Posts Tagged ‘spring cleaning’

by Sarah Steimer

The wild and wonderful world of my nonperishables, cooking tools and various kitchen odds and ends.

So Caitlin had some killer before and after photos for her refrigerator post, but I have no “before” pictures.  I got to start entirely from scratch because I recently moved to a new neighborhood in Chicago! But trust me, this was quite the challenge. My previous pantry looked nothing like this at all, so it took some serious brainstorming to get everything in place.

Unlike refrigerators, pantries are a lot more apt to vary from home to home, so I’ll try to avoid too many tips that are unique to a certain style of kitchen closet.

I look so much more organized than I feel.

Let’s start with the foodstuffs.

  1. As best illustrated by my oils and vinegars corner, try to keep like items grouped together. This is just a simple trick so when you reach out aimlessly with your hand, you at least have some general direction to head in. Using this same thought process, remember that accessibility comes first: Don’t worry about organizing by height, organize by how often you use the item.
  2. Save those extra shoe boxes or baskets! We all have lots of items in our pantries that are half-used and and wrapped in rubber bands or twisties. There is no easy way to stack or file these. Toss them into a box or basket so you can avoid a loose clutter that falls every time you reach for something. You can also store your extra twist ties and rubber bands for the next half-used bag of chocolate chips.
  3. Stack your cans! Canned goods are so great. They take forever to expire and they can be stacked up like (slightly less stable) Legos.
  4. Remember those container tips? Here’s where it really comes together. Storing you bulk ingredients in a few nice jars truly saves space and makes your pantry look crisp.


Next up: Let’s accept that sometimes we need to add a little something to make storage easier. The shelves that already exist in your pantry just don’t always cut it. So add some shelves, some cubby holes or a few hooks.

I don't love Ikea all the time, but their quaint (and cheap) little cubby options are just what you need every now and again.

  1. My pantry already had hooks in it, but it would definitely be worth adding some yourself if you have the room. These certainly aren’t all of my pots and pans, but they are the ones I grab the most often. The rest I keep under the sink. On the opposite side of my pantry (see the smaller picture below) I also have a coat hook where I hang my apron and oven mitts. You want to have easy access to those mitts when you need to grab a hot pan FAST.
  2. It’s so easy to find a nice, solid pitcher or other ceramic container at a thrift store – or a new container for cheap as well. You want to be able to see what cooking tools you have without having to root around for them. I have another similar pitcher next to my workspace in the kitchen for the tools I use most often. I keep my knives in a drawer, though. You don’t want sharp objects in anything that could be tipped over.

    Special thanks to Anna for the oven mitts and hot pads and to my mom for the apron.

  3. I haven’t quite mastered my spice center, as it is not as visible as I would like. But I do try to keep the spices I use the most up front and at eye level or a little below. You don’t want spices above your head as they usually come in glass containers.
  4. This is my dishtowel, napkin and other assorted cloth center. Don’t store you towels with food or cookware. Keep them separate so they remain sanitary.


Last, but not least, we have the bulkier items. When I started this guide I made a point to look around at other websites’ organization guides. Well, I don’t know where they keep their cooking appliances, but I don’t have a special hidden spot, I have space on the floor. Because I don’t own a house, I can be pretty sure that I’ll be moving again one day, so I don’t really like to throw away the boxes my appliances come in. It really makes moving a LOT easier when you keep those boxes. And guess what – it makes storage easier, too. If you look back at my top picture, I keep most of my appliances that I don’t use as often on the top, hard-to-reach shelf.

Get a microwave cart! They offer great extra storage.

  1. Keep your snacks in a nice basket. Not only does it organize them away from the rest of your food, but it can be easily picked up and carted off to your guests in the living room. Or it just makes it easier for you to hide it from your roommate or yourself.
  2. Some like to store their bakeware (cookie sheets, muffin tins, etc.) in the oven or in the oven’s separate broiler. Mine fit pretty cozily under the microwave. I guess this isn’t really a tip, is it…
  3. I have large appliances and no lovely spot on the counter to store them. Well, keep it in the box, on the floor. No one will judge you, I promise. Keep the items you use the most on top of their boxes if you want to access them faster. If the sight of the boxes really bother you, try sectioning them off behind a colorful curtain.

