Few people actually enjoy all the tasks that fall under the umbrella of cleaning the kitchen. In addition to doing the dishes it’s a million other tiny things that need to be put away, wiped down, discarded, composted, recycled, and swept or dusted. It’s an avalanche of tiny chores that can sometimes feel so overwhelming it’s easier to just not do them at all.
But what if there was a way to get some of them done, some of the time? Give yourself a break from the pressure to tackle every task every day. Tackling a few of those chores on some days will help you end up with a kitchen that’s cleaner overall in the long run.
Try this: Use what we call a “microwave minute” to tackle small chores in short bursts. Any time you run the microwave, use that time to pick one quick task that will get things just a tiny bit cleaner. (So no, not every “microwave minute” is exactly 60 seconds, but the theory still works.)
Why it works
The timer countdown will keep you focused on just one task, and by the time you’re sitting down to eat, your kitchen will be slightly less of a disaster than it was when you started.
The best part of the “microwave minute” is it works even if you aren’t doing any real cooking at all — there are plenty of small kitchen cleaning tasks you can do even if all you’re doing is heating a mug of water. In fact, the only small kitchen cleaning task you can’t do during a microwave minute is wiping down the inside of the microwave.
So if the thought of cleaning your kitchen fills you with dread, here’s 27 tiny things you can do to get a cleaner kitchen in a “microwave minute.” (Spoiler: #27 is my fave).
1. Throw out any expired food in your fridge
Because there’s nothing worse than pulling out a container of something so green and moldy you can’t even remember what it used to be.
If this feels too overwhelming, try picking just one thing that you’re sure is definitely not good anymore and just toss that. All progress is good progress in a microwave minute.
2. Make sure everything in your fridge door is standing upright
Pick a shelf in a cupboard and turn all the ingredient labels so they’re facing forward.
3. Prep one thing for tomorrow’s breakfast or lunch
Put it in the front of the fridge so you don’t forget it tomorrow. Or take a minute to jot down a meal plan for the week. Prepping your breakfast or lunch ahead of time means making less of a mess later.
4. Use masking tape to label any containers of leftovers
Bonus points if you add the date you made them!
5. Reorganize your cheese drawer
Whether or not you actually keep cheese in it. These shallow, deep fridge drawers are good at hiding stuff you forgot you had. Take a minute to reshuffle and familiarize yourself with what’s inside.
6. Find the oldest thing in your freezer and throw it out
Admit it, you’re definitely never going to use it!
7. Empty your dish drying rack
Anyone else tend to let theirs pile up high until all the clean things start sliding down into the dirty sink again? Yeah. Me too. It turns out emptying your dish drying rack prevents that from happening. And it never takes as long as you think it will.
8. Wipe down your kitchen sink faucet
And the inside of the sink basin. Just because it’s where you clean other things doesn’t mean it doesn’t also need the occasional scrub too.
9. Treat the drain to a baking soda and vinegar bath
Dump 1/4 cup baking soda down your sink drain followed by a slow pour of 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar. (Do something else for 15 minutes, then pour scalding hot water down the drain to clean it out.)
10. Clean the spot where you keep your sponges
Bonus points for replacing your sponge if it’s grimy (it probably is).
11. Scrub down that particularly stubborn pot you left to “soak” in the sink last night
We all do it. No shame in the soaking game. But this is your chance to get it out of the sink and off your mind in 60 seconds. You can do it!
12. Pick all the utensils out of the sink and put them in the dishwasher
If you hate loading the dishwasher, try starting with just one part of the task: the silverware. That way you don’t have to worry that any of it will slide down the drain (potentially into the disposal, yikes) when you start moving other things in the sink around later to finish the job.
13. Wipe down the front of your microwave
Especially if your microwave hangs over the stove — it’s covered in more oil and grease than you want to think about. Don’t forget to wipe down the buttons/keypad, too. Just be careful not to accidentally cancel your microwave minute or you’ll have to start over!
14. Wipe down the front of your oven
It gets dripped and splattered on more than you realize. And it’s rarely at eye level which means you don’t really notice just how dirty it is until you’re looking for it.
15. Run the nozzle of your vacuum under the fridge
This is always where I find all my cat’s missing toys.
16. Wipe down the drip pan of your favorite stove burner(s)
In one of my previous apartments I was so scared to clean my electric stove until the maintenance crew told me I could literally run the burner coils and drip pans through the dishwasher. Check your stove model to see what the best way to clean it is, but it’s probably not as hard as you think it is.
17. Wipe down all your appliance handles
And get the handles of your cupboards while you’re at it.
Which brings us to…
18. Sweep under the counters
Onion and garlic peels love to hang out there. Gross.
19. Wipe the counter under your jar of cooking utensils
It’s easy to forget to clean under things when they never move. You don’t need to do this often, but it’s good to take 30 seconds every now and then to pull it out of its spot and clean underneath it.
20. Change over your kitchen towels
Toss your dirty kitchen towels in the laundry hamper and hang some clean ones.
21. Wipe the area above the stove to get rid of grease and oil buildup
It’s not just the microwave that gets covered in grease — if you have a stove hood or cupboards above your stove it needs to get a quick scrub down every now and then too.
22. Nest your pots and pans from biggest to smallest
I hate this task because it’s always so loud but you’ll feel so much better knowing that next time you need a small pan it won’t be buried under 5 other heavy ones. Besides, 60 seconds of controlled loudness to get them nested is better than the unpredictable cacophony that happens when you dislodge a small pan out from the bottom and the rest come toppling out like you’ve just lost the worst game of Jenga.
23. Nest all your Tupperware inside each other and stack the lids
The endless struggle of keeping Tupperware containers organized is universal. The good news is it only takes about 60 seconds to get them all stacked again.
24. Exfoliate the top of your wooden cutting board
Sprinkle the surface with a tablespoon of coarse salt and use the cut side of a lemon to remove any stains. Wipe clean when you’re done and rub the surface with a food-grade mineral oil to keep the wood hydrated and prevent cracks.
25. Put any stray spice jars back where they go
True story: One time I found a jar of bay leaves in the living room. It did not belong there!
26. Throw out one spice or herb that you haven’t used in years
Most dried spices and herbs will stay good for 3 to 4 years, so if you’ve been carting the same small jar of marjoram from apartment to apartment for half a decade or more… you have my permission to toss it. (By all means keep the jar to store other things.)
27. Eat the last cookie
Yeah, the one you’ve been saving for whatever reason. It’s taking up space. It’s delicious. You know you want to eat it. So eat it! Enjoy it! Life is short and your kitchen will be exactly one cookie cleaner.
Rebecca Eisenberg is the freelance food editor at Greatist. She’s the voice behind the food blog The Practical Kitchen and recently earned her Certificate in Pastry Arts from Cambridge School of Culinary Arts (Class of January 2021). She lives in Boston with her husband and two cats.