Clean as you cook

A long while ago I read a post by Aimee at Simple Bites about keeping the kitchen clean as you cook. I tried to find the post and could not. I am sorry. There is, however, a version of the post in the ebook One Bite At A Time which has 52 great ideas for simplifying. Though I do things slightly differently, she is the one that inspired me. I knew immediately that this was something I needed to make a habit of. I have memories of my dad telling me when I was young that if only I would clean as I went, there would not be such a disaster in the kitchen. Apparently, I am a slow learner.

My kitchen can look like a war zone after preparing dinner. In fact, I think I would have no trouble at all using every single spoon I own for one dinner prep. I used to dread cleaning and washing dishes after dinner. I hated it, in fact.

Another problem I have is that I have very little energy in the evening. Being a mom all day wears me out. By the time I sit down for dinner, the last thing I want to do is to tackle the horrible mess I have left. We do not have a dishwasher, so the kitchen carnage feels even more enormous. I have told you before that one of the habits we do to make life easier is to never go to bed with a messy kitchen. Cleaning the kitchen as I go is what makes this more doable.

Now, some of you are reading this and thinking, “I always do that, what is her problem?” Way to go you, and the rest of us will still like you. We promise. I had to train myself, because my mess happened without my knowing it.

Tips for Cleaning As You Go

Start with a clean kitchen

It will be difficult to keep the kitchen clean if you have not started with a clean kitchen. Before I start preparing dinner, I wash up any dishes that might be in the sink and wipe down all the counters. This gives me adequate work space and ensures that my counters are clean before preparing food on it. The clean kitchen also gives me motivation to keep it clean.

Reuse spoons and bowls

If a spoon or bowl has touched anything I hate for it to be used for anything else. (Do not even get me started on the sour cream bowl with the obvious remnants of a salsa spoon being dipped in it.) I think this is one of the reasons I end up with a mess. Everything I do gets a new spoon or bowl.

While I still do not like cross-contamination, I have made it a habit to reuse what I have out. If I need a spoon, rather than go to the drawer and get another one out, I check my sink for one. Spending the extra thirty seconds to wash it and use it again helps keep a check on the number of dishes used. Since I have been doing this I have found that I need fewer items in my kitchen and have definitely simplified things.

Wash and put things away as you use them

This seems obvious, but it bears mentioning. Pull out the olive oil, use it, put it back. Pour the sauce into the serving dish and quickly wash the pan. It is always easier to do the job right away than to put it off for later. Nothing is stuck on the pan so it will only take a few seconds. Leave it until later and you will need to scrub. If something spills, quickly wipe it up. No single job is very difficult. It is in accumulating those little jobs that the mess and work builds.

One tip that Aimee gave in that post is something she learned when she was a chef in a restaurant. Have a jar of warm water to put your spoon in for stirring. I use this tip especially when I am cooking soups or sauces that I come back occasionally to stir. No more mess on my stove, and it does not dry on the spoon because it is in warm water. Brilliant! Why did I not think of that? Maybe because I have never been a chef in a restaurant?


Practice a five minute cleanup before dinner.

I have mentioned before that our family usually does a quick five minute clean up before dinner. Typically while Brian and the kids run through the house picking up toys and random objects lying around, I use that time to focus on the kitchen. I wash up any of the remaining pans and utensils, wipe down the counters, and make sure the kitchen is back the way I started with it.

(This picture was taken just as we were sitting down to dinner. Everything is washed and clean.)

I am not exaggerating when I say that making this a habit has changed my life. (Okay, maybe that is a little exaggerated.) Sitting down to dinner knowing that everything is clean except for the dishes we are using, and the pans that are still holding food is such a great feeling. It allows us to sit and linger over dinner, talking as a family, because I know there is not a huge mess to clean up. Within a few minutes I can wash up the dishes, put away any leftover food, and do a final wipe down of the kitchen. Brian often mentions that this has been one of the most helpful habits I have implemented.

If you do not do this already, I highly encourage you to make this a habit. It takes awhile to get used to it. I had to write myself notes actually. (Yes, I am that forgetful). The payoff has been significant. As I have gotten used to it, I have become more aware of my messes, and cleaning as I go has become almost second nature to me.

Do you clean as you go while cooking? What are your favorite tips?

Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link.


  1. I love to clean-up while I cook! You are right that it makes the whole meal so much more enjoyable, knowing that there isn’t a mountain of dirty dishes waiting for me (no dishwasher either). You covered all of the things that I already do – plus you introduced me to a new one – the jar of water for the spoon. :) Thanks!

  2. Ashleigh Sutter says:

    I am 1/2 on this method. :-) Primarily because my hubby and I currently share the cooking responsibilities, and he is definitely not a clean as you go chef, so I sometimes find myself falling into his habit. Even this morning when I left for work my kitchen looked like a disaster, and I told myself, it’s getting cleaned TONIGHT, and the laundry that has been waiting to be folded is getting done TONIGHT! :-)

  3. Kristin says:

    Spoon in a jar of warm water! Brilliant. Anytime I do accomplish to have the kitchen clean before dinner, Bobby really appreciates it, too (as do I!). The washing things as you’re using them has been great in our small place, too.

  4. I have been doing this for years but only because every kitchen we had was super small. In our current house, we have hardly any counter space, so I have to wash things as I go just to have room to cook. It makes it so nice at the end of the meal! Love the idea of the spoon in a jar of warm water!!!!

    • Johanna says:

      We have very little counter space too so it keeps me on my toes…any little mess looks horrible in a small kitchen, I’ve found.

  5. I usually clean as I go, but sometimes we serve family style at the table and those dishes have to be cleaned up after dinner. I absolutely love it when the dishes and countertops are clean BEFORE we even sit down to eat!

    And btw I love One Bite at a Time. Good recommendation!

  6. oh yes i must clean as i go. if i can sit down to dinner with my sweet family with 95% of the kitchen clean i can enjoy the meal so much more. i will linger over food and conversation if i do not have a huge mess waiting on me:)

  7. Awesome tips! I would add that since I am working full time, it is equally as important for me to do quickly do the breakfast dishes before I leave for work. That extra five minutes is the difference between being motivated to cook or wanting to pick up dinner (poor choice for health and the budget!)

    • Johanna says:

      Good point, Jill! I can totally see that, because when I leave the house just for groceries or something I am always so bummed to come home to dishes. I would imagine it would be much worse if I had been at work all day and came home right at dinner time. Thanks for the tip!


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