5 Steps to Clean a Really Messy Kitchen

I don’t think my coworkers believe me when I tell them that I haven’t cleaned my kitchen in weeks. I mean, really, how could I cook keep cooking breakfast, supper, and lunch every day without cleaning the kitchen?

I think the better question is how would I ever have time to cook 3 meals a day, work, blog, do laundry, play with my little one, start a new business, AND clean the kitchen?

And the answer is I don’t.  John or I (usually John) runs the dishwasher once a day, but that doesn’t really make much of a dent when you’re cooking 3 meals a day. There are a lot of nights where we wash just enough dishes to get supper cooked. By week end there are dirty dishes, pots, pans, and utensils on every available surface.

The upside to all of this is that I’ve gotten pretty good at taking a really dirty kitchen and getting it sparkling clean within one day. And I thought I’d share my method with you as part of my January focus on kitchen basics. I’m sure there have to be others out there that have this same problem!

How to Clean a Really Dirty Kitchen

1. Divide you kitchen into 3 or 4 zones. Your kitchen sink and surrounding areas should be one zone. Divide the rest of the kitchen in whatever way makes sense. My other two zones are the stove and surrounding counters, and the island.

2. Put dirty dishes from Zone 1 into the dishwasher. If your dishwasher is not empty, start by emptying it.  Then put as many dishes as possible from the sink and surrounding areas into the dishwasher and start the dishwasher. Your goal is to completely empty  the sink, even if that means you still have dishes stacked on the surrounding counters.

3. Handwash and dry the rest of the dishes in Zone 1. Fill the sink with hot soapy, water.  Hand wash the remainder of the dishes that didn’t go in the dishwasher. Immediately dry each item and put it away before you begin washing the next item.

You should only have to handwash a few dishes – ones that are too large for the dishwasher or  are not dishwasher safe. For instance, this morning I washed my cast-iron skillets and stock pot during this step.

4. Wipe down the counters in Zone 1 and dry the sink. Drain the sink and rinse out any grime. Use your wet dishcloth  to wipe down the counters. Rinse the dishcloth and hang it on the sink spigot to dry. Finish up by drying the sink with your drying cloth, which you can then throw into the dirtyclothes.

5. Rest and Repeat. You didn’t think you were going to clean this kitchen at once, did you? That’s way too much work. Drink a glass of water and go do something else while the dishwasher does your work for me.

Come back later and repeat Steps 2 -4 in the next zone.  It may take you all day to get through all the zones, but by the time you go to bed your kitchen will be clean. And you won’t have worn yourself out trying to clean the kitchen in one fell swoop. Trust me. That’s never a good idea.

More Tips:

  • I usually do Zone 1 before breakfast, Zone 2 after lunch, and Zone 3 before supper.  If you have hungry people demanding breakfast, try fending them off with a fruit snack. I gave David banana slices topped with a dab of peanut butter to keep him going this morning. Then we had pancakes for brunch.
  • Do not use a drying rack when you handwash dishes. And don’t stack the wet dishes on a dry dishtowel and say that you’ll put them away later. You won’t. I know. I’ve tried it too. And those dishes will still be there 2 days later and you will have never made it to Zone 2. Dry and put away each dish immediately after it is washed.
  • This is the day to wash as you go.  When I made pancakes this morning, I washed the batter bowl and griddle as soon as I was finished with them AND I put them away. The lunch plates went into  the dishwasher with the other Zone 2 dishes, since I do Zone 2 at lunch. The dishes from supper will go into the Zone 3 dishwasher load and handwashing load. By the end of the day everything will be clean =)


  1. Really get tips. I always try to clean as I go, as to not have much to do afterwards.

  2. Hi, I have a question off topic… Is tapioca Flour and Tapioca Starch the same thing?

    • @Cici. Yes, tapioca flour and tapioca starch are the same. My mother tried her best to teach me to clean up as I go, but I have just never gotten the hang of it. Usually I’m cooking something that doesn’t have any “stop” time between steps, or I’m using the “stop” time do other things, like check the blog, rest, do laundry, etc. Maybe I’ll figure it out someday =)

  3. Hi Mary Frances!!
    Thanks for the Great tips on cleaning up my messy kitchen!
    I was also looking over the new gluten Free Menu you have going on… what an awesome Idea! Way to Go!

  4. Thanks just for being honest about your approach! I’m not the only one who regularly has a dish pile up. I’m the only person in my family that is apparently incapable of making a meal and then cleaning the kitchen immediately following…but, gosh darn it, I have a life outside of the kitchen!

  5. The primary thing I try to do is unload a clean dishwasher right away, so I have an empty dishwasher (ok not right away but…soon). This way the dirty stuff doesn’t build up on counters or in sink but can go in dishwasher quickly and stay there til it’s full.
    I try to clean as I cook, but that depends on mood of the day.
    Worst issue for me is simply clutter!!!! Within two days it snowballs. Thanks for tips!

  6. thank you so much for this! I have this page book marked and have used it more than once! sometimes my kitchen gets so overwhelming, and I do not have a dishwasher. But (like the other poster) I am the only one who can cook and clean as I go. AND why does my husband put the wrappers right next to the trash? so yea, anyhow… my kitchen often gets very overwhelming but this puts it in perspective…

    thanks sooooo much!