Looking for more cleaning tips and tricks? Check out our full Spring Cleaning guide here.

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by Caitlin Saniga

Behold: my fridge, where most of my food lives. Lately, it's gotten a little cluttered, inside and out.

I said it already, but I’ll say it again: The fridge is where the food lives. And the optimal fridge is not only a cold storage box for perishable food, it’s sanitary, organized and up to safety standards.

With this post, I plan to focus on sanitation and organization with a couple of side notes about fridge safety. I’m using my fridge as an example, and as you can see from the photo, the refrigerator is situated below the freezer. While many of these tips apply to all fridges, including side-by-side and fridge-on-top models, some advice about storing particular items on particular shelves will have to be adjusted if you have a different type. Keep that in mind.

Let’s get started!

First things first. To make the most of this cleaning experience, it’s best to start from the bare bones.

Once you adjust the temperature, you're going to be unplugging the fridge, so check it again a day later to see if it's accurate. Adjust again if necessary.

  • Check the temperature of your fridge by placing a thermometer on the center shelf and closing it in the fridge for about 3 minutes. Fridges should stay between about 35 and 38 degrees. The proper temperature for the freezer, by the way,  is about 3 to 5 degrees.
  • Top: This is the kick plate. Bottom: This is what it looks like when you take off the kick plate. Click the photo to see all of the gross dust in more detail.

    Unplug the fridge. (Don’t worry. It’ll be unplugged for only about an hour while you clean and organize it at the speed of light. Stick extra-sensitive items like dairy products in the freezer if you anticipate spending more than an hour cleaning the interior surfaces of the fridge.)

  • If possible, pull the fridge away from the wall and dust behind it, taking extra care to wipe off the coils if your fridge has them. Doing this can prevent the fridge from overheating, overworking and potentially catching fire.
  • Remove the kick plate from the bottom of the fridge and use a long-handled duster or broom to clear away dust bunnies. You should do this once a year to avoid major build-up, which can be a fire hazard.
  • Empty everything from the fridge. Check expiration dates, and toss or recycle items that are past their prime.
  • Remove the shelves and drawers if possible and wipe them down with a damp sponge.
  • Use a damp sponge with white vinegar or dish-washing soap to wipe down all interior surfaces. Use a toothbrush to scrub crevices.
  • Return the shelves and drawers to the fridge.

Before (right): After a trip to the grocery store, I had unloaded my bags as quickly as I could, mostly concerned about fitting everything in the fridge. Looks a little crowded with no rhyme or reason, right? After (left): The theory here is that everything has a place. Similar things are grouped together on shelves or in particular quadrants of the fridge.

Congratulations! Your fridge should now be a clean, blank canvas. Time to bring back the food. Here are some tips for organizing things among shelves and drawers. You might be surprised to find that placement matters!

Click the image to see how I arranged my fridge in more detail.

  1. Dairy products, including milk, yogurt, cream do best on the upper shelves of the fridge, where the temperature is most consistent.
  2. Eggs belong on the inner shelves of the fridge (not on the door, which tends to be warmer). I put mine on the top shelf for the same reason I placed dairy products up high.
  3. While you’re cleaning and organizing your fridge, don’t forget to check your filtered-water pitcher. Make sure the filter is up to date. If it isn’t, replace it.
  4. Store stray fruits and vegetables in transparent containers so you can easily see what’s inside. Add a strip of masking tape with the purchase date to keep track of freshness.
  5. Fresh herbs such as parsley, cilantro, basil and mint last longer if you snip a bit off the stems and place the herbs in a glass of water. Cover the herbs with a loose fitting plastic bag. Hardier herbs like chives, thyme and rosemary should be wrapped loosely in plastic wrap and placed on one of the door shelves, where it’s warmer.
  6. Keep a container of baking soda in the fridge to eliminate odors. I store mine in a spice shaker that has holes in the lid.
  7. Store meats and cheeses at the bottom of the fridge, where it’s coldest. If these items have been opened, it’s best to wrap them tightly in plastic wrap or place them in a zip-top bag with the air pressed out.
  8. Keep unwashed whole vegetables and fruits wrapped loosely in perforated plastic bags in the crisper drawer. Beware, keep these items away from ethylene-producing fruits such as kiwis, stone-bearing fruits and apples to avoid sped-up ripening.

