Debra Lynn Dadd

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Cleaning Up the Kitchen for the Holidays

A local paper asked me to write an article about doing a thorough cleaning of the kitchen naturally, in preparation for the holidays. Even though we think of spring as the time to do such a deep cleaning, with Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve, and other winter holidays coming up, we'll all be doing more cooking than usual as family and friends gather around our tables for traditional celebrations. So before all that cooking starts, I agreed autumn is a great time to get your kitchen spic and span in preparation for all the delicious activity. The idea of this feels so good to me, I think I'll plan to do this every year.

Though we all do a surface cleaning of our kitchens on a regular basis--washing dishes, cleaning countertops, and the like--a lot of grit and grime can build up in a kitchen over time that we aren't even aware of. Grease can stick to walls, crumbs hide behind containers, spills and overflows from cooking stick to the stove. Every once in a while, we do need to clean the whole kitchen to keep it hygenic, if nothing else.

It's easier and more pleasant to cook in a clean kitchen, and healthier and safer for your family and guests, too.

Of course, as we do all this cleaning, it's best to do it with nontoxic and natural cleaners, or you will find yourself in a cloud of toxic chemicals.

Once I had the idea that I'd like to give my kitchen a good cleaning for the holidays, I went in my kitchen, took a good look around, and started making a list. I soon realized that it was more than I could do all at once, and, in fact, I didn't actually know how to clean some things (maybe that's why they don't get cleaned!). So here is my list and the instructions I've created for myself. I'm just going to go down the list and do the items one by one until they are all done.

0. Prepare to clean.

This may sound obvious, but it is a step many people often omit (including myself!).

Decide what you are going to clean, make sure you have an idea of how you are going to clean it, and gather all your cleaning supplies for the job. This way, if you don't have the proper cleaner or cleaning tool, you can get it before you are standing on top of a ladder.

1. Do the dishes.

If you have any dirty dishes sitting on counters, on the stove, or in the sink, do them first and put them away. If you have a dishwasher (I don't), put the dishes in the dishwasher.

2. Clear away the clutter.

There is a law of nature that says, "Nature abhors a vacuum." It's true. Wherever there is an empty space, nature will fill it up, like weeds will sprout on bare soil. That law seems to apply to empty countertops as well. Whenever I clear a space, we seem to put things there that just stay, whether it's the right place for it or not.

So the first step is simply to put everything away and throw away anything that is no longer needed--especially outdated food, whether on the counter, in cabinets, or the refrigerator or freezer. Remove anything from the kitchen that doesn't belong there, and put it in it's proper place in another room.

Don't be concerned about organizing things at this step. Just pick up things and put them either where they go or in the trash. Designate a spot on a counter or table to put things that need a home, and put them there, so you can find a place for them later.

3. Get organized.

I've also found that periodically, I need to reorganize. I get everything organized, and then new things come into the kitchen for which there are no places. So they just get stuffed here and there.

Also take a look at what is working and what isn't in terms of where things are placed. A good way to organize is to put the things you use most frequently near at hand, like cooking utensils right next to the stove.

I heard a chef of a busy restaurant once say that all his tools and food ingredients were so well organized that he could find everything immediately with his eyes closed. ANd he needed it to be that way because efficiency is important in a busy restaurant. I've started to incorporate that idea in my kitchen and it really does save time. Particularly in the refrigerator. It also makes it easier to see what needs to be replaced when it's time to go shopping.

4. Clean the ceiling and walls.

When you are cleaning, it's always best to start at the top, as bits of dirt and water will fall down onto counters and floors.

Begin with a simple dusting. A good tool for this is a wool duster on the end of a long pole. They can be purchased at most housewares stores like Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Linens 'N Things, and office supply warehouses like Office Depot. They cost about $5. Be sure to get one with a wool duster and not a synthetic duster. If you don't want to get one of these, tie a towel to the end of a broom handle, or use the brush end of your vacuum cleaner. What you want to do with the dusting is simply remove dust and cobwebs.

While you're at it, check the walls to see if they need to be washed. If they do need washing, it's probably because they have collected grease from cooking. Clean greasy walls with soapy water and a sponge.

Remember to include in your cleaning switch plates, doorknobs, and doors, where there is a lot of touching going on, and air vent covers. You may need to remove air vent covers for a good cleaning (and check right inside the air vents too to see if they need a bit of a wipe as well).

5. Clean any fixtures on the ceiling.

In our kitchen, we have a ceiling fan and overhead light fixtures.

I think it's especially important to clean the ceiling fan as dirty blades can make fans shake and wobble. A lot of cooking debris and grease can collect on fan blades. To clean a ceiling fan, first turn the fan off (obviously). Climb up on a tall stepladder to reach the blades. Wipe the top side of each blade with a damp sponge and warm soapy water. If you need more grease-cutting power, use vinegar. Take care to keep cleaning solutions away from the motor.

To clean a ceiling light fixture, I always climb up on a step ladder and remove the glass cover so I can wash it thoroughly with warm, soapy water in the sink. Often there are dead bugs inside that need to be removed. If the fixture needs cleaning, turn the switch to 'off' and use a well-wrung damp sponge (take care that no water gets inside the electric socket).

