The germiest place in our home — or at least, the space most susceptible to germ cultivation — is undoubtedly the kitchen. Areas like the kitchen sink and objects such as the cutting board are prone to more bacteria than the toilet bowl. To avoid the dangerous germs that can cause disease, we need to replace the pots, pans and cutting boards once they’ve worn out their hygienic welcome.
How often we toss our kitchen items depends less on how long we use them, and more on how well we maintain them. This issue of maintenance really depends on one crucial factor: cleaning. That may sound obvious, but cleaning can be an intricate process, and you’re not going to want to use the same method for your knife set that you use for refrigerator coils. And those ice trays, no matter how effectively you clean them, just don’t have the kind of longevity as well cared for coffee mug.
We talked to a number of cleaning experts to get the nitty-gritty details of how to clean everything in your kitchen.
An entire article or three could be devoted to this one big-ticket item, but here’s the short version of how to clean this multifaceted machine, according to Doug Rogers, president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company.
- The outside: “Dampen a cloth with soapy water and wipe down the top, doors and sides of the fridge. For stainless steel refrigerators, use stainless steel spray. Give extra attention to the handles where grimy fingerprints linger.”
- The door seals: “Wipe them down with a soapy cloth. Dry the seals thoroughly and check that they seal properly. Replace any cracked or worn seals to improve fridge efficiency.”
- The inside: “Turn off the fridge and empty it completely, including removing crisper drawers and detachable shelves. Wipe down the interior with a soapy cloth. For a no-rinse formula, use two tablespoons of baking soda dissolved in one quart of hot water. To remove stubborn stains, create a baking soda paste with a small amount of water. Let the paste loosen the stain while you finish cleaning the rest of the fridge. Return to this trouble spot at the end.”
- Soak shelves and bins: “Wash these removable items in warm soapy water. Let stubborn stains soak, and then scrub them clean. Rinse and dry the shelves and bins thoroughly before returning them to the fridge.”
- The refrigerator coils: “These are located either on the back or the bottom of your refrigerator. First, check behind the grille at the bottom of the fridge. If you don’t see the coils there, pull the fridge away from the wall and check behind it. Wherever the coils are located, clean them with the brush attachment of your best vacuum cleaner. Cleaning the coils helps the fridge run more efficiently, which helps it last longer and decreases operating costs.”
“While a popular small appliance choice for many kitchens, blenders provide the perfect environment for stain-causing bacteria to grow,” says Gina Sloan, director of innovations at Microban. “There are several dark and cool areas where moisture can creep in and remain after cleaning; plus, residue from fruit and vegetable sugars can act as a nutrition source for those same bacteria. If you’re not using a blender with built-in antimicrobial technology, you should look to replace these appliances every few months.”
While a popular small appliance choice for many kitchens, blenders provide the perfect environment for stain-causing bacteria to grow.
For cleaning, Leanne Stapf, VP of operations, The Cleaning Authority recommends filling the blender with warm water, adding a small drop of dish soap and then turn it on for a few minutes to mix up then solution. You can then rinse with warm water and dry. “To get rid of any lingering odors, mix a 50/50 baking soda and water solution and leave the solution for 10 minutes,” she adds.
The coffee maker
“You should decalcify (remove mineral buildup) your coffee maker every 1 to 2 months,” says Stapf. “You can also gently clean it every week to help this appliance last longer. The quality of maker, amount of usage and routine maintenance can affect how long this appliance will last. In general, you can expect a good coffee maker to last around five years.”
To clean your coffee machine, Jennifer Rodriguez, chief hygiene officer at Pro Housekeepers says to run equal parts white vinegar and water mix through one brew cycle. Then run only water through another cycle to get rid of the vinegar aroma.
The tea kettle
The boiling water in a teakettle will kill germs, making this one of the easiest items to manage. But it’s important to use your kettle frequently to keep it clean on the inside and to not let the water stand for long, which “causes rust and gradual hard water deposition in the inner surfaces,” says Ivan Ong, VP of research and development at Microban. If deposition has collected inside, boil equal parts white vinegar and water and let sit for a few hours. Follow-up with a boiling rinse. Cleaning the exterior with apple cider vinegar and baking soda will help restore the shine.
