5 Common Cleaning Mistakes, Sanitation and Sanity, I expect that you probably don't spend your days and lose sleep at night thinking about cleaning

Sanitation and Sanity

Sanitation and Sanity: Usually, the veteran, card-carrying cheater at house cleaning is happy to ignore that which cannot be seen by himself or guests. There is a significant caveat to this philosophy, however. Sanitation, health, and safety have to be based on science-not on corner cutting and looking the other way. We stay sane by concentrating on our top priorities, and this has to be one of them.

The cheating in this chapter, then, lies in maintaining laser-sharp focus on what’s important and casting aside what’s not. Fortunately, the secrets of sanitation around the house are simple and easy. By instituting a few basic practices, you can protect yourself from many of the germs that are lurking in your home. There are a lot of myths about home sanitation, too, so this chapter also provides plenty of ways to save yourself effort and angst.

You’ll find much of this chapter devoted to sanitation where household germs do the most damage-in kitchens and bathrooms. You can’t see these germs, of course, so we do the next best thing-attack the specific spots in your home where scientists tell us they are most likely to be. And, once your empire is secure from microbial invasion, you’ll find shortcuts for keeping your kitchen and bath presentable and orderly.


Bacteria can live for hours on surfaces and viruses can survive for days. People who touch those surfaces can easily transfer those germs to their mouths and become sick; keep them clean and you seriously reduce the risk of food poisoning, flu, colds, and other maladies. Your number one defense in this battle is a commercial product called disinfecting cleaner.

Notice that the term disinfecting cleaner has two words in it. They’re both important-a chemical tag team. First, check the label of your product and make sure that it uses the term disinfect. Use of this word has to meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, and it means that the product kills bacteria and viruses. The term cleaner is crucial, too, because you want chemicals that are designed to loosen dirt from the surfaces that soil clings to. This way, the disinfectant can to do its job better. A disinfectant without cleaner is designed for use on surfaces that have already been cleaned. A cleaner without disinfectant is designed only to remove dirt, and the label of such a product will not promise to kill germs.

You can buy disinfecting cleaners wherever cleaning products are sold, including supermarkets, home stores, and discount stores. You could mix your own, but the commercial products are more convenient and provide precisely the right balance of ingredients, says microbiologist Charles Gerba, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona in Tucson, a scientist who spends much of his professional life analyzing household germs. “The homeowner doesn’t have to be a chemist anymore,” he says.

Park a bottle of disinfecting cleaner under the kitchen sink and under each bathroom sink. Squirt this stuff every day on the commonly touched hard surfaces, including counters, sink, faucets, faucet handles, toilet handle, toilet seat, refrigerator handle, and cutting boards. This will take only you 8 seconds per room. Read the fine print of your product so you’re clear on how it works. Typically, once you have spritzed the liquid on, you have to let it sit for a specific period to get the germ-slaying done, usually 30 seconds to several minutes. Then you wipe the fluid up, rinse your sponge, and wipe again with the wet sponge.


Here’s a rundown of commonly contaminated spots and simple methods for de-bugging them.

While the principles of sanitation apply to the bathroom as well, most of these observations involve the kitchen because that’s where most of the harmful bacteria are found. At least a third of the disease-causing germs in your home hitchhike there on raw food. Also, people tend to do a much better job of cleaning in the bathroom. “The cleanest object in the house is the toilet seat, because people are so paranoid about it,” Gerba says. “If you’re going to lick anything in the house, lick the toilet seat.”

Since you can’t see germs, the best you can do is disinfect where they’re most likely to hang out, thus reducing your chances of encountering them. If you disinfect the following hot spots, you’ll be far safer from disease than most families. Be sure to check out “Put the Squeeze on Sponges” on the facing page before using that sponge!

 THE KITCHEN SINK Think of your kitchen sink as a basket of bacteria, contaminated by raw chicken, meat drippings, and food scraps, all warm and moist. If you’re peeling a carrot and it falls into the sink, assume it’s contaminated and wash it off with hot water. Include the sink in your daily spray-and-wipe with disinfectant cleaner.

