30 May, 2018
Kitchen Care and Cleaning Tips — Part 3
This week, we’ll wrap up by covering the following topics:
• Cleaning the garbage disposal and sink — How to keep it smelling fresh and looking clean.
• Disinfecting — From counter tops to cutting boards, it’s important to keep your kitchen sanitized.
• Good kitchen habits — We’ll go over some safe practices and a good housekeeping schedule.
• Kitchen life hacks — Find out how to make your baked goods stay fresh, keep your milk from spoiling, and keep your produce how you like it.
Once you’ve worked through the points in this post, you’ll be a master at keeping your kitchen clean, orderly, and running smooth. You’ll be a bona fide guru when it comes to all things culinary, and your friends will be ever impressed by your seemingly endless wellspring of knowledge. You will be wise, learned, unstoppable… You will be… a WIZARD.
YES, A WIZARD!
Now, come, let us finish your training…
And with one of the most anti-climactic transitions in the history of this blog, we move on to sink cleaning.
While most of the work was explained in part 2, where we talked about cleaning metal, there’s more to it than just stain removal. Food particles, grease, plant clippings, crumbs, sponge water, and who knows what else passes through your sink on a somewhat regular basis. Organic material, no matter how small a trace, provides food for bacteria, and bacteria isn’t usually something you want in your kitchen. So, in the interest of keeping your kitchen sink from becoming a petri dish, there are a couple of simple rules to follow:
1) After you wash your dishes, the last thing you should always wash is your sink basin. Scrub it with dish soap, rinse it clean, and if you have hot water left in your kettle after making tea or coffee, pour it down and around your sink.
2) At least once per week, disinfect your sink with Clorox wipes or another bacteria-killing cleaner. Make sure you not only get the basin(s), but that you also wipe down the area around the sink and get into the crevasses where the sink meets the counter top.
Another important aspect of sink maintenance is garbage disposal care. I use my garbage disposal a lot because I toss my vegetable scraps down there, so I haven’t had the issue of food bits gathering in the disposal in a long time. If you’re like college-me and you really don’t eat as many vegetables as you probably should or just don’t put stuff down the disposal all that often, toss a handful of ice cubes or a couple of lemon rinds into the disposal once a week, and while running the water, turn on the disposal. I also recommend using a drain trap to cover the opening to the void- I mean the disposal. It’ll just keep water from splashing out, or, you know, rogue ice fragments from shooting out into your kitchen. Just a suggestion.
Just as with your sink, your counter tops are wonderful breeding grounds for bacteria of all kinds. Seriously, I wish I was kidding, but the NIH did a study on the bacteria that grows in your kitchen, and it’s pretty bad. Before we continue, just to drive home the importance, take a look at the study (complete with a color-coded map!) and/or this news article about where bacteria is most commonly found in your kitchen. Grossed out yet?
Good, let’s clean the kitchen.
My kitchen is laid out in a horseshoe, so I’m just going to work around, starting from where I’m sitting. Will you die if you don’t do these things? No, but you might get sick, and if you need to be… re-encouraged to clean your kitchen, just look at the articles above again.
You should be wiping down the surface you eat on every day. Better yet, wipe down after each meal, and don’t just use a sponge (we talked about why sponges are gross in part 1), use a disinfectant wipe or disinfecting spray and a clean paper towel (not a rag).
Just like the kitchen table, these should be wiped down after every use. Even if you don’t cook at home that often, you should be wiping down your counter tops once a week, at the absolute least. Whether you see it or not, dust, coffee grounds, little drips and spills, and sink water splashes accumulate on your counters daily. Most people at least make themselves a bowl of cereal or something small like that at some point in the week, and how many times have you poured cereal, Goldfish crackers, etc. and had one piece miss the bowl and skitter onto the counter? (If you haven’t, well… Haven’t you ever tried pouring something when you were tired??) Cleaning your counters ensures that you not only wipe up and crumbs left behind by that stray piece of food, but the next time it happens, it falls onto a clean surface. If bacteria, mold, and other nasties don’t bother you, remember that crumbs and bits of food also attract bugs and mice, and while you may not be grossed out by their presence (or the fact that they can also make you sick), remember that if they get into your food, that food has to go in the trash.
