How To Clean a Kitchen – Fast!

As you might have guessed, my home cooking tends to somewhat ambitious meals, even on “school nights”, and that sometimes leads to pretty substantial messes. Working at Cafe Flora confirms what I’ve often thought, I tend to work more like a restaurant cook even though I’m at home. The only tiny little problem with that is that I don’t have a professional staff of stewards manning the dish pit to wash everything, sweep the floor and hose down the mats. I can dream!

In the meantime, I’ve developed a lot of theories over the years about how to clean up as quickly as possible after dinner. I can handle a normal mess by myself in 20 minutes, stem to stern. Here’s how I go about it. Please comment and add what works for you, I’d always like to learn more!

  1. Have a general plan of attack that you use each time, so you don’t have to waste time deciding what to do. For me, I like to:
    • put away leftovers
    • get everything off the table and counters, move it towards the sink
    • load the dishwasher
    • wash pots and anything else not going in the dishwasher
    • wipe and dry the table and counters
    • heat up my cast iron skillets and oil them
    • vacuum the floor
    • clean the sink
    • take a last look around for anything I missed
  2. Whatever system you use, work top to bottom. Do your table and countertops, then any mess on vertical surfaces, and finally the floor. That way you don’t end up cleaning the floor twice, and you don’t have to worry if you push some crumbs off while wiping the counters.
  3. Save cleaning out the sink for the very last so that if if you rinse out a towel and drop some stuff in there, no effort was wasted.
  4. While working within your plan, don’t waste any steps. For example if you go to drop a load off at the sink, maybe you can come back with something from the drainboard that you can put away. Likewise, if you are going to get a storage container, stop and notice how many and what size you need so you can grab them all at once.
  5. Go ahead and use some towels. Especially if you have a washer and dryer and can do laundry regularly, don’t be shy about using 3 or 4 rags or towels to get the job done. Always have a dry one over your shoulder or on your belt or apron string so you don’t have to search for it to dry off a knife or a counter.
  6. Bring some intensity to the process. Not that cleaning can’t be fun itself, but presumably you have other things you want to get to. So clean it like you mean it! Just be conscious to put a little vigor into each move you make and actively try to pick up the pace. That doesn’t mean you have to be running around in a panic, just with some focus and intensity.
  7. Use the rinse cycle of your dishwasher. Just shove all the large scraps into the compost, load everything in the dishwasher, and press rinse (assuming it isn’t time to actually run it). You’ll save time and actually use less water than if you rinse each dish by hand.
  8. If you are working with a partner, lay out a clear division of labor so that you aren’t bumping in to each other or wasting time. When my brother and I clean, he takes the sink area and I do the rest of the kitchen, bringing everything to him so that he can totally focus on loading the dishwasher and washing pots. We frickin’ kill it and the place is spotless in no time.
  9. Finally, just because you are working with intensity doesn’t mean it can’t be fun! Put on some high energy music and enjoy the process of trying to do the work both fast and well. Believe me, it sounds like a dance club at work when the customers are gone and we are cleaning up after a full day of serving a few hundred folks. We all want to go home but that doesn’t mean we won’t have a good time finishing the job.

So what works for you? How do you get your kitchen deeply clean and have time left for Threes Company reruns?

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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, December 3rd, 2007 in Miscellany, Theory and Rants.

3 Responses to “How To Clean a Kitchen – Fast!”

  1. December 3, 2007 at 10:32 pm #

    Michael, I love the grits at Cafe Flora and, well, everything else, even the art on the walls. I’m impressed that you come home and actually have the energy to cook, let alone clean. I learned some tricks from you.

    P.S. The only thing you missed was the mopping of the floor. My mom would be on your case about that.

  2. d.m.
    December 4, 2007 at 8:55 pm #

    what a fun and enthusiastic blog about cleaning! thanks for the good guidance. if you fly over and do a little cooking, i will gladly do the clean-up. i’m happy to see you’re keeping up with the blogging while working at the cafe.

  3. Michael Natkin
    December 20, 2007 at 12:59 pm #

    Here’s another thing I was thinking about recently. You’d have to adjust it to your own kitchen layout. When I unload my dishwasher, as I take things out I put away only the stuff that is in immediate reach without walking anywhere. The rest I stack on the counter in groups of where it needs to go, and put all of it away last. I also never close any drawers or cabinets that I open during the project, because inevitably there will be one more item that goes in them. So the very last thing I do is walk through and close everything. Those two tips together save a ton of steps and let me unload a full load in about 2-3 minutes.

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