No elbow grease required.
Crock Pot Frozen Chicken
Credit: Getty Images

We work our slow cookers into the ground for any and all occasions. During the holiday season, they are our trusty sidekick with make-ahead sides. During the busy weeks, they give us warm, hearty dinners when we just don't have time to pull together a whole meal. Slow cookers have a permanent spot on our kitchen counter. The worst part of having a slow cooker, as many home cooks can attest to, is having to clean off cooked-on gunk post-dinner. While some meals make a rinse of the slow cooker's ceramic bowl an easy task, others – like macaroni and cheese, barbecue pulled pork, or Rotel dip – result in a film that leaves you no choice but to soak overnight.

But, as it turns out, there are several incredibly easy ways to get your slow cooker clean, most of which involve the cooker cleaning itself – i.e., little to no work on your part. Isn't this great news? Turn to a few key items in your pantry to battle tough stains, and you won't be up late scrubbing off baked cheese again. The first important step to note, however, is that you should check your slow cooker's manual before diving in to make sure that you won't violate terms of your warranty. Slow cookers can be made of many different materials, so what may work for a ceramic slow cooker may not be suitable for a metal one.

To tackle your baked-on food, start with water.

Fill up your slow cooker with water just past where the leftover food hits the side of the dish. This will be the main soaking component of your Crock-Pot cleaning.

Add vinegar.

Enter one of our favorite all-purpose cleaners! For a small slow cooker, you'll want to add 1/2 cup of distilled vinegar to the water. For a larger slow cooker (i.e., 6 quarts), opt for 1 cup of vinegar.

Reach for the baking soda.

This may sound counterintuitive, but yes – vinegar and baking soda team up in a very un-volcanic way to tackle messy slow cookers. Slowly add the same amount as the vinegar to your slow cooker (1/2 cup for a small dish, 1 cup for a large), allowing any bubbles to disperse. Don't dump it in all at once, or you just may have a pantry explosion on your hands!

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Set it and forget it.

With the water, vinegar, and baking soda mixture soaking in the base, turn your slow cooker on low heat for about an hour. If you've got really tough stains, let the mixture cook a little longer. It'll loosen the bits on the side of the bowl enough to be rinsed out.

If you have spots that still need touching up, try a paste of baking soda and water. Because your slow cooker is food-safe, this combination won't harm the material. It's also an easy, effective way to scrub. If needed, baking soda can polish the outside of your slow cooker from any streaks or food residue. If you have a dark slow cooker and cleaning out the bowl leaves a white residue on the surface, try wiping with a little white vinegar.

The combination of these simple pantry ingredients seems too good to be true, but you'll be surprised at how effective this non-abrasive solution to cleaning your favorite kitchen appliance really is. So, instead of leaving a pot to soak overnight and having to scrape off food residue the next day, put the heat of your cooker to good use and let the water-vinegar-baking soda mixture cut through the grease for you. Less mess and less work? Yes, please!