Cleaning is part of the cycle of cooking, as indispensable as recipes, knife skills, and the love of good food. You can't cook without cleaning up — as much as we all would like to.
Here are the basics, all-natural and cheap. You can go a long way with these.
Let's start with first things first. Water can go a long way. Servelan says, "Water, because I'm lazy and spray down the counter and stove top and let them sog until the crud's dissolved enough to wipe up, and I steam the microwave to clean it."
I also have a method of cleaning a gunky stove with just hot water, no soap even.
Baking soda is non-toxic and common to nearly every kitchen — and also a powerhouse for cleanup. When asked about indispensable cleaning ingredients, Rivercat0338 says, "I'd have to say it's a toss up between baking soda and white vinegar, often used together." Reader gypsyk8 concurs: "Baking soda. Nothing else picks up all the grime off my stovetop, stainless tea kettle, or bathtub!"
Sam I Am has a smart idea for storing it, too: "Baking soda. I keep it by the sink in a sugar shaker I got from the Dollar Store."
But what exactly do you do with baking soda? lifeabundant shares one process: "Baking soda: baked-on food comes clean so much faster when baking soda is added to the soak! Especially helpful for hard water in the kitchen & laundry. Cleans the whole kitchen as well as tiny produce (rinse berries, cherries, grapes, radishes in a collander, sprinkle baking soda on them, gently rub/toss them with hands & rinse)."
Baking soda's natural partner, vinegar, also got a lot of love from our readers. Here's just a sampling; it seemed like half the commenters mentioned their love of vinegar. "Vinegar," states chocokitty. Schwed says, "Definitely white vinegar. I use it to clean countertops, wash the walls, get lime scale out of the coffee pot and tea kettles, wash the vinyl siding outside, and for homemade carwash. What else can you use to pickle vegetables AND wash your car? I always keep a couple gallons on hand." Indeed! SofritoGringo says, "White vinegar, for sure! Use it every day to clean & disinfect kitchen countertops."
Everyone has their favorite methods for cleaning — are you into brushes? Scrubbies? Squeegees? Here are some of the tools that our readers raved over.
"If I had to choose one: I'd be unoriginal and say the scrub brush. Almost no water needed, just elbow grease and it uses no hot water, energy and almost no resources." Emmi
"I can't live without my Dawn dish brush. It's tough to find and the only one I've ever seen that holds soap that actually has a button attached to a lever to dispense a drop of soap from the bristles, not the little airbubble like most do that leaks and does squat. I hoard replacement brushes in fear they stop making them." jmorri26
"Dish brush. I can't stand touching the dirty dishes with my hands." QueenOfTheFall
Personally, I love Full Circle Home's brushes for clean-up; they are handsome and very pleasant to use.
"I really love plastic scrubbies for my pots and pans. They get the job done, they don't rust, they don't scratch my nonstick. Sadly they are getting hard to find around here, and I don't know why." merricontrari
"Spaghetti Scrubbers! Ever since I found those things, I have been in love with them!" katsbaking, via Twitter
"Mr. Clean magic eraser!! Our rental apartment has flat paint behind the stove (yuck!), and this little bugger is the best at getting the splatters off without taking off the paint, and without smearing the grime around." feasby05
"Mr. Clean Magic Erasers." meleyna, via Twitter
Many readers affirmed their love of reusable towels and rags over paper towels. "Dish rags and towels! (I don't use paper towels)." SewTrashy
"My mom is a crazy knitter and she makes me washed cloth-sized knit rags which are completely amazing in the kitchen. They scrub stuck on stuff, wipe down anything and the best part: they never stink because they can go right in the laundry. If you have even rudimentary knitting skills, knit yourself up some kitchen rags. I'm obsessed." jess pith
"I bought a bag of 75 shop cloths for cleaning and mopping up. This was about 20 years ago. The cloths are badly stained now, but rather than use bleach, we keep them out of sight, under the bath and kitchen counters. Even though a few have been relegated to the garage for car or paint work, and face cloths and dishtowels replenish the pile from time to time, we're still using most of the original shop cloths. We haven't bought paper towels in many years....hmmm, I wonder how much paper and how much money we've saved?" tamatersammich
But paper towels do have their place in many people's kitchens; contributor Sarah Rae talked about her devotion to paper towels for big messes in her kitchen.
Scrapers also came in for a fair amount of love! "I have a neat gadget called a ceramic plane — looks like a smallish ice-scraper and it scrapes up tons of gunk without damaging surfaces. Mine's made by Kyocera." by jesser (and lifeabundant)
"Runner up are the little plastic scrapers, often used for getting gunk out of cooking pots, I keep a set of all sizes in my cleaning kit and can scrape anything off without damaging the surface. They're like 50 cents apiece and invaluable." Rucy
"My Pampered Chef plastic scraper which somehow I lost in the move and I can't survive without it." the aesthetic onion
Elizabeth, one of our contributors, also talked about her love of a cheap plastic scraper.Dish Gloves Other readers are very devoted to their gloves. "True Blues dish gloves. I've had a pair for years. You can clean with the hottest water and they don't get slippy with soap like some brands. Throw them in the washer when they get yucky." mascarah
"Those Casabella gloves that stop water from going in. They work!!" witchbaby
Soap and Other Cleaners
OK, once you have your tools firmly in hand, what do you use to do the dirty work? What cleaners do our readers love?
