Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore
Air fryers use fans to efficiently blow hot air around a small cooking chamber. This results in extra crispy, golden-brown food that tastes like it’s fried (kinda?), without excess oil or cooking time. But just because you can use less oil with an air fryer doesn’t mean your unit won’t get greasy.
The fan of an air fryer operates at such high speed, that it can whip fat (like oil) and crumbs around, coating the cooking chamber with a thin layer of grease or causing errant bits of food to get stuck in the grates of the basket and the heating unit. Cleaning an air fryer is actually pretty easy, provided you do it regularly. But whether you’re looking for a how-to on maintaining your air fryer or giving it a thorough deep clean, the process is simple, and you don’t need any special equipment or harsh cleaning products. We spoke with Jamie Yonash, an air frying expert and the author of two air fryer cookbooks, to learn the best practices, don’ts, and SOS methods for cleaning even the greasiest air fryer.
How to Clean an Air Fryer
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore
There are three portions to clean on an air fryer: the basket, exterior (including knobs and buttons), and interior (including the heating unit).
The grimiest part of your air fryer is undoubtedly the fry basket. Because that’s where the food sits during the cooking process, it will accumulate the biggest mess. The good news is that the basket is removable and safe to submerge in soapy water. It should be scrubbed clean after every use, and you can do this whenever you wash the rest of your dishes after a meal. Yonash uses two essential products for this: Dawn Original Dish Soap (“It really breaks down grease,” she says) and Scotch-Brite non-scratch scrubbers. Serious Eats staffers like both those products, too. Some air fry baskets are marketed as being dishwasher-safe, although it’s best to wash them by hand to minimize scratching or warping. It’s worth noting, too, that many air fryer baskets are nonstick. As with nonstick pans, the coating will wear off much faster if cleaned in the dishwasher.
To clean the exterior and interior of your air fryer, unplug the unit and let it cool. Wipe the exterior clean with a warm, damp sponge or cloth, then run it around the cooking chamber. If grease or bits of food have gotten stuck in the heating unit, use a non-abrasive bristled cleaning brush to gently scrape them out. This step takes just an extra minute or so but is important. If food or oil accumulates on the heating unit, the air fryer will emit bad odors and may smoke when in use.
How to Deep Clean an Air Fryer
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore
If your air fryer basket is super gunked up, whether due to a particularly messy cooking session or too many uses without cleaning, you can let it soak overnight. Fill your sink or a dish tub with hot, soapy water deep enough to cover the basket, and let the suds do their work. Never submerge the actual unit in water. And on all surfaces, avoid abrasive scrubbers, like steel wool, as they can damage the metal. Most bristled brushes are safe to use and will do a better job at dislodging baked-on bits than basic sponges.
Avoid using chemical cleaning products, even “non-toxic” or natural ones, and even on the exterior of the unit. In general, a few vigorous wipe-downs with a warm sponge or cloth will be enough to scrub the cooking chamber and heating unit clean. For stubborn grease, you can do this when the unit is still slightly warm, although it should be unplugged, and you’ll want to take care that the heating unit is not so hot that it’s dangerous to touch.
If you suspect the fan needs to be thoroughly cleaned (it’s rare that it will, as the high temperatures and rapid blade speed don’t allow for much accumulation), it’s best to outsource that to an appliance repair expert, who can safely take apart the unit and reassemble it. For most situations, though, it’s sufficient to unplug the machine and use a rag to wipe the blades down. If the fan is situated behind the heating coils, you can maneuver around them by holding the rag with a pair of slim tongs.
The key to avoiding a deep cleaning headache lies in prevention. Again, we can’t stress enough how important it is to do basic maintenance after every use. But you can also employ a few tricks to keep cooking messes to a minimum. Spray the fry basket lightly with oil before adding food to minimize sticking. You can also line the basket with parchment paper before adding food. Just be sure to use parchment made specifically for air fryer use. It’s sized to fit most air fryer baskets and is perforated, so air can adequately flow around the food.
How to Clean an Air Fryer Toaster Oven
As with a standalone air fryer, air fryer toaster ovens should be cleaned after every use. You’ll want to wash the basket in warm, soapy water, as well as any racks or trays that sit underneath the basket. (Some air fryers have standalone baskets that can slide into the side grooves. Other models have handle-less baskets that must be placed on a rack.) Unlike standalone air fryers, air fryer toaster ovens have crumb trays—like regular toaster ovens—that should be removed and emptied after each use.
Serious Eats / Grace Kelly
To avoid greasy buildup on the display and interface, you’ll want to wipe the windowed door, handle, and control panel clean after each use. Again, be sure to unplug the unit. For the interior walls, use a dish rag or sponge that’s been run through hot, soapy water and then wrung out. Wipe or gently scrub the walls, then rinse the rag or sponge thoroughly, wring it out, and give the interior another wipe-down to get rid of any lingering grease or suds. For the exterior, you can use your favorite brand of glass or window spray and a clean, lint-free towel.
How often should you clean your air fryer?
To keep your air fryer free of gunk and greasy buildup, you should clean it after every use. That includes times when it doesn’t look very dirty or greasy. Yonash says she cleans her fryer basket after each use; while it’s a good idea to wipe down the exterior of the unit (don’t forget the handle) too, you don’t have to clean the interior every time. Once a week is sufficient if you’re air frying regularly. Wait until the unit is cool, then clean the interior (where the heating unit is located) with a warm cloth or nonabrasive sponge. The caveat here is if a lot of oil has accumulated, or an ingredient spilled: Then you’ll of course need to do an immediate deeper clean.
Can you put aluminum foil in an air fryer?
Yes, it’s safe to put aluminum foil in an air fryer. Lining the fry basket with foil can make cleanup easier; the foil will act as a barrier to the oil or grease, protecting the fry basket. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the perforated baskets are in part what makes air fryers so effective: They allow for 360-degree airflow around the food. Yonash suggests poking holes in the foil. Or, a better option (and her preference) is to use specialty parchment paper, designed for use in air fryers.
How do air fryers work?
As we explained in depth here, air fryers are not true fryers, but more closely related to small convection ovens. Like convection ovens, air fryers work by using a fan to blow hot air all over the cooking chamber, which evenly distributes and circulates the heat; this makes for more efficient, faster cooking. An air fryer differs from a convection oven in that its chamber is much smaller and more compact, which means it can heat up quickly and stay efficiently hot throughout the cooking process. Add in the perforated cooking basket included in all air fryers (including air fryer toaster ovens), and you’ve got a high-speed, high-heat cooking machine that produces food with a similar texture to authentically fried food.
What’s the best air fryer?
We tested almost two dozen air fryers and air fryer toaster ovens to find the best. Our favorite air fryer is the Instant Vortex Plus 6-Quart Air Fryer, although we also liked the large-capacity Cosori Air Fryer Oven Combo and the petite Ninja Air Fryer. For air fryer toaster ovens, we recommend the Calphalon Performance Air Fry Convection Oven and Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer.