Cleaning

Restaurant-Approved Tips for a Spotless Kitchen Every Night

You don't have to work in a restaurant to clean up like one.

January 20, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten

A professional kitchen is a well-oiled machine maintained by routine. Throughout my time as a server, line cook, and barista at restaurants and cafes, I relished the solace of opening in the quiet hours before sunrise, in preparation for the unrelenting rush. But the final guest served wasn’t the end of the day: Energized and exhausted, my team bonded as we scrubbed every surface and dish, swept up every crumb. The unhurried routine was a relaxing practice in winding down after the nonstop stress of kitchen work.

As one of thousands of restaurant workers who lost their job during the first wave of the pandemic last March, I, like many others trying to mentally escape the confines of quarantine, coped in my home kitchen. Though too much feels beyond any one person’s control these days, I’ve gained peace of mind by treating my home kitchen like a professional one. In keeping everything as cleaned and organized as I would at work—as well literally bringing in some restaurant tools to my home—I’m set up for success. You can do it too: Here's how.


Make a Cleanup Checklist—and Follow it Nightly

Every night I go through my own personal “closing checklist” for the kitchen: I sleep better knowing that I’ll start fresh the following day. After dinner, I pile the dishes into the sink and wash them immediately. If you walked into a restaurant and last night’s dirty dishes were still on the tables, you probably wouldn’t eat there—hold your kitchen to the same standard. It’s much easier to get dishes done while they’re still on your mind (and before they crust over). Plus, I’m sure standing over the sink after a meal helps with digestion in some way or another.

With the dishes drying, I take a sponge or rag (much more sustainable than going through half a roll of paper towels every night) to wipe down every surface in the kitchen, not just the counter where I did my food prep. In a restaurant, the stove, dining tables, and counters are scrubbed nightly; Your kitchen might not require a floor-to-ceiling scrub-down, but it can be fun to shamelessly knock all crumbs to the floor—albeit, to be swept up immediately after.

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“Not to mix food and "waste", I can't leave out the best paper-free, planet friendly bathroom solution! We installed our first bidet early in 2020, and have not purchased a single role of TP since. I purchased 24ea baby washcloths for drying. Everything goes in the wash on the "sanitize" setting. ”
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Don’t forget horizontal surfaces that may get messy in the cooking process, though: wipe smudges off the fridge with a gentle food-grade cleaning solution like a 1:1 mix of white vinegar and water. With every surface sparkling clean, all that is left is a thorough sweep—meaning under all surfaces and baseboards, not just around them.

Finally, I put away any dry dishes and take a look around, knowing that with a clean kitchen I can dive right into whatever recipe I want the next day. Any professional chef will tell you that with a proper closing checklist, opening shifts are a breeze with little to do when everything is already in its place.

Though performing these simple tasks at the end of each night might not seem like much, the routine makes a world of difference in maintaining a clean and organized kitchen. Just throw on some music—some loud punk or rap music always keeps me energized—and get to cleaning like it’s your job. You’ll end every night with confidence.


Incorporate Restaurant Supplies Into the Home Kitchen

The routine of a kitchen checklist ensures cleanliness and organization, but why not take it a step further. I’ve incorporated a few tools used in professional kitchens at home that have become indispensable in providing further control and consistency.

Deli containers

Every kitchen I’ve worked in uses Cambro food storage containers. Thick plastic with measurements engraved into them, the standard size and shape of these clear containers made sure we always knew which ingredients were where, and how much we had of each. Still, these containers can be hard to find outside a restaurant supply store, and are best suited for storing large portions of raw ingredients like flour and sugar. Plastic deli containers, however, are equally helpful for keeping loose ingredients, as well as leftovers, contained and organized. Regardless of volume, deli containers easily stack for smooth pantry- and fridge-storage, and the lids are universally sized.

Dissolvable food labels

"First in, first out" is the hard and fast rule of any restaurant refrigerator, meaning that the oldest food is to be used first—and you can’t always rely on your memory. With dissolvable food labels, you can easily mark the date and contents of your ingredients and leftovers to make sure everything is used before they spoil.

Duct tape has been my label of choice in the past (masking tape works too), but they often leave a sticky residue on my containers that's difficult to remove. To save your new containers, dissolvable labels rinse right off with hot tap water.