Stove and Oven
We covered how to clean your oven in part 2, and since ovens get remarkably hot whenever you use them, they’ll stay food-safe as long as they’re kept clean and free of spills. Stoves come in a few different varieties. Most are predominantly solid (or entirely solid if you’ve got one of those cool glass cook tops… Your job is easy) and can therefore be wiped down with a disinfectant wipe, followed by a dry wipe or towel to pick up the dust. Part 2 also covered how to clean under the coils if your oven is the same style that mine is.
Your stove should be wiped down after every use, because, even if you used lids and even if you don’t see it, oil, water, and bits of food almost always manage to find their way out of the pot or pan and onto the stove top. Just wipe it down with a disinfecting wipe as soon as you’re done — That way, you don’t have to worry about trying to clean stains off of your (possibly white) stove top.
I have a stand mixer out on my counter because I got tired of hoisting it off the top shelf every time I wanted to use it. Whenever I prepare food near it, I make sure to wipe down the exterior surfaces, and if I haven’t used it in a few weeks, I wash the pieces before I use it next. After I’m done using it, I make sure to not only clean all the parts that I used, but I wipe down the body of the mixer as well. Eventually, I’ll get a dust cover for the mixer. I also have a tea kettle on my stove. My toaster is not only next to my stove, but also at the back of a very busy section of counter. I wipe it down whenever I use that part of my counter or at least with the weekly wipe-down. If you have any small appliances out on your counter, make sure you clean them whenever you cook or prep near them, and for toasters, don’t forget to empty the crumb tray. If it smells like burning bread every time you make toast, it probably needs to be emptied (the door or tray is usually on the bottom of the toaster). Depending on how often you toast stuff and the capacity of your toaster, empty it at least every few months.
Wipe down your cabinets every time you spill something down them, of course. I tend to spill flour down the front of a couple of mine about 8 times out of 10 (my mixer gets a little overly-enthusiastic if I add the flour in too quickly). The cabinet that holds my kitchen trash gets wiped down whenever I wipe down the counter. The upper cupboards, unless something splashes on them, get wiped down every month or so. Since these aren’t surfaces that generally touch the food we put in our mouths, cleaning them at least monthly is recommended, making sure you wipe up accidental messes along the way. While you’re wiping down the cabinets, make sure you get the door handles around your kitchen as well.
Here’s one that often gets overlooked.
Make sure you wipe down the exterior (or at least the handles — I know I’ve got magnets and stuff all over my fridge and freezer doors) every time you wipe down your counters. As for the interior, clean up messes as they appear, and wipe down the shelves and drawers every month, at the absolute least. The crisper and meat drawers of your fridge are two places that bacteria love to live. Another suuuuuper important point about maintaining a safe fridge and freezer is properly cleaning house after a power outage. I grew up in the Northeast where weather was unpredictable and majorly inconvenient for most of the year. Take a look at my article for how to clean out your fridge and freezer after a power outage to keep yourself and your family safe and healthy.