 THE DISH TOWEL You mop up messes with it. You wipe your hands while you’re preparing meals, smearing it with bacteria from raw food. Yes, your dish towel quickly gets as contaminated as the kitchen sponge. As part of your cleanup after a meal, switch to a fresh dish towel. Wash your dish towels in hot water with bleach. As with sponges, if you use your dish towel to mop up after use of disinfectant, the bacteria in it will curl up and die.

 THE CUTTING BOARD Chicken, beef, pork, and even some fruits and vegetables wreak a peculiar kind of revenge when you cut them up-they leave bacteria behind on the cutting board. Think about this the next time you slice some chicken for stir-fry and then cut up a bell pepper. Do you really want to serve salmonella salad? At the very least, use one cutting board for your meat and another for your veggies during meal preparation. Then use disinfecting cleaner on both boards.

An easy alternative: I like to keep three hard plastic cutting boards available in the kitchen. After using one, I slide it directly into the dishwasher, which does a splendid job of disinfecting . Wooden cutting boards won’t stand up to this abuse, so I don’t use them.

THE REFRIGERATOR DOOR HANDLE How many times do you pop the refrigerator open during meal preparation? Do you wash your hands first every time? No, you don’t. A contaminated refrigerator door handle will quickly spread germs to every member of the family. So spray the door handle on all sides with disinfectant cleaner, wait the prescribed amount of time, wipe, and rinse.

 TELEPHONES You might be surprised to hear that home telephones are abuzz with harmful bacteria. But think about it: You’re putting raw steaks into a marinade when the phone rings. You pick up the receiver, you slam the phone down when you realize it’s a recorded message, and then you hurry back to making dinner. You have just left a reservoir of germs on the telephone receiver. Disinfecting the phone is simple: Spray disinfectant onto a cleaning cloth and wipe the whole thing down-receiver, base, and buttons. (Don’t spray directly onto any electronic equipment the seeping fluid could damage it.) A disposable disinfecting wipe will do the job, too.

 THE TV REMOTE Here’s another popular microbial crossroads in the home-handled by many grubby fingers but rarely cleaned. As with the telephone, spray a cleaning cloth with disinfecting cleaner and give your remote a rubdown. Or use a disinfecting disposable wipe.


Here are some more pointers, shortcuts, and surprising facts you’ll want to know about sanitation in the home.

 G0 DISPOSABLE There’s an easy alternative to kitchen sponges and dishtowels, which are famous for developing colonies of harmful bacteria. Instead, use nothing but disposable paper towels in the kitchen. “People say, ‘Oh that’s not environmentally friendly!’ Well, if you get diarrhea and you use a lot of toilet paper, that’s not environmentally friendly either,” Gerba says.

 WASH AFTER COOKING Here’s a great item for the quiz shows: At what time during the day do you think people are likely to have the most fecal bacteria on their hands? Gerba conducted a study of germs on people’s hands, and here’s his final answer: After preparing a meal. People remember to wash their hands before fixing dinner, but it’s not commonly done afterward, when their fingers are dripping with bacteria picked up from raw food. So scrub up with soap and warm water before you ring the dinner bell.

 NO SINK? GO WATERLESS If you don’t like scrubbing your hands at the sink so much or if a sink just isn’t available, waterless hand sanitizers do a good job of killing the germs on your hands, Gerba says. They’re available at supermarkets, drugstores, and discount stores. Keep a small container in your purse, briefcase, and desk.

On the other hand (sorry), don’t be misled by dishwashing liquid that claims to be “antibacterial.” Such labeling is somewhat deceptive, Gerba says. When you read the fine print, you’ll learn that antibacterial dishwashing liquid is designed to kill germs on the hands-not on dishes. Many people use dishwashing liquid as hand soap when they’re washing up at the sink, the manufacturers reason. To kill germs on your dishes, standard air-drying on a dish rack does a perfectly good job, Gerba says.


