If you regularly wipe down the counters after cooking, you may think your kitchen is spick and span. But look again. Dark crevices, unseen surfaces and continuous contact with food make your kitchen a breeding ground for bacteria. Gross. And this not only puts you at risk of foodborne illness, it also creates a pretty smelly situation too. We asked professional cleaners to identify the 15 most germ-filled items in your kitchen. Read on for tips on how to thoroughly clean them.
1. Kitchen Sink
If you’ve ever dealt with a stinky sink — or an influx of fruit flies in the warming months — you know that moisture and food residue clings to the sink drain. And anytime you use the sink, you’re adding new germs to it. You don’t want to leave a container of raw chicken in the sink and not clean the sink after,” says Colleen Kearney, a Florida-based cleaning professional at Two Maids & A Mop. Banish nasty bugs by using a disinfectant designed specifically for kitchens, says Kearney. All-purpose or bathroom disinfectants might not have the ingredients you need to banish E. coli.
2. Garbage Disposal
If you think the sink can get dirty, you should see the garbage disposal. And unlike your sink, which cleans up within a minute or two, cleaning your garbage disposal is a bit more labor-intensive — all the more reason it's easy to ignore. Christiana Jayde, manager at U.K.-based Jerm Pro Cleaners, recommends cleaning your garbage disposal using a long brush with an angled head and a chlorinated cleaner. Scrub the sides and rubber pieces and, if possible, dismantle the garbage disposal to wash each piece separately. Thankfully, you likely only need to clean the disposal once a month to keep it clean, says Jayde. The rest of the time, a thorough rinse is fine.
3. Sponges and Dish Cloths
Your sponge comes into contact with germs every time you wash the dishes. And then it sits around damp between washings, breeding new bacteria. Yuck. “You should always rinse out a sponge after every use with antibacterial soap and hot water,” says Kearney. “And tossing a sponge in the utensils section of your dishwasher as you do a load is a great habit.” You’ll also want to wash dish towels at least once a week to avoid bacterial buildup. Rinse them with hot water after each use to remove as many germs as possible.
4. Cutting Boards
Since cutting boards come into contact with almost any food you prepare, they’re a natural breeding ground for nasty germs. Wooden cutting boards are much more porous and harder to clean, which is why Kearney recommends opting for a plastic cutting board instead. “You should disinfect after each use to avoid cross contaminating your vegetables, fruits or cheese with raw meat,” says Kearney. “And clean the cutting board immediately after use, instead of waiting till the end of a meal or a party.” You can also stock up on two cutting boards — one for raw meat and one for cheese and produce — to prevent cross-contamination.
5. Fridge Drip Pan
Every fridge has a drip pan at the bottom to prevent condensation from the cooling system from leaking out onto your floor. If you haven’t looked at this pan in a while, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise. “Failing to clean the refrigerator drip pan will result in mold growth,” says Dana Smith, a cleaning expert at Mr. Appliance. To clean it, remove the kick panel (it’s usually at the very bottom of the outside of your fridge) to see where the defrost line drains into the pan (use a flashlight if needed). Gently pull the drain pan out as it may be filled with water, and clean it with an all-purpose cleaner, recommends Smith. If you can’t find the kick panel (some fridges have these hidden away in the back), consider calling an expert for help with cleaning out mold.
6. Fridge Drawers
Chances are your fridge drawers may need a good cleaning too. These drawers rarely get aired out, and they also come into direct contact with your food — including any produce that’s past its “best before” date. “Mold can set in and damage your entire fridge, so it’s important to perform a maintenance cleaning every single time you purchase groceries,” says Florida-based cleaning expert Jon Tavarez, owner of PRO Housekeepers. Simply wipe down your fridge drawers with a mixture of three parts water to one part vinegar to keep everything mold-free.
7. Door Track of Dishwasher
A dishwasher keeps your dishes clean with minimal fuss. But this dark and damp space often comes into contact with food, making it a hotbed for mold growth. That’s especially true for the track around the door to your dishwasher and the horizontal strip that runs along the bottom of the door, says Briana Short, president of Washington-based cleaning company Caliber Cleaning. Mold in these areas can get transferred to your dishes during cleaning, which you definitely don’t want! “Both of these areas should be cleaned with a toothbrush, hot water and your favorite household disinfectant,” says Short.
