This post may contain affiliate links. For details on our affiliate policy, please click here.
We clean to make sure our homes are safe and healthy spaces. Cleaning helps to get rid of potentially harmful microbes and reduce our exposure to contaminants. The key factors for keeping a healthy home are: what you use to clean with, how you clean and the frequency.
Using natural, non-toxic ingredients and healthy cleaning products can help you avoid exposure to unnecessary chemicals used in lots of cleaning products on the market. It’s good to get into the habit of cleaning your entire home regularly. However, you should also clean areas and items where harmful bacteria are more likely to hang out.
In this post, we’re looking at how to naturally clean the top 13 dirtiest items in your kitchen—the germiest place in your home.
Topics in this post:
It’s about HOW you clean (and how often)
Cleaning is definitely one area where it pays off to be mindful and intentional. We often clean too quickly to let our cleaning ingredients and products work to maximum effect. Regular cleaning can also go a long way to keeping harmful microbes from building up and making you sick.
Personally, I want to know that the time and energy I put into cleaning and disinfecting my home is actually effective. And so, it’s worth it to use a cleaning routine and take extra time to get the most out of my ingredients and products. Check out our most recent article for key steps to a cleaner home for an overall cleaning process that gives maximum impact.
Why the kitchen is the “dirtiest” place in your home
Lots of studies and books have looked at where the dirtiest areas and items are in your home. For example, NSF International’s 2011 study looks for microbrial hotspots in 30 household items, Lisa Neu et al.’s study looks at microbes on plastic items like rubber ducks, and Philip Tierno’s book The Secret Life of Germs shares observations about germs in the home and high-traffic public locations.
This may be a surprise, but the kitchen stands out time and time again as the dirtiest space in your home. Our kitchens interact with potentially harmful microbes almost on a daily basis. When we bring food into our homes, it can carry outdoors microbes like bacteria and fungi. Then we transfer those germs into our fridges and spread them across our countertops and sinks.
Tackling the top 13 dirtiest items in your kitchen
Regularly cleaning and disinfecting germ hotspot items in your kitchen can help to keep this microbe party in check.
There are a wide range of ingredients for natural cleaning, such as white vinegar, lemon, baking soda, salt and hydrogen peroxide (3%). If you prefer to use ready-made, the Environmental Working Group has a searchable database all about healthy cleaning products. You can also check out our post about natural essential cleaning ingredients and safer disinfectants I keep in our cupboards for some recipes.
Here’s how I tackle the top 13 dirtiest kitchen items using natural cleaning and disinfecting ingredients.
Sponges, dish cloths and towels
A sponge is the #1 dirtiest item in your kitchen. And, given how often we use dish cloths and towels, they should all be cleaned really well to cut down on unfriendly microbes.
How to clean:
Soak your sponges and dish cloths in a 1:1 solution of hydrogen peroxide and warm water to disinfect them.
For deep cleaning, reusable sponges and dish cloths can be washed along with kitchen towels in a washing machine with hot water and laundry soap.
To disinfect your laundry load, add one of the following: ½ cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle OR 1 cup of peroxide (if you don’t mind potentially bleaching your fabrics). I also like to add 10 drops of an essential oil like eucalyptus or tea tree to up the antiseptic effect of the wash. Dry on a hot setting in a dryer.
Soak sponges and dish clothes every day, or at least every other day. They should also be deep cleaned along with kitchen towels weekly, or swapped out for new ones so you can do multiple weeks’ worth of laundry in one load.
Sinks, countertops & cutting boards
These preparation and cleaning surfaces come into contact with both raw and cooked foods on the regular, and they have the potential for hosting all kinds of microbes including E. coli bacteria.
How to clean:
Sprinkle baking soda on a sponge and scrub your sink’s inside surfaces, the edges overlapping the countertop, faucet and handles. Spray on some vinegar for tough stains or stuck on food debris. Once scrubbed, pour or spray hydrogen peroxide (3%) on the surface and let it sit for 10 minutes before rinsing it clean.
Countertops can be sprayed down with an all purpose cleaner at the end of each day. To disinfect them, spray on undiluted hydrogen peroxide (3%) and let it sit for 10 minutes.
To clean and disinfect cutting boards, scrub the board with a stiff brush to remove any food debris. If you need some scrubbing power, sprinkle coarse or kosher salt and baking soda, and then scrub the board. To clean the board, use my cutting board cleaning and disinfecting recipe..
Disinfect your cutting board by spraying or pouring hydrogen peroxide (3%) onto it, soaking for 10 minutes, and then washing with hot water and dish soap and leaving it to air dry. Plastic cutting boards can also be put in the dishwasher on a hot cycle to disinfect them.
To deep clean a cutting board and remove stains, make a paste of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, and leave to soak for several hours to overnight.