Just about any time the food you’re preparing meets a surface that you’re going to have to clean later, there’s a way to get a disposable object-usually paper, plastic, or foil-to take the “hit” instead. If this sounds wasteful, just remind yourself that letting food mess up your pans and counters has a cost all its own-you lose time doing the extra cleaning; you need to use cleaning chemicals; you put wear on your pans, counters, and scrubbing tools; you use water to rinse it all away; and you use up energy heating that water. Here are some delicious ways to cut corners while cooking, using inexpensive products that are readily available at your supermarket.

 WAXING POETIC Just think of wax paper as a long stretch of disposable countertop. When you’re cooking, tear off 8 inches and lay the sheet on the counter near the stove. After stirring the marinara sauce, lay your drippy spoon on the wax paper. The moisture won’t bleed through to the counter. Use the same surface for grating cheese and peeling carrots. Cover the kitchen table in wax paper when you and the kids are decorating cupcakes. When the icing starts flying, the table will stay clean. (The icing in your hair will still require a shower.) When you’re microwaving an open bowl of food, lay a stretch of wax paper over the top to contain splatters and prevent a tough, cooked-on cleanup later on.

 FOIL IT AGAIN Spare yourself the misery of trying to scrub baked-on food from your pans. Line them with foil every time you stick one in the oven. Pat Schweitzer, senior home economist for Reynolds® in Richmond, Virginia, says this is the quick-and-easy way to fit your pan with foil: Turn your pan upside down and tear off enough foil to cover it. Mold the foil over the pan. Pull the foil off the bottom, turn the pan right side up, plop the foil into the pan, and fold the edges over the rim.

 A SAFETY NET FOR YOUR PIE Put a foil- or parchment-lined pan on a lower rack of your oven to catch drips any time you’re baking a pie, says Jennifer Armentrout, test kitchen manager and recipe editor for Fine Cooking® magazine, based in Newtown, Connecticut. Throwing away a stretch of foil or baking parchment is a heck of a lot easier than cleaning the oven of sugary, baked on drippings.

 BAG THAT BIRD Oven cooking bags are tough sacks that contain the meat you’re cooking and keep the juices where you want them-in the food, not decorating your oven, pans, and other cooking gear. The nylon kind works in the microwave or oven. The foil version works in the oven or on the grill. The large ones will handle an entire turkey, a leg of lamb, or a beef roast, and smaller bags will fit a chicken or pot roast. A quick search on the Internet will turn up hundreds of recipes that call for cooking bags and will revolutionize the way you use your kitchen.

 GO SOLO “Hot bags®” are a close cousin to the oven bag. These are foil envelopes in which you can cook individual meals say, a boneless chicken breast with vegetables. Not only are the hot bags disposable but they also allow you to vary the contents of the meal according to each family member’s taste.

 SLOW COOKING, QUICK CLEANING Nylon liners for slow cookers are yet another cheat-at-cleaning variation of the oven bag. Slow cookers (a.k.a. Crock-Pots®) are already a great way to cut corners in the kitchen-in the morning, just dump the ingredients in, cover, turn it on, and dinner is done when you get home from work. However, nobody enjoys cleaning that cooked on crust of food from the ceramic interior bowl of the cooker. Nylon liners put an end to that chore. Set the liner inside the ceramic interior of the cooker and then load in ingredients as usual. When the cooking is done, serve the food, toss out the liner, and your slow cooker is clean and ready for storage.

 SHAKE THE DRY STUFF The next time you need to mix several dry ingredients-for baking, for instance, or spices for stir-fry-pour them into a plastic bag instead of dirtying a bowl. To blend the ingredients, all you have to do is hold the bag closed and shake. Toss the bag out when you’re done. If this is a recipe you make often, mix twice the ingredients you need. After blending, pour out what you need, then zip the bag closed, label it and stick it in a cabinet-all ready for the next time.

 MARINATE IN A BAG Do you marinate meat in a large baking dish? You’re setting yourself up for an unnecessary cleaning job. Next time, mix your marinade ingredients in a measuring cup, pour the mixture into a large zip closing plastic bag, add the meat, and place it in the refrigerator. Set the measuring cup in the dishwasher and there’s no more cleanup.


