Tackle this to-do list twice per year.

By Kate Rockwood
Updated January 20, 2021
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sparkling clean kitchen in blue and white
Credit: RYAN RAY/CC + EM INTERIORS

Our kitchens have been working overtime. After months of creating more home-cooked meals than you've likely ever whipped up before, which was followed by the marathon of food preparation for the holidays, it's likely time to wipe the slate clean. Give your family's hub this expert detailing twice a year to get it looking, smelling, and running like new.

Make Your Sink Sparkle

Your hand- and dish-washing HQ is—brace yourself—one of your home's dirtiest spots. To sanitize it, spritz on a mix of one ounce bleach, one-half quart water, and one teaspoon dish soap. Wait five minutes, then scrub with a large brush. Detail the faucet and drain seam with a toothbrush, and flush with hot water.

refrigerator filled with food containers illustration
Credit: Illustration by Stephanie Singleton

Tackle the Refrigerator

Sure, you wipe up spills, but if you haven't done more than that in six months or so, it's time to roll up your sleeves. Per a 2019 American Cleaning Institute survey, 41 percent of us don't even remember the last time we really sanitized this space. And while it's satisfying, the goal isn't just Instagram-worthy organization—this is for your health. The standard temp inside a fridge (about 40 degrees) makes it hospitable to germs and fungal mold, says New York University microbiologist Philip Tierno, PhD.

What's more, pet hair, dust tumbleweeds, and stray green beans can accumulate underneath and behind this appliance, covering the condenser coils that cool its motor and help it run efficiently. So unplug it, or hit the switch for its outlet on your home's electrical panel, and vacuum them with the brush attachment. They may be located on the front or back, or underneath, depending on your model; you may need to shimmy it away from the wall for access. (It's not such an ordeal, we promise, and the efficiency and lifespan payoffs for your fridge are major.) Then turn it back on and take everything out—from your freezer, too. Stash keepers in coolers; toss anything expired, and recycle the containers. Slide out any removable shelves and drawers, and soak them in hot, soapy water in the sink (or a tub, if they're big). Meanwhile, spray the interior and top with a mix of one cup each water and distilled white vinegar, plus one teaspoon of dish soap. If you see any stuck-on food bits or discoloration, sprinkle on baking soda. Then scrub the whole shebang. Clean My Space founder Melissa Maker uses Scotch-Brite Advanced Scrub Dots Non-Scratch Scrubbers ($4 for two, amazon.com); their unique pointy shape wiggles into tight corners. Run a damp cloth over all surfaces, then dry and replace the shelves and food, wiping bottles as you go. To sequester spills prevent items like meat or berries from leaking onto clean surfaces in your fridge, place a shelf liner or enamel butcher tray underneath, and wash them as needed, suggests Sansoni.

gray stove illustration
Credit: Illustration by Stephanie Singleton

Scour the Stove

Sauce and grease splatters don't just look messy; they can harbor germs and draw bugs if allowed to set. So, use the right method for your model. Glass stove tops can get scratched, so grab a special sponge, like the pad in Affresh's Cooktop Cleaning Kit ($7, amazon.com); it has a textured surface that works vigorously but gently. For gas stove tops and burner grates, borrow Chicago chef and a partner at One Off Hospitality Paul Kahan's recipe: one cup white vinegar, one tablespoon castile soap, and two cups water. "A scouring pad soaked with this stuff makes grates look terrific," he says. Next, pop off the knobs and the vent-hood screen up top, and let them soak in hot, soapy water. "They collect so much grease and dust," says Tennessee chef Mee McCormick of Pinewood Kitchen & Mercantile. "That extra little bit makes a big difference in how clean your kitchen is." If soap doesn't cut it, grab your dedicated cleaning toothbrush (every pro's secret weapon) and get in there with a paste of baking soda and water.

Overhaul the Oven

This hardworking holiday appliance needs your attention when it smokes or smells funny while preheating. Pull out the racks and, depending on their size, either put them in the dishwasher; soak them in the sink in hot water and a few regular dishwasher-detergent tablets for two hours, turning as needed; or stick the racks and tablets in the tub (line it with an old towel first, to avoid scratching the glaze). "The tablets are powerful degreasers, and they'll cut through cooked-on crud so you don't have to use elbow grease," says GoClean Co's Sarah McAllister. Meanwhile, spray the interior with a solution of two cups water and two table-spoons dish soap, let stand for five minutes, then swipe with a wet pumice stone, says Maker, who assures that the combo of abrasion and degreasing is plenty strong—no toxic cleaner or self-cleaning setting necessary. There are big pumice stones for jobs like this; Maker likes the Pumie Scouring Stick ($10 for three, amazon.com). Hit the inside of the door with cleaning pro and the founder of Unclutter.com Donna Smallin Kuper's favorite tool: a damp Brillo pad ($2 for ten, walmart.com). Vacuum any crumbs out of the warming drawer, and replace the dry racks and knobs.

