How to Clean 11 of the Most Annoying Holiday Messes

published Nov 23, 2023
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

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I love people and hate messes, which is a problem around the holidays. As much as I want to be the chill, breezy host who says, “Sure, you can leave your shoes on,” or, “Of course, you can drink red wine on the couch!” that’s just not me. But no matter how hard I try to prevent them, spills and stains are a reality of the season. 

From to a dropped mug of hot chocolate, potential messes abound. To stress less about the tiniest drop of food on my couch, I asked three cleaning experts for their best advice for tackling tough messes. Below, they share their secrets for handling the worst holiday spills with cleaning supplies you probably already have in your cabinet.

1. How to Clean a Sticky Oven

Lori Williamson of @nowitsclean is a huge fan of using a long-handled pumice stone to tackle the muck and mire on the bottom of a hardworking oven. Soak the stone for 15 seconds in water, rub on the problem area, and the gunk comes right off — no chemicals required. 

2. How to Clean Microwave Messes

The Kitchn-approved method for cleaning spills and explosions in the microwave only calls for Dawn dish soap and a bowl of water. You fill up the bowl and microwave it for two minutes. When the time is up, leave the microwave closed, allowing the steam to do its work for another two minutes. Then, wipe down the interior of the microwave with a sponge.

3. How to Clean Cast Iron Skillets

“When I clean my cast iron, the easiest thing I have found to use is water,” says Tyler Moore of @tidydad and thetidydad.com. Fill the pan with warm water and bring it to a rolling boil. After about five minutes, pour the water out and scrape with a tool that won’t scratch the surface. Return the pan to the heat to evaporate the last of the water. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

4. How to Clean Sticky Sheet Pans

Becky Rapinchuk of Clean Mama recommends using parchment paper to avoid constantly scrubbing sheet pans — Moore loves this method, too. When it’s time to wash them, Rapinchuk suggests making a paste of baking soda and dish soap or using Bon Ami to make quick work of baked-on sugar and grease. 

5. How to Clean Casserole Dishes with Burnt-on Food

You just need a plastic spatula, some baking soda, and some dish soap to quickly clear your cookware of burnt potatoes or holiday morning eggs. Ayn-Monique Klahre, a lifestyle editor and writer, previously shared on The Kitchn her preferred method for cleaning caked-on messes. You sprinkle baking soda all over the dish, add dish soap and very hot water, let it sit for at least 15 minutes, and then scrape loose bits with the spatula. Repeat as necessary until the food remnants are gone.

6. How to Clean Sprinkle Explosions

“Sprinkles are the glitter of baking,” says Moore. He favors using less messy alternatives, such as gum drops or mini M&M’s. But if it’s not a holiday without nonpareils or shimmery sprinkles, he suggests creating a decorating zone inside a casserole dish to catch all the little decorations before they fall to the floor. 

If your mess is past the prevention stage, you’re not totally out of luck. Rapinchuk swears by using lint rollers to pick up the bits. They collect every last dot and keep sugar out of the vacuum cleaner, she says, adding that they also work for broken glass! 

7. How to Clean Messy Frosting Bags

If you’re a frequent froster and want to avoid single-use bags, reusable piping bags can be cleaned by hand. “Rinse under warm [or] hot water, add a drop of dish soap, close and shake … [then] rinse under warm water, and air dry,” says Rapinchuk. If that sounds like too much work for a holiday, some pastry bags are even dishwasher-safe!

Credit: milan2099 / Getty Images

8. How to Clean Greasy Butter Stains

For butter stains on fabrics, “My number-one go-to is dish soap and cold water,” says Moore. Dish soap is designed to cut through grease, and it’s a great pretreatment for stains. Because every kitchen stocks dish soap, it also requires no planning ahead or trips to the laundry room. Rapinchuk similarly believes in the power of pretreating butter stains with dish soap and recommends a combination of soap (to break down grease) and baking soda (to absorb it).

9. How to Clean Red Wine, Coffee, and Tea Stains

For these beverage stains on clothing, Williamson recommends a cold water rinse followed by Puracy Stain Remover. She likes it because it’s a “natural stain remover that contains a variety of enzymes that can break down stains to get them out.” 

For spills on carpet or upholstery, Williamson reaches for Folex Spot Remover. “[It’s] a great multi-use stain fighter that is handy to have around the house,” she says. Always check fabric care instructions first, as some materials are too delicate for standard methods. For example, Rapinchuk warns, “Don’t let people drink [wine] on your velvet couch.”

Credit: Photo: Sidney Bensimon; Prop Styling: Anna Surbatovich

10. How to Clean Cranberry Sauce and Chocolate Stains

“My go-to for any kind of food stain is oxygen whitener,” says Rapinchuk. Wet the stain, sprinkle the whitener to make a paste, let sit, and rinse. Repeat the process until the stain is gone. If, however, you’re in the middle of dinner and you can’t deal with the stain immediately, “Put a dot of dish soap on the stain … and carry on,” says Rapinchuk.  

11. How to Clean Blood Stains from Kitchen Accidents

Rapinchuk says to rinse with cold water and treat the fabric (whites or colors) with oxygen whitener. For true whites, she offers hydrogen peroxide as another great option. Always test a small spot first, and check fabric care labels. 

In the end, messes will happen, but don’t let that take you out of the spirit of the season. Williams says, “Live your life and enjoy the holidays!”