Ask a Clean Person: Hard-Cleaning a Kitchen, a Very Special Episode

Holy fluttering wings, Batman! Apparently this is the month when the locusts descended upon the Hairpinners; in the space of a week multiple questions came in about fruit fly invasions, pantry moth infestations, and cockroach incursions.

You poor things. Don’t worry: Mama’s here, she’s got DEET, and she’s not afraid to use it.

When I was considering the various “HELP ME I’VE GOT BUGS!!” queries that came in, I realized that the answer to all of them rightly needed to begin with “Guuurl. You need to hard clean your kitchen before you do anything else.” And then I thought, “Hm. I bet that’s a new concept for some, so how about I tackle the bugs as a two-parter, starting with ‘How To Hard Clean Your Kitchen’”

And here we are! This is gonna be so much fun, you guys.

Step 1: Set aside 1–3 hours (yup) of your day, depending on the size and relative filth level of your kitchen, the nature of the invading beast, and if you have helping hands. (Fair warning: Sometimes helping hands get in the way.)

Step 2: Put on music. This is non-negotiable, really. Probably go with a playlist similar to what you would listen to at the gym, because basically you want to turn this into CLEAN DANCE PARTY USA WOOO SHOTSSS!!!

Step 3: Choose your weapons! The cleaning products you choose depends on a few factors: personal preference, the make-up of your kitchen (granite countertops and butcher blocks take different products, same goes for tile walls and painted walls), and any specific trouble spots you have.

My weapons are simple (and green-cleaners may want to head to the room next door at this point): Soft Scrub and an all-purpose cleaner, but my kitchen is made up entirely of purple formica, gray tile, and particle board, ho hum. My kingdom for subway tile and beadboard! I also like to bust out ammonia on the regular to wipe down cabinetry, walls, the ventilation hood, my floors, young children with sticky fingers, etc. But that’s just me! You all are grown adults with values and opinions and mothers who may have imparted upon you a devotion to certain products and so by all means you do you.

Once you’ve selected your products, you’ll need to assemble your accessories: a sponge, sure. Perhaps more than one? A few clean rags, a great idea to have around. A roll of paper towels, yes. BUT! Your hard clean should NOT be done with paper towels. First of all — oh and hey, can someone grab the group next door? Thanks! — it’s wasteful and bad for our dear Mother Earth. But more importantly, paper towels will not cut it for the kind of cleaning we’re talking about here. So yes, have them to do a final wipe-up, but don’t count on them to do the majority of your work.

If you’re using a product like bleach or ammonia that needs to be diluted into a solution, you’ll also need a small bucket. You know what works really well for this and is kind of charming? Those plastic beach pails we all had as kids! I know, right? And they sell them at every dollar store, so go wild!

Last but certainly not least, you’ll likely want a pair of rubber gloves around in the event you’re making a chemical solution. Your hands, Miss Scarlett!

Step 4: Clear everything out! Yes everything. I know. I knowww. This includes washing, drying, and putting away any dirty dishes in the sink. (If you keep making that face it will freeze like that.) I really promise that something that will take so much less time than you think will save you so much energy and annoyance and extra work in the next stages, so just do it.

But actually here, you have a decision: Does your situation call for just a surface clean, or do you require full-on pantry purge? Probably for most of you the surface clean will suffice. (Sorry pantry moth girl, you’re in for the full monty.)

Step 5: Take a break! So here’s the secret: The hardest part is over. We’ll coast from here! (More or less.) Would you care for a cold beer? I bet you would. Remember to buy some before you start this project. Shopping list: Soft Scrub, sponges, beer, paper towels.

Step 6: CLEAN! Start from the top and move to the bottom, so: Wipe cabinetry, then walls, then countertops, then the fridge and stove, ending with the floors. Leave the sink be until the very, very end of the process as you’ll be using it to dump dirty washing water, ring out sponges and rags, and probably some other gross things that we don’t really need to talk about.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could take a peek at the top of your cabinets. They might be wearing a dirt sweater! And in this heat too!

Step 7: Put everything back! But before you do, get out your garbage pail and be merciless in the face of clutter. Especially if you’ve done a pantry purge. Check expiration dates, toss out things you don’t use (and/or donate any unopened dry or canned goods), move things into storage containers if they’re open and potentially attracting critters, etc. Here’s a nifty piece from Real Simple on how to do a speed pantry clean that you might enjoy! Even if you went in for just the surface clean, you probably have a lot of junk in your kitchen that you don’t need. Old twist ties, unopened mail, trinkets from two relationships ago that you’re holding on to because you have an utter inability to admit when something is really over, even though you’re the one who ended it and frankly you’ve never regretted a thing except that that shot glass in the shape of a cowboy boot that you bought together on a trip to Austin is really just so special to you.

Put that shot glass in the trash.

Once you’ve thrown away anything you don’t need, take a gander at what’s going back in your squeaky clean kitchen. Are things sticky or dusty or greasy or some combination of all three? Wipe them down. A damp rag should suffice, you probably don’t even need a product, but if you do that’s where all-purpose cleaner comes in handy.

Step 8: Clean up after yourself! “But Jolie, I’ve just cleaned for hours!” I know, but you created some filth in that process, so: Dump any dirty washing water and rinse out your bucket, rinse and wring out your sponges and rags. Put your cleaning products away. Toss paper towels in the trash, and tie up the bag and take it out if it’s full.

Last but not least — and hey, you’re almost done!! — clean the sink. Ohhh look how it’s shiny! Actually, take a step back and look at your whole kitchen. Isn’t it amazing? It’s OK if you want to lick the cabinetry, we can give you a minute alone.

BONUS: You just got a pretty righteous workout, lady! So hey, skip the gym today and maybe treat yourself to a manicure if that’s your kind of thing. (I can’t sit still that long.) Or whatever, really, but reward yourself in some small way. That was a ton of grungy, nasty work you just did!

Next week we’ll go back to the Q&A format to tackle elimination methods specific to the bug problems you’re having. As always, if you all have suggestions on products or tricks or spells that you’ve found effective make them in the comments or email cleaning @ thehairpin dot com.

Previously: Gunky Le Creuset, Grungy Silpat, and Grody Disposals.

Jolie Kerr is not paid to endorse any of the products mentioned in this column, but she sure would be very happy to accept any free samples the manufacturers care to send her way! Are you looking for a green alternative to the suggestions found here? Because we’ve got some! More importantly: Is anything you own dirty?