As someone who’s been in and maintained college apartments, floors are areas of the house that tend to get overlooked when things get super busy. Kitchen floors are especially prone to this neglect because they’re usually linoleum, which is a pain in the a** to vacuum (there’s a reason I have an area rug covering 60% of my kitchen floor…). To make vacuuming easier, set the carpet clearance (usually a little bar at the front of the vacuum) to its lowest setting. Make a run around the kitchen with that before using the hose attachment to get under cabinets, along the wall, and under the stove. I vacuum the whole house weekly, partially because we usually have lots of people over at least once a week, partially because I’m a neat-freak, and partially because I shed like a Wookiee. Once-a-week vacuuming also makes it easy to maintain a clean household in general (you’d be surprised how much dust and dirt end up in a carpet over the course of seven days, especially when you have anywhere from two to six people tracking stuff in on a regular basis). A final cleaning note on kitchen floors: Linoleum can and should be wet-wiped. Whether you use a Swiffer wet mop, a bucket of cleaning solution and a squeeze mop, or a few disinfecting wipes and your hands, make sure you wipe your floors with some sort of disinfecting solution at least once a month. Spills and food bits end up on the floor, and the best way to make sure there’s nothing sweet or smelly left behind for ants to find is to wipe it up with wet cleaner.
Ah, the microwave — Probably one of the scariest appliances in the college realm, not because of its complexity, but because of its frequent use and infrequent cleaning. *shudder*
Microwaves are one of those appliances that is definitely easier to keep clean than it is to try to clean all at once after several cataclysms have occurred within its walls. Part 2 talks about how to clean dried food, and, specifically, how to loosen dried-on krud in your microwave (because it happens to all of us). Fixer-uppers and accidents aside, microwaves are pretty easy to clean. Remove the glass dish that rotates your food and wash it in the sink with soap and water. While the dish is out, wipe down the inside of it with a disinfecting wipe or two. Clean your microwave every couple of weeks (or more often if you use your microwave a lot). If you have issues with your food going boom in the microwave (I had one that used to blow up eggs… Every… Single… Time…), try lowering the power setting or microwaving in shorter intervals if the power setting adjustment doesn’t help. To find the power settings/how to adjust them, check the inside edge of your microwave door.
Good habits don’t develop overnight. What’s more, everyone’s habits and standards are different. Maybe you work two or three jobs and don’t have time to clean or organize like I do. Maybe you have clinical OCD and you feel the need to do these things every day. Everyone is different, and that’s okay. So, if you can’t clean your counters every day, and it’s a good week if you get the time to make one meal at home, leaving your appliances and surfaces largely untouched, that’s okay.
No matter what your schedule is, here are a few habits that you can follow as you go that will help you stay sane and safe in the long run:
• Clean as you go. Even if you don’t have time for those full-kitchen cleanups, you can always clean as you go, which saves you from having to spend three or more hours of your day off cleaning up last week’s dishes.
• Don’t leave knives in the sink, clean or dirty. Clean your knives when you’re done using them, dry them off, and put them away. It’s better for your cutlery and you won’t have to worry about accidentally bumping that paring knife off the counter and into the ground just inches from your pinky toe.
• When you use your small appliances — blenders, food processors, french presses, etc. — make sure you disassemble them completely to clean them. Pieces of food can get trapped between the blade and its mount or in the rubber seals, so always take apart your appliances to clean them.
• Don’t leave water sitting in your tea kettle, especially if you have hard water. Leaving water to sit in your kettle can cause the kettle to rust from the inside. It can also lead to the buildup of hard water residue, which is tough to clean out of the inside of a tea kettle (I speak from experience here).
• Use airtight containers for your grains, sugars, and cereals. It’ll keep the contents fresh for longer and it will keep bugs out. If you have open bags of chips or cereal, close them tightly by dog-earing the corners of the bag (think like you’re folding a paper airplane: fold the corners toward an imaginary center line, making a point at the top of the bag) and then roll the bag tightly all the way down to the contents. If you have a bag clip (or a hair clip), use that to keep the bag from coming unrolled.
• Do a monthly fridge check to make sure you don’t have anything in there that’s past its expiration date. If you have to make time for one kitchen upkeep task, make it this one.
The best thing about running a blog is getting to tell people all sorts of “cool” secrets, from how to get to the underside of your stove (video in part 2) to how to keep produce fresh, milk from spoiling, and cookies soft. Let’s end the three weeks of tedious cleaning with a list of some kitchen hacks that will keep your food going strong, even when you’re #done.