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We all love to guzzle a protein-packed smoothie to start the day or to recover after a tough workout, but it’s important to clean your blender thoroughly after each use. Food particles can stick to the blades, corners and crevices in the jar and even under the rubber seal on the base of the blender. Run the blender with a little soap and water to clean, or use the cleaning cycle if your blender has one. Rinse thoroughly, separating the container from the blades to ensure you’re cleaning each piece. “When cleaning blenders, don’t add a lid until it is completely dry,” says Tavarez. “You don’t want that nasty humidity to get caught in there and create bacteria.” Make sure to give the buttons and base the occasional cleaning too.
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9. Cabinet and Appliance Handles
Because they come into constant contact, kitchen handles tend to attract germs, which are then easily transferred to anyone who touches the handle. “During cold and flu season it is especially important to sanitize these regularly to stop the spread of germs,” says Short. “Use a cleaning cloth sprayed with your favorite disinfectant or a cleaning wipe to go around and wipe down all the knobs and handles on your cabinets, drawers and appliances.”
10. Silverware Drawer
Sure, you’re probably cleaning the contents of your silverware drawer regularly. But if you’re placing them back into a dirty drawer, your efforts just went to waste. “Silverware drawers collect so many crumbs and food particles,” says Short. “Use the crevice tool attachment on your vacuum every month or so and suck up the extra debris in your silverware drawer. Or empty the silverware out of the drawer and wipe out the drawer and organizer with warm water and disinfectant.”
11. Can Opener
While you’re cleaning out your silverware drawer, pay particular attention to your can opener. It comes into contact with any canned food you open, including meats and fish. This means your can opener might carry harmful germs like E. coli, mold and even salmonella, says Christopher Cane of Sam’s Flat Cleaning London. If it’s dishwasher-safe, add your can opener to the dishwasher along with your regular dishes. Or you can clean it with soap and hot water after each use to help rinse away germs. Dry it immediately to prevent rust.
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12. Salt and Pepper Shakers
We love salt and pepper for making healthy foods more flavorful, but your shakers might hold more than just seasonings. “We wash the dishes and wipe our dining table after having a meal, but we never think of the salt and pepper shakers as a possible source of bacteria,” says Cane. Handling the shakers during food prep can transfer germs from your food (like the chicken you’re about to season) to the shakers. So when you reach for them later — say, to season your omelet the next morning — you’re coming in contact with that bacteria and spreading it. Fortunately, it’s easy to keep the shakers clean. “Simply make sure to also wipe the salt and pepper shakers when wiping your table or counter with a wet, soapy cloth,” says Cane.
13. Reuseable Grocery Bags
Anyone shopping with reusable cloth bags deserves serious props for being friendly to the environment. But it’s easy to forget that reusable shopping bags come into contact with your food and need regular cleaning too. “There are multiple touch points where bacteria can transfer to the bag,” says Cane. They transfer germs from touching your keys or car, being placed on counters and surfaces that might contain harmful germs and coming in contact with the products and foods themselves. Start fresh by cleaning all your bags in the washing machine. You’ll also want to wash any used bags between shopping trips so you always have a few clean ones on hand.
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14. Kitchen Tiles and Grout
Want to see perhaps the most surprising dirty space in your kitchen? Just look down. “Tile and grout (the paste that fills tile crevices) can be the most overlooked area in the kitchen,” says Rodney Lynch, instructor in the technical department at Rainbow International, a Texas-based cleaning and restoration company. “Failing to regularly clean your floors can fuel germ and mold growth.” So give your floor a good cleaning by wiping it down with full-strength vinegar (open a window because it might get a little smelly). Brush away any pesky spots with baking soda, recommends Lynch. If you’ve got any mold, spray the affected area with a one-to-one mixture of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide and water, let it sit for 45 minutes, and then wipe the mold away with a damp sponge.
15. Other Kitchen Textiles
While dishcloths and sponges definitely seem the dirtiest, other fabrics in your kitchen can develop some serious funk too. Cooking often can send aerosolized food residue up into the air, where it can settle on neighboring surfaces like your drapes and kitchen mats. While only a trace amount of particles gets deposited at a time, most people only clean these textiles once or twice a year, which allows lots of time for buildup, says Kevin Tennant, Alaska-based cleaning expert and Glass Doctor franchisee. Clean your kitchen drapes and mats at least once per season, and clean the mat after any spills or drops, even if the visual damage isn’t obvious.
What Do YOU Think?
How often do you clean your kitchen? Are you surprised by any of these? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
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