Before (left): I had accumulated too much stuff. After (right): When I sorted through all of the bottles, seeking out old expiration dates, I sort of hit the jackpot. I ended up tossing out 2 almost-empty bottles of salad dressing, some chocolate syrup, maple syrup and low-sugar grape jelly.

Keeping in mind that the door is the warmest part of the fridge, I mainly keep oils, vinegars, condiments and butter here.

  • Wipe away drips and sticky spots on containers with a damp sponge.
  • Group similar items together. I put the butters in the top cubby. Underneath are the jars of pickled goods. Next to that are all of the oils and vinegars. On the second shelf are my compost tub and the jellies and marmalades. Below are the condiments, dressing and wine.
  • Don’t overcrowd! You don’t want containers to go flying when you open the door.
  • Don’t be tempted to keep your eggs in the door!

If you use the top of your fridge as storage, try to keep it under control.

  • Remove everything from the top of the fridge.
  • Wipe it down with a damp sponge and vinegar or dish-washing soap.
  • Sort through what you took off the top of the fridge, and return only what is necessary.
  • Remove the items attached to the outside of the fridge.
  • Use a damp sponge with dish-washing soap or vinegar to wipe down the exterior of the fridge, taking special care to wash the door handles and along the door seal.
  • Sort through the items that were hanging on your fridge. Pare down where possible, and rearrange photos, clippings and magnets for a fresh look. I added an envelope for coupons so that I can easily access them as I’m checking the fridge to make my grocery list.

Finally, stand back and admire your work. Then get up close and sniff things. Run your hands over the clean surfaces. Rearrange the condiments in order of height. Stack and restack plastic containers. Nudge the beer bottles so they stand in a perfect line, descending to the back of the fridge. Fluff up the parsley. Go crazy! Your refrigerator is cleaner than it's been in a long time, I bet.

Looking for more cleaning tips and tricks? Check out our full Spring Cleaning guide here.

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by Sarah Steimer

A guide on containers in the kitchen can get pretty broad, so I'm focusing on some of the best containers to use for scratch ingredients. From left: all-purpose flour, coriander, dill, dried chilis and ground coffee.

One of the best things about a modern grocery store is that almost all food comes in its own nice, neat container that is pre-labeled and sealed. So why take the time to move your ingredients from their convenient packaging to an entirely different container? Well, I can think of a few reasons: Visual appeal, freshness and reuse.

One common thread you’ll find for most of my tips is that I’ve chosen glass containers. This is for a number of reasons, but most importantly for health. There has been a lot of publicity in recent years regarding bisphenol A, or BPA. This chemical is found in plastics and is banned in some cases in various countries and a few states, particularly for its use in baby bottles and other child-related items. The FDA very recently decided not to ban the chemical’s use in the U.S.

There’s no conclusive evidence of BPA’s effects on the human body, but it has been shown to act like the sex hormone estrogen and lead to adverse developmental effects in animal models such as mice.

I haven’t made a full switch to glass, as many of my leftovers find themselves in plastic containers. I’m trying to start with food items that spend the longest amount of time in one container: Scratch ingredients such as flour, coffee and spices.

Visual appeal: I love seeing my containers all lined up and ready to go in the pantry. They look far more inviting in uniform jars instead of haphazardly squished in the bags they came in.

So maybe visual appeal is the weakest argument for choosing new containers – but it’s valid nonetheless!

Many people like to keep their flour and sugar containers out on the counter or, if you’re like me, you may have an open pantry that just about anyone can peek into. If you take the time to make sure your dish towels match you kitchen’s decor, why not make sure your containers do as well?

There are lots of stores that sell attractive and cheap bulk food containers. My jars are from World Market, but the Container Store and Ikea also have great options. If your kitchen has a retro look, try using old-school Ball jars. If you have a specific color scheme you can find matching lids for your containers.