Oven thermometer

The hard truth about most home ovens, especially if they’re not new, is that their temperature will never be exactly what you’ve set. Most are only off by a few degrees, but after a few batches of burned cookies and some research, I found my oven ran over 30 degrees hotter than the set temperature. Cheaper than buying a new oven, an oven thermometer gives you the most accurate and consistent temperature-reading, and for restaurant-quality meals, consistency is key.

Chest freezer

Chest freezers were about as valuable as toilet paper during the first wave of quarantine as people looked for more storage for their larger-than-usual grocery hauls. While I don’t condone hoarding, it was tough to fit even a couple weeks’ worth of food in my small freezer. In hindsight, I can’t believe I was able to feed myself before doubling my freezer space. Now, all my big-batch meal prep, like beans and grains, and (deli container-packed!) leftovers have plenty of space, as do basics like butter and frozen vegetables. Plus, the efficient use of space means I can experiment with more frozen recipes like ice cream pie and make-ahead dinners.

Pegboard

Smaller home kitchens require an efficient use of all livable space—professional kitchens are the same. When you hang pots and pans on a pegboard, instead of cramming a pile into a cabinet, equipment becomes both organized and a decorative statement. One look at Julia Child’s kitchen in Cambridge should be all the convincing you need.

Most pegboards are easily installed, but for renters and less-handy individuals nervous about putting holes in the wall, heavy duty Command strips work just as well.

This post contains products independently selected by Food52 editors. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 may earn an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases.

What tips or tools do you use to keep your kitchen in ship-shape? Let us know in the comments.

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Kurt Suchman

Written by: Kurt Suchman

Kurt Suchman is a food and culture writer based in Seattle featured in Paste and Shondaland. They can be followed everywhere @kurtinterrupted

37 Comments

Janis O. February 1, 2021
Instead of pegboard, I use wire grid. I purchased feet for it to make it freestanding at the end of my countertop - no need to drill holes into the walls or cabinets. It will even accept casters if I want it to be movable. It’s very strong; I keep all my cast iron pieces on it. It’s easy to find the grid on Amazon or at hardware or restaurant supply stores, and you can easily find them in black, white, or chrome finishes.
 
Sarah January 31, 2021
Absolutely nothing better than starting a new day with a bright shiny kitchen! I would toss and turn all night if I went to bed with a sink full of dirty dishes - ugh...
 
kmcgrorty January 31, 2021
I have always been a clean as you go kind of cook. After an afternoon of peeling, chopping, sautéing, and baking, it's nice to see a relatively small pile to finish up. I make sure the countertops and back splashes are clean before leaving. And I fill the mop version of my Roomba with white vinegar and let it go (after a good crumb sweep).

Early in 2020, I gave up all paper products. I purchased 24 inexpensive washcloths and use them as un-paper towels. They do EVERYTHING! Draining bacon? Get a washcloth. Defrosting foods? Get a washcloth. Quickly cleaning a knife between foods? Get out that washcloth!

Not to mix food and "waste", I can't leave out the best paper-free, planet friendly bathroom solution! We installed our first bidet early in 2020, and have not purchased a single role of TP since. I purchased 24ea baby washcloths for drying. Everything goes in the wash on the "sanitize" setting.
 
Thom January 31, 2021
I clean my kitchen every night. I hate walking into a dirty kitchen in the morning when I fire up the espresso machine.

I don’t mop the floor daily but after cleaning the counter tops, backsplash and sink I wipe the floor below the counters that I’ve used — about a foot out from the cabinets.

The kitchen towel and dishcloth used throughout the day and the evening cleaning cloth go into the laundry. I use fresh kitchen linens every day. No nasty, germ filled sponges!

I’m also really big on cleaning as I go; always looking around for something to hand wash, put in the dishwasher, or wipe down and put away, eg, handheld mixer.

My kitchen counter aesthetic is minimalist. Espresso machine, knives, pepper mill, salt keeper, olive oil, fruit bowl, vegetable bowl. Everything else is in drawers, cabinets or the pantry. People who visit ask if I use my kitchen or if it’s been staged. I cook in my kitchen just about every day. I hate clutter.

