How to Solve 19 Kitchen Cleanup Conundrums
The meal is over, and your dishwasher is fully loaded. But even as this wonderful appliance begins to work its magic, you know with a sinking heart that you’ve left a stubborn set of messes behind. The grater with the dried-on cheese, the skillet with the cooked-on egg, and those grease spots on the backsplash. It’s tempting to leave till tomorrow what you don’t feel like doing tonight (raise your hand if you often relegate a sticky roasting pan to a night of soaking in soapy water, which somehow never quite works). But in most cases, it’s better—and easier—to tackle kitchen cleanup conundrums with dispatch. On the following pages, housekeeping and cooking gurus Sandra Phillips, author of A Clean Break, and Linda Cobb, author of Talking Dirty With the Queen of Clean, and chef Andrea Reusing, from Lantern Restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, share degreasing and degunking tips for everything from appliances to accessories. With these strategies in your repertoire, you can face the morning with a clean conscience.
Conundrum: Cheese Stuck to a Grater
Solution: To make grater cleanup a breeze, spritz with nonstick cooking spray before grating cheese and the residue will wipe right off.
Conundrum: Spotty Porcelain Pieces (Including Kitchen Sinks)
Solution: Fill a stained porcelain serving dish or sink with warm water, then drop in several denture-cleaning tablets and watch the stains dissolve like magic.
Conundrum: Grease Splatters on Walls and Backsplashes
Solution: Try an all-purpose cleaner that has the word degreaser on the label: Spray it directly on the spot and wipe clean with a paper towel. This is effective on walls painted with semigloss or high-gloss paint. Beware, though: Flat paint is not as forgiving―it will absorb every splash.
Conundrum: Stains on Plastic Storage Containers
Solution: Tomato sauce and other acidic foods leave stains on plastic that even the dishwasher won’t remove. Set those plastic pieces out in the sun to naturally bleach the stains away. (Rub lemon juice on especially stubborn spots first. Baking soda also works well in bleaching color out of plastic, and it helps get rid of strong odors.)
Conundrum: Refrigerator Spills
Solution: For liquids such as pickle juice and milk, simply place a microfiber cloth on the spill and wipe it up. Even better, the microfibers are slightly abrasive, so if the jam jar has left a ring on the refrigerator shelf, wet the cloth with warm water and gently scrub the jam away. To get rid of meat and poultry juices, use paper towels soaked with a diluted solution of bleach and water, since juices from meats can carry bacterial contaminants that can remain trapped in cloth dish towels and microfiber towels.
Conundrum: Freezer Spills
Solution: To clean up a leak, use an ice scraper (the same kind you would use on an ice-covered windshield) to loosen the splattered contents, and gently scrub with a wet, warm microfiber cloth.
Conundrum: Milk Scum
Solution: Cream sauces, custards, and other cooked-milk mixtures nearly always adhere to pans. To fix this problem, fill the pot with warm water and add several tablespoons of baking soda or a powdered cleanser like Bon Ami ($11 for a pack of six canisters, bonami.com). Bring to a boil and let boil until the scorched milk loosens and floats to the surface.
Conundrum: Burned-on Sugar
Solution: The best thing about sugar is that it dissolves. Pour in some boiling water, stir to loosen, and pour out. Repeat until all the sugar disappears.
Conundrum: Stovetop Splatters
- As soon as the stove has cooled enough to touch (but isn’t so cool that the spill has hardened), wipe away the mess.
- Cover dried-on spills with a wet, soapy dish cloth and let it sit while you tackle another cleaning challenge. Use the cloth to wipe up the softened spill.
- For stubborn, neglected messes, make a paste of three parts baking soda to one part water. Apply to the spill, leave on for 10 minutes, and wipe away with a damp paper towel. You can also use a nonabrasive cleanser.
Conundrum: Stains Burned onto Casserole Pans
Solution: Fill the pan with warm water, add a fresh dryer sheet to the bottom of the pan, and let soak for 15 minutes. Wash and rinse thoroughly. Alternatively, fill the pan with hot water, add a handful of baking soda, and soak for the same amount of time. Scrub with the abrasive side of a scrubber sponge, rinse, and then wash.
Conundrum: Cooked-on Egg
Solution: Add a bit of water to the skillet and return it to the heat for a few minutes. This will loosen the egg and allow you to wipe out the pan effortlessly.
Conundrum: Food Trapped in the Holes of a Colander
Solution: Use a pipe cleaner and a sponge to scrub away any stubborn remnants left in the holes.
Conundrum: Toaster-Oven Drips and Splotches
Solution: Before you clean any part of the toaster oven, unplug it. Try to attack spills while they’re still warm. Some toaster ovens have a nonstick interior, which can be cleaned with a nonabrasive cloth soaked in warm water. To clean up cheese or tomato sauce that has baked onto the coils, first let the heating unit cool, then wipe with a damp cloth. Never immerse a toaster oven in water.
Conundrum: Narrow Champagne Flutes
Solution: Bend a pipe cleaner in half, insert it deep into the crevice, rotate, and remove. Alternatively, use a baby-bottle brush. Wash the flutes in hot, soapy water. Dry with a microfiber cloth, which won’t leave lint or tiny fibers behind on the glass.
Conundrum: Rust-Prone Citrus Zesters
Solution: Don’t wash these nifty tools in water. “Dry-clean” a zester by placing it on or near a heat source, such as a still-warm oven or stovetop, or even a downdraft exhaust fan in the kitchen. The stuck-on lemon rind will eventually dry out, after which you can brush it off with a clean toothbrush.
Conundrum: A Messy Barbecue Grill Rack
Solution: As soon as the last burger comes off the grill, brush down the rack with a stiff, long-handled brush and close the lid. The dying coals will continue to burn off anything that remains on the grill, and it will be well seasoned for next time. If you have a gas grill, leave the heat on for a few minutes after brushing. If you brush the rack down after every use when it is still hot, there's no need to remove it for cleaning.
Conundrum: A Deep Fryer Full of Leftover Oil
Solution: Let the oil cool completely, then empty it into a plastic container with a lid, such as an empty margarine or cottage-cheese tub. Cover and put in the trash. Never dump fat down the drain, since it can cause clogs. Plus, liquid and solid fats don't break down easily, an issue if you have a septic system.
Conundrum: Residue on the Exterior of a Pot
Solution: Clean aluminum (without color or decorative finish), copper bottoms, stainless steel, or glass using a paste made from Bar Keepers Friend, a powdered cleaning agent (from $6, barkeepersfriend.com), and water. Wet the surface first and scrub with a soft, damp cloth. Do not leave the paste on for longer than a minute. Rinse and reapply if necessary.
Conundrum: An Oversize Roasting Pan
Solution: Add a little water to the pan (make sure it’s safe for the stovetop) and bring it to a boil to loosen the grease, scraping with a wooden spoon once or twice to break up the tough bits. Let cool, drain, wipe the remaining grease out with a dishcloth, and wash with hot, soapy water (in the bathtub, if necessary).