When I think about a clean kitchen, I divide the work into 3 categories: clutter, germs, and grease. This logical division helps me keep my kitchen cleaner, because it helps me with my plan of attack.
You can't deep-clean for germs and grease if there's clutter everywhere. So the first job is to keep the clutter to a minimum. Master that, and the rest of it is just a little elbow grease--but there are tricks to minimize that, too!
So this framework--first clutter, then germs and grease--is a simple way to think about having a clean kitchen. (Hint: It also works in other rooms, except it's even easier because you only have to worry about germs, not grease.)
1. Clutter: Not in a Clean Kitchen!
De-cluttering is the groundwork for all cleaning. What's the first thing you do when you find out unexpected guests will be popping by? That's right--you pick up the clutter. The house may need some deeper cleaning, but if the clutter is gone, most people won't notice.
Even better than de-cluttering is to not let clutter build up in the first place.
I know, I know; this is easier said than done. You get everything put away and you resolve not to let messes pile up. But life gets in the way. You work late, so you get off your cleaning schedule. Or you get sick, so you let things go a bit. Or you pick the end-of-year tomatoes before an early frost and there's nowhere to pile them but on the kitchen counters, and there they'll sit until next weekend, when you finally have some time to deal with them--and somehow, because of that clutter, other clutter multiplies around it. I don't know how this happens but it seems to be a law of physics that clutter breeds more clutter.
So, keeping on top of clutter is the first step to a clean kitchen. It won't eradicate the need to stay on top of germs and grease, but it will make those unpleasant tasks easier.
First, Define the Clutter
How you define clutter in the kitchen is largely a factor of what you want sitting out on your counters vs. what you don't want sitting out. Decide what this is, then make it a habit to remove all non-desirable objects.
Bam: clutter problem solved.
Everybody's idea of what constitutes clutter will be different. For example, some people like to have crocks of utensils sitting out on the counter in easy reach of the stove, while some people consider that clutter. Some people have a lot of countertop appliances they leave out--coffee maker, toaster oven, scale, food processor, blender, instant pot--while some people prefer to pull them out only when they're going to use them.
Sometimes, because of limited storage space, people have to let things sit out even if they prefer not to.
Whatever your situation, you can take charge of it. Define what's clutter and what isn't clutter--that is, what sits out and what doesn't sit out. Then, even if you have more sitting out than you would like, you can find ways to make it look presentable.
In any case, defining what's clutter and what isn't will make it easier for you to stay on top of it. (Definition is always at least half the problem.) 🙂
Second, Remove the Clutter
Once you've got your clutter defined, it's just a matter of removing it. The great news here is that clutter removal is the easiest type of cleaning. Just put things where they belong--done! Unless you've really let things slide, de-cluttering should take less than 10 minutes. (Unless you get ambitious and go through the fridge and/or pantry and cupboards, too. But that is another topic.)
Here are a few simple, common-sense steps to de-clutter:
- Throw away garbage. This includes empty food containers, wrappers, junk mail, old coupons, take-out menus, etc. Be ruthless! If you think you're going to re-use those plastic containers but they've been sitting out for more than a week, toss them. And you can look up menus online now, so no need to keep them. In fact, toss anything iffy if it's been sitting out for more than a week and you don't know what to do with it. You'll never miss it.
- Put away everything else. Spices go back in the spice rack. Pans go back in the cupboard (yes, even if you use them every day). Food goes into a drawer or back into the pantry. Liquor goes back into the liquor cabinet. Personal belongings go in people's bedrooms. Cleaners and cleansers go back under the sink (or wherever you keep them). Magazines into the living room. Bills into the office (or wherever you keep them). Hint: Now is a good time to pay those bills and eliminate office clutter, too!
- If you don't have a designated spot for something--say you've bought a new appliance like a sous vide circulator--create one as soon as possible. Do not let it sit out on your counter for months on end, giving you a knot in your stomach every time you look at it.
If you don't have designated spots for things, you're always going to have clutter issues. If you do, then de-cluttering becomes a breeze. So always, always create designated space for new stuff--in fact, figuring this out should be a factor in deciding whether or not to buy it at all.
In general, if you don't have room for all your kitchen stuff, make room. If you never use that crock pot, get rid of it. Do you really need both a toaster and a toaster oven? Have you considered swapping that bulky coffee maker for a smaller French press (that makes better coffee, too)? Can you come up with creative solutions like a magnetic knife rack on the wall, a pot-and-pan rack suspended from the ceiling, stackable crates for closet and pantry, lazy susans, pull-out cupboard shelves, and just being creative in general with where and how you store things?
- Keep at least one counter completely free of objects. This is your work space. Preferably next to your stove and/or sink. Make it a firm rule that this counter space is always to be kept clean and ready for cooking prep.
- Keep non-kitchen items out of the kitchen. Make this a rule. Follow it. Live by it, and you will instantly have less clutter in your kitchen.
Make Clutter Removal a Priority
Once you have a plan of attack (as outlined above), make clutter removal a priority. If you spend just a few minutes every day picking up clutter, you'll always have a clutter-free, clean kitchen.
It really is that simple.
Now, on to the dirty jobs...
You can never be totally free of germs. They're on every surface everywhere, all the time. But this just means you have to be diligent about cleaning!
Did you know that your kitchen has more bacteria than any other room in your house? Makes sense, doesn't it? This is where you're handling food, and microorganisms like food as much as we do.
The dirtiest place in your kitchen is your sink. This is where germs settle to raise their families. But you can nip that right in the bud if you know what you're doing (and believe me, this isn't rocket science!).
