An AGA or Rayburn, the traditional range cookers from Britain, often form the heart of a country or farmhouse kitchen. AGA owners are simply passionate about them, while others rave about Rayburns, which also provide hot water and central heating. Reconditioned AGAs now sell for a small fortune in the major cities, where they’ve become very fashionable kitchen accessories.
With oil, gas and the traditional solid fuel versions all available, there’s great flexibility in fuel sources. Of course, solid fuel versions require more cleaning as soot and ash from coal can quickly build up. With potentially harmful fuels used in the first two versions however, it’s absolutely vital to take extreme care when cleaning – especially inside.
It’s crucial to have both types of range serviced regularly to keep it running in tip-top condition, and safely. Always use a qualified, trained AGA engineer. But a lot of cleaning and prevention of problems can safely be undertaken yourself at home. While the ranges are simple to clean, the best way to keep them looking as if they were new is to prevent dirt and grease building up in the first place.
If anything spills onto vitreous enamel surfaces, it needs to be cleaned away immediately with a damp rather than wet cloth. That includes the doors and front, and sometimes the back plate. If spills are given a chance to bake dry, they can stain and are much harder to remove. Milk and fruit juice is particularly important to get off straight away. If you don’t, the acids will weaken and stain enamel.
Inside the oven, splashes aren’t a concern as they simply burn off. The dust left behind can just be brushed away, and it’s OK to use wire brushes on anything that’s cast iron inside. There are even self cleaning models now. It’s the same with the hot plates: most spillages simply burn away fast. Avoid cleaning them when the range is hot.
So its the delicate enamel that’s the most important to protect. It can be scratched and dented, so make sure the doors and wheel vent are treated with care. Far better to handle them with oven gloves than to kick them shut when they are hot. You can buy branded cleaners and cloths specifically designed for cleaning Aga and Rayburn enamels. A soft rather than abrasive soap pad also works well. Look for products that have the VEA – Vitreous Enamel Association – seal of approval.
It’s very important not to use oven cleaners in spray form either inside or out, nor scourers, nor abrasive creams. Also don’t use very wet or cold cloths: damp only and warm is good. A gentle cream south east London cleaner should be fine. You can hoover away dust, but only when the range is not lit. A good polish with a lint-free, soft cloth, will buff up the surface, rails and lids to a shine. For ease, the doors can be removed as can the insulating rings: just don’t mix them up! Each only fits perfectly on its original position. Don’t soak any of the parts in water, however.
Older ranges may be more prone to scratches, stains and scorch marks than modern models. Enamel has come a very long way since the 1950s! A modern Rayburn’s surfaces should be able to withstand sudden temperature changes, and maximum heats of 400 degrees centigrade. Acids in food should not stain them these days. The enamel is hard and wont chip very easily, and it has the advantage of not allowing bacteria or mould to develop on the surface.