A funny thing happens after you’ve had your second child. Corner-cutting takes priority. Erik Sjogren calls them MacGyversM Moms-after the ingenious, ready-for-anything adventurer of television fame. These are the harried souls who see the wisdom of using disposable plates, cups, and flatware on a regular basis, says Sjogren, senior brand manager for Dixie® Tabletop, based in Atlanta.

Consumers traditionally look at disposable plates as an item for special occasions-picnics, barbecues, and quick snacks. Disposable dishware can work so much harder for you than that, however. To fully embrace disposable dinnerware, you probably need to get over two psychological barriers:

  1. The notion that you’re a Bad Parent if you don’t serve your kids on your finest china. To heck with that. It’s quality time-not quality dishware-that counts. If being able to toss out the evening’s dinnerware buys you an extra 20 minutes to read to your kids, that’s worth it. And that’s the exact figure-Sjogren says research shows that using disposable plates, cups, and flatware at a full meal for a family of four saves you an average of 20 minutes. No plate scraping, no washing. Just run your arm along the table and push it all into the trash.
  2. The notion that you’re ruining the planet by using disposables. Well, favoring your ceramic dishware over disposables might not be as environmentally beneficial as you think. Washing a load of dishes in the dishwasher uses up several gallons of water and the energy to heat that water, plus it requires the use of cleaning chemicals, which get flushed away with the water. If use of disposable plates and cups allowed you to run your dishwasher every other day instead of every day, you would save at least 1,600 gallons of hot water per year.
  3. Winston Porter, Ph.D., president of the Waste Policy Center consulting organization in Leesburg, Virginia, and former assistant administrator of the EPA, has closely studied the issue, particularly for the food-service industry. “It’s not a slam-dunk to say you should always reuse,” he says. There are a lot of variables, so you won’t find a definitive answer, but he says the environmental impact of the two approaches is fairly equal.

Besides, it’s getting easier to find environmentally friendly disposable goods. The paper plates I picked up at the supermarket are labeled “biodegradable in home composting,” for instance. Watch the labeling for “green” products and encourage such manufacturers by voting with your dollars. While you’re at it, do your wallet a favor and buy your disposable dishes in bulk at a wholesale club.


Abe Lincoln had it right: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Use your brain, and you need less brawn. In terms of cleaning, this is particularly important in the kitchen-that daily maelstrom of veggie chopping, sauce slopping, and egg dropping. Aside from use of the disposables mentioned previously, here are more corner-cutting kitchen techniques.


You remember the TWO philosophy from Chapter 1, right? It stands for Thinking Wins Out. During every second that you work in the kitchen, there is some way to make the cleaning chores go more quickly and easily. Playing a good-natured mind game with yourself will keep you on your toes. For every cheating shortcut you use while preparing a meal, award yourself TWO points on your mental scoreboard. After you use a cheat three times, it will become ingrained habit. You’ll find your own shortcuts, of course, but here are some to get you started:

SAVE TRIPS Pile up three or more things-say, the wrapper from a block of cheese, trimmings from a bell pepper, and a garlic husk-to cart over to the trash can all at once rather than taking individual trips. A dozen steps saved. TWO points.

CLEAN AS YOU GO In that 30-second break you have while the onions are sauteing, clean off the cutting board, rinse, and set it on the drying rack. That’s 30 seconds off your after-meal cleanup duty. TWO points.

MAKE YOUR PANS DO DOUBLE-DUTY Serve your enchiladas directly from the baking dish, then slide the leftovers, dish and all, into the refrigerator. That’s a serving dish and a storage container you don’t have to wash. TWO points.

CONTAINER CONSCIOUSNESS When you’re hand washing a few items in the sink, put any larger bowls or pans in the sink first and sponge them out last. The smaller items you wash-say, a can opener and a knife-will dribble their soapy water into the containers, giving them an advance soak and re-using the detergent. TWO points .


Minimizing mess is not only a concern when you’re in the heat of cooking. Here are some more brilliant kitchen ideas from the Ounce of Prevention Department, for the times between cooking sessions.