People will say, “Oh, I don’t have time to do all that.” It doesn’t take more time and actually saves time in the long run — I don’t have to do “deep cleans” every month; I don’t have panic cleans when friends call and say they’re dropping by. People who say “I’m too busy” or “I don’t have that kind of time” are just lazy and/or inefficient. They can live with kitchen squalor. I prefer to be disciplined and live with a clean kitchen in a clean house.
 
Erin January 31, 2021
At the end of my cleanup, I will think about what I might need to remove from the freezer to thaw in the fridge. I know this is not a cleaning tip, but it's the only time I will remember to think about it!
 
Lauren January 31, 2021
Totally agree that a kitchen closing routine makes EVERYTHING better the next day. I’ve had a couple nights where I was just too tired & let it slide, but then there it is, 10x harder to do the next day.

I’m a little concerned about the “hang your pots on a pegboard attached with command strips” idea... they’re not meant to hold that kind of weight (unless you used like..50?) & they fail at the worst times - with my luck, it would be the nastiest crash in the middle of the night, or worse, there would be a “helpful” kiddo involved. I agree with the other comment about using a rail & s-hooks instead; a few holes & little wall anchors, nothing more damaging than basic curtains.
 
Carter M. January 31, 2021
For those who use glass containers in their fridge, you can skip the sticky labels entirely and just write directly on the glass with a Sharpie/permanent marker. It comes off easily when rubbed with a corner of a rag dipped in rubbing alcohol.
 
Nancy K. January 31, 2021
I like to use dry erase markers - works on plastic as well and rubs off easily.
 
Jo B. February 2, 2021
Yay, no sticky labels! I use a grease pencil, but you have to write on the jar before it gets cold! Pretty easy to wash/wipe off. I love grease pencils for labeling food for freezer, too, as I hate the smell of Sharpies.
 
Margaret K. January 31, 2021
I use Avery 5407 color coding labels for storage containers and to track the date that a food package is opened. They come off without leaving residue if you remember to remove them before washing the item. I also use Avery 5481 labels, which have more room to write on, but they tend to remove themselves over time.
 
Leslie January 31, 2021
Don't you mean VERTICAL surfaces?
 
The P. January 31, 2021
I cannot stand to work in a dirty kitchen. Never have, never will. Even when cooking I have a sink full of hot, sudsy water to clean pots, pans, knives, etc. as I go. Makes mealtime much more enjoyable knowing that a counter top full of dirty greasy pots and utensils....aren't. There is a certain "zen" to cooking this way. I only wish other members of the household shared my enthusiasm!

 
pauli321 January 31, 2021
I’m looking for a good simple quick way to wipe down my kitchen counters daily. Pre made cleaning wipes dry out too quickly, sponges leave it too streaked and wet and I feel like I need to dry them...and sponges are so stinky lol! You recommend vinegar and water...just a spray bottle and what do you wipe down with? Do you let air dry? I always feel like they aren’t clean if I don’t dry them too lol Recommendations??
 
Carter M. January 31, 2021
I have a spray bottle filled with a mix of dish detergent, white vinegar, and water. (It's about 8oz vinegar, 8oz water, and 1 oz detergent.) I spray this on all my surfaces and wipe down with a towel (a new towel for each day), and it dries almost immediately. Hope that helps!
 
NS January 31, 2021
After dealing with this for years, I've finally lucked out. A friend gave me a hand-knit pad (slightly bigger than a sponge scrubby pad, but half as thick) that I use to soap (drop of diluted dish soap and plenty of water) my counters, backsplash etc with and then rinse out. Next I wipe down the soapy surfaces with a cloth rag. Rag goes in wash after 2-3 days. The hand knit pad is great because it doesn't hold on to crumbs or moisture and dries overnight hanging on the soap dispenser.
For those of you who knit or crochet, craft stores sell a particular type of yarn for this. Now my mom crochets these and gives them as gifts. I'm still using the pad my friend gave me 3 years ago!
 
Ardyth January 31, 2021
I use microfiber rags (on the small side). They don’t leave streaks and are nice for dishes, too. At the end of each day I throw them in the kitchen laundry basket
 
Liliarose January 31, 2021
Swedish dish cloths work great for wiping down counters. They dry quickly over the faucet or in the dish drainer and they can go into the dishwasher for sanitation. I used to make my own spray cleaner with white vinegar water and a few drops of dr bronners sal suds which works great but now I use force of nature because I know it sanitizes all over my house.
 