The second dirtiest place in your kitchen is probably your dish rag or sponge. From the instant you use it to clean up a food mess, it gathers bacteria, and those bacteria multiply at an alarmingly fast rate--something like every 20 minutes, they double. Just think how filthy that sponge can be after sitting out on your sink overnight!
Here are a few easy tips to keeping a clean kitchen and germs to an absolute minimum:
- Wash your hands before handling food, while handling food, and after handling food. This will help to prevent germs from getting onto the food, and germs from the food spreading around the kitchen.
- Wash your sink every time you cook. This includes the sink bowl, faucet handles, spigot, and countertops directly adjacent to the sink. I like to use a bleach solution, but you can use whatever you like that you know kills germs. (Vinegar kills germs, but is slightly less effective; about 97% killed vs. 99% with bleach.) To make your own bleach solution, mix 3/4 cup of bleach in a gallon of water. Let it sit on surfaces for several minutes, then wipe off. (See how easy that was?)
- Keep your dish sponge clean. I like to throw mine in the dishwasher with the dishes (always at the highest heat setting). Change your dish sponge every few days or once a week at a minimum.
- Change dish rags and kitchen towels daily.
- Use paper towels to wipe food off your hands (not a dish towel), and for other dirty tasks instead of your dish sponge or hand towel. Throw the paper towel away immediately.
- Wipe down your counters, stove, fridge, microwave, and other appliances every time you cook. You can use a bleach solution (as described above), a homemade vinegar-baking soda cleaner, a degreaser, or a general kitchen cleaning product. This not only keeps germs at bay, it also keeps your kitchen looking perpetually great.
NOTE: If you have granite or other stone countertops, be careful which cleaners you use on them. Vinegar solutions can dull them, and bleach can destroy the seal. I like this daily granite cleaner from Home Depot. It makes my countertops shine.
- Contrary to popular opinion, you should NOT wash meat before using--water splatter can send germs all over kitchen surfaces, causing dangerous cross-contamination. Don't worry--the heat from cooking will kill dangerous germs on the surface of the meat.
- Wash cutting boards after using, even for dry goods like bread. If you cut unwashed vegetables or fruit on a cutting board, wash it before using it for anything else. Ideally, have at least 2 cutting boards--one for meat and one for everything else. 3 or more is ideal--one for meat, one for produce, one for bread, one for cheese...you can get as granular as you want with your cutting boards. Be sure to keep them separated to keep cross-contamination to a minimum.
- Don't let dirty dishes pile up in the sink. Wash them or put them in the dishwasher. The longer they sit, the more germs they breed--even in the dishwasher!
- Wear an apron or other designated "kitchen clothing" in the kitchen. This keeps external germs from entering the kitchen on your clothes, and it keeps kitchen germs from migrating to other parts of the house.
- Clean up messes on the floor immediately. This is not only a good sanitary and safety practice, it also keeps your floor looking great.
- Throw away wrappings, used paper towels, and other germ-containing garbage immediately. Don't let garbage sit out on the counter (unless you have a designated garbage bowl that you're diligent about using).
Have you ever walked into a diner, seen greasy buildup on every surface in the kitchen, and instantly wanted to leave? The ewwww factor is almost instinctual, giving many of us a knee-jerk repulsion. Grease is the quintessential sign of a gross, dirty kitchen.
Grease can get everywhere in a kitchen. It settles not only on the stove top, but on the counters, cupboards, floor, and backsplash in close proximity to it. Not to mention that range hood that you've probably been putting off cleaning...
Grease is every cook's nemesis. It looks awful, smells awful, and can build up on surfaces in a miraculously short amount of time. Let it go just a smidge too long, and you've got yourself an unpleasant weekend project.
On the other hand, if you stay on top of it, you can keep those major overhauls at bay, or at least to a minimum. Yes, you have to get up in your range hood and give it a good going over a couple of times a year. But if you're vigilant about grease on a daily basis, those big jobs become not quite so bad.
Here's how to stay on top of kitchen grease and have a sparkling clean kitchen with a minimal amount of effort:
- As with germs, the key is regular cleaning. Wipe down your stove and everything in its vicinity every time you cook, including the cupboards, counter, backsplash, and underside of the range hood. You can use a standard kitchen cleaner or a de-greaser like Simple Green, or you can use a homemade vinegar-water solution. (A 50:50 solution is good for basic cleaning, or use pure vinegar for tougher jobs.)
- If you have a gas stove, throw the burner grates and bowls into the dishwasher once a week or a couple of times a month. While they're in there, take the opportunity to de-grease the stove top, getting into all the nooks and crannies.
- If you have removable baffles in your range hood, throw them in the dishwasher about every two weeks. While they're in there, de-grease the inner parts of the range hood. You don't have to get all up in there but a few times a year--rather, just wipe down the places you can reach such as the baffle grooves. If there's a lot of grease buildup in there, you'll know it's time to do a more thorough cleaning.
- If you have a lot of grease buildup (like I did when I moved into our new house 2 years ago--I don't think they cleaned the range hood or backsplash once in 15 years!), use a concentrated degreaser, either homemade or store bought. Let it sit on surfaces for several minutes before removing. Repeat as needed until grease buildup is gone. (This job isn't as bad as it sounds if you let the de-greaser do the work--be sure to let it sit on greasy surfaces before removing. It makes a huge difference.)
Here is a great article on how to de-grease cabinets with years of built-up grease and grime. (It even includes some recipes for homemade cleaner/polisher.)
So there you have it: a simple plan of attack for a clean kitchen. As with most cleaning tasks, the real key is to stay on top of it--the better you do that, the fewer major, deep-cleaning jobs you'll need to do.
Any thoughts or tips to share? Do so in the comments below. Thanks for reading!