn’t enough, then you can fill the bowl with warm soupy water and leave it to sit for a while. After doing that, most stains will be fairly easy to scrub off. However, it is important to pay attention to the type of slow cooker bowl you have. Now all slow cooker bowls are the same and some of them do require gentler treatment than others.
For example, you can scrub at a ceramic bowl fairly vigorously but you couldn’t do the same to a non-stick surface. If you tried, you’d end up ruining your slow cooker in the process. In most cases, the manual for your slow cooker should tell you what you can and cannot use to clean if. If you have no luck there, you could try looking up your specific model online to see what other people have to say.
Preventing Major Issues
Cleaning your slow cooker is an essential process, especially if you rely on it heavily for making meals. However, you do also want to can minimize any significant cleaning problems right from the beginning. Doing this dramatically reduces how much work you have to do in the long-term.
One key way of doing this is to decrease the likelihood of things sticking. This can be achieved in a similar way to a regular cooking pan. So, for example, you can spray the bowl with cooking spray before adding your ingredients. Likewise, it’s possible to actually use baking paper or a cooking bag within the slow cooker, if it suits your recipe.
There are also specialized slow cooker liners out there that can majorly help to reduce the mess of slow cooking. These might not be cost effective if you do a large amount of cooking this way but they are worth taking a look at.
More than anything, it’s critical that you avoid overcooking food to begin with. Many people do end up cooking their meals for too long in a slow cooker and the effects of doing so can be hard to remove! Ideally, you want to follow the times stated in your recipe and make sure the slow cooker is either off or in keep warm mode once cooking has been completed. I have made the mistake of thinking “an extra hour or two won't make a difference”, but it does.
At the same time, you need to make sure you have enough liquid in there. Slow cookers don’t actually need a large amount of liquid and the exact amount will vary depending on the slow cooker and what you’re making. But, if you don’t have enough, then burnt on food becomes much more likely. If you're making something like a cake or bread, be sure to grease the crock before cooking.
Breaking In A New Slow Cooker
Another aspect of preventing long-term issues is to break in your slow cooker well to begin with. Technically speaking it isn’t essential to do this and you can actually start using the slow cooker as-is without any major problems. Likewise, you don’t have to worry about seasoning a slow cooker like you would a cast iron pan or similar equipment.
Nevertheless, you do want to make sure the inner pot is washed out well before you use it and that you dry the whole thing properly.
The one other thing to consider is starting simple. Even if you’ve used a slow cooker before, it can take a little bit of time to learn the individual quirks of your new one and precisely what to expect.
If you start with a simple recipe and it doesn’t work out, then it will often be fairly simple to figure out precisely what went wrong. In contrast, if you make a complicated recipe, it can be much more difficult to determine why it didn’t end up the way you expected. For example, a soup overcooking will be too salty due to water lost or veggies being too mushy. A roast undercooked or overcooked will be raw or dry. This can help you calibrate your recipes to your new appliance and prevent any crusties getting stuck on with future meals.
Hand Cleaning Versus The Dishwasher
In most cases, the pot from your slow cooker can be easily removed and is dishwasher safe. However, you do need to check the directions from your manufacturer before doing so, as this isn’t true for every single brand out there.
Even if you can safely put your slow cooker bowl in the dishwasher, there is some debate about whether or not you should. In particular, some people feel that hand cleaning tends to produces a much better result. Others simply don’t want to risk putting the bowl in the dishwasher, for fear that something awful might happen.
That concern isn’t unreasonable either. Ceramic bowls do seem durable but they are actually pretty sensitive to changes in temperature. This is one reason why you only some brands are dishwasher safe, while others aren’t. With bowls, cups, and utensils potentially moving around, you also run the risk of your crock getting knocked around, and risk breaking. Again, this is a rarity, but it does happen, especially if the pot has been through the washer hundreds of times.
