Quick Dinner Cleanup Checklist 

Ten tidy-as-you-go steps that let you get half the dinner cleanup done before dessert. 

  1. Check Keep the refrigerator clear.

    A crowded refrigerator is an invitation to spills from things knocked over as you rifle through it before dinner.

  2. Check Cover the counter.

    To limit the mess when preparing meat, chicken, or fish, consider lining countertops with butcher paper (buy it from your supermarket meat department), then fold it up with the scraps and toss it when you're done.

  3. Check Fill the sink with hot, soapy water.

    As you work, drop in the tools and dishes you've used and let soak. (Put knives in a tall glass or other container so you don't risk cutting yourself later.) When it's time to straighten up, a quick drain and rinse often does the trick.

  4. Check Clean up in stages.

    Keep a bowl beside your cutting board to toss scraps into as you work, containing the mess instead of spreading it over the counter. When you're done, empty it, clear away any dishes you've used for pre-prep, and put away ingredients you don't need before you begin to cook. Do a similar deck clearing at each stage, if you can, to make working easier and buildup lighter.

  5. Check Cook cleanly.

    Line baking and roasting pans with foil or parchment paper to save scrubbing later. Slip a piece of foil or parchment between a pot's rim and the lid to keep the lid spotless. Coat measuring cups and spoons with nonstick spray so sticky ingredients, like peanut butter, molasses, and honey, slide right out and the cups and spoons clean up easily.

  6. Check Wear your towel.

    Tuck a towel into the waistband of your apron to wipe up small spills, which in turn won't sit around becoming sticky blobs that need scrubbing later.

  7. Check Use your downtime.

    While the water is boiling, the oven is heating, or onions are softening in the pan, you can be doing small-dose cleaning: Load the dishwasher to clear the sink; wipe up that spill; sweep the kitchen floor.

  8. Check Set and bus your table like a pro.

    Use a rolling cart—whether wicker, wood, or a little red wagon—to carry dishes and silverware to the table, then clear it of dirty dishes, in one trip each way.

  9. Check Clear the clutter.

    After dinner, gather the odds and ends from the rest of the house that have found their way onto the kitchen counters, the top of the refrigerator, or the floor, then put them all in a basket and have a helper find their homes.

  10. Check Run the dishwasher before bed.

    Placing similar items together in the machine means you'll make fewer trips around the room to empty it.