• You can soften hardened cookies by putting a slice of fresh bread in the bag/jar. The bread will slowly go stale, but the cookies will take on a new life and be just as soft as the day you made (or bought) them! Also, keeping your cookies in an airtight container (like a Ziploc bag) will make them last a whole lot longer.
• You can also use slices of bread to keep sliced cake fresh for longer. Just place a slice over each exposed face where you made a slice.
• Keep your potatoes in a breathable sack or basket in a dark, cool place to keep them from sprouting longer. If they look like they’re getting ready to sprout eyes anyway, put an apple in with them. Just make sure you check on the apple.
• Whether you just bought unripe bananas from the grocery store (don’t we all) or you can’t wait three more days to make that banana bread, you can speed up the ripening of bananas by putting them in a sealed brown paper bag. Why? Bananas (and many other fruits) release ethylene gas as they ripen. The brown bag contains the gas, speeding up the process by bathing the fruit in it. You can ripen avocados, pears, and other fruits faster by keeping them in a brown bag as well.
• You can keep your produce fresher for longer by keeping your ethylene-producing foods away from your ethylene-sensitive foods. Here’s a list of some common foods and which category they fall under. If you want to know more about keeping your produce fresher for longer, check out this other article. It talks about some of my favorite tricks, like not washing berries until you’re ready to eat them and what foods don’t belong in your fridge, as well as many other good practices for keeping your fresh food… well, fresh.
• When you divide up food to put into your freezer, make sure you vacuum seal the bag. For some foods, like chicken breasts, it’s easy enough to just roll up the bag like a sleeping bag and seal it. For other foods, it might be easier to fill a bowl with water and sink the bag in the water to push the air out before you zip the bag closed. If you have an unusual shaped food in the bag and it won’t sink, put a straw in the bag and zip it shut so it’s as close as can be around the straw. Suck out the rest of the air, pull the straw out, and then quickly zip the bag back up.
• If you find your milk spoiling quickly, it may have something to do with where you store it. Keeping your milk on the fridge door exposes it to more frequent and drastic temperature changes than if you keep it at the back of the fridge. Even if you don’t use it every day, you should make sure to shake it to keep it from stagnating. You can also add a pinch of salt to a fresh gallon of milk to make it last a little longer (like a literal pinch, don’t go nuts). Finally, if all else fails, when buying your milk at the store, check the dates. The cartons toward the back of the shelf usually have dates that are farther out.
• Speaking of spoilage, you can sort your good eggs from your bad eggs with the float test. If you put your eggs in a deep bowl of cold water, the good eggs will sink to the bottom and the bad eggs will float to the top.
• Keep your cut apples from browning with a squeeze of lemon juice.
• If keeping your brown sugar in an airtight container still isn’t enough to keep it from clumping, try storing a bit of orange peel in the container with it. The peel will slowly release moisture to keep the sugar loose and unclumped.
• If you’re pitting cherries or hulling strawberries for a confection, use a straw or a chopstick to push out the seed or the hull without the hassle of cutting.
• To soften sticks of butter quickly, boil some water in a tea kettle and pour it into tall glasses (tall enough to fit a stick of butter underneath). Let the water sit for a few minutes before pouring it out (or making tea with it) and immediately turn the hot glass over the stick of butter and let it sit until the glass is cool to the touch (about 5-10 minutes).
• You can re-liquify honey by placing the container in a bowl of hot water for 5-10 minutes.
• When reheating a plate of food in the microwave (pasta, rice, potatoes, and anything else that can be moved and arranged), create a ring of food, leaving the center of the plate empty. Your food will heat more evenly and you won’t be left with a cold spot in the center.
• This last one is on here because it took me longer than I care to admit to figure out. When pouring soup, sauce, frosting, or anything else that isn’t solid into a plastic bag, put the bag into a cup like you’d put a trash bag in a bin, folding the edges over the sides of the cup. It’ll make pouring a WHOLE lot easier