There was a time when I cooked in commercial kitchens where I had a dishwasher who’s only job was to clean up after my mess and wash the dishes while I cooked. It was glorious. But in real life, we’ve gotta clean up our own dishes.
I don’t know about you, but I’m almost 30 and there’s still something wonderfully rebellious about leaving a mess in the kitchen and walking away. That’s fun, but not every day.
Clean As You Go
The absolute most important cooking habit to learn is something we all should’ve learned when we were kids: Clean as you go. Most meals you’ll make don’t require 100% full attention 100% of the time. Most of the time, you’ll have a few seconds or minutes between kitchen tasks. Don’t use this time to doddle, use it to clean.
Categorize Your Messes
Take a glance around your counters and categorize your next move by what is making most of the mess. If you have trash everywhere, do a trash sweep. If you have dirty dishes all over the counters that you’re not using anymore, do a dish sweep and toss them in the dishwasher. If you see kid’s toys or non-kitchen items all over the place, put it all in a container and move them. The important part is to be efficient as you move around the kitchen.
Trash the Scraps Together
If you’re using a cutting board and chopping lots of veggies, or if you have a lot of leftover trash, keep it in one area as you progress. In other words, don’t stop after every vegetable to throw away the scraps. Wait till all of the veggies are finished being cut, then throw all the scraps away at once.
At The Dinner Table
When I worked at a summer camp, at the end of each meal, we would consolidate at the table. We’d drop our silverware in a cup, scrape unused food into one bowl, stack the plates, and even go crazy with consolidating the cups and stack them 10 high. Some of that may not work for you, but get your kids in the habit of helping you before they even leave their seats.
Let Your Guests Help
When I was living in Slovakia, my team got in the habit of working together to clean one another’s kitchens. Actually, we loved it. Sometimes we’d play music and have a grand ol’ time. It was also the unspoken rule that the sooner we’d clean up, the sooner we’d have desert.
This may not be appropriate all of the time, depending on your guests. But if your guests want to help, let them! Some weird people, like me, actually enjoy helping my host clean their kitchen after dinner. It’s the least I can do after being treated to a delicious meal. Also, some socially awkward people like me actually find comfort in cleaning around a big crowd of people.
If you don’t have or use a dishwasher, fill your sink with hot soapy water. Whenever you’re done with a dish, toss it in. Just make sure not to put sharp objects, like knives, in with the dishes. That was a sin in culinary class.
Also, categorize the dishes as you wash them. Leave the silverware for last, as they’ll sit in the bottom of the sink and soak. I usually wash the stack of plates first, then cups, then pots & pans, then silverware, but do whatever makes sense.
If your water is super hot, use some sweet dishwashing gloves. For extra fun, get some custom gloves.
Get Easy to Clean Gear
About every 9-12 months I buy a sweet new non-stick pan. If you keep your pan in good shape, it will literally take you 5-10 seconds to clean it. Don’t put it in the dishwasher and don’t use metal in it. If you’re using a warped piece of crap pan with scratches all over it, you’ll probably notice that it takes a few minutes to clean. Trash it and go get a new one. That goes for all your nonstick pots and pans, for the most part.
Make it a Game
When you wash the dishes, especially if you have a huge pile of them and especially if you hate dishwashing (or you’re in a hurry), treat this task as a game. How fast can you clean the sink o’ dishes? Can you and/or your partner finish within 5 minutes? Remember, anything you hate doing will be more fun if you make a game out of it. I don’t have kids yet, but I intend on involving them on the “Cleaning Game” after the meals. They’ll get into it if they have a reason to be competitive.
I also thoroughly enjoy cleaning a kitchen with loud, fast music.
Counters Are Last
Don’t stop every 2 minutes to clean the counters or stove. Keep them for the very last thing you do. After the leftovers are put away and the dishes are done, do 1 sweep with cleaning spray all over the counters, stove, and any other dirty area. Then, depending on how nasty your work areas are, do 1 rough wipe down and get the big chunks of stuff, and then 1 more wipe down to make everything look sexy. If your trash needs to be taken out, now’s a great time too. That way, it won’t smell up your space by the next day.
Why is All of This Important?
One excuse I hear for not wanting to cook at home is the “massive cleanup” afterwards. It really doesn’t have to be as big of a deal as you think. If you forego all of this advice and destroy your kitchen every night, it’s no wonder it’s so daunting.
When you start enjoying cooking at home, you’ll:
- Save money by not going out so much
- Grow in your cooking skills
- Eat healthier
- Have more control over what you’re feeding yourself and your family