How to Clean the Grossest Spots in Your Kitchen

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Kitchen oven and stovetop
Photo: Sang An

Got grimy stove grates, a gunky faucet, a filmy sink? Here's how to tackle the most cursed nooks and surfaces in your kitchen. Grab a toothbrush.

01 of 13

Sink Drain

Sink drain with water
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Sudsy dish-rinsing doesn't clear away that greasy layer covering the drain. But it's easy to erase: Sprinkle with a gentle abrasive, like Bar Keeper's Friend ($2, target.com), and scrub with a toothbrush, paying special attention to the drain's grooves. Flush clean with water. To disinfect, apply a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water using a clean rag; buff dry with a cloth.

Is this task critical or optional? Critical. The sink is the kitchen's second dirtiest spot (after the sponge). Without weekly scrub-downs, a plaquelike biofilm—containing germs from raw meat and more (eww)—can form and contaminate whatever touches it, says microbiologist Philip Tierno Jr.

02 of 13

Underneath Appliances

Oven in kitchen
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And beside and behind them. Dust and debris really pile up here. Pulling out the appliance and vacuuming with the hose and the crevice attachment is the best way to remove them. If your appliance won't (or can't) budge—or you're too scared of what you'll discover—swipe around it using the slim, bendable Oxo Microfiber Under-Appliance Duster ($18, amazon.com). Slide it behind and along the sides first to knock any dry, clinging debris to the floor. Then slide it under the appliance to grab and pull out as much as you can. Shake the duster's deposits into a garbage bag, then lightly dampen the head and swipe the same spots to remove stuck-on grime. Vacuum the surrounding floor to pick up the remnants.

Critical or optional? Technically the dirt and grime are far enough out of reach that they're generally not a significant health hazard (also, you know, out of sight, out of mind), which makes this optional. But dust can impair a machine's performance, costing you in energy bills and repairs, so it's best to clean around and under appliances seasonally.

03 of 13

Around the Sink and Faucet

Kitchen sink with granite countertop
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With an old toothbrush, use short, quick strokes to brush crumbs off the surfaces, angling the bristles to reach into crevices. Apply Mrs. Meyer's Vinegar Gel Cleaner ($4, walmart.com) and let sit 3 minutes. (If your countertop is a porous stone, like granite, spray with a disinfecting cleaner instead.) Wipe up with a dry paper towel. If any stubborn gunk remains, unearth it with a plastic tool—either the narrow, angled Scrigit Scraper (a favorite of certified cleaning technician Donna Smallin Kuper, $7 for two, amazon.com) or the strategically sloped Lil' Chizler(the go-to for Debra Johnson, manager of training at Merry Maids, $3, amazon.com).

Critical or optional? Critical. Again, it's a cross-contamination thing: The sink and its surrounding areas can be a hazard if not cleaned thoroughly during meal prep. Tack this onto your regular countertop wipe-downs.

04 of 13

Refrigerator-Shelf Seams

Empty refrigerator
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This task is doable without removing the shelves, but it's easier if you can take them out, says cleaning blogger Melissa Maker. Make a paste of equal parts baking soda and hot water and, using an old toothbrush, gently scrub the seam where the glass meets the plastic edge. Agitating the paste lifts the grime. Rinse or wipe with a dampened sponge. If any buildup remains, chip it away with a Scrigit Scraper. Wash the shelves in the sink with soapy water, then dry and replace.

Critical or optional? Critical. A refrigerator's standard temperature—32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit—is ideal for mold and bacteria, including Listeria, to form, experts say. But a scrub-down each season and whenever you see a spill should prevent it.

05 of 13

Backsplash-Countertop Horizon

Counter with flowers and tile backsplash
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This caulk line can get dirty and discolored. To freshen it up, use a toothbrush to apply a solution of hydrogen peroxide (¼ cup) and baking soda (½ cup). (Test in an inconspicuous area first.) Let sit for about 3 minutes, then scrub gently to agitate. The peroxide bleaches away stains, and the baking soda acts as a mild abrasive to slough off gunk. Rinse with a damp, nonscrubby sponge; dry with a microfiber cloth.

Critical or optional? Optional. If your caulk isn't stained, you can skip the deep-cleaning. Just wipe it down regularly with a clean cloth to prevent dust and moisture from accumulating.

06 of 13

Stove Grates

Stove grates
Craig Cutler

Spritzing with Mean Green Super Strength Cleaner & Degreaser ($11.50, amazon.com) will get grates just as clean as soaking—in half the time. Let the solution sit for a few minutes, then wipe with a wet sponge to make sure no cleaning-product residue remains and ensure that the surface is safe to cook on. Let dry. If you do see some sticky residue, use a toothbrush to apply a paste of equal parts salt, baking soda, and water. Let sit for 30 minutes, then wipe clean with a cloth, rinse under warm water, and dry before replacing.

Critical or optional? Grates are not the germiest area, but grimy ones can make your whole kitchen feel and look unsanitary. So this one is optional, except for cosmetic and psychological reasons.

07 of 13

Microwave Touch Pad

White microwave touch pad
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Before cleaning, open the microwave so you don't activate it if you push any buttons. Wipe down the touch pad using a cotton ball dipped in a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. (Don't use paper towels, which can scratch the surface.) Then clean the surrounding frame and the door latch with a cotton swab dipped in the solution. Wipe dry with a microfiber cloth before closing the door.

