I can still remember the first time I used the self-cleaning mode in my oven. The smell was completely awful and I thought something had gone wrong. It turns out, this is a common issue when using this feature on the oven. For this reason, even though many ovens today have the feature, people do not use it because of the awful smell when the oven runs through the cycle.
How Does It Work?
Self-cleaning ovens remove food particles using high heat. This extreme heat literally turns the food into ash so it can be easily wiped away from the inside of the oven. If you do not like using that elbow grease to clean tough oven stains, this is a great feature, but the smell can be atrocious.
Reducing the Smell
You can reduce the bad smell by removing the oven racks and cleaning them by hand. The smell will still be there, but it will not be as pronounced as if it is if you leave those racks in there during the cycle. We would also advise trying to remove any loose debris before running the cycle.
Preventing a Dirty Oven
The best way to reduce the smell is to not have a disgusting oven in the first place. I have always been amazing that people seem to simply forget to clean the inside of their oven after cooking, especially after making something messy with a heavy sauce that leaked or splattered on the wall of the oven.
After using the oven, allow it to cool, then give it a quick wipe down with soap and water (do not go crazy on the soap). Your best bet to get that mess cleaned up is right after using it as it will not have time to get caked or completely stuck to the walls of the oven with multiple uses.
If you do not have the time to clean the oven after the use, place a pan in the oven with water and run a 350-degree preheat cycle. That moisture should loosen up the debris enough that you can clean it rather easily.
One my favorite tricks for keeping the oven clean (and I also use this on my toaster oven), is to line the baking rack with aluminum foil to catch anything that may spill over from the pan that I am cooking in. Cleanup is as easy as removing the foil.
One final tip is to use roasting bags when you are cooking items that have a lot of fat. This will prevent the grease splatter inside the oven that you often see when cooking a larger piece of meat in the oven.