These efforts become easier, however, if you maintain your oven year round. To protect the bottom from food drips, stick a baking sheet on the lowest rack before you slide in your next lasagna or pie, suggests Brian Sansoni, the senior vice president of communication, outreach, and membership at the American Cleaning Institute. That way, you can just wash the sheet afterward, versus cleaning the whole oven. (To get that baking sheet spick-and-span, see chef Sharone Hakman's technique.)

cups and bowls in dishwasher illustration
Credit: Illustration by Stephanie Singleton

Degunk the Dishwasher

Food, grease, water minerals, and undissolved detergent can build up on the interior and in the filter at the bottom, knocking its performance. Unscrew the filter, rinse it with hot water, scrub it with a trusty cleaning toothbrush (just rinse this tool between uses), and screw it back on. Then pop off the spray arm—or arms; your machine may have more than one. Rinse them in warm water, pry out any buildup in the holes with a toothpick, and replace. Wipe the door gasket and exterior with a damp cloth, then insert a deep-cleaning pod, like Cascade Dishwasher Cleaner ($17, amazon.com), and let it do its thing. These have powerful surfactants that dissolve grimy or smelly residue effortlessly.

kitchen cabinets illustration
Credit: Illustration by Stephanie Singleton

Conquer the Cabinets

When the light hits a certain way, drips and fingerprints can appear out of nowhere. Dust bunnies adore any exposed tops, and millwork—like the grooved fronts of Shaker cabinets— is an extra-sticky area. Unscrew the pulls and knobs, and wash them in hot, soapy water. While they're off, grab a cleaning toothbrush, suds it up, and tackle the door's nooks and crannies. Then wipe the entire surface with a cloth dampened in hot, soapy water. Follow with a damp cloth, and dry with a microfiber one. If grime persists, spritz on an enzyme cleaner, like Bio-Kleen All-Purpose Spray ($10, biokleenhome.com), and let it sit for five minutes before wiping it off. When the hardware is dry, replace it. Then empty the drawers and use your vacuum's brush attachment or a lint roller to nab crumbs. (To hit corners, roll a lint-roller sheet around a butter knife, says Maker.) Wipe down if needed, and refill.

toaster and jars on counter illustration
Credit: Illustration by Stephanie Singleton

Get Counters Gleaming

We're guessing you don't detail the caulk line where the countertop and backsplash meet very often—or always excavate under the toaster, mixer, and coffee maker, for that matter. For glorious grout, apply a paste of one-quarter cup hydrogen peroxide and one-half cup baking soda, then scrub gently and wipe well. Countertops require a little recon: Although some of us wield a multi-purpose cleaner with abandon, the wrong formula can damage or discolor some materials. A spray bottle filled with hot water and a squirt of dish soap is a universally safe bet. When you want to disinfect, check a formula's label first to ensure it's okay for your surface. Most multipurpose sprays are fine for laminate, quartz, and soap-stone. Otherwise, a mix of one part isopropyl alcohol to three parts water works great on concrete and granite, and half a lemon and salt work wonders for wood. Marble calls for a specialized product, such as Miracle Sealants Tile and Stone Cleaner ($9, homedepot.com). Martha keeps her counters pristine by wiping them down with white cotton-terry bar towels (like these, from Williams Sonoma ($20 for four, williams-sonoma.com)) in lieu of paper towels—they're bleachable and look neutral in any space. Since they need to be laundered after a few uses, she keeps plenty in rotation.

dutch ovens illustration
Credit: Illustration by Stephanie Singleton

Polish Pots and Pans

Daily washing doesn't nix tarnish or blackened, cooked-on food. That's why you should let the material be your guide. For copper, chef Bill Kim of Chicago's Urbanbelly mixes a paste of equal parts lemon juice and salt; it dissolves tarnish almost instantly. For stainless steel, Planta chef David Lee lets heat do the work: Fill a pot with water and a squirt of dish soap, boil for five to 10 minutes to get rid of scorch marks and hard-water stains, then wash as usual. Phoenix chef Christopher Gross, the owner of Christopher's & Crush Lounge, uses a similar strategy for any burnt pot: "Fill it with water and a teaspoon of baking soda, and simmer for a half hour." It works like magic. When a baking sheet has seen better days, take a cue from chef and Masterchef competitor, Sharone Hakman: Let it sit in equal parts baking soda and hydrogen peroxide for four hours. It'll shine like new.

Comments (2)

Anonymous
March 6, 2021
Oh, and counters are cleaned every time we prepare something.
Anonymous
March 6, 2021
If I waited to do all this twice a year my kitchen would be filthy. I wipe cabinets down at least once a week. The sink gets scrubbed every day. If you rinse your dishes a bit before putting them into the dishwasher there would be no "gunk". The fridge is cleaned out once a week and the back and all fridge grates are cleaned once a month. The microwave is cleaned every evening whether it needs it or not.