SHOP FOR THE CHOPPED Whenever you can, buy produce that is already partially prepared for you. This not only saves you work time in the kitchen but leaves your utensils, counters, and other gear clean. If you

MAKE A DATE WITH YOUR FRIDGE Refrigerators get cluttered because they’re crammed full of items that mayor may not be good anymore-nobody knows for sure, so nothing gets thrown out. Here’s the simple way to fix that problem: Park a permanent marker near the fridge. No prepared foods condiments, sauces, spreads, and such-go into the refrigerator without a date marked on them. So if you run across a bottle of barbecue sauce that was dated 6 months ago, you can toss it out without another thought. Mark the date on leftovers you put into the refrigerator or freezer, too. If you’re using a zip sealing bag, write the date on the plastic. If you’re using plastic containers, apply a 2-inch strip of freezer tape and mark the date on that.

Before you make a grocery run, open the refrigerator and quickly review the fresh stuff: Toss out any aging fruits or vegetables; leftovers more than a day old get the heave-ho, too. Be ruthless-do not get sentimental over a browning pear that’s squishy soft. For a deluxe touch, spray a little disinfecting cleaner onto your kitchen sponge and give a quick wipe to the surfaces you’ve cleared off in your fridge. The shelves in there are rarely more open than just before your shopping run. This will keep the interior of your refrigerator presentable until you get inspired to clear the whole thing out for a thorough cleaning.

CATCH THOSE DRIPS The juices from raw meat sometimes contain harmful bacteria-not something you want to spread around your refrigerator. So anytime you store meat in the fridge, put it on the lowest shelf to reduce the chances of the meat dripping onto shelving, other food or containers, says Jennifer Armentrout. Also, put a pan or other rimmed tray under the meat to contain potential drips-there are fruit and veggie bins beneath that lowest shelf, after all. “You don’t want your meat dripping onto your lettuce,” she says.

READ AHEAD When you’re ready to start cooking, read ahead in the recipe so you know which ingredients are going to be added in at the same time. Those ingredients-wet or dry-might as well be mixed in the same container at the outset, rather than dirtying a number of separate containers. “That saves you cleaning a lot of little prep dishes,” says Armentrout.

 GREASE THE SKIDS Give your baking dish or pan a quick spritz of cooking spray if you’re going to cook something that’s likely to leave a crusty residue. You’ll save yourself a ton of soaking and scrubbing time. If you give the cheese grater a shot of cooking spray before you shred your cheese, the metal will come clean with the quick swipe of a sponge. Before you fill a plastic storage container with a staining sauce (marinara, for instance), give the interior a shoosh of spray. The coating will prevent staining and make cleanup a snap. 

A TRICK FOR STICKY STUFF Measuring thick and sticky ingredients presents a double quandary: It’s hard to get all that molasses, honey, or corn syrup to pour out of your measuring cup-making the amount of ingredient imprecise. Furthermore, it’s a mess to clean. Cooking spray comes to the rescue again, says Armentrout: Squirt the inside of your measuring cup with cooking spray before you pour in the ingredient. When you pour it into your mixing bowl, the sticky stuff will slide right out, leaving behind an easy cleanup job.

CONTAIN THE SPRAY When you use cooking spray, it’s easy to spritz a little extra oil onto the counter or stovetop, creating an extra cleaning chore. Armentrout’s simple solution: Open the door of your dishwasher and place the object you’re going to spray on the inside of the door. Any extra spray that you get on the door will just wash away the next time you run the appliance.

GIVE FLOUR THE COLD TREATMENT Anytime a measuring cup or utensil comes into contact with dry flour, rinse it off in cold water, says Armentrout. Hot water turns flour gummy-a messy cleaning task. If you use cold water, all you need to do is rinse the flour off and possibly wipe with a sponge.

PRESORT YOUR SILVERWARE As you toss silverware into the dishwasher, keep it organized just the way you do in the silverware drawer knives in one basket compartment, forks in another, and spoons in yet another. Doing this will take you zero extra time and, after you run the dishwasher, you’ll be able to grab up a handful of silverware and drop it into the proper place in the drawer without having to sort.

