I follow these 12 simple steps every time I clean up after dinner – my kitchen stays spotless

Whether you're cooking for yourself or hosting a dinner party, borrow these 12 tips to make clean-up a breeze

A contemporary kitcehn with a marble backsplash and large kitchen island
(Image credit: Higham Furniture, Golders Green)

Cooking a delicious meal for a group of my close friends is one of life’s simple pleasures. But when the party's over, piles of dirty dishes and cluttered countertops can transform a night well spent into a morning of dreaded chores.

Thankfully, I’ve mastered a method for cleaning a kitchen – no matter how many people I've hosted (or how many plates I've used in the process). Follow these 12 simple steps to get dinner on and off the table while keeping your kitchen tidy and your surfaces spotlessly clean.

Simple steps for cleaning up after dinner

Follow these steps and you’ll find that tidying up can be straightforward and, dare I say, even enjoyable...

1. Always Empty the Dishwasher Before Cooking

An airy kitchen with open shelving and an island

(Image credit: Future)

I always start cooking a meal with an empty dishwasher so I can load dirty dishes as I use them. Not only does this keeps my sink clean and countertops free of clutter, but it helps make the clean-up process smoother, too. Follow this step and you won't have the hassle of dealing with a sink full of dishes when you're done cooking (you can thank me later).

Pro tip: If I know i'm going to be hosting a lot of people, and my machine is going to be putting in a lot of work, I like to deep clean my dishwasher the night before. Cascade Dishwasher Cleaner from Amazon is great for this, but you can also use vinegar.

2. Organize Ingredients

I also make a point to gather and measure all my ingredients before I start. Aside from making the act of cooking much more straightforward, putting containers and jars away immediately after I've dispensed them helps me to avoid clutter and save time during the final clean-up.

I swear by keeping my countertops clear and tidy as I cook. Having everything organized and within arms reach minimizes my chances of creating a mess searching for missing ingredients.

3. Use a Trash Bowl

I remember when I first started doing this – it was a real game-changer for keeping my kitchen clean. I place a large bowl – or better still, a miniature trash can – on the counter for all my food scraps and trash. This keeps my work area tidy and makes it easier to discard waste all at once, reducing trips to the trash can.

Keeping all my trash in one spot is an easy way to prevent bits of food from scattering around the kitchen. I can't tell you how often I used to accidentally walk food around the floor – which meant bringing out the vacuum cleaner or dustpan and brush.

4. Clean as You Go

I can't stress this step enough. While cooking, I wash utensils, bowls, and cutting boards immediately after using them. This prevents a pile-up by the sink and means fewer items to clean at the end of your meal (trust me, you won't be in the mood).

Cleaning as I go also helps in maintaining a more organized kitchen, and lets me enjoy the cooking process without feeling overwhelmed by the mess.

5. Soak Pots and Pans

A kitchen with two wall scone lights and a ceramic sink

(Image credit: Original BTC Kitchen Swan Wall Light)

Say I've accidentally burnt some food in the pan. In that case, I fill used pots, pans, and dishes with hot, soapy water and let them soak while I finish cooking. This loosens any stuck-on food, making them easier to clean later. It’s a simple step that makes a big difference.

6. Use a Splatter Guard

When frying or sautéing, I always make sure I use a splatter guard to minimize grease splatters. This keeps my stovetop and surrounding areas cleaner and easier to wipe down. After all, cleaning grease off kitchen walls isn't the most relaxing task and leaving it on your surfaces can attract pests and lead to your kitchen smelling musty.

7. Keep Wiping Surfaces Down Regularly

I keep a damp cloth or paper towels handy to wipe spills and splatters as soon as they happen. This includes countertops, stovetops, and any surfaces I use. Addressing any spills immediately will help prevent stains and sticky residues from forming, which can be more challenging to remove later.

8. Load the Dishwasher After the Meal

I try to load the dishwasher with all the dirty dishes, glasses, and utensils as soon as I can after a meal, as this ensures that dishes don’t sit out and make my kitchen look untidy. I find that the longer I leave dirty dishes on the side, the tougher it is to clean them by hand. Plus, no one wants to attract unwanted pests by leaving food out on the counter.

9. Hand Wash Remaining Items

In the same vein, I try to hand wash any large pots, pans, or delicate items that cannot go in the dishwasher, as soon as possible. I dry them or leave them to air dry on a drying rack. This step ensures my dishes and glasses are cleaned and ready for the next use.

10. Wipe All Surfaces

A modern kitchen with concrete floors

(Image credit: Davide Lovatti / Future)

After dealing with the dishes, I wipe down all my countertops, including the stovetop, and the sink with a disinfectant cleaner to remove any remaining food residue and germs. Clutter free and clean surfaces are the quickest way to make your kitchen look spotless.

11. Take Out the Trash

Remember that bowl or mini trash can I said you should start using? Now is the time to toss the contents into the main garbage can (or food recycling bin if you have one). This prevents odors from lingering around.

Regularly taking out your main kitchen trash can will also help prevent pests from being tempted inside your home and keeps the kitchen a fresh and clean space.

12. Put Items Away

Finally, at the end of my cleanup, I make sure that anything still cluttering the countertops is put away, and leftovers are boxed up, labeled with the date, and stored in the fridge. This final step is a crucial one, because properly storing leftovers helps reduce food waste and keeps my fridge organized.

Try some of these 12 simple steps next time you cook a meal and see what a difference it makes to your cleaning routine. I guarantee that adopting some of these practices will make tidying up after dinner a faster and less overwhelming task.

Thomas Litten
Freelance Writer

Thomas Litten is a freelance food and drink writer whose articles and product reviews have been featured in a variety of national publications. His introduction to food and drink came through the hospitality sector, running bars for Michelin-starred restaurants. This experience, plus a love of good food, wine, and spirits, led to a career selling premium drinks to high-end restaurants and later providing consultancy services to food and drink start-ups across the UK. Now, based in southwest England, he mainly divides his time between working for a leading bakery business, visiting coffee shops, and collecting and writing about kitchen gadgets.