6. Clean windows and window coverings.

We don't have any windowcoverings in our kitchen because our kitchen window looks out into a private garden. If you have curtains, now is the time to take them down and wash and iron them. If you have shutters, blinds, or other window coverings, clean them as appropriate.

Remove anything sitting on windowsills, then vacuum (remember corners) and clean the windowsills and replace windowsill items. Clean the windowsills with a damp sponge. Use soap or vinegar if the windowsills have a greasy build-up.

Wash the windows inside and out. If you have screens, take them down to clean the outside of the windows and rinse them off with a hose before replacing. Use vinegar and water mixed half-and-half to wash windows. Wipe with a crumpled newspaper to make windows sparkle.

7. Clean the stove and oven.

Check the owner's manual that came with your stove/oven and follow the instructions for proper cleaning of your model. If you have a self-cleaning oven, wait to run it until a time when you can leave the kitchen for the duration.

Clean cooked-on food stuck to the stove with a paste of baking soda and water, with a sponge (not a scrubber). This will get your stove sparkling clean and won't scratch.

Clean the hood fan with soapy water and soap the grate in soapy water. If it's really greasy, add vinegar. Then scrub with a brush.

Wipe down the entire exterior of the stove/oven. Remove knobs, burners, burner covers, and spill catchers to clean. Tip: The grates over our burners were black and my husband had the bright idea to put them in the oven while we were running the self-cleaning process. When we removed them from the oven after the process was done and the cooked-on debris had been removed, we found they were actually grey! This worked very well without a lot of scrubbing.

8. Clean the refrigerator.

Choose a day to do this when there isn't much food in the refrigerator--like the day before you go shopping for the week.

First, clean the main refrigerator.

  1. Turn the temperature-control knob inside the refrigerator to 'Off.' Jot down the setting number first, so when you turn it back on, the temperatures are the same as before.
  2. Unscrew the light bulb (since these bulbs are only meant to be on for a few seconds each time the door is opened, they can burn out during the lengthy time the door is open for cleaning).
  3. Take everything out of the refrigerator. Most items will be fine sitting on the counter for the brief time it takes to clean the refrigerator, however, if you have items that are especially perishable, store them in a cooler or put them on ice.
  4. Throw away any food that is no longer edible.
  5. Take all parts that can be removed out of the refrigerator, such as shelves, wire racks, drawers, egg trays, etc.
  6. Fill the sink with warm, soapy water (use a natural liquid soap such as Dr. Bronner's).
  7. Hand-wash the shelves, wire racks and drawers in the sink, then rinse them in warm water.
  8. Let the shelves, wire racks and drawers drain in a dish rack.
  9. Wash the inside of the refrigerator using a sponge and warm, soapy water. Remember the compartments and door racks.
  10. Rinse the inside of the refrigerator with a sponge and clean warm water. Add some vinegar or baking soda to the rinse water to remove odors if necessary.
  11. Replace all shelves, wire racks and drawers.
  12. Place an open box of baking soda on a shelf to absorb odors. Flush the contents of the old box down the sink to freshen the drain.
  13. Turn the temperature control knob inside the refrigerator back to the recommended setting.
  14. As you return the food to the refrigerator, wipe off any sticky bottles or jars with a damp sponge.

Then wash the outside of the refrigerator and the gasket (rubber seals around the door) with warm, soapy water. Rinse and wipe dry with a clean towel. Check for cracked seals and replace if necessary.

Repeat the process for the freezer. If you have a manual defrost freezer, defrost it if the ice is more than 1/4-inch thick.

Unplug the refrigerator and vacuum the coils, to keep the refrigerator running smoothly and save energy. This should be done at least twice a year, more often if you have pets that shed hair. Remove the cover panel to exposure the coils, then use the narrow nozzle attachment on your vacuum hose to remove dust and debris (picture - instructions for finding coils).

Clean the drip pan. It is located at the bottom your refrigerator and can be removed by pulling it out from the rear of the refrigerator. Clear out the tube that carries particles to the pan by removing the stopper at the opening. Flush the tube with soapy water and then empty and clean the pan.

9. Clean small appliances.

Wipe down the toaster, blender, food processor and any other small appliances you have. Remove any dried-on spills. Use a sponge and warm, soapy water.

10. Clean out kitchen cabinets and drawers.

Remove everything from kitchen cabinets and discard anything that is mismatched, chipped, or otherwise not being used. Wipe the shelves with a damp sponge and reline with new shelf paper if necessary. Do NOT use vinyl shelf paper. As pretty as it may be, it will give off fumes of toxic vinyl. Use plain paper instead.

This is a good time to think about organizing drawers. Get some drawer organizers such as flatwear trays or other dividers that can keep drawer items in order and easy to find.

11. Clean the countertops and scour the sink.

Use baking soda or a chlorine-free scouring powder such as Bon Ami.

12. Sweep and mop the floors.

Remove dust and debris first with a vacuum or broom, then wash the floor thoroughly (remember corners and under baseboards. Most kitchen floors can be washed with a mop or sponge and warm, soapy water, but if you have a special stone or wood floor, follow instructions for washing those specific materials.

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