I find that placing the crock in my own dishwasher just isn't that easy. Laying flat, it sits on top of the racks, unless I really wiggle it around. Even then, it takes a huge amount of space – basically the whole bottom rack! I'd rather just wash it by hand and save the dishwasher space. Plus, unless I pre-wash the crock, there's always a bit of food or soap residue left that I need to rinse out. At that point, there's no reason to add another step between me and a clean appliance.
Regardless of whether you should put the slow cooker pot in the dishwasher or not, it’s often more practical just to wash it by hand. Realistically, that pot takes up a considerable amount of space in the dishwasher and can make it hard to fit anything else in.
Plus, if you don’t have anything baked onto the pot, then it would take less than a minute to wash it by hand anyway. If you do have something baked on, then there is a chance that the dishwasher may be more effective than you at getting it off, so it may be worth a try. That's not always the case though! Look at what was left after using the dishwasher to clean up a brownie recipe crock:
In the end, I had to soak in warm water and hand wash.
You can also try to run the slow cooker bowl through the dishwasher multiple times. Doing so may make a difference, as the first run may loosen up any burnt on food, while the second run may actually clean the pot. You have to be willing to give up that much space for another round of washing though!
Basically, either way can work as long as your bowl is dishwasher safe. If you don’t have your manual anymore or aren’t sure, then it’s best to avoid the dishwasher. The last thing that you want to do is damage or break the bowl because you’re trying to save a few minutes.
However, the merits of using a dishwasher only apply to ceramic bowls. You shouldn’t be putting a non-stick slow cooker bowl in the dishwasher. That’s true for any non-stick cookware actually, as the dishwasher can damage the non-stick coating. Even if you don’t see any visible difference, doing this can reduce how long the coating lasts.
More Advanced Cleaning Strategies
If you clean your slow cooker regularly soon after you use it and don’t overcook food, then you can avoid many of the issues that plague slow cooker owners. Nevertheless, you may still run into cases where basic cleaning techniques simply aren’t enough.
Thankfully, there are ways to get around these issues as well.
Getting Rid Of Tough Stains
Like most kitchen tools and appliances, a slow cooker will tend to develop tough stains over time. This is especially true if you’re cooking meals that are fairly low in liquid, as this means you’re more likely to leave dried on or burnt residue behind.
Regardless of how they get there, some stains and baked on residue can be extremely difficult to get off. People often find that one of the best ways to resolve this is to let the slow cooker do the bulk of your work for you. There is a certain amount of logic to this approach because heat of the slow cooker was what created the problem in the first place.
There are various ways to go about this but the basic idea is to fill your slow cooker above the point where your stain is. Then, you put the lid on and turn the slow cooker on to low (some people say high) for a few hours.
You could do this with just water but also have the option of adding in cleaning agents. One such recommendation is to use some baking soda and a little bit of dish soap, while baking soda and vinegar is another common option (but the vinegar does get smelly!)
Another more advanced strategy that you can use is to fill a relatively small bowl with ammonia and simply leave it sitting in the slow cooker (lid on) overnight. You don’t need to leave the slow cooker on for this part, as the ammonia will fume on its own. You can also spray on oven cleaner instead but that isn’t a good idea if your slow cooker uses aluminum.
The process here is particularly relevant for getting rid of stains, because often scrubbing alone won’t be enough. But, both ammonia and oven cleaner are pretty nasty and no fun to use, so this is best left as a last resort.
Cleaning Inside The Casing
The most obvious area to clean with your slow cooker is inside the crock but sometimes you’ll have to tackle under and around the bowl as well. For example, you might spill some liquid when taking the bowl out of the slow cooker and you may even find that something inadvertently gets baked on inside of the casing.
This area is something that you can, and should, clean. However, this part of the slow cooker is much harder to clean and you need to be very careful.
Now, in theory, the electrical cables in your slow cooker should be sealed in a way that you can’t accidentally touch them while cleaning. But, that doesn’t eliminate the importance of being careful. You also need to be certain that the slow cooker itself is unplugged from the wall when you are cleaning it.
