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Friday, June 28, 2013

Step-by-Step Deep Cleaning for the Kitchen

If you're like many people, including me, the kitchen often seems like a monumental room to try and keep beautifully clean.  After all, no other room in the house sees so much activity or so many different types of dirtiness- cooking oils, splatters from sauces, spices and dried herbs that fly off from the shaker onto the countertop, stovetop or floor...Not to mention it's typically where household pets eat and drink, often where people come in to munch on a snack (dropping cereal or other fun little crumbs underneath them).  There are both big appliances and small appliances galore begging for attention from a cleaner.  What's the household cook (who by default ends up being the kitchen-cleaner more often than not) to do?  You must learn to take advantage of those precious moments when the oven is pre-heating, dinner is simmering away or you're waiting for the broiler oven to finish toasting up your bread. 

When beginning your kitchen clean-up on a deeper level, make a plan that starts to the right of your kitchen sink and go around the room, left-to-right and top-to-bottom with doing chores.  Following this logic makes it far easier to stay on track while working and keep a mental picture accurately of what has or hasn't been cleaned recently.  If you feel you need to, make a detailed cleaning list like FlyLady suggests, but I recommend making out one specifically listed with your particular floor plan in mind.  Do a little drawing on paper if needed of your floor plan and then write out your cleaning list.  Use this as a checklist, keeping it on the fridge, in your control journal, on a whiteboard- whatever works for you. That way, you're keeping a recent record of what got done and where. (You can date when the job was done, too, but I don't think that's necessary unless you clean only very sporadically.)  Below I'm going to list some suggestions- and a few rules- to keep your kitchen beautiful and functional with minimum time spent on your part cleaning.

Unless you love to do housework in silence, make it fun through sound.  Call a friend up and chat while doing prep or cleanup work (you'll need Bluetooth or a hands-free headset linked to your cordless phone for this- I don't like speakerphone options because the sound is usually quite fuzzy and it can be disruptive to others in the household).  I have a friend who uses phone time with favorite people to do chores she hates, so that her mind isn't focused on how much she dislikes the task at hand!  Play music if you like- personally, I love putting on my iPod (which is encased in a belt clip/protector and I stick it right on my waistband) and tuning out the other sounds of the house while working.  Good music is motivating- and this is very important if you usually hate cleaning and need the inspiration.  You can always do up a super-motivating "Housecleaning Mix" with your favorite high-energy tunes in iTunes or wherever else you manage your music.  Back in the old days before such computer programs were available, I stick a good dance music CD like Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation on- very fun to listen to while working.  Or you can put a TV show or movie on via your tablet, laptop or portable TV/DVD player.  Use technology to your advantage this way.  TV can be kind of distracting though, so be mindful of how you're spending your time while watching it.  Don't pick a "side" motivational took that will actually make you work slower instead of faster.

Whenever you're about to work in the kitchen, put on an apron.  Don't argue with me. :)  Is it really worth getting cleaning supplies or food on your clothes???  I can't tell you how much laundry pre-treater I have been able to skip using on clothes because I wear an apron over my clothes while I work.  Find one that's comfortable and is bib-style, protecting both your shirt and down to the low hip or possibly right above the knee if you'll be doing seriously grimy work.  If you grill a lot outdoors, having the longer length can really make a difference.  If you're especially busty or full-figured like me, get an oversized apron, not one that's made for very small people.  They're sold inexpensively on Amazon and many other kitchen suppliers out there online.

Plan your time well before you even step foot in the room.  Knowing what you'll be making for a meal in advance, reading over the recipe (if applicable) and prepping all of the ingredients beforehand makes the time sail by while cooking.  It also makes clean up easier.  If your kitchen is so cluttered that you have to perform ballerina-type stretches to reach items all the time or need someone else to grab stuff from shelves for you, then chances are your kitchen is either not well-planned or is overly cluttered.  Some people have really small kitchens and then it's difficult to cull things out.  But many of our ancestors had very little kitchen space and yet cooked for big families every night- sometimes we have to take a cue from them, get our items truly back to basics and focus on using what we do have in our kitchens really well.  Also, sometimes using space better means investing in little pieces of kitchen organization.  Simple things like a kitchen wrap holder (which holds Saran Wrap, aluminum foil and more upright in a neat stack), a bakeware rack or a magnetic kitchen towel holder on the refrigerator can give back precious inches or even feet to this room.  In this day and age so many of these items are sold in multiple finishes and at a pretty reasonable cost that it makes sense to utilize these aids when needed.