Faith K. January 31, 2021
Hurrah for Swedish dishcloths. They are the best.
 
Nancy K. January 31, 2021
Every restaurant uses bar towels for pretty much everything. I buy 24 pack white washcloths from Costco (cheaper than buying paper towels) and use them for wiping down counters, appliances, drying dishes, cleaning windows, etc. I throw them in the wash with a little bleach and they last for years. Also, don't use fabric softener on them. I only use scrubby sponges for scrubbing the sink and dishes. After rinsing the sponge out, I put it in the microwave for 3 minutes and it keeps them from smelling.
 
RSF January 31, 2021
I do the same thing with white washcloths purchased in bulk. They stack perfectly in a poly napkin sized bins that I keep under the sink. I keep one bin of washcloths under the kitchen sink and one under the bathroom sink. I hang them to dry on a hanger with clothes pins in my laundry room and when dry throw the in the laundry basket (keeps things mildew free). Saves using paper towels. I also use the above trick of spray bottle with vinegar and a splash of dish soap for spraying counters, etc.
 
Lydiasue January 31, 2021
Use 100% cotton yarn (sugar’n cream is my fav). I make dish cloths and hot pads with this yarn. They launder great.
 
MJ January 31, 2021
I recently found the Scented Vinegar from the Laundress Company. It is fabulous! It smells like lavender to me. The last wipe down with whatever you chose and the room smells fresh for hours!
 
sdote January 30, 2021
Wow, such an awesome of explainning
 
Pam H. January 26, 2021
These are great tips- waking up to a messy kitchen is a real downer!
 
Rebecca F. January 25, 2021
my pegboard has truly changed my life—and it totally makes me feel like I'm living in julia child's kitchen ;)
 
Andrea January 31, 2021
Where did you get your peg board?
 
Ginger N. January 24, 2021
I use blue Shop Towels for dish washing and kitchen cleaning. They are much sturdier than paper towels-can wash a sinkful of dishes, pots and pans then wipe the counters and stove. Throw it away instead of breeding germs beside the sink.
 
DBERNE January 31, 2021
Hop towels and paper towels both generate a lot of waste. I use thin cotton towels that I bought in bulk and store neatly in a drawer. I keep a small basket by the sink to toss them in when they get dirty or too wet, and toss them in the next load of laundry. The only time I use paper towels is to soak up grease.
 
deb O. January 31, 2021
I have many dishcloths and every night I take the one I used that day and put it in the little wet towel "hamper" I have, to wash when I do laundry. I don't throw them away until there are holes in them. absolutely no waste there. I use paper towel very sparingly. I love getting up to a clean kitchen with clean dishes in my dishwasher I put away while my coffee is brewing in the morning. morning is the best
 
Patricia F. January 31, 2021
Hah! Me, too!
 
Lune January 20, 2021
A twist on the pegboard are towel bars and S hooks. They are a little bit more solid than the pegboard and just as inexpensive at the hardware store.
 
Prathima January 20, 2021
I've transferred all of my spices to 8 oz. deli containers and labeled with painter's tape. Now they neatly stack in a normal cupboard, instead of having a bunch of little bottles spinning around necessitating a specially designed wrangling system.
 
Amy January 20, 2021
Instead of dissolvable food labels (or the other ideas mentioned), I use painter's tape to label my containers. It stores well in fridge or freezer environments and removes easily from the containers without leaving a residue. I am partial to the Frogtape brand, both for painting, and for labeling.
 
KR January 20, 2021
Me, too! I also discovered that cheap felt pens bled ink all over my hands, so I also invest in good markers (as in, not from the $ store!)...
iirc, Lee Valley used to carry the dissolvable labels for canning jars...
 
Joan B. January 31, 2021
Wine pens are another way to label...no residue, easy cleanup, and no wasted paper.
 
Debra January 31, 2021
Great idea!
 
Carla January 31, 2021
Are they the same as wax pencils? I was going to suggest wax pencils as they wash off easily as well!