Whether you have an electric stove or a gas stove, cleaning the burners is by far the one part of housecleaning I hate to do. There are several reasons for this. One is that I wait until they get so cruddy that it requires some type of mechanical tool to even begin to get the crud off. The second is that I am never aware of the single drop of sauce that escapes from the pot and ends up turning black on my black burner. Given the advances in technology, it should turn a different color so I can tell.
On gas burning stoves, some of the blame goes to the fact that natural gas is a fossil fuel, and even though it is cheap it leaves carbon deposits on the burner that force you to clean up once in a while. Electric stoves don’t actually have burners but coils, which for some reason also manage to get cruddy. They create material that can stop a bullet but cannot come up with a material that prevents carbon build up. Conspiracy theorists unite!
But on to the solution of cleaning the stove burners.
The underlying cause for requiring your burners to be cleaned is carbon. The food we eat is carbon-based, the flame is carbon-based, and the food we spill on the burner and gets scorched beyond recognition that will cling to the burner is carbon based. To begin, you need a sense of adventure because you will have to take apart one or more parts of the stove to give everything a thorough cleaning. Electric coils can be a bit more challenging. People who laugh at this likely have never cleaned a stove burner.
One recommended solution for cleaning the burners is to skip the entire process and just buy new ones. This is not the most economical approach to the problem, but it will work as long as you can get the replacement parts. For the more frugal among us, start with either baking soda or ammonia, both inexpensive household items.
For the baking soda method, start with washing each burner in soap and water. Do not soak because it will not significantly contribute to de-crudding your burners. It is just to get off the film that coats the gunk. Next, make a paste of the baking soda using water. Generously coat each of the washed burners with the paste and let it stand for about 20 minutes. Then use a scrub brush to scrub the crud off, rinsing it in water afterward, then drying.
There are those of us who are just naturally lazy and are always looking for an easier way to do things. One approach that is said to have some good results is taking the burners and placing them in a plastic bag (Ziplock preferred for best results) large enough to hold a single burner (generally a one-gallon size is required) and putting a small amount of ammonia in the bag. Seal the bag and let it sit overnight. When you are well-rested, take the burners from the bag and wipe them off with a soapy sponge or cloth. This method is quick and easy, but may not be the best solution for those of us who only clean the burners once in a blue moon.
Now you may be wondering why things have to get to the point of scrubbing or soaking burners. You may be wondering if there is a way to avoid an annual burner cleaning ritual. The answer is yes. The famous and well-known vinegar treatment can be used if done on a regular basis. Simple take the burners off of the stove, spray (do not soak) them with undiluted vinegar, then come back in 15 minutes to wipe them up with a soapy sponge or cloth.
The truth to the issue of stove burner cleaning seems to be that the buildup goes largely unnoticed until it is too late. Microwave ovens are as common as refrigerators in homes, and so the stove is only used when necessary. How often do you grab a pot off of the stove to wash it, leaving the burner to remain crudded? We all do it. Unless our lives have returned to a leisurely pace, the need for viable burner cleaning methods will remain valuable. Perhaps the day will come when there will be self-cleaning burners, just like there are self-cleaning ovens.