10 Tricks to Keeping Your Kitchen Clean While You Cook


I have a food blog and a growing family. So, I'm in my kitchen — my tiny kitchen — a lot. Cooking, baking, or whatever else I find myself doing, things can get out of hand if I don't stay on top of the mess. And fast! Over the years, I've developed some trusty tips and tricks to keep things under control. (See also: 25 Tips for Quick and Easy Cleaning)

1. Start Fresh

My husband's cardinal rule to keeping order while cooking is to always start with a clean kitchen. That way, the mess you create is your only worry. In practice, we try to make sure the kitchen is clean before going to bed each night. Washed dishes are put away, dirty ones are placed in the dishwasher, leftovers are put in containers for the fridge or freezer, and no ingredients are left out.

2. Cook Simpler Meals

Another preemptive strike against dirty counters is to pare down your cooking routine. Try five-ingredient meals, for example. There are also a lot of great one-pot cooking or slow cooker recipes that mean fewer dishes to clean or ingredients to prepare. Whenever I see a recipe with over 10 ingredients (even fewer, really), I skip it and try something else. Say it with me: Simple food equals simpler cleaning.

3. Prep Ahead of Time

Sunday afternoon is when I prepare a lot of meals or ingredients for use during the week. I get my chopping done if stir-fries are on the menu and make sure to place those veggies in air-tight containers. I make other staples (like applesauce, muffins, and even freezer waffles) from scratch and wrap for storage. Basically, I try to do a good chunk of my cooking — or at least prep work — for the week on one day. The mess is intense, I won't lie, but it's contained to a single afternoon, meaning a cleaner kitchen for the next six days. (See also: Cook in Bulk to Save Time and Money)

4. Use Fewer Dishes or Utensils

While cooking or baking, I try to re-use measuring cups, mixing spoons, or bowls whenever possible. It usually means a quick rinse and dry, but it saves time. Better yet, skip the utensils and use your hands. Many recipes can be mixed with hands, including breads, salads, meatballs, and veggie burgers. And I love this restaurant tip for placing a jar of warm water near your cooking area to dip those dirty mixing spoons.

5. Keep Moving

A lot of these tips already are great clean-as-you-go suggestions. There's no better way to say it, though. You just have to keep moving. If the muffins need to bake for 20 minutes, you have time to clean. If there's a rise time involved, there's time to clean. If the water needs to come to a boil before the next step — you've got it — there's time to clean. It's funny how we overlook those five to 10 (or more!) minute spans that might otherwise make our jobs easier in the long haul. Clean first, and you'll have more time to relax and enjoy your meal later.

6. Collect Food Waste

I learned this next tip from my high school boyfriend's mother. I don't have a lot of counter space, so when I'm peeling, chopping, or slicing fruits and vegetables, the mess piles up fast. Always keep a large bowl nearby so you can swiftly collect all this organic waste and either send it down the garbage disposal or put in your compost in the warmer months. Not only does this method keep my workspace clean, it also saves us (substantial) money on our garbage tags and helps to nourish our garden. (See also: Beginner's Guide for the Lazy Composter)

7. Make Your Own Solution

We gave up store bought cleaning supplies a long time ago. Why? Too many weird ingredients and chemicals, which become especially concerning when sprayed near food prep areas. For kitchen cleaning, we use a simple solution made from equal parts water and vinegar, and we occasionally add a splash or two of some rubbing alcohol or lemon juice for good measure. Having a homemade spray saves time because we know it's safe, even if it hasn't totally dried and accidentally gets on food. Plus, it's inexpensive.

8. Employ a Rag System

We've banished paper towels in our home because they pile up, making more garbage or, in other words, waste. We now have around 20 clean rags (a mix of nubby washcloths and tea towels) that we have ready in a bag at the start of each week. We use two to four each day between kitchen and general cleaning tasks. When they are dirty, we place them in another bag and collect to wash. We never run out of these towels versus when we used a paper system. When it's time to wash, use hot water to sanitize and get all the icky stuff out.

