my clean kitchen

How to Cook and Keep the Kitchen Clean at the Same Time

I love to cook. And I enjoy inviting guests for dinner parties or more casual meals. What I hate is the big ugly mess that happens in the kitchen as I’m cooking and concentrating on getting everything on the table. My kitchen is right out there in the open for all to see, which is why I’ve come up with strategies to cook and keep the kitchen clean at the same time.

my clean kitchen

Begin with the end in mind

It’s a concept I learned from reading  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. The first habit: begin with the end in mind. This has helped me so much, especially when setting out to cook and keep my kitchen clean at the same time.

I envision the meal all prepared, on the table with me enjoying it along with my guests. I see the kitchen clean, the sink empty, the stovetop splatter-free and shiny clean. Coffee and dessert are all sitting out, ready to be served at the appropriate time. Right there, a certain sense of calm and peace comes over me because I know where I’m going with all of this! I have a plan and a purpose.

Start clean

This means an empty dishwasher, empty, clean, and shiny sink, and cleared-off clean counters. Starting out with these three areas neat and tidy makes it doable to keep the kitchen clean through the entire process. You won’t believe the difference this makes!

Prep sink

This is an old restaurant trick and it is brilliant. Fill a sink or large bowl with hot water and a couple of squirts of dishwashing liquid. This is where you will be depositing cooking utensils as you are done with them—whisks, spatulas, spoons, tongs. Just drop them in the prep sink to soak. If you need it again, simply lift it out and give it a quick rinse and you’re good to go.

As you have downtime, for example when onions are sauteing or you’re waiting for water to boil, give all of the soaking utensils a quick scrub and rinse and put them back into the drawer ready to be used again. Empty and refill the prep sink as needed.

Caution: Anything that touches raw meat should not be dumped into the prep sink but rather cleaned and handled separately. Also, avoid putting knives into the prep sink for safety reasons. This is not the time you need to deal with cutting your hand on a sharp blade.

Garbage bowl

orange garbage bowlMy garbage bowl is big and bright orange. That is by design because I want to see it and know exactly where it is at all times while I’m prepping and cooking.

My garbage bowl has a single purpose in my kitchen—to collect everything headed for the trash and recycle bin. I don’t want to be running back and forth to the kitchen trash area as I’m chopping, prepping, opening.

I keep my garbage bowl within arm’s reach no matter where I am in the kitchen. It goes with me as I’m cooking.

Everything to be disposed of goes into the garbage bowl—cans, shells, lids, cuttings, bones, fat, peelings, and so forth. If it’s not part of the meal and will be discarded, it lands in the garbage bowl to be separated later.

A garbage bowl saves me time, steps, and movement. It keeps me on task because it is not unusual for me to think of a dozen other things as I dash to the kitchen trash area with an empty can or onions skins. Big Orange keeps me focused and on task.


Also known as “prepping,” this means getting ingredients all chopped, cut, peeled, sliced, measured, and otherwise prepared first. Before the actual cooking begins. This is not easy for me because my nature is to jump in, get things done, and clean up later. But I have learned to befriend the process because the results are spectacular.

If you chop, measure, and portion out what you need ahead of time, you’ll reduce the mess created from a frantic scramble to measure and prep. Set out plates or small bowls (easy to wash up in the prep sink) that will contain all your ingredients as you go.


Pre-treating is an amazing concept that makes it easy to semi-clean as you cook. It makes the final cleaning up—while the roast is roasting, the bread is baking, the salad is chilling—a breeze! My pretreatment is a wine bottle that sits at my sink at all times that is about 95% water and 5% Blue Dawn dishwashing liquid. It’s pretty because it has no labels.

My pretreatment bottle has become part of my kitchen decor. And I use it with abandon, refilling as needed. It could just as easily be contained in a spray bottle and kept under the sink.

I use this to pretreat just about anything as soon as it’s cool enough to do so. If a dish or pan cools off too much, things can start to cake on and become really tough to clean. And ugly! So I give these items a generous splash with this solution and let them soak until I have a few moments to get them into the dishwasher or I finish by handwashing. The goal is to get things cleaned and back into their storage spot.

Clean spills on the spot

Mostly I’m talking about the cooktop. Spills and splatters can quickly derail an otherwise clean kitchen. A fresh spill is a thousand times easier to clean than one that has become cooked- or baked-on. If you spill it, clean it up right away. This includes the on the floor, counter, and backsplash, too. A good splatter screen will help immensely with keeping the cooktop clean.


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6 replies
  1. EILEEN says:

    Love the plan you outlined. it’s great!! I had changed the garbage bowl a little — I save any of the plastic bags from veggies or bread or whatever, and whenever I start my prep work I simply take one out, fold the top down a bit and stand it up and use it as my garbage bowl. anything that I plan to go into the garbage goes in there and when I am done I just close it up and pop in the trash. If I ever get to where we never have those bags I’ll just use a bowl but this is nice because it also keeps the smells out of the kitchen.

  2. Kathy says:

    I love your pre-treat wine bottle. Ingenious!!! Thanks for all your tips.. 🙂 Love you Mary. Merry Christmas and a blessed and happy New Year.

  3. Jan McDermott says:

    I love these suggestions! I do many of them and consider this post one of the best ever. I immediately went to amazon and ordered the bowl. My sink arrangement is changing and I won’t be using a plastic bag anymore. The bowl will be perfect. Mary, thanks so much.

  4. Meredeth D Mann says:

    another great reason to prep ingredients in advance in little bowls is it makes you focus on the recipe and what if you start the recipe and realize you are out of an ingredient or don’t have enough of it


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