This can even be taken a step further with a little customization. I took the easy route with my labels (also from World Market), but I’ve seen some really cool ideas for painting labels jars or printing custom decals in cool fonts.

Freshness: Most containers that food is packed in do not guarantee freshness, so it's important to keep that in mind when deciding what food items could use a new container.

Buying in bulk is great, but storing all those items in the bags you shoveled them into at the store isn’t so wonderful. Many bulk items such as spices, flours and nuts/dried fruit will store much better in an air-tight container.

Some of the best containers to keep food fresh in have a rubber seal at the closure point. The lids usually pop on or have clamp lids (such as the ones shown). These sorts of containers are especially helpful for spices that you want to access quickly without shuffling through little zip-lock containers.

Coffee is a great example of an item that should be in a well-sealed container for freshness, and it’s also another argument for using glass. If you guy your coffee by the bag, it’s pretty obvious that it won’t stay fresh because it’s nearly impossible to reseal a bag once it’s open. Keeping coffee in a tin or plastic container can also change the way the coffee tastes. A well-sealed, glass container is the route to go for fresh coffee – just make sure that if you use clear glass that it does not receive any direct sunlight.

Don’t pass up containers that seal well but maybe are not the ideal material. Use these to store smaller containers! In the picture above, I used an old Teavana tin that has a good seal on it, which is meant for keeping for tea fresh. Instead, reused it for my extra packages of spices. This takes us right to the next tip…

Reuse: Plastic containers are more commonly reused, mainly because most food is sold this way. When you have the option, plan ahead and choose the glass jar of mayo instead of the plastic jar.

A chance to recycle is alway welcome, so I like to keep a lookout for glass containers that can be reused.

In the picture above, I show two really great examples of glass containers that can be saved for something else: a canning jar and a simple glass jar with a screw-on lid. I love getting homemade preserves, which usually come in containers with a metal band and a rubber ring to seal the product, making them perfect for keeping other items fresh.

As with any container you reuse, make sure to wash it well. It sort of goes without saying, but the most important part is to get into any of those nooks and crannies in the lids with a brush so you don’t contaminate the next food item.

Some of the best items to store in these reused jars are leftover canned goods. In the picture above, I used a canning jar to hold extra chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. This is usually sold in a can that cannot be resealed after use, and I certainly didn’t want to throw away perfectly good food.

Looking for more cleaning tips and tricks? Check out our full Spring Cleaning guide here.

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by Caitlin Saniga

You probably already have many of these items in your pantry. What are you waiting for? Try out some of these tips! (All of these photos enlarge when you click on them, by the way.)

One of the best parts of spring is prying open the windows and letting the sun in. But boy, that sure shines a light on all of the cleaning you neglected during the winter.

This year I vowed to tackle as many cleaning tasks with natural cleaners as I could. I started in the kitchen with *five* simple pantry staples that double as cleaning products, and I’m amazed with the success I’ve had. Some of these methods work way better than the store-bought products I’ve tried. And I can’t help but breathe a sigh of satisfaction (rather than choke on bleach fumes) when I see the results.

Have you cleaned with these items before? I tried to list the tips I thought would be most helpful in the kitchen, but I’m well aware that this list is by no means comprehensive. What natural methods have you had success with?

The refresher Lemons' citrus fragrance is invigorating and refreshing, and the acidic fruit can act as an antibacterial and antiseptic cleaner.

Use half a lemon with salt to scrub away stains on cutting boards. The juice will also erase garlic and onion odors.

  • Lemon rinds can be run through the garbage disposal to freshen a stinky drain. Hot water mixed with lemon juice can deodorize any drain.
  • Clean copper-bottomed pots and pans with the juice from a lemon half. Dip the open side of the lemon in salt, and scrub away spots. Add more salt as you go. Rinse the pots with water before letting them dry.
  • To brighten white tea towels and cloth napkins, soak them in a solution of lemon juice and water. Set them out to dry in the sun. The lemon juice acts as a bleaching agent.
  • Rub lemon juice into the stains on a cutting board. Let it sit until the stains disappear. Rinse the juice away with water. The lemon juice will also disinfect the board.
  • To clean up stained plastic containers, squeeze lemon juice in the container with a bit of baking soda. Use the lemon as a tool to scrub the stain. For stubborn stains, let the mixture sit on the stains overnight, and scrub again the next day.