Clean and disinfect sinks and counter tops every day. Cutting boards should be cleaned after each use, and disinfected every day.
Coffee maker reservoirs, and refrigerator drawers & door seals
Kitchen appliances sometimes miss out on a lot of love, and should be cleaned regularly to make sure they don’t build up concentrations of bacteria, viruses or fungi in often wet and cool spaces.
How to clean:
Kitchen appliances like coffee makers usually come with manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations, so check these first.
To deep clean your coffee maker, fill its water reservoir with up to four cups of vinegar. Let it sit for 30 minutes, and then turn the appliance on and let the vinegar run through it. Follow that step with two or three cycles of fresh water to get rid of the vinegar smell.
Remove refrigerator drawers and wash them with hot water, dish soap and a sponge. If they’re too large for your kitchen sink, wash in a bathtub or utility sink. Let dry after washing, and before putting back in your fridge.
To deep clean your fridge, other removable parts like shelves and storage containers can be cleaned in the same way. Soak storage containers in the sink while you clean the interior of your fridge. Spray the inside of your fridge with a solution of white vinegar and water, and wipe out with a clean soft cloth. An all-purpose cleaner works for this too. Do the seals around your fridge at the same time, but use a sterilized tooth brush or scrub brush to get into all the crevices.
Afterwards, disinfect the fridge by spraying hydrogen peroxide (3%) into drawers and fridge interiors, and letting it sit for 10 minutes before rinsing away with water and drying all surfaces.
Aim to deep clean coffee maker reservoirs once per month. Clean your fridge drawers and door seals once per week, and deep clean the fridge once per month.
Stove knobs, cabinet handles and refrigerator door handles
There are lots of frequently contacted touch points around a kitchen that get limited attention, including stove knobs, cabinet handles and refrigerator door handles.
How to clean:
For any knobs or handles with crusted on food, sprinkle them with baking soda, and then spray a solution of vinegar (or vinegar and water). Then scrub them clean with a sponge and soft abrasive pad. Rinse with clean water and a clean cloth.
If you can, remove stove knobs and soak them in a bowl of white vinegar for up to 10 minutes.
To disinfect, use a disinfecting wipe with hydrogen peroxide (3%) or spray it directly onto all knobs and handles throughout your kitchen. To be effective, leave the solution for 10 minutes before wiping away with a clean cloth and water.
Disinfect kitchen knobs and handles once a week or daily if someone in your home is sick.
The kitchen is a high-traffic area. Luckily, floors made of wood, tile or vinyls are pretty easy to clean and disinfect.
How to clean:
Start by vacuuming to pick up dust, dirt and allergens, and then wash with a mop for a deeper clean.
Check out my simple floor cleaner recipe that uses vinegar, water and essential oils. For wood floors, you can also add a protectant like olive, coconut, linseed or jojoba oil to the mix.
Sealed floor surfaces like vinyl, linoleum, ceramic or porcelain, can also be cleaned with a steam mop for regular maintenance.
Kitchen floors should be washed at a minimum once a week. Wash them more frequently if they get stains or food spills on them.
Your pets spend a lot of time at ground level, picking up any microbes that have dropped to floor and ground level in your home and outdoors.
How to clean:
You can hand wash pet bowls using a sponge dedicated to cleaning your pet’s bowl, dish soap and water. Avoid scratchy materials for plastic bowls. Many pet bowls can also be cleaned in the dishwasher, including plastic, stainless steel and ceramic. Check the manufacturer’s directions, and never put in a bowl with a non-skid rubber base.
For deep cleaning stuck on food, soak your pet’s bowl in hot water with dish soap, and then gently scrub.
Sterilize your pet’s bowl it by wiping down the outside with a clean cloth or paper towel soaked in hydrogen peroxide (3%).
If you feed your pet dry food, wash the bowl after the final meal of the day. For wet food, wash and sanitize your pet’s bowl after every meal. Water bowls and dog mats under food dishes should be cleaned once per day.
Sterilize pet bowls once per week.
Conclusion: Clean regularly, and be thorough
Keeping harmful microorganisms at bay, while using non-toxic ingredients and products is a win-win for your health and wellbeing. However, how you clean and how you frequently you do it is just as important.
For the kitchen, a good cleaning routine looks like:
- Daily: Clean and disinfect kitchen sponges, dish cloths, sinks, countertops and cutting boards, clean up spills on kitchen floors, and clean pet food bowls and mats.
- Weekly: Deep clean sponges, dish cloths and kitchen towels, clean stove knobs, cabinet handles, refrigerator door handles, fridge drawers and door seals, clean the kitchen floor, and sterilize pet bowls.
- Monthly: Clean your coffee maker reservoir, and deep clean the refrigerator.
We also look at how to clean two other dirty household areas in other posts—the bathroom and the living room. What are the most common areas that you clean around the house? Do you have any tips or tricks? Let us know!