RUB OUT POLISHING DUTY The next time you put your silver away, wrap each silver piece tightly in plastic wrap. If air can’t get to the silver, it won’t tarnish. If you’d like to spend a modest amount of money for more convenience, pick up a storage bag made of flannel that’s specially treated to prevent tarnish. These are available wherever silverware is sold.


Think of all the inanimate objects surrounding you in the kitchen as chef’s assistants not only the appliances but the furniture and the trash can, too. If chosen and used intelligently, they’ll save you a ton of time and effort.

WIPE OUT UPHOLSTERY STAINS The next time you choose upholstery for your kitchen chairs, ask the fabric store to send the material out to be laminated. The extra couple hundred dollars will be well worth it, says Deborah Wiener, an interior designer based in Silver Spring, Maryland. Laminated fabric makes wiping up spills quick and easy. The fabric also will last much longer, saving you the hassle of reupholstering in the future. If the word laminate reminds you of the hard-and-shiny surface of your driver’s license, relax. Laminated fabric has a natural-looking matte finish.

LID LESSONS LEARNED When purchasing a trash can, make sure the lid will stand open by itself. You want to be able to toss in a trimmed-off broccoli stem from 6 feet away, saving yourself steps (and scoring TWO points). You don’t want to have to touch the trash can during food preparation (you remember, germs). Lids that open with a foot pedal are a help (count on the mechanism breaking after 9 months), but that still requires you walking up to the can-steps you’d rather not take, if possible. The type of cover that swings on a center hinge won’t do-it requires that you stand right beside the can and push against the lid.

POSITION BINS STRATEGICALLY Make sure your recycling bins are as close as possible to where the recycling materials are generated, says Cynth ia Braun, a professional organizer in Lake Grove, New York. This means placing a bin for cans and glass in or near the kitchen. This ensures that refuse does not accumulate in inappropriate places.

THE MOUNT COUNTS If you ever have a choice about sink styles, go for the undermounted kind (also called an apron or farmhouse sink) in your kitchen rather than the drop-in kind, says Wiener. Drop-in sinks have a rim that sits on top of the surface of the kitchen counter. When you wipe the counter and push little bits of grime toward the sink, some of it gets caught against the edge of the sink and builds up over the months into a brown goo. With an undermounted sink, there is no obstruction and no dirty buildup.

MIND OVER SPLATTER On the stovetop, always use a frying pan or pot that’s substantially larger than you need. This will help contain the splatter when the juices go flying. Just in case, make sure there’s an easy-wipe splatter guard on the wall above your stove. Whenever you can, cook in the microwave, where splatters are at least confined to a small interior that you can easily sponge off.

ARE YOU A FAN OF FRYING? When you fry food on the stovetop, make sure to turn on the overhead ventilator fan, if you have one. Otherwise, superfine droplets of oil will take to the air from your frying pan and waft about your kitchen, settling on walls, light fixtures, carpets, and more. This greasy film will build up over time, collecting dust and turning into a cleaning nightmare.

OPEN THE DOOR TO SHORTCUTS If your kitchen layout allows it, cook with the door of your dishwasher open and the dish racks pulled out. During the preparation of any meal, you’ll find at least a half-dozen items-dishes, utensils, pots, and the like-that you use just once. Rather than setting those items down on the counter (which will then need cleaning) or in the sink (a temporary way station), put them where they’ll eventually end up anyway-in the dishwasher.

BREAKFAST DISHES NEVER REST When you walk into the kitchen first thing in the morning, do you start pulling cereal bowls, plates, and glasses out of the cabinets for breakfast? Here’s a better plan: If you turned on the dishwasher the night before, just pluck what you need straight out of the dishwasher. If you play your cards right, you’ll rarely have to put the breakfast dishes away in the cabinets. They’ll either be in use or in the dishwasher.


In the ideal cheat-at-cleaning world, every machine we owned would clean itself. Our only duty would be to kick back on the sofa until the little darlings were all sparkling clean. The good news is that we can get pretty darned close to that utopian state with some appliances. Here’s a rundown of common kitchen appliances and how they can actually help clean themselves.

