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Daniel Neman is a food writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Range hood

It's a good idea to clean the filters in your range hood and, if possible, inside the hood itself.

Photo by Hillary Levin,

My fingers hurt, but at least my house won’t burn down.

I spent an unpleasant hour recently cleaning my range hood — that is, the ventilation system over the stove. It was a bloody chore, literally: I managed to give myself 12 cuts on six fingers. But I’m glad I did it.

I’ve done it before (including the cuts, unfortunately), and I’ll do it again.

Here’s the reason in a nutshell: Hoods collect grease. Hoods are over hot stoves. If the grease in a pan catches fire — a minor event, and not infrequent — those flames can catch the grease in your hood on fire. That’s when a minor event becomes major.

It happens to restaurants all the time. A pan catches fire (or the food in it is intentionally flamed) and the fire spreads to the hood. The hood, which is on, sucks both the flames and a lot of oxygen into the ventilation ducts, essentially causing a firestorm to rage inside the walls.

Admittedly, a residential kitchen is not in the same league as a commercial one. The stove in a restaurant gets much hotter, and the restaurant hood is much stronger and gets much greasier.

But the threat still exists at home.

Your vent doesn’t just suck the cooking odors out of the kitchen (or, with an open-concept design, out of the entire house). It also sucks up vaporized grease from the oil, the butter, the fat and the shortening that you cook with.

The filter on the vent does a good job of capturing that grease before it is expelled outside — or, often, back into the kitchen. But the more grease that accumulates on the filter, the less effective it becomes.

Not only does an ineffective filter lead to more odor in the kitchen (or the house), it also leads to vaporized grease landing everywhere else in the kitchen.

So the filter or filters should be thoroughly cleaned. With some brands, they can be cleaned in the dishwasher; it is really wonderfully convenient. But even the dishwasher-safe filters have to be cleaned in the sink if they are too icky and full of gunk.

I’m sorry, but sometimes the technical terms just have to be used.

Cleaning a filter by hand is easy: Let it sit for 10 minutes or so in very hot water mixed with grease-fighting dish soap and some baking soda. Then clean it with a soft-bristled brush. Rinse it thoroughly and allow it to dry before reinstalling it above the stove.

But what I did was more than that. Not only does grease accumulate on your filter and the bottom of the hood, it can also accumulate inside the hood itself, if you have a good enough hood.

I have a good enough hood. It’s not as powerful as my last hood (when it was on high, you had to open a window or door to avoid possibly sucking in the walls), but it generally gets the job done.

Which means I, too, have a job to be done. After putting the filters in the dishwasher, I unscrewed the panels that hold up the filters and cleaned everything around, under and behind them.

It took an hour, as I said, and I couldn’t even see the places I was cleaning. But the soapy paper towels I was using — I didn’t want to ruin any fabric towels — showed just how much grease I eventually removed.

The problem is that the company that made the hood, for some fiendish reasons of their own, decided to make many of the interior surfaces both hidden from view and exceptionally sharp.

It’s like trying to clean a razor blade. There were times that there was more blood on the paper towels than grease.

But I sleep easier now, knowing that the kitchen is clean and safe from potential harm.

Of course, it would be even easier to sleep easier if my fingers didn’t hurt so much.