8 Nerdy but Brilliant Cleaning Tips from Scientists

published Sep 19, 2023
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Cleaning is more of a science than an art, because cleaning is usually a result of a chemical reaction — even if you’re using something as gentle as baking soda, and even if you’re using, say, warm water to wipe up coffee rings (there’s a science-y reason why warm water works better than cold!).

Maybe you didn’t get an A in high school chemistry? That’s okay! That’s where these real-life scientists come in. We talked to a bunch of lab coat-wearing pros to get their nerdy-and-therefore-super-effective kitchen cleaning tips.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

1. When you use bleach, follow the two Ds.

Whether you’re dealing with food contaminants or viruses, bleach is one of the most trusted ways to banish pathogens. But to reap the effects of this germ-killing chemical, you have to use it the right way. According to Mary Gagliardi, in-house scientist and cleaning expert at Clorox, using the correct dilution and ensuring proper dwell time are two of the most important steps to properly cleaning with bleach. 

She recommends disinfecting with a bleach solution of 1/3 cup per gallon of water, then allowing the surface to remain visibly wet for six minutes before rinsing with clean water. And always read and follow label instructions to ensure safety and effectiveness!

2. Treat your kitchen like a bathroom.

According to Dr. Charles Gerba, a professor of virology in the Department of Environmental Science at the University of Arizona, surfaces like your sink, cutting board, and kitchen sponge are likely to be fecal matter hot spots due to excess moisture and food particles. To keep harmful germs at bay, treat your kitchen like you would your bathroom — only disinfect it more, because you eat in it.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. Use the power of the sun to disinfect.

Dr. Greg Altman, a green scientist, engineer, and co-founder and CEO of Evolved By Nature, likes to disinfect his wood cutting boards with the power of sunlight after washing them. “After cleaning our board with soap and water, I will place it in the sun, using UV radiation to kill bacteria and other germs,” he says.

4. Skip the paper towels and cotton cloths.

Cleaning tools matter just as much as techniques. Nancy Simcox, an assistant teaching professor and the director of the continuing education programs at the University of Washington department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, never uses paper towels or cotton cloths for cleaning her kitchen. Instead, she opts for microfiber, which studies have found to more effectively remove germs from surfaces. 

Why are microfiber cloths so powerful? According to Simcox, they not only have finer fibers that can penetrate cracks and crevices, but they also have a static electric charge to attract particles and contain them rather than spreading germs around like other cloths. The same applies to microfiber mops. If your goal is to sanitize your floors, always use a microfiber mop instead of a cotton one — Simcox says microfiber mops can reduce bacteria up to 99 percent. 

Credit: Diana Liang

5. Color code your microfiber to prevent cross-contamination.

Just because microfiber cloths are more effective than other fabrics doesn’t mean you don’t need to worry about cross-contamination. Simcox recommends color coding your microfiber cloths to avoid sharing germs between spaces. For example, use all green cloths in the kitchen and blue ones in your bathroom. Then, throw them all in the wash together when they’re dirty (just make sure not to use too much detergent, which could damage the fibers and make them less effective).

Related: The Best Way to Clean All Your Dirty Microfiber Cloths

6. Always clean before you disinfect.

Before you disinfect a surface, make sure there’s no lingering dirt, debris, or food matter. According to Simcox, organic matter can deactivate disinfectants, rendering them useless. So make a habit of using soap and water or an all-purpose cleaner to clean before you get to work killing all those germs. 

7. Don’t skip cleaning your sink.

As Gerba emphasized, the surfaces in your kitchen are probably a lot dirtier than you think. It makes sense to prioritize disinfecting surfaces you prepare food on (like your dishes, cutting board, and counters). But don’t neglect disinfecting your kitchen sink — a job that’s particularly important if you plan to fill it with dishes or wash fruits and veggies in it. 

Nathan Sell, director of regulatory science at the American Cleaning Institute, recommends using a disinfectant designed for the type of sink you have. “First, read the product label to make sure you’re using it correctly to maximize its effectiveness, and then make sure you rinse well after cleaning,” he says. Cleaning the sink should also include your garbage disposal — Sell suggests pouring in 1/4 cup of baking soda followed by hot water to fend off any funk.

8. Mix dish soap with water for best use.

According to Dr. Ashley Queen, director of microbiology and public health at the American Cleaning Institute, simply squirting soap on a dish before scrubbing isn’t as effective as you think. Instead, always mix your soap with water to create suds, which lift leftover food off the surface. “A combination of adding water and thoroughly scrubbing and/or pressurized spraying provides the chemical and mechanical energy required to properly clean a dish,” she says.

This article originally published on The Kitchn. See it there: 8 Nerdy but Brilliant Cleaning Tips from Scientists