9. Clean Spills and Splats ASAP

Tomatoes are a big offender in our household because we love homemade tomato sauce and tomato-based soups and stews. Inevitably, we get lots of red/orange drips and drops all over our stove-top. And walls. And ceiling. A quick wipe with a rag gets it clean in no time, so long as it's a fresh splatter. Whatever it is in your kitchen, get those wet spills up before they harden or even bake onto the surface. You'll save yourself time and frustration later. (See also: 14 Tips for Removing Grease and Oil Stains)

10. Try Canned, Frozen, or Dry Ingredients

Bags of frozen vegetables, cans of beans, or scoops of rice are lifesavers for nights when I simply don't feel like cleaning. They are often budget-friendly alternatives to fresh forms, too, depending on the time of year. Bonus: There's nearly zero prep-work involved. Simply tear open the bags of veggies and pour into soups or mix into stir-fries. Crack open cans of beans, rinse, and plop onto salads or mix into veggie burgers. Or spoon rice or pasta into boiling water and let it plump up to enjoy with the rest of your meal.

How do you keep your kitchen clean while you cook? We'd love to hear your tips!

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Guest's picture

Suggestion for no. 7:

Instead of using alcohol, use hydrogen peroxide. The lemon and hydrogen peroxide will eliminate stains as well as odors.

When you walk into clinics or hospitals you never smell bleach or alcohol because they use hydrogen peroxide in their cleaners/disinfectants.

Ashley Marcin's picture

Thanks for the tip, Kimberly!

Guest's picture

I wish I could get my wife to clean as she cooks. She tends to clean after the mess gets so bad that there are lots of dried spots on the counters or stove top. I always clean the kitchen counters before I cook as well as during and afterward. I hate setting something on the counter and having it stick because there was a sticky spot from my wife's cooking or food prep. Don't get me started on how long she'll leave grease spatter on the stove top and surrounding areas. I am usually always the one to clean that up because I don't want to put something down on drying grease. I have mentioned to her how troubling all these non-clean things are to me, and she cleans better for a few days, but she falls into the old habits soon after.

Guest's picture
Brockney C

Good stuff! One to add to number 5 - if you do not have a dishwasher then wash some of the utensils as you go, and put the pots and pans into soak as you are serving up.

Another good one is to make more than you need and stick the excess in the freezer for later use.

And finally, if the other half nags you to wash up after then do so, there is nothing worse than coming back to the dishes later!

Ashley Marcin's picture

Great tips! We lived without a dishwasher for many, many years (and now we have one of those mini rolling ones) -- and soaking is definitely the key!

Guest's picture

Really great tips. I always try to clean as I go; makes it much more bearer after you're stuffed and exhausted post-dinner. Thanks for the reminders.

Ashley Marcin's picture

Agreed, Mikey! Glad you enjoyed the article :)

Guest's picture

Number 5 is my favourite. I always try to clean during the down times... and mostly end up washing utensils I still need. The real problem is cleaning after myself once I'm done cooking.

Guest's picture
Phil @ Meridian

Hi Ashley, firstly great blog post. As a carpet cleaner myself I find cleaning at home more of a chore! But funnily enough I agree with number one. Only 2 weeks ago after watching Saturday Morning Live, they cooked Lamb and the following day I attempted to do it myself. I firstly made sure the surfaces were all clean, then made the mess and cooked before cleaning up! ps it was lovely :)

Ashley Marcin's picture

Thanks, Phil! :) And I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

Guest's picture

This is pretty helpful to me. I'm just getting more serious about cooking healthier meals at home and while I enjoy the process, I hate the clean up. And I don't have a dish washer. I really need to keep #5 in mind... Being confronted by a huge mess at the end of a meal is daunting!

Ashley Marcin's picture

Indeed! I’ll be brutally honest and tell you that I go in waves with how clean I’m able to get my kitchen after cooking. :) Hahah but it’s worth a try since it makes the whole process more enjoyable. Best to you with your new cooking adventures!