As a child, I loved to cook. After my parents gave me an American Girl cookbook for Christmas one year, cooking quickly became a favorite hobby of mine. By the time I was ten, I was able to cook a few favorite meals for my family—and a whole lot of baked goods. As fun as it was for me, I think the cookbook was a gift my mom grew to regret. I may have been a good cook, but I was a messy one, too. I would leave flour scattered across the floor, stain my clothes, and always managed to break a plate or a glass. Not a lot has changed in the time since. I’m great with food prep, but I always manage to trash my kitchen in the process. My walls are perpetually splattered with tomato sauce or bacon grease, and most of my t-shirts are littered with stains. Neatness simply isn’t my strong suit, to say the least. I have, however, been working on this fault of mine. I eventually realized that my failure to clean as I go (and my propensity for being excessively messy) was creating extra work for me. I was spending way, way too much time trying to make up for the disasters I’d created while cooking a simple dinner. Cleaning may not be my strongest skill, but I’m learning from some fellow moms, and a few experts cleaners, that it doesn’t have to be complicated. If the same messes and stains are continually getting to you, there might be a hack to make your life simpler. Need help, say, getting smells out of tupperware or scraping baked-on food from the microwave? Check out these genius hacks before throwing in the towel.
First, don’t throw that GladWare away.
I have to admit, I’ve thrown away an embarrassing amount of tupperware simply because they stunk—they stinky things were forgotten in the back of the fridge or left in a lunch bag over the weekend. But it turns out stained and smelly containers don’t have to be tossed. “Baking soda, ammonia, vinegar, and bleach are the four things you need to pretty much clean anything,” says Judy Woodward Bates—an author, speaker, and TV personality known as the Bargainomics Lady—who struggles with stinky tupperware no more. “Make a paste of baking soda and water and rub [it] onto stained plasticware, and let it stand for a few minutes before scrubbing and rinsing.”
A Non-Toxic Approach to Microwave Messes
Many people opt to avoid cleaning products in their microwave because of the fumes they can create if any cleaning product is left behind. But without the help of products, cleaning a microwave can be totally tedious, especially with all that food baked on. This trick from Jeanne Eschenberg Sager, mother and self-professed “queen of doing as little as possible,” uses natural ingredients to get stubborn messes out of the inside of her microwave. “Fill a cup with a mixture of water and lemon juice,” she instructs. “Pop it in the microwave and let it ‘cook’ for a minute. It will loosen all the baked on gunk … in the microwave, so you don’t have to scrub at all. You can just wipe it right down!”
Don’t Despair Over Drink Spills
Nearly every time I host a dinner party or family get together, some dark beverage ends up all over my living room floor. There’s no need to rearrange furniture to cover up these stains. Home designer and creator of a machine-washable rug Lorena Canals has a few genius stain-removing hacks up her sleeve. For fruit-based juices, she advises starting with quickly soaking up as much of the spill as you can to avoid it soaking into the fibers of the carpet. Avoid scrubbing. Then, mix half a cup of hydrogen peroxide, half a cup of water, and one teaspoon of dish soap together to create a stain fighting solution. “Using a clean sponge or cloth towel, gently blot this mixture onto the carpet … ,” she says. “Using a clean, dry, white cloth towel, gently blot … .” Repeat the last two steps until the stain is completely gone. Coffee is another drink that can cause stubborn stains when spilled on rugs and carpet. Canals recommends beginning by drying the spilled coffee with a dry, white towel. Then, mix a fourth cup of vinegar with a quart of warm water. Spritz the mixture on the stain, rinse, and repeat until the stain is gone.
Rescue Your Favorite Coffee Mug
When you have three kids in four years like I did, coffee becomes the beverage of choice. Unfortunately, I often neglect my favorite mug overnight, and I’ve even left it in the car over the weekend. But see, I’ve found a couple different hacks that are perfect for dealing with stubborn tea or coffee stains. My first method of attack is a paste made from lemon juice and baking soda. I scrub it on, wipe it off, and rinse the cups clean. If there is still a ring or stain in the cup, I fill the cup past the stain with undiluted vinegar, leave it overnight, and rinse it clean in the morning.
Set Yourself Free From Fingerprints
Stainless steel faucets are really hard to get—and keep—clean in most kitchens. Even after a good scrub, they start to show fingerprints after just a few uses. Fell fingerprints and water stains with this hack from Joanna Douglas, the owner of Clean Affinity, a home cleaning service in Portland, Oregon. “For cleaning faucets and other pipes, we use waxed paper. This method gets rid of fingerprints and small stains,” she explains.
Rid Your Clothes of Cooking Stains
I’m the worst about remembering to wear my apron while I’m cooking, which means I’m regularly battling stains on my clothes. When it comes to most stains, Douglas says that a mixture of dishwashing soap and salt will easily remove the stain in less than five minutes. For more serious stains, or stains that have been ignored for a bit too long, Lauren Haynes, supervisor at Star Domestic Cleaners, has a few tried and true hacks her company uses. For butter stains, for instance, you should always begin by scraping, not scrubbing, as much of the butter as possible off of the clothing. Then, rub the spot with dishwashing soap, rinse, and repeat until all of the butter and soap are gone. Before washing the clothing, pretreat the stain with a stain remover and wash on the hottest setting. “For gravy and ketchup stains, begin with removing the excess material and blot with a clean, white cloth,” she says. “Then mix two cups of cool water with a tablespoon of liquid dishwashing detergent. Apply the solution to a white cloth, and blot [the spot] until the liquid is absorbed. If necessary, repeat the process until the spot is gone. To remove the remaining cleaning solution, blot the area again with another cloth rinsed in cool water. At the end, blot dry, and you are done.”
Scrub Away Soap Scum
The tile, sinks, and faucets often become problem areas in kitchens because of soap scum and residue. It’s a special kind of frustrating—soap is the chosen one! It was said that it would destroy the scum, not join it; bring cleanliness to the sink, not leave it in filth. Fortunately, you don’t need a store-bought solution to get rid of soap scum. Simply create a paste from one cup of baking soda and a few tablespoons of vinegar. Apply this paste to areas with soap residue, and use a sponge to scrub away.
Never Dust Cabinet Tops Again
Early this year, I painted our kitchen a fresh coat of white. Climbing the counters to paint hard to reach areas, I was horrified to find a thick layer of dust settled in the space between the top of my cabinets and the ceiling. It was the biggest pain to clean up, taking several rags just to get the top layer of dust and dirt wiped away. I wish I had spoken with Woodward years ago, when we first moved into this home. “If you have kitchen cabinets that don’t go all the way to the ceiling, cut or fold newspaper to cover the tops of the cabinets,” she suggests. “Instead of spending ages cleaning built-up gunk off your cabinets, just change out the paper from time to time.”
Stop Wiping Away Toast Crumbs
If your toaster leaves a sprinkle of toast crumbs on your counter every morning, it’s probably time for a deep clean of this kitchen appliance. I’m embarrassed to say that, until just recently, I had no clue that there was a “right” way to clean out a toaster. As it turns out, each toaster has spring loaded trays on the bottom that can be completely removed. These trays catch most of the crumbs. Once you’ve unplugged your toaster, you can remove them, dump them, and give them a good soak in soap and water. Oh, and before putting it back together, use a pastry brush to free crumbs trapped in other areas of the toaster, and wipe the toaster down with vinegar for good measure.