Critical or optional? Critical. The touch pad is one of the top-five kitchen spots to sanitize after food prep because it can become cross-contaminated, says Elizabeth Scott, Ph.D. It's also glaringly obvious when grimy—right in guests' line of sight.

08 of 13

Range Knobs

Gas stove knobs
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If your knobs are easily removable (many just pop out), soak them for an hour in a sink filled with hot water and a few drops of dish soap. Then wipe them clean with a sponge. (Choose a nonscrubby one to avoid scratching off the dial notations.) To remove debris from the back sides of the knobs and the range surface where they attach, use the angled brush head of the Oxo Kitchen Appliance Cleaning Set ($8, amazon.com). Have nonremovable knobs? Clean them with hot, soapy water, using the same angled brush to get into the grooves. Wipe clean with a damp cloth or sponge.

Critical or optional? Critical. Just like the microwave touch pad, knobs can become cross-contaminated during cooking. To disinfect quickly, give them a wipe-down with a bleach solution (see Sink Drain) when you're cleaning up after meal prep.

09 of 13

Refrigerator and Freezer Door Gaskets

Open refrigerator on white
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First clear dry debris by sweeping the gasket's accordion folds with a small whisk broom, catching debris in the dustpan so it doesn't land inside the appliance. Next, tackle hardened grime: Wipe with a microfiber cloth dipped in a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water. (The vinegar's acidity cuts through dirt and neutralizes odors, but you need to dilute it to avoid damaging the gasket's surface.) Let dry five minutes, then coat with a thin layer of petroleum jelly to prevent sticking and tearing.

Critical or optional? Most of the debris gets trapped inside the gasket's rubber folds, so you don't have to see it, making this task optional. But because debris can wear down the seal and keep the appliance from staying cool, cleaning it four times a year is recommended.

10 of 13

Inside the Toaster Oven

Toaster oven on white
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Unplug the oven and place the tray and the rack in the sink. With a nonscrubby sponge, coat each with a paste made from 2 tablespoons cream of tartar and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. (The acidity of the juice dissolves grease, and the cream of tartar revives the shine.) Next, apply more of the paste to the oven's interior and exterior, rubbing section by section in a zigzag pattern. Let sit 5 minutes, then wipe off the paste with a clean, damp sponge, rinsing as needed. Buff dry with a microfiber cloth. Finally, rinse the rack and the tray with warm water, dry, and replace.

Critical or optional? Critical. Stuck-on crumbs are a hazard—they can cause a toaster oven to smoke (and your kitchen to stink), and they can even attract vermin (ick). They're also an eyesore. Eliminate the task in the future with this hack: Cut a reusable nonstick oven liner to the size of the toaster's drip tray; take the liner out and rinse when it's time to clean.

11 of 13

Dishwasher Seal and Detergent Dispenser

Detergent tablet in dishwasher
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To clean the seal, use a cotton swab dipped in white vinegar (which dissolves hard-water deposits). Follow with a barely damp microfiber cloth. For the dispenser, use the Scrigit Scraper to chisel off hardened detergent or food particles. When the interior of the dishwasher is empty and dry, vacuum up the debris using the crevice attachment.

Critical or optional? Optional-ish. Detergent buildup on the dispenser is an issue because it can throw off the soap distribution for loads. The fix is a monthly refresh: Pour a cup of white vinegar in a dishwasher-safe glass bowl and place it in the top rack, then run the machine. Tackling the grimy seal is a personal choice.

12 of 13

Crumby Corners of the Utensil Drawer

Utensil drawer
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First get the utensil tray out of the way. If it's removable and dishwasher-safe, load it into the top rack of the machine. If it is made of bamboo or wood or is not removable, wipe it clean with a rag dipped in warm, soapy water and let it air-dry. Next, use your vacuum's crevice attachment or a lint roller to pick up crumbs that have collected in the drawer. Even the stickiest lint rollers (like Scotch-Brite 50% Stickier Lint Roller, the pick of cleaning pro Becky Rapinchuk, $6, target.com) can't get into tight corners, though. Grab crumbs there using a butter knife wrapped with a piece of the lint roller's sticky paper.

Critical or optional? This is not an out-in-the-open spot, and there's typically not a huge amount of grime that ends up here, so this one is optional. But it's an easy task to conquer when most of the silverware is out of the drawer, in the dishwasher.

13 of 13

Raised Panels on Cabinet Doors

White kitchen cabinets with raised panels
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Cooking grease and dust accumulate here. (Look closely. See?) To clear it, wipe the panels with a cotton ball soaked in a mild soap, like Dr. Bronner's ($16, target.com). Remove any residue with a damp microfiber cloth and buff dry. Dusting every so often can keep the panels grime-free.

Critical or optional? Optional. These spots are not germ magnets, but they're easy to swipe while you're standing around, say, waiting for water to boil. And it's hugely satisfying to see all the grime that comes off (at least according to Real Simple editors).

  • Debra Johnson, manager of the training program at Merry Maids, a national cleaning company.
  • Melissa Maker, founder of the Clean My Space cleaning company, YouTube channel, and blog.
  • Becky Rapinchuk, cleaning expert and creator of Cleanmama.net.
  • Elizabeth Scott, Ph.D., associate professor of biology and chair of the department of public health at Simmons College, in Boston.
  • Donna Smallin Kuper, certified housecleaning technician and author of Cleaning Plain & Simple.
  • Philip Tierno Jr., professor of microbiology and pathology at the New York University School of Medicine, in New York City.
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