BLENDER OR FOOD PROCESSOR Rinse it to remove most traces of food, then fill it halfway with water and add a squirt of dishwashing liquid. Close the blender or processor and turn it on for half a minute. Rinse again, then let the blades spin for a few seconds to throw off any remaining water.

COFFEE GRINDER Grounds left in your grinder can quickly go stale and taint the next pot of coffee you brew. Here’s the easy way to clean your grinder after each use: Run 12 cup uncooked white rice through the grinder and throw it away. If you make a lot of coffee, just give your grinder the rice treatment once or twice a week. Other times, wipe it out with a damp paper towel.

COFFEE MAKER Put a new filter in the basket to catch any loosened mineral deposits. Fill the coffee maker’s tank halfway with white vinegar and the rest of the way with water. Turn on the machine and let it run through its cycle. Turn the machine off and let the water and vinegar sit in the carafe for 5 minutes (to help clean the glass). Pour it out, wipe out the carafe, refill the tank with straight water, and run through the cycle again. Follow this procedure once a month if you have hard water.

DISHWASHER Cleaning the interior of a dishwasher usually isn’t much of an issue-unless you happen to have those white deposits building up, indicating a hard water problem. This mineral buildup is not only unsightly but can interfere with the efficiency of the dishwasher. Use a product such as Glisten® or Jet Dry® dishwasher cleaner often enough to keep the white streaks at bay. Put the cleaner in the washer according to the package directions and run the washer through a cleaning cycle. I use Glisten on my glassware to remove milky mineral deposits from those as well.

GARBAGE DISPOSAL Empty an ice tray into your sink and push all of the cubes into the garbage disposal. Then push a few lemon rinds down there, too (any citrus rinds will do). Turn on the cold water, turn on the disposal, and grind away until the ice and rinds are gone. The disposal will be clean and lemony (or orangey) fresh.

MICROWAVE OVEN Pour 2 cups of water into a microwave safe bowl. Set it in the middle of the microwave and cook on high for 5 minutes. The steam generated will soften any cooked-on food splatters inside. Remove the bowl using oven mitts. Wipe down the interior with a damp sponge.

OVEN Self-cleaning ovens have been a common feature in kitchens for years. You have to follow the instructions for your specific model, but basically you run the oven through a superhot cycle, which incinerates anything on the oven’s interior surfaces. When the oven cools, all that’s left is a film of ash you can mop up with a sponge. Continuous-clean ovens are different. Their interior walls are treated with a chemical that will destroy small splatters at high temperatures (350°F and up). You still need to sponge them out once in a while and run the oven through a high -heat cycle occasionally, according to the maker’s instructions. Don’t use cleaning chemicals on continuous-clean or self cleaning ovens. If your oven isn’t trained to clean itself, it can still come pretty close: Pour V2 cup of ammonia into a glass bowl and leave it inside your closed oven overnight. Then pour out the ammonia and use a damp sponge to wipe up the grime loosened by the fumes.


No matter how many preventive measures you’ve taken to contain spills, splatters, and spouse, once in a long while you’re going to put your hands on your hips and say, “This kitchen needs cleaning.” I put the question to Janet Nelson, a Ross, Iowa-based spokesperson for The Maids Home Services: If you had a lavish 7 minutes to clean the kitchen, what precisely would you do? Here’s a game plan based on her priorities. Gather your materials first, and keep moving.

  1. Take that stack of papers off the counter and throw them into a folder to sort later while you’re watching television. Toss other utensils, food items and such into holding baskets, cabinets, and drawers. Wipe down the counters. Nothing says “clean kitchen” like vacant counters.
  2. Pick any kid toys or pet toys off the floor and stow them away. Use a whiskbroom and dustpan to sweep up any loose pet food.
  3. Toss any dirty dishes into the dishwasher.
  4. If your sink is now empty, spray it with disinfectant cleaner and wipe it down. Wipe the handles and faucet, then dry them with a dish towel to prevent spots.

