We spoke with cleaning expert Melissa Maker about the most important places to clean in your kitchen—and how to clean them properly.

Lauren Wicks
March 12, 2020

Whether you're a clean freak or could care less, the COVID-19 pandemic has most of us on edge. Thankfully there are several research-backed ways to prevent coronavirus in our homes. One of those ways is keeping our house clean—especially certain places that are prone to harboring germs.

The CDC's Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection Recommendations guide U.S. households with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, but are also meant for the general public. It offers advice for cleaning various surfaces and objects that are more likely to harbor bacteria and viruses. We also spoke with Melissa Maker, cleaning expert and founder of Clean My Space, to get her top tips for keeping our kitchens squeaky clean.

Should You Clean, Disinfect or Sanitize?

It's important to know the difference between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing.The CDC's resource, How To Clean and Disinfect Schools To Help Slow the Spread of Flu distinguishes the three methods:

Cleaning: Cleaning uses soap (or detergent) and water to physically remove germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces or objects. It doesn't necessarily kill germs, but lowers their number (and the risk of spreading infection). Cleaning is more aesthetically driven than the other two.

Disinfecting: Disinfecting actually kills germs on surfaces or objects through chemical products. It doesn't necessarily clean the surface or object and can be used after cleaning to be more effective in eliminating germs.

Sanitizing: Sanitizing uses cleaning or disinfecting to reduce the number of germs to a safe level determined by public health standards and requirements. Sanitizing is typically used for surfaces that come in contact with food—for example, your dishwasher is a sanitizing method for kitchen tools.

Door Knobs and Handles

The CDC advises regularly cleaning frequently touched surfaces—especially door knobs and handles that see a lot of action. While they may be easy to forget about, it's worth taking a minute or two at the end of a meal to wipe down your kitchen drawer and appliance handles and doorknobs before you finish cleaning. And don't forget the touchpad on your microwave!

Should You Clean, Sanitize or Disinfect?

The CDC advises cleaning and disinfecting door knobs and handles. Simply spray an EPA-approved disinfectant cleaner 6-8 inches from the door knob or handle and let dry for at least 2 minutes. From there, you can let the object air dry or wipe it down with a clean cloth.

Sinks

"Your kitchen sink is by far one of the dirtiest places in the home," Maker says. "You know the pipe that is visible from the cabinet underneath the sink? There is bacteria hanging out in that pipe and can work its way back up into your sink."

Our sink also comes in contact with raw meat, unwashed produce, sponges and other objects that are teeming with bacteria. She says while its important to be focused on preventing COVID-19, we also need to actively prevent E.coli and other food-related illnesses in the home through proper cleaning techniques.

Should You Clean, Sanitize or Disinfect?

Lysol advises sanitizing your skink (which includes the other two methods) in order to get it squeaky clean. Check out the brand's five-step guide for cleaning a stainless steel or porcelain sink. Your daily faucet-cleaning routine can be as simple as scrubbing with soap and water (daily cleaning will help prevent buildup), but you'll want to clean and sanitize your aerator every few months.

Maker prefers to clean her sink with a Scotch-Brite Advance Soap Control Dishwand instead of a sponge because it keeps your hands from getting contaminated with bacteria. She says the nylon bristle brush head can be thrown into the dishwasher for easy sanitizing.

Kitchen Counters and Island

Your kitchen counters and island are two of the most important places to keep clean. The counters in our kitchens are often a holding zone for backpacks, food preparation, mail and much more.

Should You Clean, Sanitize or Disinfect?

The CDC advises cleaning and disinfecting your kitchen counters—and wearing disposable gloves when you do so. First, clean the counters with soap (or detergent) and water. Then, use a diluted bleach solution, alcohol solution (with at least 70% alcohol) or an EPA-approved disinfectant cleaner to finish the job according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Agnieszka Marcinska / EyeEm/Getty Images

Kitchen Table and Hard-Backed Chairs

Whether your family dines in a breakfast nook, at the kitchen bar or formal dining table, your kitchen table and chairs need regular cleaning.

Should You Clean, Sanitize or Disinfect?

The CDC advises cleaning and disinfecting your table and hard-backed chairs. Make sure you purchase EPA-approved cleaning and disinfecting products that are safe to use on your furniture's material.

Sponges and Dishcloths

It's only fair that the workhorses of your cleaning regimen need some cleaning of their own. This will help further prevent the spread of bacteria and will make sure your cleaning time wasn't wasted. Maker says you should be more mindful of changing your sponges—about once a week—and make sure you dry them out between uses.

Should You Clean, Sanitize or Disinfect?

You'll want to sanitize kitchen sponges and clean dish towels. You may have seen microwave hacks for cleaning your sponges, but Maker says to avoid them.

"I'm not a fan of hacks—I want what works," she says. Consider wearing gloves to soap, rinse and squeeze excess liquid out of the sponge before finding a safe place to let it dry that won't contaminate other objects or surfaces.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says dishcloths also need to be washed on a hot cycle and thoroughly dried on a hot setting. The organization advises keeping dish towels for different purposes—one for hand drying, one for dish drying and one for cleaning.

Reusable Water Bottles

Maker advises cleaning your reusable water bottle more often, as it often gets lugged around from the office to the gym and back home. She also says biofilm, or communities of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, can build up on the inside.

Should You Clean, Sanitize or Disinfect?

Maker says to clean the exterior with an all-purpose cleaner. The interior, lid and mouth can be cleaned with soap and water.

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