The 15 Most Surprising Cleaning Lessons We Learned This Year

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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Between washing our hands and that dirty pan (for the millionth time this week), it seems like there’s always something that needs to be cleaned — even in the Before Times, and especially these last two years. We always write a lot about cleaning here at Kitchn, because, well, there’s lots of cleaning to be done in the kitchen. This year, though, we spent more time than usual, comparing methods, testing new products, and experimenting. And guess what? A bunch of these cleaning sessions had some pretty surprising results!

These are the very best cleaning lessons we learned in 2021. Bring them with you into 2022 and beyond.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

1. Baking soda can easily lift stains from coffee mugs.

We tried five different cleaning methods in attempts to lift old, brown stains from white coffee mugs. We didn’t really have much hope. Those stains just seemed so set! We should have had more faith because baking soda turned out to be ridiculously effective! Just mix a bit of tap water into baking soda to get a paste and use it to clean the mug.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

2. Bar Keepers Friend is your best bet for cleaning stainless steel appliances.

In more testing news, we tried five different methods for cleaning stainless steel, and it turns out that Bar Keepers Friend makes stainless steel gleam! It also removes rust marks that might be on your appliances. (This happens when the chromium oxide layer is compromised.) 

Credit: Lisa Freedman

3. Oven cleaner can clean an impossibly gross Dutch oven.

Our Executive Lifestyle Director, Lisa Freedman, promised to clean her best friend’s “impossibly gross” Dutch oven. She did it successfully — with the help of oven cleaner. Click here to see how she did it and check out more photos.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

4. Oven cleaner is also great for cleaning greasy stove grates.

While we already knew that oven cleaner could clean lots of things, we hadn’t thought to use it to clean the grates on our stovetop. But we gave it a shot and, compared to three other methods, it was the clear winner.

5. To clean between the glass in your oven door, you just need a dusting wand … and a pair of scissors.

Back in 2020, we tried an Instagram hack to clean between the glass on our oven door. Sadly, we didn’t love it. The dusting wand ended up being too bulky to fit through the slots. We called it a dud. But this year, TikTok star and cleaning pro Vanessa Amaro used a slightly different dusting wand and suggested using scissors to cut the microfiber strands to fit your space. Read more about this brilliant idea here.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

6. Bar Keepers Friend is also the fix for a filthy casserole dish.

Casseroles are the best. Dirty casserole dishes with burnt-on bits? Not the best. After a series of testing (and some burnt creamy chicken and mushroom soup), we can confidently say that Bar Keepers Friend will do the trick. Rinse your casserole dish with water and then sprinkle powdered Bar Keepers Friend lightly across the bottom of the dish. Let it sit for 30 seconds, then scrub the dish with a damp sponge and rinse. Wash and repeat if needed.  

Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani/Kitchn

7. A Swiffer can make quick work of cleaning a bathroom mirror.

File this under “Things You Wish You’d Thought of Earlier”: Someone on TikTok had the idea to use a Swiffer to clean tall bathroom mirrors. No reaching, no climbing.

Credit: Ashley Abramsom

8. A dishwasher detergent pod can clean a dirty baking sheet.

Another TikTok hack! We saw people using dishwasher detergent pods to clean dirty baking sheets. Of course, we had to try it. It’s especially effective at removing baked-on grime from nonstick baking sheets.

Credit: Ana Kamin

9. A degreaser can help clean the shower.

We spoke to a bunch of hotel housekeepers to learn their best cleaning tips. They had lots of smart tricks to share. One of our favorites: Chelsea Psenicnik, housekeeping manager at Salish Lodge & Spa, says to use a degreaser to clean the shower. After all, the mess that’s in there is just body grease and soap scum.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

10. Baking soda and dish soap can clean greasy grill grates.

In yet another test, we learned that a combo of baking soda and dish soap is the most effective way to clean greasy grill grates. Simply remove the cooled grates from the grill. Fill a sink or bucket with warm water and approximately 1/2 cup of baking soda. In a bowl, mix up a paste of Dawn dish soap and baking soda. Apply the paste to the grates, making sure to get in all the nooks and crannies, and let the grates soak for at least 30 minutes. Then scrub, wash, and rinse.

Credit: Danielle Centoni

11. Oven cleaner can remove rust from cast iron.

We’d heard that, if you have a rusty cast iron skillet, oven cleaner can help. You’re supposed to be able to spray the pan thoroughly (ideally, outside!), close it up in a trash bag, and leave it overnight. We tested this out and, while it wasn’t perfect, it did eventually remove all the rust.

12. This British cleaning paste works wonders on oven doors.

If you spent any time on TikTok this year, you likely saw people talking about The Pink Stuff. After a few experiments, we can confirm that it’s as great as everyone says. It especially shines when it comes to cleaning the inside of an oven door.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

13. Baking soda can lift stinky odors from wooden utensils.

Our friends at Cook’s Illustrated tried several different methods for cleaning wooden utensils (and their lingering smells). Their conclusion: Rubbing the tools with a paste of baking soda and water worked like a charm. We tried it out and can confirm.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

14. Steel wool is the best for cleaning stainless steel pans.

We cleaned stainless steel pans using a few different methods and, by the end of the testing, we were lining up to join the Steel Wool Unofficial Fan Club. The steel wool pad powered through brown stains — no problem.

15. There’s a clear winner when it comes to dishwasher detergent.

We gathered up dozens of dishwasher detergents, across all the major categories, and assigned testers for each category. And then the testers used each one as they normally would for a few weeks. They took notes to see how clean their dishes came out, if there was any cloudy residue left over, how easy the stuff was to measure out, and more. Cascade won for the best pods and, months later, when we asked plumbers to name the best dishwasher detergent, they also picked Cascade. If you want a powdered option, go with this stuff.

Did you learn any great cleaning lessons this year? Tell us in the comments below!