If by some chance Venus, Mars, and Saturn should fall into alignment and you’re in the mood for the deluxe How to Cheat at Cleaning 12-minute kitchen routine, do all of the above, plus:

  1. Take the kitchen throw rugs outside and shake them furiously for 10 seconds.
  2. Vacuum the kitchen floor and put the rugs back.
  3. Spray disinfectant cleaner onto your sponge and wipe down the appliances.
  4. Spray glass cleaner onto the window above the sink and wipe with a cleaning cloth or paper towel.


If the Ladies Auxiliary were to devise The One True Test of Housekeeper Worthiness, they would probably base it on an inspection of your bathroom. Even knowing that in certain circles your reputation hangs in the balance, there’s no way you’re going to devote an hour a week to cleaning slavery in the throne room. Relax. Read on, and then invite the ladies over for tea and crumpets.


Here’s a 7-minute routine that will keep your bathroom looking harp. (Once again, a grateful toilet-brush salute goes out to Janet Nelson for her input.) As with the kitchen, gather your cleaning materials first and move as if you were meeting a deadline.

  1. Clear the counter of any extraneous objects. Put toothbrushes, hairbrushes, deodorant, medicines, toothpaste, and such into cabinets and drawers.
  2. Squirt toilet bowl cleaner around the upper interior rim of the toilet. Spray the seat and exterior with disinfectant cleaner. Spray disinfectant cleaner on the sink, faucet and handles, counter, and tub.
  3. With a toilet brush, scrub the interior bowl for 10 seconds. Flush.
  4. Spray glass cleaner on the mirror and wipe with a cleaning cloth.
  5. Using a damp sponge, wipe and then rinse (in order) the sink and its chrome, the counter, the tub, the toilet seat, and the exterior of the toilet.
  6. With the same cloth you used on the mirror, wipe down the chrome once more for extra sparkle.
  7. Tear off a 6-inch length of toilet paper to scoop up any loose hair and other debris from the floor and corners of the room.

As you’ve come to expect, for the truly finicky, I’m offering the deluxe How to Cheat at Cleaning 12-minute bathroom cleanup. Do all of the above, plus:

  1. Put the tub mat, bath mat, and towels into the washing machine. Hang out fresh towels.
  2. Vacuum the floor.
  3. Empty the trash can.
  4. Spray cleaner onto a cloth and wipe down the doorknob and the smudges on the door, the light switch, and the cabinets.


What, you’re back for more? Okay, here are some more labor-saving tricks for the bathroom.

REFLECTED GLORY The mirror is a centerpiece for the bathroom. When it’s sparkling clean, it’s easier to forgive a hair or two left in the tub. Professional organizer Cynthia Braun likes to keep disposable glass wipes under the bathroom sink for a quick mirror and-sink touch-up. C. Lee Cawley, a professional organizer in Arlington, Virginia, has a similar routine: Every night she uses a facial wipe on her face. Before tossing it, she gives the faucet and sink a speedy wipe-down as well.

TRY SHOWER POWER Here’s another way to add instant sparkle to your bathroom: Pull down that old milky looking shower curtain liner and hang a fresh new one, says Braun. Yes, an old liner can be cleaned, but when they only cost a few dollars they’re hardly worth the trouble. Buy a few at a time and count on replacing them every 6 months. If you’re not in the habit of using shower curtain liners, now’s the time to start-they’ll keep the finer outer curtain clean and help it last longer.

SPRAY YOUR CARES AWAY Park a bottle of daily shower spray in your bathroom. When the walls are still wet after your shower, give them a spritzing. No need to rinse. The spray will prevent buildup of hard water deposits and mold. The shower walls will be one cleaning chore you can cross off your to-do list forever. Buy shower spray wherever cleaning products are sold.

SEE SPOTS RUN To keep hard water stains from building up on your shower doors, every few weeks dampen a cleaning rag with lemon oil or baby oil. Wipe down the interior of the doors. The shower water will sheet right off them, rather than clinging to the doors, drying, and leaving spots. So there you have it: By adding disinfecting cleaner and a couple of disposable products to your shopping list-and then applying a little know-how-you get a germ-free, hassle free kitchen and bathroom. Looks like the deal of the century to me!

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Why clean once a week when you can keep your home clean throughout the week!