The fruit bowl
A new study by Porch, a company that sets up contractors with homeowners, found that the average fruit bowl contains more than 3.4 million colony-forming units (CFUs) per square inch — 11 times the bacteria of a typical pet's food bowl. Why is the fruit bowl so filthy? Mainly because we just forget to clean it and may neglect to wash the fruit before dumping it in there (focusing instead on rinsing it before we eat).
The average fruit bowl contains more than 3.4 million colony-forming units (CFUs) per square inch — 11 times the bacteria of a typical pet's food bowl.
Make sure fruit is thoroughly washed before placing it in the fruit bowl, and clean the container “weekly with a detergent solution and wipe or stand dry before reusing,” says Ong.
Pots and pans
These can be hand-washed or blasted in the dishwasher after use, but nonstick pans usually need to be chucked after a year or two at most, says Stapf. You can get the most out of these items by storing them smartly.
“To extend the lifespan of these items and prevent scratching, try putting a liner in-between if you stack them in storage, use proper utensils to stir food, wait for the pan to cool down before washing and avoid putting them in the dishwasher,” she notes.
“When washing dishware in the dishwasher, it’s important to leave enough space for water to move freely — don’t over-stuff it,” advises Stapf. “Place bowls faced toward the back (so you can’t see the inside from below) and put them on the top rack of the washer.”
“When cleaning [silverware], it’s important to not let the utensils soak in water for a long period of time and to use mild soap and warm water when rinsing,” says Stapf. “When using a dishwasher, load spoons and forks with the handle down, and place knives in a separate section to prevent scratching. Periodically, you can also polish your silverware to remove and build up or discoloration. Stainless steel flatware is very durable and with proper care, can last a lifetime.”
Stapf recommends cleaning knives with warm water, soap and a wash cloth. “Avoid scrub pads as they can sometimes damage the finish, also avoid washing them in the dishwasher.” By regularly cleaning and sharpening the blades, a good knife set can last a lifetime.
“Ice trays are exposed to many different types of food in your freezer, so it can be common for odors to absorb into the ice cubes, causing them to taste funny,” notes Stapf. “To clean out your tray, run it under warm water to get rid of any ice residue. You can mix two teaspoons of baking soda to half a cup of warm water and scrub the solution into each section with a cloth. Rinse with warm water and you should be all set. Depending on the quality and amount of usage, ice trays can last from one to a few years.”
Tupperware and plastic containers
You can hand wash Tupperware (per the company’s recommendations), but these plastic items that you may want to try to phase out of your kitchen life. They don’t last long and the cons outweigh the pros.
“If plastic, it’s important to keep track of how long you’ve had the Tupperware, as chemicals can migrate out of the plastic when heating up,” notes Stapf. “If the Tupperware is cracked, discolored or deformed, it’s time to throw it out. Glass storage containers last much longer, are safer and more eco-friendly.”
“While helpful for cleanup, drainers can harbor stain-causing bacteria, mold and mildew thanks to their wet environment and close contact with a variety of surfaces. Be sure to wipe the drainer down after each use,” says Sloan. “A dish drainer with built-in antimicrobial technology will provide an inhospitable environment for mold, mildew and bacteria for the life of the product; otherwise, these items should be replaced every one to three months.”
Mugs and glasses
“Simply put [these] in the dishwasher; the hot temperatures and heated dry cycle will keep your mugs and glasses germ-free,” says Stapf, reminding us all to take home our favorite work coffee mugs nightly for a wash down. “With good care, mugs and glasses can last a lifetime.”
“Wash well in hot water daily, preferably using bleach,” says Ong. “Dish towels are used to wipe all manner of surfaces and items in the kitchen and tend to stay moist; hence it is good practice to change them daily.”
The trash can
“To clean your trashcan while the bag is out, take a half vinegar to water solution and wipe the can down,” says Stapf, noting that this not only disinfects but also eliminates lingering odors. “Another idea is to sprinkle a bit of baking soda in the bottom of the can. Ideally, you should be changing your trash bag every one to three days to minimize odors.”
MORE CLEANING HACKS
Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.