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Ellen McDermott
Abrasive and harsh cleansers can damage surfaces. To avoid stains and scratches, be sure to choose an appropriate cleanser.

As the designated spot for preparing and enjoying family meals, the kitchen is one of the busiest spaces in the home, making it one of the hardest rooms to keep tidy. Here, you'll find tried-and-true ways to clean just about everything in the kitchen, from the teakettle to the refrigerator.

The fundamentals

• Assign sponges to specific tasks, such as washing dishes or wiping counters. Sterilize sponges regularly by dampening and microwaving them on high for one minute or by tossing them in the dishwasher.

• Start with mild cleansers before working up to stronger chemical varieties. Lemon and distilled white vinegar help deodorize, and baking soda is a good scrubbing agent.

• Maintain freshness and order in the pantry by disposing of expired items. Many spices and baking staples lose potency in six months to one year.

• Wipe up spills as soon as they occur, before stains have a chance to set. Choose the appropriate cleanser for the material. Marble, for example, can handle only pH-neutral products.

Large appliances

COOKTOP — Wipe the stove after each use, as spills are more difficult to remove once they harden. Wash glass cooktops with a cleaning pad designed for nonstick pans. Gently scrape away caked-on food with a razor blade.

Wash burner grates every week by hand with dishwashing liquid (unless they are deemed dishwasher safe by the manufacturer). Use a scouring pad on noncoated grates and a soft sponge on coated ones. For electric burners, wipe off debris with a damp sponge. If residue remains, run the exhaust fan, turn the burners on high, and let the food burn off.

OVEN — Soak racks in warm, soapy water for several hours. Scrub them using a scouring pad. Rinse, and let dry.

Deep-clean the oven every few months or if it smokes when in use. If you have a self-cleaning unit, remove the racks, and switch to clean mode. Once the cycle is complete, wipe away residue with a damp cloth. For all other ovens, make a thick paste using 3/4 cup of baking soda, 1/4 cup of salt and 1/4 cup of water, and then spread it throughout the interior (avoid bare metal, and clog any openings with foil before starting); leave overnight. Remove with a plastic spatula, and wipe clean.

VENT HOOD — Wipe the hood's exterior with hot, soapy water and a soft cloth once a week; rinse with a second hot, damp cloth. Let dry.

Remove filters once a month, and soak them in a solution of hot water and dishwashing liquid. Brush them gently with a plastic scrub brush. Rinse and dry well before replacing.

REFRIGERATOR — Empty the unit every few months, and clean the interior with a solution of 2 tablespoons baking soda and 1 quart water. Wipe with a damp cloth, and dry with a clean towel. Remove glass shelves and drawers, and wash them in the sink. To avoid cracks and breaks, let shelves come to room temperature before replacing.

Clean condenser coils, commonly found at the back or front bottom of the unit, at least twice a year for maximum efficiency. Always unplug the refrigerator first, then use a long-handled brush or the crevice attachment of your vacuum cleaner to remove dust and dirt.

Surfaces

CABINETS — Prevent grease from building up by cleaning cabinets weekly with a sponge and soapy water. (For wooden surfaces, use a product specifically designed for natural materials.) Wipe with a damp sponge, and dry with a clean, absorbent cloth to stop streaks from occurring.

FAUCETS AND SINKS — Clean crevices around the faucet with a soft toothbrush. Buff water spots with a soft, dry cloth. For mineral deposits, mix equal parts white vinegar and water; apply with a soft cloth, rinse, and dry.

Deodorize drains twice a year by pouring in 1/2 cup baking soda followed by 1/2 cup white vinegar; plug drain tightly. Let the mixture sit for five minutes, then flush with boiling water.

FLOORS — Sweep every night to prevent dust buildup and remove tracked-in grit, which can scratch floors.

Small appliances and more

KNIVES — Wash and dry knives by hand; placing these utensils in a dishwasher can warp and dull their blades. Also avoid soaking knives, as this can cause wooden handles to shrink.

KETTLE — Dissolve mineral deposits in your kettle every few months by boiling equal parts water and white vinegar. Remove kettle from heat, and let it sit for several hours before rinsing.

MICROWAVE — Loosen caked-on residue by heating a bowl of water in the microwave on high for three minutes. Let stand for five minutes with the door closed, and then wipe the interior.

COFFEE AND SPICE GRINDER — Run white bread or uncooked rice through the grinder to pick up remaining particles and the oils they leave behind.


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