But I cannot stress de-cluttering enough.  I wasn't prepared to do organizing (and shopping for it) until I de-cluttered and knew what I really had to store in my kitchen for good.  As FlyLady says, before you even THINK of cleaning deeply, get the clutter out of the room.  A suggestion?  Stick a Post-it note on your infrequently-used (once a week or less) small appliances.  Date the note.  Each time you use the item, put that day's date on the note.  If you notice after three months that you've never used the small appliance since that original note was done up, consider donating or selling it.  The only exception is items that you use especially for holidays (such as a blender you keep on hand to make corn pudding at Christmas, which you do ever year without fail).  Put infrequently-used items in a pantry, coat closet, linen closet (think outside the box, especially if you have a small home), in a china cabinet or dining room buffet table.  Try to keep all such items in one place in your home (one particular linen closet shelf, for example).  But be realistic about what you should store and what you should give away/sell.  If you have this appliance and you haven't made that special recipe in five years and you know realistically that you'll never again be the one cooking Christmas dinner, consider giving that piece away to the person or people that will use the item. 

Sometimes your china cabinet or other dining room furniture will be an extension of your kitchen storage.  As such, de-cluttering must apply to these items as well.  The same rules apply.  Remember FlyLady's two imperative questions: "Do you love it? And do you use it? How often are you using it?"  Apply this philosophy to cookbooks, liquors, wine glasses, china, inherited pieces and anything else stored within that furniture.  I'm not telling you to give away what you love or use, even if you only use it once a year.  Just don't have so much stuff that you can't get to the items you use frequently because the infrequently-used items have the premium storage spaces.

The Deep-Cleaning Steps

1) Put on your apron.  Any supplies that you want to stock it with- Windex, cleaning cloths, a scraper, etc.- put them in the apron now.

2) Put on Bluetooth earpiece or phone headset (and call your person of interest), grab your iPod, turn on the TV or DVD player, if desired. 

3) Before beginning any other cleaning, start with an empty kitchen sink and an empty dishwasher.  Just have your sink and countertops cleared off as much as possible, that's all I ask.  If you have a bunch of dirty dishes to wash or load into the dishwasher, you can either reload the dishwasher with whatever is dirty now or put hot water in the sink to wash them up first.  The point of this cleaning is NOT to keep up with the Joneses- it is to make your life less stressful.  Cooking and spending time in a de-cluttered and relatively clean kitchen is just less demanding than cooking in a piled-up, filthy one.  It's that simple.  I know it's tempting to go sit in front of the TV or computer and relax instead, but if your home is not as clean as you want it to be (or worse, is downright embarrassing to you when others see it), some of your free time should be spent creating a nicer home to live in.  If you come across grimy filters, knick-knacks, utensil holders and more than can be thrown in the dishwasher, having the dishwasher empty will make it possible to just throw those items in and get it all done without worry.  (Stick to the top rack for most items like this.)  The filter of your oven range, your utensil holders, stovetop grates and much more can typically be put in the dishwasher and will come out beautifully.

4) Remember to move around the kitchen from left to right and top to bottom, starting directly to the right of your sink.  First thing to do is check your kitchen ceiling, vents and walls for splatters, cobwebs, dust and grease buildup.  Remember, dust always follows the law of gravity.  When you start from the top of your home when cleaning, the dust will land on a lower surface which will get cleaned shortly.  When you work from the bottom of the room and go up (disobeying the law of gravity), you're going to end up having to re-clean surface after surface. 

This may be the time to grab a brush or cloth-covered wand (OXO brand makes a wand like this) that will take cobwebs off the top of cabinets, in between the grates of vents, underneath appliances and in the crevices of tight spots, like between the fridge and the kitchen cabinet next to it.  Some vacuums have attachments that work great for these spots which harbor dust and dirt but are hard to get to.  I have a Dyson vacuum and it has many such attachments, some of which rotate in multiple directions and work really well.  If not, a dryer lint trap cleaning brush can be good for such tight and hard-to-clean areas. 