Lemons and Grapefruit
Lemons and other citrus can do a great job in the kitchen — they were a common natural option our readers mentioned frequently. Rucy says, "Lemons from my backyard tree. I had a deep stain, that I tried every commercial product on, before I realized that lemon and salt might do the trick. Cut a lemon in half, sprinkled salt on the stain, the stain came out in seconds. Silly me forgetting I had the magic all along!"
"If you salt a grapefruit half, it cleans even the toughest grime from your tub, showers, sinks, and counters. It best of all it leaves the bathroom smelling like an orchard!" SarahraeBar Keeper's Friend This is a favorite cleaner for many of us. (Here's how to use it.) "My parents used to use Bartender's Best Friend all the time, and I had no idea why until I started using it. I moved into a new house with a paint-splattered porcelain sink, and it cleaned it right up! I've also used it in gentle applications on my stove, and more heavily on tough-to-clean pans. This old-fashion scrub is awesome, but you do have to be careful not to use it on certain surfaces because it is abrasive. Always test a new product in a small inconspicuous area!!" SMR1015
"Bartender's friend. And the dogs. Not at the same time." ruffh2o
"Bar Keeper's Friend, both powder and liquid. Non-toxic, biodegradable, etc., doesn't scratch, cleans stainless, cleans my All-Clad, sinks, tubs, taps. We have incredibly, off-the-scale, hard water and it is the only non-toxic thing that works. And it is cheap to boot (bought off their website)." mschatelaine
Dawn Dish Soap
"I don't have a dishwasher and as much as I would love to use a more "green" dish liquid, Dawn is the best for cutting grease." thehb
"Mrs. Meyer's All Purpose Cleaner in Lavender. It's bio-degradable, phosphate free, smells yummy! Before I was a green-clean convert, I used Oxy Clean and Fantastic, but I noticed that it made my dog sneeze and his nose run like the dickens after I cleaned the floors. So far, Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day has left him snot-free!" kitties!
"Mrs. Meyer's Lavender countertop spray. LOVE the scent!!!!!" juju73
"I love Caldrea kitchen spray. They smell so good that I don't mind cleaning up." jmorri26
"I like Bon Ami because I can use it on the sinks, tilework and to scrub the floor." Sassy in SF
Trader Joe’s Multi-Purpose Cleaner
"I am surprised that no one has mentioned Trader Joe’s Multi-Purpose Cleaner. It not only cleans counters, sinks, etc. but it also works GREAT on stainless steel! I love the fact that it is all natural and smells great!" Rhaya
"I second the Traders Joe's all purpose. Nice green color in the bottle and smells like cedar." KyrdissaBorax "I recently discovered borax for scrubbing the bathtub and bathroom sink. It's just the right amount of abrasiveness and leaves them gleaming." eaturveggies1 (And we concur: Here's a post on cleaning the kitchen with Borax.)
Murphy's Oil Soap
"Murphy's Oil Soap is the only thing I like to use on my wood floors! I couldn't live without it." Anna at D16
"I also make my own general cleaner that is super awesome at hitting the tough, greasy messes. I fill a standard spray bottle (like what you would have for 409) with 8 oz. rubbing alcohol, 3 TBS ammonia (I just eyeball it. No need to be exact, but if you overdo it too much the ammonia will overpower you each time you spray), and fill to the top with water. Gets greasy fingerprints off just about anything, cleans random smudges on my cheap apartment carpet pretty well, and gets the post-cooking stove mess off in no-time. And so cheap, too!" SassySally
"I make my own all-purpose cleaner. 1/2 t washing soda, 2 t borax, 1/2 t liquid soap, 2 c hot water (to dissolve). I put it in a spray bottle and use it for everyday cleaning of counters and sinks. It's cheap and non-toxic!" dorothyMethod Cleaners "Method, Method, and more Method! (Mandarin grapefruit & lavender all purpose cleaning spray, almond scented wood care, rosemary mint floor care, on and on and on...) LOVE their stuff!" Nathan Aaron
"The rosemary-mint floor cleaner from Method is great. They make an excellent shower spray, too (much, much more effective than Tilex, surprisingly), but the Ylang Ylang smell is too sweet for me." graefix
A Few Creative Cleaners
• My dog: He licks the floor clean whenever I drop anything. - JRobards
• So true! My cats are not nearly as useful in that way. - Rivercat0338
• My children are my best cleaning tool. They do a great job on the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. - Smart Mom University
Your turn! What's your favorite tool for getting your kitchen really, really clean?
(Images: Emma Christensen, Faith Durand, Kathryn Hill, Kristen Lubbe, Mr. Clean, Elizabeth Passarella, Casabella, Emma Christensen, Mrs. Meyers, Bon Ami, Borax, Emily Ho)