21 Smart Ways to Keep Your Kitchen Clean, Forever

updated Oct 14, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

A mess in the kitchen can be demoralizing. I can’t cook in a dirty kitchen, and having to clean it up before I can even get started drains my energy. So the kitchen needs to stay in a basic and general state of cleanliness and order. As the hardest-working room in the house, and the place where the messiest messes are often made, this is a feat that’s best accomplished with some principles that are kept firmly in place. 

Here are some of the best ways to keep your kitchen in perpetual tip-top shape.

1. Clean as you go.

The concept of cleaning as you go is fundamental to maintaining a clean kitchen. It means that you clean up as you’re cooking or using the kitchen. Examples of this idea in action include wiping up spills on the counter right away, putting ingredients back when you’re done with them, and washing dirty dishes while dinner is in the oven.

Credit: Leela Cyd

2. Never set dirty utensils on the counter.

Don’t create unnecessary messes! Grab a piece of paper towel, a rag, or even a small dish to set down your soup-stirring spoon or the serving fork you used to dish out the leftovers you’re microwaving. A spoon rest that’s always out is also a great option. 

3. Do a nightly counter sweep.

Paper and other clutter tends to collect on kitchen counters. When it’s left out, it multiplies. Make sure this doesn’t happen by clearing off your counters and putting things where they belong every night as part of your “kitchen shut down” routine. 

4. Wash these three tools immediately after using them.

Don’t let cheese graters, strainers, or chef’s knives sit before being cleaned. Cleaning them right away means you won’t have to deal with the arduous task of scrubbing dried-on food from these tricky items. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh/Kitchn

5. Organize the cabinet beneath your sink.

Having your cleaning tools and products accessible is key to maintaining a pristine kitchen. You probably store a majority of them in the cabinet under your sink. And that’s great — you just need to make sure it’s organized, so that you can easily grab what you need, when you need it.

Read more: The $7 Trick to (Easily) Doubling the Storage Space Under Your Sink

6. Create kitchen counter zones.

If you designate counter areas for specific tasks, you prevent all the counters from getting dirty when you’re working in the kitchen. For instance, if you bake only in the corner where your stand mixer lives, you know you only have to wipe down that counter (and the area around the sink) when you’re done whipping up your muffins. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

7. Run the dishwasher before it’s too full.

Chances are, you need to run your dishwasher more often than you think you do. If you put it off too long, and you can’t fit anything else in it, it no longer becomes useful and then dirty dishes have to sit (or get hand-washed!). Try to get in the habit of running it every night after dinner.

8. And empty it right away.

If you run the dishwasher at night, you can unload in the morning while you wait for the coffee to brew. This way, you start the day with an empty dishwasher that can be loaded as dishes get dirtied.

9. Strive for an always-empty sink.

It’s subconscious, but even one dirty fork in the sink makes it easier to stack your dirty bowl in there rather than sticking it in the dishwasher or washing it right away. Messes beget messes. But the opposite is also true. An empty sink is more likely to stay that way. Get in the habit of keeping an empty sink (and ask your family members if they could join your efforts). 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

10. Vacuum, sweep, or Swiffer nightly.

Kitchen floors can get dirty real fast if they aren’t maintained. Add a nightly vacuum or quick sweep to your routine to keep floors from ever getting too bad — and to keep from tracking kitchen crumbs throughout the house. 

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

11. Be extremely selective about what stays out on your countertops.

Crowded spaces tend to harbor messes more easily than empty ones. Counters that are kept clear offer no place for clutter and dirty dishes to hide. This means everyone in the house might be more likely to put their stuff away.

12. Clean up right after every meal.

Don’t ever make it an option to come back to a dirty table and kitchen after a “break.” Clear the table immediately and set everyone to work until the kitchen is back in order. THEN, you can settle into watch some Netflix.  

13. “Shut down” the kitchen every night.

Essentially, this means you never go to bed with a dirty kitchen. Ever. It’s most straightforward to shut down your kitchen as you clean it up after dinner, but sometimes you may make the next day’s lunches after dinner or prepare an evening snack, so take that into account if you need to. Shutting down the kitchen means that all your daily kitchen must-do tasks are completed, including running the dishwasher and emptying the trash, for instance. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

14. Make the refrigerator clean-out a regular task.

Yes, you’ll still have to deep clean your fridge every once in a while, but if you want to maintain a clean kitchen, you’ll need to regularly check for produce that’s going bad and leftovers that need to be tossed. Tying this inventory-taking to your grocery shopping trips will remind you to do it and will also help cut down on wasted food and unnecessary spending. 

15. Rethink what’s in your cabinets.

Overcrowded cabinets are no fun (and a giant time suck if you have to unstack and restack various serving dishes every time you need to get your pots). Go through your cabinets and keep only what you really use and love in your most-accessible cabinets. This way, getting what you need — and putting it back — will be a smoother process.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

16. Clean your oven with “less pain, more success.”

Having a tried-and-true, effective, and relatively easy way to clean your oven means you’re less likely to put the task off until it’s a gargantuan chore. Add oven-cleaning to your monthly cleaning routine so you never have to deal with an inordinate buildup of grime. 

17. Give small appliances a once-over every time you use them.

Each time you take something out of the microwave or toaster oven, wipe up any splatters or spilled crumbs. This way, your small appliances are clean every time you go to use them. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

18. Disinfect your sink regularly.

You already know that kitchen sinks can be dirtier than toilets. Don’t let yours be one of them. Use these instructions. A nightly scrub-down (I use Bar Keepers Friend) and a spritz with a disinfectant spray (I use this one) works, too. 

Credit: Catherine Meschia

19. Empty the trash every night.

You know what ruins a clean kitchen every time? A stinky trash can. Don’t let trash sit. Take it out every night (or every other night). If you feel like you’re emptying trash bags that aren’t full enough, consider a smaller trash can.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

20. Label your fridge and pantry.

You may know where everything goes, but does everyone else in your household? Help things stay in their place by adding labels to the shelves of your pantry and refrigerator. 

21. Create routines and stick to them.

Being able to switch into automatic pilot mode is the surest way to keep up with your kitchen-cleaning chores. Create routines for cleaning up after every meal, including things like clearing the table first, then wiping it down, putting leftovers away, and soaking any pots that need it, etc. Also create a specific routine for shutting down the kitchen and for weekly cleaning chores.