5) Your kitchen cabinets come next, with a special focus on the upper cabinets.  Fingerprints, spots, splatters, dust- all an issue.  It depends on the cabinet surface, but Pledge or Old English furniture polish usually work well for cleaning exterior surfaces like that.  Old-fashioned Pledge is actually really good on stainless steel, too.  If you have glass-and-wood cabinets, Pledge Multi-Surface is a nice alternative product because it won't streak the glass or dry out the wood.  Some cabinets just need a damp microfiber or white cotton cloth over them, but if they're really gunky, pull out the furniture polish and polishing cloths.  This sounds like a horrid job, but cleaning the outside of the kitchen cabinets really doesn't take that long.  The procrastinating over it is usually worse than the actual chore itself!  The last time I cleaned the outside of my cabinets, it only took eight minutes!  Don't worry about cleaning the inside of the cabinets unless for some reason you have tons of dust, dirt, clutter or crumbs in them, especially upper cabinets.  Cleaning the inside of full kitchen cabinets is a much bigger job.  Get a safe, non-slip step stool to use if you're too short to reach the upper cabinets easily.  If you have young children, though, your lower cabinets may also be a mess.  People who cook and/or bake often will probably see a lot more spatters on their cabinets, too.  I always try to clean up these messes as they occur but it's inevitable that some spots get missed. 

6) (Adapt the following to your particular floor plan.)  On to the fridge, my friends.  Focus on cleaning the outside of this appliance first.  Start at the top and clean downward.  Move the fridge if needed in order to get the sides and back of it clean.  I suggest doing any "dry" cleaning- vacuuming, sweeping, etc.- first.  A whish broom will get the vent underneath the fridge free of dust bunnies and dirt if you don't want to run the vacuum.  Often the back wall of the fridge is just a nightmare of dust and (if you burn candles a lot) soot.  I once filled my vacuum canister with black dust and a few flying furballs after never having cleaned the back of my fridge (or the wall behind it) in eight years!  I was a total chicken, afraid I'd dislodge or accidentally unplug something if I pulled the refrigerator out from the wall, but it turns out I'd worried needlessly.  The electrical cord was thick, long and couldn't come out of the wall easily, anyway.  Most refrigerators actually move pretty easily, especially across bare floors- I have a small apartment, but I can still move mine forward and sideways to clean well.  Be prepared to wipe or wash down the floor which normally lays underneath the fridge- that can get really nasty. 

Don't forget to wipe down the refrigerator door handle(s), the rubber gasket seal that goes all around the doors and the bottom vent of the fridge down at the floor's level.  You can use an old toothbrush around the areas which need some scrubbing but aren't easy to reach with just a sponge or cloth.  Baking soda and a non-scratching sponge with a scrubby side to it works well, though it'll require some rinsing afterwards.  Some people use diluted chlorine bleach to clean their fridge, but I consider that a last resort technique.  Personally, I like using a diluted all-purpose cleaner or some Red Juice from The Clean Team (Red Juice is food safe, as well, which can't be said for many cleaning products on the market.)  You don't have to do this all in one day, either.  Pick one day to do the outside, another to de-clutter the interior, the next to clean the interior of the fridge door (which can get really gross), then the shelves, then the crisper drawers.  Five days and you'll have a sparkling fridge- talk about using weekday Zone Cleaning (another FlyLady tool) to your advantage! 

Once this heavy-duty cleaning is done, too, maintaining a clean fridge on a weekly basis is pretty easy.  Now I just clean out any leftovers that need to be tossed and quickly wipe down my fridge with a Lysol wipe every Thursday.  Since I do this once a week, the fridge never needs too much work.  (I dust the top of the fridge real quick twice a week, too.) 

7) The oven range is our next stop.  Put the filter in the dishwasher or replace it if it's really gnarly.  You may need to wipe off the light bulb or replace it entirely if it's burned out.  Often the inside edge of a range gets very gunky.  Sometimes the only solution is a good cleaning brush with stiff bristles, some scrubbing cleanser (like Comet or Bon Ami) and plenty of elbow grease.  Grease and dust become baked on these types of surfaces with the surrounding heat of an oven.  Don't kill yourself over this chore, though.  If all you can do is give it a good wipedown, that's a heck of a lot better than nothing.  Remember, a light wipedown regularly will save you a heavy-duty scrubbing that has to be done sporadically.  When you wipe down your kitchen each day after cooking, hit these oft-forgotten areas every couple days or so to keep the overall dirt and grease buildup levels to a minimum.

8) The windows (if you have any), breakfast table and/chairs, bar stools, countertops, stovetop, kitchen sink and small appliances or any knick-knacks on the counters or shelves come next.  Don't freak out on me.  If you consistently clean your home once every week or two pretty thoroughly, touch-ups on small sections of these items are all that should be needed.  This is especially true if you have good daily routines in place for light household cleaning and live in an already-de-cluttered home.  Remember, only work until you've reached your time or energy limit- no more.  If you're starting with a home that hasn't been cleaned in awhile or is quite old, it may take more time and work to get it clean enough so that it just takes quick work to touch up.  There's nothing wrong with that.  Think about it.  If you devote just a few minutes a day to one area of your home for an entire week, especially if that time is spent solely on deep-cleaning a space often left untouched, you'll be left with a sparkling space after that period of time.  Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is a clean home.  Don't rush and make yourself crazy- your home will get clean. 

