A Speedy Guide to Getting Your Kitchen Sparkling

March 12, 2018
Photo by Sara Dickerman

Welcome to Spring Clean Your Life, your one-stop shop for gotta-try-those tips & bookmark-me inspiration to spruce up your kitchen and home this season—and well beyond.

I am here to tell you how to get your kitchen sparkling in 30 minutes.

This is funny to me. The whole reason I signed up for lifetime cooking duty is because I don’t like cleaning very much. I spent my childhood wondering why my mother spent so much time cleaning when she could be making a glorious chocolate cake instead. (It turns out, of course, maybe that she didn’t love cleaning so much either, but she didn’t have a lot of help from me or anyone else).

Despite it all, and despite the fact that I have many messes throughout the rest of the house, I do like waking up to a kitchen that is less sticky than it was the night before (sparkling might be a stretch). Here then, is my formula for a pretty speedy kitchen cleanup. Add another 30 minutes if you have been drinking at dinner (or don’t, and just go to bed and deal with things in the morning).

Step 1: Mindset (1 minute down; 29 to go)

In truth, it is not the cleaning that I dislike so much as the idea of the other people around me who are not cleaning and say, watching basketball or baby otter videos. What can I say? I run resentful. And so, I recommend spending the first 30 minutes getting your head around cleaning. First, if you share my temperament, ditch the bitterness. Either clean or don’t clean, but don’t be surly about it.

Also, enlist help. You have every right to recruit your family members, your housemates, and/or your pet to help you clean up. My dog Omelet is an excellent assistant with meat and cheese spills as well as pre-cleaning roasting pans. Even if you live alone, you should make sure to invite your favorite musicians or podcast hosts into your headphones.

One more key to a good cleaning mindset. I like to think of what I am putting off by cleaning the kitchen in the first place—perhaps some edits to my cookbook or my taxes. This often provides the right motivation to get going.

Step 2: Banishment (4 minutes; 25 to go)

This next step is critical, but often overlooked. If your home is like mine, the kitchen is a gathering spot for all kinds of non-food related items: permission slips, purses, backpacks, toy skeletons. It doesn’t work to clean around them. You need them to get out of the kitchen, preferably to their proper location, but at the very least, to just outside the kitchen door. For maximum efficiency, enlist the people who have left them around you to help with this.

Step 3: The Gear (30 seconds; 24.5 minutes to go)

Put on an apron. I am often vainly thinking I can get through cleaning up in a new T-shirt without a splash or splotch, but I am always, and I mean always, wrong. My best aprons envelop me, front and back, and I still often get schmutz on my sleeves. Also, grab a handful of rags (I have a vast collection made from old towels, sheets, and holey kitchen towels) and one or two not-holey kitchen towels.

Step 4: The dishes (12 minutes; 12.5 to go)

To get back to that resentment thing: Don’t do dishes angry. You will lose dishes. You may cut your hand cleaning a knife. Better homemakers than me will say not to go to sleep with a sink full of dishes, but ask yourself if you have the right mindset for washing dishes. You can always pretend things need to soak.

I am lucky enough to have a dishwasher, and so I half-plan for dishwasher maximization: I use the smallest dishes possible. To avoid having to hand-wash stemware, I tend to serve in stemless glasses unless I think someone will judge me (including myself). I don’t use so much forethought with pans. I am a cook of many vessels, but I can usually cram the stainless pans into the dishwasher, too.

Some general hand-dishwashing tips: Fill your spaghetti pot or a big mixing bowl with very hot soapy water. Scrub everything without running the water, and then rinse all at once, too. This saves water and also reminds me of bubble baths, which are much more fun than dishwashing.

I like to keep a few good washing tools around: a soft glass brush to get the sediment out of wine glasses when you have served fancy people, a pot scrubbing brush and a scouring pad, and most importantly, a little hard plastic scraper to scratch away sticky sediment.

Don’t soak or soap carbon steel or cast-iron things. To clean a cast iron pan, rinse it with very hot water and scrape it with a pot scrubber and/or the plastic thingie. Fill the bottom with kosher salt, turn on the vent and heat over high heat on it on the range, which will help scour and soak up the grease and dirt. After five minutes or so, turn off the heat. Let cool a bit and then get rid of the dirty salt (don’t put it in the trash when it’s screaming hot, though). Put coconut oil in the still-warm pan and wipe around.