The polisher Olive oil is a natural moisturizer, and just a few drops can make a variety of surfaces gleam.

  • Combine 1 tablespoon of olive oil with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to make a wood furniture polish. Use a rag to buff the liquid onto wooden surfaces.
  • Rub a rag with olive oil on stainless steel and brass surfaces to prevent tarnish, streaks and corrosion.
  • After washing a wooden cutting board in soap and water, let it dry. Once it’s dry, wipe it down with some olive oil to keep it from drying out.
  • Rub olive oil on your measuring utensils to keep sticky substances (honeys, peanut butter and syrups) from sticking.
  • Dab a little bit of olive oil on a towel and lightly wipe knife blades to preserve them.
  • Season a cast iron skillet by rubbing a faint amount of olive oil all over the pan’s surface and letting it sit in 350-degree oven for an hour.

The eraser Baking soda is a pH neutralizer and can zap away stains and odors. The powder is mildly abrasive and works wonders on troublesome spots.

One of my favorite ways to use baking soda is to scour away stains on my stove. I recommend wearing gloves when cleaning with baking soda.

  • Place a dish of baking soda in the fridge and freezer to neutralize smelly odors.
  • Use a sponge and some baking soda to scrub away coffee and tea stains on mugs.
  • Unclog a stopped-up drain by running a solution of warm water and baking soda down the garbage disposal.
  • Keep a box of baking soda near the stove in case of a grease fire. Throwing baking soda on such a fire is safer and more effective than attempting to extinguish it with water, which can further agitate it.
  • For pots with food burned to the bottom, sprinkle the dirty area with baking soda and add hot water. Let the pot soak overnight before attempting to scrub again. The baking soda will loosen the food.
  • To remove grease stains from towels and napkins, treat them with a paste of baking soda and water before running them through the washing machine.
  • Use a paste of baking soda and water to scour away burned-on crud from stovetop surfaces. Use a wet rag to mop away leftover residue.

The absorber Cornstarch is known for its ability to absorb grease and oils.

  • Remove grease spatters from appliances and walls by sprinkling a rag with cornstarch. Gently rub the grease spot until it’s gone.
  • Use a paste of cornstarch and water to polish good silverware. Let it dry before rubbing it away to reveal sparkling utensils.
  • To make a great glass cleaner, mix 4 cups of water with 1/2 cup of cornstarch and pour it into a spray bottle. Mist your windows with the solution and wipe it away for glistening results.

The dissolver White distilled vinegar is highly acidic and prized for its ability to break down stains and odors.

I don't use my microwave very often, so it doesn't get terribly dirty. But I was impressed by how swiftly I could wipe away stains after letting the vinegar-water heat up. I felt like I was in one of those cleaning product commercials!

  • Remove price tags and other sticky substances from walls and dishes by sponging vinegar over them several times. Wait about 15 minutes before rubbing away the substance with a damp rag.
  • Another great glass cleaner can be made by mixing 2 teaspoons of vinegar with 1 liter of warm water.
  • Clean the microwave by bringing a combination of 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in the microwave. Vapors will loosen crusty food so that it can be wiped away with a sponge, and odors will vanish.
  • For glassware that has lost its luster, soak a cloth in vinegar and drape it around the inside and outside of the glass. Rinse it with warm water after letting it sit for 1/2 hour.
  • Set out a dish of white vinegar to get rid of pesky fruit flies.
  • Drench a rag in vinegar and use it to wipe away greasy grime on top of the fridge.
  • Eliminate calcium deposits on faucets by soaking a rag in vinegar and tightly wrapping the problem area. Let it sit overnight before wiping the crud away with a clean rag.

Looking for more cleaning tips and tricks? Check out our full Spring Cleaning guide here.


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