20 Sneaky Ways to Get (and Keep!) a Clean Kitchen

updated Oct 18, 2021
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As the hardest-working room in the house, it stands to reason that the kitchen is the one in need of the most cleaning. No matter what’s happening in there (someone goes to get a glass of water, sauce is simmering on the stove, you’re prepping dinner), a mess is bound to be made.

The secret to keeping a clean kitchen? Making sure that every venture into the room involves some sort of effort to maintain its cleanliness. If you have any hope of keeping your kitchen perpetually clean, you need to be mindful of picking up each time you use it. Realizing how quickly a kitchen can devolve into a mess that grows and multiplies can help keep us on the alert as we use it. 

Of course, no one wants to feel like they’re in a state of hyper-vigilance every time they’re in the kitchen, and, it must be said, no one will want to help you cook or clean while you’re in such a state either! Instead, working small-but-effective cleaning habits into your daily routines will give you that always-pretty-clean kitchen you strive for with far less stress and tension.

Here are some painless ways to keep your kitchen pretty spotless just about all the time.

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1. Wipe down the microwave after every use.

Accidentally heat sauce or butter for too long? Don’t leave those splatters for next time (they’ll be harder to clean up!). Instead, pull out your bowl and give the interior a quick wipe with a wet rag or paper towel before you continue on your way. If you have a bigger mess on hand, try this quick microwave cleaning trick.

2. Clean the sink every night.

It’s an oft-cited fact that kitchen sinks tend to be dirtier than toilet seats. Yuck! To help combat this truly disgusting matter and to keep you from wondering how germ- and bacteria-laden your sink is, make it a habit to scrub it down every single night. Do this as one of your last kitchen cleanup steps, by sprinkling the sink basin with baking soda and scrubbing it down. The baking soda will act as a mild abrasive to lift food bits and polish things up.

3. Designate counter zones.

It might seem like over-planning, but designating certain counter spaces for certain tasks keeps messes to a minimum. For instance, if you decide that you’ll chop fruits and veggies on the counter next to the trash can, not only are you able to easily slough off inedible parts into the trash or compost bin, but you also limit the space that will need to be cleaned from the inevitable messes. Similarly, if you have a “baking corner” and confine yourself to only baking there, you’ll only have one counter to clean when you’re done. 

4. Never leave a dish in the sink.

A dish in the sink leads to a pile of dishes, but an empty sink might make someone think twice before messing it up. Don’t be the person to start the pile. Instead, wash that glass and set it on the dish rack or give your dishes a rinse before loading them into the dishwasher. Cleanliness begets cleanliness, not least of all in the kitchen. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

5. Empty the dish drainer every morning.

All those dishes you had to wash by hand last night after dinner? They’re certainly dry by now. Empty the dish drainer in the morning while you brew your coffee or tea. This will do two things: It will make your kitchen look neater and it will make room for the dishes you use (and clean!) throughout the day.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

6. Sweep every night.

Kitchen floors get dirty fast. Add sweeping to your nightly kitchen cleanup routine, and you’ll ensure that things never get horrible. Bonus: Sweeping is often better than vacuuming because you can get in the cabinet toe kick areas and around chairs like a vacuum cleaner never quite can. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

7. Replace your dish rags every night.

You need to make sure you’re not wiping things up with a bacteria-laden tool. Rather than trying to remember when you last changed your rag or resorting to the smell test, get in the habit of replacing it every night. 

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8. Wipe down the counters.

Leave some crumbs behind? Wipe them up. Spill some juice? Wipe it up. Simple.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

9. Harness the power of a damp rag.

What’s better than a cleaning rag? A damp cleaning rag! It’s great for dry messes (flour and crumbs) and even spills and splatters that have started to harden. Keep a damp rag handy while you cook or bake.

10. Clean out the fridge before grocery shopping.

Making it a habit to clear out your fridge before you shop or, ideally, before you meal plan allows you to toss expired items and reminds you both of what you need to use before it perishes and of what you have that you don’t need to buy more of. Ultimately, it not only keeps your fridge from becoming overloaded, but also cuts down on food waste and saves you money. 

Credit: Faith Durand

11. Clean as you cook.

To keep yourself from having to face a huge mess when you’re done eating your meal, do your best to clean your prep dishes before you even start eating. One of the best ways to make this happen is to fill half your sink (or a used dish if your sink isn’t divided) with warm soapy water. Drop used tools into the water so food doesn’t dry on them.

12. Put things back where you found them.

A place for everything and everything in its place. If you took the food processor out to make pesto, put the base back, even if the bowl is still drying in the dish drainer. If you used the breadcrumbs from the pantry, put the container back in the pantry.

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13. Think of things one task at a time.

Don’t think of cleaning your kitchen as one giant chore that has to happen. Instead, think of it as lots of little things. For instance, start by clearing and wiping the table, then put all the dishes in the dishwasher, then sweep the floors, etc.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

14. Run the dishwasher every night.

Running your dishwasher at night might mean lower energy costs, and, barring those midnight snacks, pretty much ensures that you won’t be running it as new dirty dishes pile up. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

15. Empty the dishwasher while you’re making coffee.

The same way we suggest emptying your dish drying rack, you should empty your dishwasher every morning. A dishwasher that’s full of clean dishes can’t take on any more dirty dishes. Making sure it’s emptied before it’s needed is another key part of preventing a bottleneck situation that leads to a sink full of dirty dishes. Emptying the dishwasher first thing in the morning, before a backlog of breakfast dishes accumulates, ensures that the flow of dishes into the dishwasher isn’t interrupted. 

Credit: Erika Tracy

16. Don’t forget the vertical surfaces.

Food gets sloshed and splattered around the kitchen, no matter how careful you are. We pay attention to horizontal surfaces like the sink, the counters, and the stovetop regularly but often neglect vertical surfaces like cabinet fronts and backsplashes. Simply remembering to be aware of these surfaces when you’re cleaning will help you keep your kitchen sparkling.

Credit: Cambria Bold

17. Do what you can to minimize messes in the first place.

If you know your jar of honey always leaks on your shelf, put a bowl under it to contain the mess. If your coffee maker drips when you pull the carafe out, put a towel under it. The best way to deal with mess is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

18. Line hard-to-clean surfaces.

The tops of your upper cabinets (if they don’t extend all the way up to the ceiling) and your fridge are magnets for grease and dust. Instead of dealing with scraping the sludge off, line the surfaces with newspaper or wax paper and then you just have to change out the paper once in a while.

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

19. Keep cleaning supplies nearby.

You’re going to be a lot more likely to use that granite cleaner if it’s nearby and not all the way upstairs or across the house. Keep all your kitchen cleaning supplies in your kitchen — under the sink is good if you don’t have little kids or pets who can get into it. Otherwise, consider a caddy or bucket that you can store high up in a closet and pull down when you need it.

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20. Shut the kitchen down every night.

Thoroughly cleaning the kitchen every night means that you start with a clean kitchen every day. A blank slate! While it’s important to clean up every time you use the kitchen, you’re most likely not going to clean the floors, counters, or the sink each time you use the kitchen. Making it a non-negotiable habit to do these imperative kitchen tasks at the end of the day, though, keeps your kitchen in good condition between weekly deeper cleaning sessions. Clean the room and make it off-limits until morning!