5 New Habits to Keep Your Kitchen Mess-Free Since You’re Always at Home Now

published Jun 21, 2020
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I’m not here to talk about disinfecting fridge handles. Instead, I’m here to tackle that other kitchen cleaning issue that’s come up in 2020—the one that happens when everyone is home all day long and preparing and eating every meal, comfort snack, and discard baking project in one (small) space: The kitchen is dirty all the time.

No matter your household’s shelter-at-home situation, you’re no doubt well-acquainted with the fact that the dishes never, ever end; and that as soon as you’ve cleaned up from one meal, there are more dishes waiting to be done. I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to spend every waking moment cooking and eating and cleaning and repeating. If you also need a relatively clean kitchen to feel your best, it’s time to adapt the system to the situation.

Here are a few ways to switch from the old way of doing things to a fresh set of kitchen housekeeping habits, finely tuned to our new always-at-home reality. This new way of doing things will help you keep your kitchen pretty close to the way you want it, even when life in general is upside down.

Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani/Kitchn

The old way: Empty the sink at the end of the day.
The new way: Empty the sink after every meal.

This seems so strict, I know. If you were used to a simple breakfast at home before work and then nothing consumed at home until dinner, it wasn’t overwhelming to leave a bowl, a mug, and a pot to soak until the end of the day. But these days, leaving dirty dishes in the sink is a much bigger deal. Even if you’re just one person leaving dirty dishes all day long “for later,” the pile at the end of the day can be overwhelming. Your piles of pots and plates from meals, snacks, and mid-day smoothies are going to make it challenging to cook dinner, and will definitely make it harder to maintain that after-dinner “empty sink” routine you’re used to.

To take care of your future dish-washing self, try to address each eating session’s dishes immediately. A little bit at a time, even if it means cleaning more often, is less painful than deferring an accumulating job to the end of the day. Make sure to discuss the new plan with other members of the household and ask them to climb aboard.

Credit: Kentaroo Tryman/Getty Images

The old way: Run the dishwasher when it’s full.
The new way: Run the dishwasher at the same time every day.

If your weeks used to be punctuated by meals out or having guests over regularly to share dinner, you were accustomed to a fluctuating dishwasher schedule and may have switched it on according to when it was full. Now, however, the rhythm of life at home is not nearly as fluid. The dishwasher gets full quickly and regularly.

Rather than risking a bottleneck of dirty dishes while the dishwasher is run at an inconvenient time, make it a habit to run it at the same time each day. Turn the dishwasher on every night after dinner, or once the breakfast dishes are cleaned up. Likewise, set a time in your routine for emptying the dishwasher—ideally, soon after it’s done with its whole cycle. This way, your dishwasher will always be ready to receive those ever-coming dirty dishes. And having a place to “store” the dishes waiting to be washed keeps the kitchen tidy.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

The old way: Leave pots and pans to soak.
The new way: Wash pots and pans first.

Despite your best efforts and greatest intentions, when you’re home around the clock, your sink and kitchen won’t be spotless each and every time you leave the room. So while you might have made room in your former routine to allow pots and pans to soak for hours, that method leaves those pans occupied for far too long. (Seriously, I can’t be the only one reaching for the same pan several times a day just to find it dirty.)

By flipping the script a bit and washing those heavy duty pots and pans first, you’re getting them literally out of the way—giving yourself elbow room around the sink to work on the rest of the dishes. You’re also ensuring that they’re always clean and ready for the next time you need to fry an egg or saute some greens.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

The old way: Empty the dish drainer when it’s full.
The new way: Empty the dish drainer before you wash dishes.

You’re probably used to stacking your hand-wash dishes in your dish drainer until it’s practically overflowing. But now that you’re doing dishes several times a day, it’s increasingly likely that you’re just going to be stacking wet dishes on top of almost-dry ones—which could become a never-ending cycle of dripping dishes and diminishing space.

Rather than putting away dry dishes when the drainer is full at the end of the day or the next morning, like you could before, shift the habit to the beginning of every meal or make it the first step of clean up.

The old way: Dirty dishes belong in the sink.
The new way: Get a bus bin and give yourself some grace.

I love to tout the “cleanliness begets cleanliness” mantra when it comes to keeping a perpetually clean sink. But when you’re home all day and trying to fulfill all your responsibilities without the benefit of a physical separation between home life and everything else, you’re just not always going to be able to pause and wash the dishes, despite your best commitments to these “new rules.”

Accept this and make a provision for it. Add a bus bin or a small plastic tub to your kitchen, wherever there’s room, and have everyone put their plates, utensils, and mugs inside that. It essentially doubles your sink space, and can be easily moved out of the way when you just need to start cooking your next meal in a spotless kitchen with an empty sink.