10 Kitchen Hot Spots You Really Need to Disinfect

These germy areas require more attention than just a casual wipe-down.

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Don't Dine with Germs

The kitchen is the center of your home. It's where you cook with your family, chow down on pizza after a soccer game and sneak bites to the dog. But with all that fun, frenzy and foot traffic comes a problematic tagalong: germs. Remember these 10 easily forgotten dirty spots the next time you give your kitchen a deep clean.

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All the Handles

Every handle in the kitchen (think cabinets, appliances, even the light switch) is a hotbed for germs, considering how often your family grips, grabs and pulls them each day. Wipe down handles with a disposable disinfectant cleaning cloth at least once a week.

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Kitchen Sink and Faucet

A wet sink can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Wipe the sink, faucet and sprayer down regularly with a disinfectant wipe. Give the drain a thorough cleaning weekly by flushing it with hydrogen peroxide or a disinfecting cleaning solvent.

The sink sprayer also needs an annual deep cleaning: Soak the sprayer for 30 minutes in a microwave-safe glass bowl filled with vinegar and water that's been heated up in the microwave, then gently brush the nozzle clean with a toothbrush to loosen mineral deposits and grime. For retractable sprayers, clean the hose by disconnecting it from under the kitchen sink and soaking it in a large bowl or kitchen sink filled with a solution of vinegar and water.

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Kitchen Counter

Wiping down a surface isn't killing any bacteria unless you're administering a disinfectant first. Gustavo Castro of Chicago Household Services, which specializes in residential deep cleanings, relies on a gentle, food-safe solution of 25 percent vinegar and 75 percent water in the kitchen. "The acid content in this solution is great for disinfecting while managing to be an eco-friendly cleaner," he says. Pay special attention to the area underneath a cutting board or butcher block, and be sure the surface is completely dry before setting a board back on top. Corners and crevices, like the crease between the counter and backsplash, can also benefit from a little scrubbing with a clean toothbrush.

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Sponges and Kitchen Towels

A study by the Hygiene Council revealed that 25 percent of kitchen sponges and towels that appeared clean actually contained a high level of bacteria. In fact, it's likely that your sponge contains more germs than your toilet seat. Disinfect sponges weekly (especially after you use them to wipe down a counter that's touched raw meat) by submerging them in a microwave-safe bowl of water, microwaving them on high heat for 1 to 2 minutes, then letting them air dry. Never heat a dry sponge in the microwave; it could burn.

For kitchen towels, designate one towel for the sole use of drying clean dishes and set aside another rag for wiping down surfaces; toss both in the laundry weekly.

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Kitchen Rugs and Mats

These cushy mats may be good for your feet and back, but they're also catchalls for crumbs, drips and dirt. Be sure to wash them frequently, and wipe down the floor underneath them with a disinfectant; let the floor dry completely before setting the rug or mat back on top.

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Refrigerator Shelves

"People don't tend to refrigerator shelves as much as they should," says Castro. "We see a lot of old food spills and gunk. It's important to break down the sections of the refrigerator, pulling out the shelves and drawers, and give it a thorough wiping and disinfecting." He also cites consistent maintenance as the trick to keeping things easy to clean: "If you spill something, wipe it up and disinfect the area to keep grime from building up."

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After using the stove, give it a quick wipe-down to remove any grease or food spills. "We have a tendency to cook and then wash the pots, but not the stove. Grease gets everywhere and it's a magnet that collects dust and whatever's floating in the air," says Castro. Daily maintenance will also help cut back on the need for more thorough stove cleanings.

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Cutting Board

The workhorse of the kitchen also might be the culprit behind foodborne illnesses. Raw meat obviously offers a reason to be wary, but even fruits and vegetables carry pathogens that can be transferred to cutting boards and, thus, other surfaces. Be sure to rinse and wash the boards between uses, and regularly flood the surface with hydrogen peroxide for a more thorough disinfecting.

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Cabinet Shelves

The insides of kitchen cabinets are often forgotten when it comes time to clean. "People tend not to take things out when the space is occupied because it's a lot of work, so the kitchen cabinets tend to take a hit," points out Castro. "We find lots of food, dust and old papers, so it's important to thoroughly vacuum this area occasionally, then wipe it down with a mild surface cleaner." Castro suggests using microfiber cloths, which hold more water and help with wiping up and drying without being abrasive.

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Inside the Microwave

Sure, it's easy enough to wipe down the exterior of the microwave until it shines, but don't forget the interior, which is plagued by general buildup along with any unfortunate food explosions. "We sanitize the microwave with good old-fashioned elbow grease," says Castro, who uses a combination of 10 percent borax and 90 percent water to break down tough food stains. "Wear rubber gloves and saturate any buildup with the borax solution, then let it sit to break things down before wiping it away."

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