If you do see any exposed wiring or heating elements, then the best approach is to talk to the manufacturer. Otherwise, you could risk hurting yourself or damaging the slow cooker while trying to clean it.
Other than those caveats, you can clean away! In many cases, just wiping a spill with a damp cloth and possibly some detergent may be enough, especially if the spill is a fairly recent one.
Alternatively, you can make use of something a bit tougher, like a mixture of vinegar and baking soda, or a cleaning paste. Spraying vinegar directly onto the trouble area is another method that can work well.
However, you do want to be gentle and careful with what you use and how much elbow grease you put into the process. In particular, too much scrubbing could damage your inner casing, so you do need to tread carefully.
Because this is such a sensitive area, the general rule is to always err on the side of caution. So, if you’re concerned that something may cause harm to the area inside the casing, the best answer is not to use it.
One final important note is that you should never ever submerge the base of your slow cooker in water. This is where all of the electronics are and water will not mix well with them. You probably wouldn’t hurt yourself doing this if the power was off – but if you did do so, using the slow cooker again wouldn’t be the best idea.
Different Types Of Material
In most cases, you’ll find that slow cookers use a ceramic bowl but this isn’t always the case. There are some models out there that use a non-stick bowl instead and this can dramatically alter some aspects of cleaning the slow cooker.
Additionally, there are differences in the actual ceramic used in various slow cookers as well. These differences mean that techniques which work with one slow cooker may damage another one. If in doubt, it’s always worth reading the instruction manual that came with your slow cooker.
For example, some recommendations suggest using a denture cleaning tablet or dishwasher tablet in your slow cooker while heating it for an hour or two. In many cases, this can be an effective way of cleaning but it isn’t advisable for all ceramic bowls.
An additional important consideration is the fact that the base of some bowls is porous. This doesn’t affect water that you put in the bowl. However, it does mean that you shouldn’t be standing the bowl in water for any length of time. Most bowls are not porous, so you likely don't have to worry about this, but some are!
You do also need to figure out what you can and cannot do with your specific bowl. The information from the manufacturer is invaluable here and this is something you need to figure out before you try to put the bowl in the dishwasher or use harsh chemicals on it. The ceramic coating for most bowls won't wear out, and won't aborb or give you any harmful substances.
The challenge of cleaning is one reason why people often end up choosing a slow cooker with a non-stick bowl. And, in many ways, the decision can work well. A non-stick bowl does reduce the chance of major problems and you’re less likely to have a ring of food that’s difficult to get off.
However, if you do get food stuck to this type of bowl then it can be much more difficult to clean without ruining the slow cooker in the process. For one thing, non-stick bowls are much more sensitive than ceramic ones. So, simply relying on elbow grease to get the bowl clean isn’t going to work.
For the most part, you need to apply the same rules to a non-stick slow cooker bowl than you would to any other non-stick product. This includes strongly relying on dish soap and warm water while avoiding anything abrasive while you are cleaning it.
Likewise, you shouldn’t be putting a non-stick bowl in the dishwasher no matter what because the process isn’t good for the non-stick coating. This is true even if the manufacturer says that it is okay. In the same way, you need to avoid abrasive cleaners and mostly just stick to basic dish soup.
Is A Slow Cooker Worth The Cost?
All of these different techniques make slow cookers sound like much more work than they actually are. You may well have times where you need to get off some pretty tough baked on food or stains but if you take good care of your slow cooker, this shouldn’t happen very often. This is particularly true if you make sure that you don’t overcook food and actually clean the slow cooker soon after using it.
Instead, most of the time, all you’re going to need to do is give it a fairly quick wash with soapy water and maybe let it run for a little while and clean itself. For many slow cookers, using the dishwasher is also a viable option.
Every house should have a slow cooker – it's definitely worth the cost. But how much money should you spend on your slow cooker to get max value for your dollar? Continue reading to find out!