9) Now you'll hit lower items.  These are often overlooked because they're not at eye level for most folks.  Certain parts of the dishwasher, lower kitchen cabinets and the oven(s) are the most-common sources of overlooked dirt in a home that doesn't get deep-cleaned regularly.  Again, start out to the right of the kitchen sink for a guide.  In my home, the dishwasher is to the right of the sink.  If it's been awhile, sometimes I notice that the outside of the dishwasher, as well as those edges of the door which don't get cleaned when it's running, need a wipe-down.  Food gets on those outer edges easily when dirty dishes are loaded into it each day.  Remember that vertical surfaces usually do not need the same amount of cleaning as horizontal ones- but eventually, everything should be wiped down, especially if it's noticeably dirty.  (Run a clean finger across the front of a surface if you're unsure- if the surface is greasy, gritty, etc., you'll have your answer as to whether it needs cleaning.)  Use your favorite disinfecting wipes, a white cotton cloth or microfiber cleaning cloth plus all-purpose cleaner.  The Clean Team (www.thecleanteam.com) sells a product called Red Juice which is an awesome, food-safe, non-toxic all-purpose cleaner.  A product from the grocery store that serves a similar purpose would be Lysol Kitchen Cleaner, but there are many options in this day and age, including natural products.  I've tried several of these products from sources that sell "green cleaners", but I have to be honest- the Lysol Kitchen Cleaner is what I always go back to because it just works the best.  (That is purely my personal opinion, though.)  Use whatever has the most amount of cleaning power with the least amount of negative environmental and health impact.  Choose something that won't streak for the surface you're working on, too.

Clean the oven on a night when you're using the microwave, crock pot, outdoor grill or something else to cook dinner.  If you use just the stovetop, fine, but don't plan to clean the oven on a night you'll be cooking, because it just won't work (for obvious reasons).  You don't have to dig out the Easy Off!  I'm just talking about some basic maintenance items.  The last time I cleaned my oven, I took BioKleen Degreaser, diluted it, let it sit for awhile on the oven surface and then just wiped it clean and dry.  It looked fabulous afterwards- no harsh chemicals, no fumes, no rubber gloves needed, no scrubbing.  Sometimes sheer soaking is all the cleaning power that's needed!

If you have a gas stove and you aren't using the stovetop grates that night at all, put them in the dishwasher or wash and dry them by hand. 

(More instructions on cleaning a stovetop and an oven well are in the book Speed Cleaning, written by Jeff Campbell.  It is a superb book for learning how to clean your whole house thoroughly but in a relatively quick and definitely a very efficient manner.)

If you own a stainless steel appliance(s), then you may need to use a cleaner designed just for that type of surface. However, I've found that good old lemon Pledge works just great on stainless steel, wooden tables and chairs, kitchen cabinets and any leather pieces you might own. Windex or The Clean Team's Blue Juice is good for glass and some "laminated" surfaces (like the front of a microwave).  Do be careful with Pledge in terms of where you spray it, because it will make a floor slippery if too much of it coats the floor's surface.  I prefer to just spray the Pledge on a polishing cloth right over the sink or a trash can- any Pledge that coats the sink or trashbag indirectly will cause no harm.  You can do this with a few cloths at a time, so you don't have to keep going back to the sink or trash can.  

10) Finally, we reach the floor.  Assuming that you vacuum and mop your floor once or twice a week consistently, most of time all you'll need to do is deep-clean the baseboards, the rubber part which separates your cabinets from the floor (dust bunnies love these), the edge of the flooring itself (right where it hits the cabinets and appliances) and some corners once in awhile.  No matter how good of a vacuum and mop you own and how consistent you are with cleaning, most floors will need a good hand-scrubbing in places here and there.  Also remember that mysterious abyss known as the floor under your large appliances- fridge, oven, washer/dryer (if applicable), etc.  If at all possible, move the applicances and give the floor normally covered by them a thorough vacuuming and washing.  However, if all you can do is run a dryer cleaning brush or cloth-covered cleaning wand underneath to disengage and remove some of the dirt that builds up, it's still worth celebrating.  While it's a pain to clean these unseen areas, it does help people with asthma or allergies to have that extra dirt gone.  Removing that excess dirt/dust/grease also can help your applicances run better (especially the fridge) and helps prevent fires, too. 

Here's to being an organized minimalist,
Liz 

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