Not keeping kitchen appliances in top condition can have serious consequences. Nothing, after all, strikes fear into the heart of home cooks quite like a broken oven or a refrigerator on the fritz.
(Don’t quite see how that’s a financial disaster? Consider the cost of dinners out if there’s no stovetop to cook on, or the hit of replacing all the fridge contents from basic condiments on up. Frugal Foodie has had to deal with both scenarios thanks to New York City landlords and previous tenants who didn’t keep up with their kitchen cleaning.)
An early spring-cleaning push is a great start, but it’s routine — as in, more than once a year — cleanings that will help keep your kitchen space sanitary and functional. “I actually set recurring tasks in my to do list,” says MoniQue Shaldjian, a personal chef based in Phoenix. Take a page from her (and Frugal Foodie’s) book and add these to your monthly repertoire:
* Whirlpool’s Institute of Kitchen Science advises cleaning refrigerator door and drawer gaskets (the flexible seals around the edges of the door) with a cloth soaked with warm water and dish detergent, and then drying them with a towel. Gaskets that get sticky with food can tear, letting cool air out and warm air in — and ruining your food in the process.
* At least once a year, Frugal Foodie washes the drawers and racks in her fridge, and scrubs the interior surfaces or the fridge with a solution of water and baking soda to remove stains and odors.
* Break out the long wand for your vacuum cleaner to reach the condenser coils beneath and behind the fridge, says Oren Milgram of Needham, Mass., who recently completed a kitchen remodel. The dust that collects there makes the unit run less efficiently.
* Wipe off cold containers before returning them to the refrigerator, says Whirlpool’s Institute of Kitchen Science. Wet containers require the unit to work harder to remove moisture from the air, and can also cause mold.
* Frugal Foodie’s dishwasher gets a real workout, so every month she runs a cycle with a bottle of dishwasher cleaner (a cup of powdered lemonade mix or lemon juice left upright in the top rack is a good substitute). It removes any built-up deposits of regular dish cleanser and food stains, and makes the appliance operate more efficiently.
* Follow the fridge procedure for cleaning the gaskets around the edge of the door.
* Regularly remove crumbs — it reduces the risk of fire.
* Clean the racks and crumb tray with warm water and soap, Shaldjian says. Many aren’t dishwasher safe.
Oven and Stovetop
* Take advantage of the cleaning function on your oven, if it has one. After, wipe away any white residue with a damp cloth, Shaldjian says.
* No cleaning cycle? Jan Patterson, a nurse in Cotati, Calif., sets a shallow pan of ammonia in the oven overnight. “In the morning dump the ammonia, wipe down oven with a damp cloth,” she says. “Repeat as needed for a really grimy oven.”
* Wipe away spills on the glass oven doors ASAP — they aren’t easily tackled during the oven’s cleaning cycle, Milgram says.
* Clean the stovetop after each use, to prevent spilled food from baking in further. (It’s your choice: sponge now or steel wool later.)
* Check the owners’ manual for your gas oven to see if the stovetop burners can be placed inside the oven during the cleaning cycle. Many can. Some are also dishwasher safe.
* Use mineral oil and a damp cloth to simultaneously clean and shine the appliance’s stainless steel surfaces.
* Actually use it. “Some people throw food down them and never run them,” Shaldjian says.
* Keep the blades sharp and clean by feeding half a lemon down the disposal. “Turn on the water, and run the disposal for a little while until you don’t hear it tearing through the lemon anymore,” Shaldjian says.
Combine a few cups of water with a squirt of lemon juice and heat until boiling in the microwave, Milgram says. This effectively steam cleans the inside of the appliance, letting you easily wipe away accumulated food.
* Clean the pot or carafe daily with warm, soapy water.
* Run a quarter cup of vinegar and two cups of water through the machine like you were brewing coffee, Shaldjian says. Then “brew” just water once or twice to rinse the machine.
* For espresso machines, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to remove built up residue and minerals. (Usually, you’ll need to use a descaler such as Dezcal every few months.)