Sometimes, you do actually need to soak things if a quick wash hasn’t worked. For stuck-on messes in pots, you can try sprinkling baking soda in a thickish layer across the pan, and then adding water. Bring to a boil on the stove and let soak for a couple of hours or overnight. The plastic thingy should help you scrape up post-soaking residue in the morning.

If you’ve got help, don’t let the dish rack stay full. Get someone to dry dishes and then the kitchen will actually be clean after you are done, rather than hosting a mountain of clean, half-dry dishes.

Step 5: The Counters (4 minutes; 8.5 to go)

When I used to work in restaurants, cleaning up had some urgency. We couldn’t clock out and get drinks until we had a spotless kitchen. It made us pretty efficient, and here’s the favorite way we cleaned counters back then, and still now. It does work best with a partner, but can be done on its own. One person would take a pail of very hot soapy water and scrub the whole counter with a scouring pad (the kitchen had butcher block counters). Another would scrape the suds off with a bench knife into a second pail. For all the solvents sold in the world, you’d be surprised how much can be cleaned up with very hot water and a little dab of soap. I’ve now recreated that system in my house, but since I have fussier soapstone counters, I use a clean rag to wash, and a hard rubber scraper to squeegee off the extra (the big scraper is also amazing for scooping up debris from the sink). I then use a clean, damp rag to make sure all the soap is gone.

If you want to go the extra mile and sanitize your counters, then you can steal another restaurant move and keep a bucket with 1 tablespoon bleach to a quart of water. Wipe the counters and let sit for two minutes before drying.

My hardworking scraper. Photo by Sara Dickerman

Step 6: The Splotches (2 minutes; 6.5 to go)

A quick clean isn’t going to give you time to mop, but use a rag and that same hot sudsy water to clean up any spills that the dog can’t help with on the floors, or on the drawer fronts, or refrigerator handles. Or use some of the DIY cleaning solution sprays that I discuss here.

Step 7: The Floor (4 minutes; 2.5 to go)

Dry any wet bits with a rag and then sweep. A while back, I got a cordless vacuum because I thought it would be better than sweeping on my hardwood kitchen floors. It’s good for a particular kind of mess, like when drop the occasional bag of flour; but for quick cleaning, sweeping is just much quicker, provided you know where your broom is. We have still not settled on a perfect broom spot and I waste a good five minutes looking for my broom pretty much every time I think about sweeping.

I have almost decided that this can be remedied with a very pretty broom like this one that I could hang right out in the middle of my kitchen, but until I commit to a fancy public broom, I continue to waste time. I do have a pretty fancy dustpan, which helps me close the deal on the sweeping.

Pretty accessories help me get the job done. Photo by Sara Dickerman

Step 8: The Garbage (2 minutes; 30 seconds to go)

This is an excellent opportunity to recruit low-skilled labor, if only to have them open the door for you while your hands are full. But if you’re on your own, take a couple of trips. I’ve never successfully taken out the garbage and the compost at the same time without dropping something on the floor and having to start all over again.

Step 9: Hang up your apron (30 seconds, 0 time left)

Thank anyone who helped and go watch some baby otters.

Step 10: Wait!

We are out of time, and the kitchen is sparkling. Just don’t look in the oven. There is no sane way to clean an oven, let alone the rest of the kitchen, in 30 minutes. Just keep the oven closed for now.

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Sara Dickerman is the author of Bon Appetit: The Food Lover's Cleanse and Dried and True, and her new book The Secret of Great Second Meals.

1 Comment

Mkilfoyle March 19, 2018
That sounds pretty accurate for a quick clean.. I find a good counter spray essential for making things sparkle in a hurry. I don't inspect other kitchens so don't inspect mine. I am trying at the moment to keep my counters clear.. put away all the buckets of spatulas and whisks and such.. It's so hard when you have too many kitchen things. Kids are grown but now have grandkid detritus hanging about. What will they remember from visit to visit.. what can be tossed..