How to Clean the Kitchen After You Cook in 5 Easy Steps

Save time and resources with this streamlined approach.

Close-up of woman hand cleaning the surface of a table with a cleaning cloth at home
Photo: Basak Gurbuz Derman / Getty Images

Ever stared at your kitchen after a meal and wondered who could have made such a mess? So have we. Washing up may be the least enjoyable part of cooking at home and often takes the longest. While cleaning as you cook may sound like a smart strategy, it's not quite realistic when there's little downtime during cooking. Not to mention, multitasking can lead to its own problems, including a burnt dinner.

Next time you're in disbelief of your post-meal mess, you'll at least know where to start. We've outlined a five-step process that will help you clean your kitchen fast and efficiently so you can walk away in good spirits — and with a blank slate for your next meal.

Step 1: Put Away All Food and Ingredients

Nothing interrupts the post-meal cleanup flow like having to stop everything to find a lid for that container or figure out what to do with those chicken bones. In order to focus on the washing up, it's best to get everything you won't be washing out of the way first. Store away leftovers, discard any food scraps, and put pantry ingredients back where they belong. This is also a great time to find your favorite playlist and turn up the volume (it makes the process more fun every time).

Step 2: Wash Utensils, Plates, and Bowls

Fill a clean medium-sized bowl with soapy hot water and place it in your sink. You want to keep the sink clear for debris to make its way to the garbage disposal and so you won't have to fish for anything in cloudy water. Start with silverware and utensils (excluding kitchen knives), dunking them in the hot water, scrubbing as needed, and loading them in your dishwasher or rinsing and placing them on a drying rack. Repeat this with plates and bowls.

Step 3: Wash Pots and Pans

Lay a dish towel or two on your counter. Place your pot, skillet, baking dish, or sheet pan in the sink and pour in the hot soapy water from the bowl, or divide that water among other vessels if you used more than one. If something needs to soak, fill it with hot soapy water, place it out of the way (like on your stovetop) then return to it later. Scrub and rinse, making sure to clean the bottom and outside of your pots and pans, then place upside down on the dish towels.

Step 4: Wash Your Knives and Cutting Board

Saving your kitchen knives for last can prevent an accidental injury and keep them from ending up in the dishwasher or underneath other items in your drying rack where they could get damaged. Wash the knives by hand under hot running water. Now's also the time to clean your cutting board. Stand the board upright against your backsplash so it can dry thoroughly, which will help prevent mold.

Step 5: Put Vessels Away and Wipe Down Surfaces

Use the dish towel your cooking vessel has been drying on to wipe it and any other pots and pans dry. Put these vessels away, then use the same dish towel to quickly wipe down your counter, the stovetop, and the area around your sink. Clearing counters may seem like an unnecessary step, but your future self will thank you the next time you enter your clean-slate kitchen. Hang the towel to dry, start the dishwasher if needed, and get back to your evening.

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