If your gas stove makes a clicking sound when you turn on a burner, it has an electronic ignitor as opposed to a standing pilot, which is found mostly on older models. The clicking sound is produced by high-voltage electricity, which is generated by a transformer and passed between an electrode and a post on the stove placed close enough to allow the current to arc between them. In short, an igniter is a miniature lightning strike.
A gas stove igniter requires very little maintenance and you seldom have to clean it. However, if the electrode gets wet or caked with solidified grease, electricity won't arc, although you'll still hear the clicking sound of the control module. It's fairly easy to clean a dirty igniter, but keep in mind that there are a couple of other reasons why the stove may not be igniting.
Gas ovens use igniters as well as stovetops, but instead of sparking, an oven igniter glows. When an oven igniter reaches the requisite temperature, a bimetallic valve opens and allows gas to flow to the burner, which the igniter ignites. The oven igniter can easily get caked with gristle, and keeping it clean is as important as cleaning the stove igniters.
Gas Stove Burner Isn't Working Properly
When off, the dial of a gas burner is usually either at the 12 or 6 o'clock position, and when you turn it to 1 or 5 o'clock, the igniter starts clicking. The next thing that should happen is that the gas ignites, and when that happens, you keep turning the dial to adjust the size of the flame.
If you hear clicking but get no flame, there are two possibilities. Either the gas isn't flowing or the igniter isn't working, but there's an easy way to diagnose the latter condition. Simply turn off the lights in the room and look for a spark when you turn the dial.
If you see sparks, you may be able to fix the problem by readjusting the burner cap, which won't allow gas to flow if it's on crooked, or you may have to clean the burner orifices. It's also possible the gas is off or, if you use propane, your tank is empty. If you don't see sparks and you smell gas, it's time to clean and service the igniter.
Cleaning a Stove Burner Igniter
If a gas stove igniter sparks weakly or not at all, it could be wet. Perhaps someone allowed a pot to boil over and some of the water got onto the igniter and hasn't evaporated yet. Dry off the igniter with a paper towel and it should start working, but do this only when all the other burners are off.
Sometimes, gunk collects around the igniter electrode and the ceramic base of the igniter. To clean this, make sure the controls are off, remove the burner cap and then chip away at the gunk with a plastic toothpick or similar implement. If you have to do a more extensive cleaning job, use a toothbrush and bleach-free cleaner, such as water and baking soda, vinegar or dish soap.
After scrubbing off the electrode and the base, dry both with a paper towel and try the burner. You should see a strong bluish spark and the gas should ignite readily. If the spark is weak and yellowish and it takes a long time for the gas to ignite, there may be a loose connection, the igniter module may need to be replaced or the igniter may need a deeper clean.
Giving Your Stove Igniter a Deep Clean
To get full access to the igniters so you can clean them, you'll have to lift off the cooktop. On some models, you'll also have to remove the burner heads to do this. To remove a burner head, lift off the cap, then remove the screw securing the head and lift off the head. Once all the heads are off, you can usually pry up the front of the cooktop by hand, although you may need a screwdriver to get it started.
With the cooktop propped up or completely removed, you can see all the igniters, which are usually clipped onto the burner assembly with retaining clips and connected with quick-disconnect fittings. Disconnect each one, remove the clip and take it off the stove for deeper cleaning with a toothbrush.
If you notice a crack in the ceramic casing on any of the igniters, that igniter has to be replaced. It can't develop the necessary voltage to create a spark. You can buy new igniters from the stove manufacturer or an online appliance repair service.
The Problem May Be an Electrical Connection
Once you have the cooktop off and can see all the igniters, look for cracks or breaks in the wire insulation. The space under the cooktop is a favorite place for mice to explore, and they love to chew on wires. If you see any wire damage, that's probably the reason why you're having trouble with one or more igniters.
If you notice wire damage, it's a good idea to get an appliance repair pro to fix it. The gauge of the wire you need to make the repair varies with the stove model, and a pro will probably have the wire on hand. If you're handy, you can also cut out the damaged section of wire and take it to the store to purchase replacement wire, which you can then splice into the existing wire with suitable connectors.
The igniter module is usually at fault when all the igniters display the same malfunction at once, whether that's weak sparking or none at all. Replacing the module is another job best handled by a pro.
Cleaning an Oven Igniter
When the glow igniter in the oven gets caked with burnt-on residue, it can't get hot enough to open the gas valve and the oven won't work at all. To clean it, you first have to access it, which often means removing the floor from the oven and lifting off the burner guard, if there is one. The igniter is situated at the gas orifice, which is often at the back of the oven.
Use the toothbrush and a paste of baking soda and water or a 50/50 vinegar solution to clean the surface of the igniter. Avoid cleaners with bleach, ammonia or any other chemical that could produce noxious fumes. If you have to chip material off it, use a plastic toothpick or kitchen knife.
Because it glows rather than produces sparks, an oven igniter can function when it's wet. Even so, it's a good idea to let it dry out after cleaning before you use the stove.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.