‘Cook, eat, wash, repeat’ has been the uninterrupted rhythm to daily routine ever since the lockdown pushed people indoors last year—and this year. While couch potatoes may argue that any and all soft, horizontal surfaces were the things that put in a lot of additional work, the kitchen would win the debate. A time when all meals are home-cooked also brings to mind the dreaded spectre of cleaning and organizing, both essential to keeping a kitchen in good working order. Easy-to-do tips and hacks were (and are) the need of the hour and innovation in cleaning and cooked-up home remedies have seen a pretty big surge. From people who ended up accidental cooks, to influencers with well-honed tricks up their sleeves, we spoke to a bunch of people who were happy to share their secrets for a well-organised kitchen.
Rohini Rajagopalan, Mumbai
“Decluttering and keeping the counter clear are the two most important elements of an efficient kitchen.” When Rohini Rajagopalan says this, it’s a good idea to listen. The founder of Organise With Ease, Rajagopalan is a certified professional organiser who works across different spaces—wardrobes to offices and everything in between—to optimise the space that you have and work towards a clutter-free environment. Having worked on more than 100 spaces, Rajagopalan’s tips on organising kitchens are easy to do.
The edit: The single most important thing for any Indian kitchen is to edit. Any kitchen today, despite your best intentions, will typically be cluttered with takeaway boxes, newspapers, carry bags, etc. There are a lot of things that we do not use. So a constant, merciless edit of what is there in the kitchen really helps.
The classification: Cluster similar items together—the spices, snacks, electrical gadgets, among other things. It makes things more efficient and easier to find.
The back-stock bin: A separate basket or bin for your back stock is a good idea so you really know what you have and to make sure that the items are not all over. I have a basket particularly for dry spices, whole spices and extra snacks for kids.
The labelling: It is important to label everything, so that it becomes easy to identify and use the items you need. It also helps with the inventory, to know when you’re going to run out of anything and to replenish a particular provision, spice or masala.
The counters: Keep your counters absolutely clear once you are
done using the kitchen. Put everything back where it belongs.
The space efficiency: If you have a tiny kitchen, leverage the space on your wall. Secondly, leverage space inside your shelf because there are a lot of dead spaces that are there. These are things that help to create more space.
The cleaning must-haves: As far as keeping the kitchen clean goes, baking soda and vinegar are two very important elements in this endeavour, especially in the monsoon season to ensure that the kitchen area is dry.
The look and feel: Lighting dhoop or an agarbatti just adds a good vibe to the space in the way it feels and smells. Also, try and grow herbs, even if all you have is a small windowsill. It helps make the kitchen feel warm and welcoming.
Arati Menon, New York
The editorial lead at Home52, an organisation that offers invaluable recommendations on everything about the house, Arati Menon is uniquely placed to offer tips for having an organised kitchen. There is also the fact that she is, according to her Instagram profile, in search of the perfect cleaning tool, which works perfectly when you consider the topic!
The kitchen clean-up: I think of kitchen cleaning as a pyramid: the unavoidables that I clean every day are at the bottom—the dishes, floors, surfaces. Then comes the second rung, or I-see-you-so-I-clean-you portions. These include the sink, appliance fronts and windowsill, which I do once in a couple of days. After there is the I-can’t-see-you-so-I-try-and-pretend-you-don’t-exist—under the prep table, inside of trash cans, which get cleaned out once a week. And at the top is the I-really-wish-you-didn’t exist—and which I do when I start losing sleep over them! These are the insides of ovens where bubbling cheese goes to die, or the deep recesses of the under-sink cabinet.
The dishwasher: One of my favourite dishwasher-cleaning tricks is a simple three-step process. First, clean out the drain (not fun, but needed). Then, place a dishwasher-safe bowl full of white vinegar on the top rack and run a wash cycle on the hottest setting. Once that’s done, wipe down the insides—don’t forget the panel and the controls (a spritz of vinegar works wonders).
The lingering cooking smells: I love a good candle as much as the next person but my go-to for stubborn smells (or just to lift my spirit at the end of the day) is a simmer pot. Think of it as stovetop potpourri. Sometimes, I’ll drop in just eucalyptus leaves;
other times, when I’m feeling a little more ambitious, it’s a mix of citrus and cloves or apple, cinnamon and star anise. Just drop whatever you decide to use in some water, set the pot to a low simmer. Extra points for using leftover fruit and vegetable peels and skins.
The stains: There’s no one-hack-fits-all to remove cooking and food stains, but I'll tell you what’s always in my arsenal: salt, vinegar, and baking soda. The best part is they’re in your pantry already!
Kamana Bhaskaran, San Francisco
Kamana Bhaskaran has been sharing easy-to-do, innovative cleaning tips through the videos she posts on her very popular and widely followed Instagram account, titled Desi Hacks. Simple and budget-friendly, they’re good enough to leave your kitchens gleaming.
Teatime: This is a pre-emptive strike to prevent your chai from boiling over. Place a ladle in the middle of your pot or keep a wooden spoon over the top to keep it from boiling over.
The insects: When you get your weekly, or monthly, provisions, don’t leave them sitting around for too long in the grocery bags if you want to prevent bugs and insects from getting into your stash. Put them away in airtight containers right away.
The turmeric stains: If that turmeric stain on your countertop is putting up a fight with your dish towel, it’s time to take things up a notch. Make a paste of baking soda and water, apply it to the stain and leave overnight before wiping the stain away the next morning. If the turmeric stain is on your dish towel, then soak the stained area in white vinegar and soap and then wipe it off with white vinegar and half a lime.
The stained shelves: If you have stains decorating your cabinet doors, this homemade cleaner should be useful in getting them out. Add equal parts water and vinegar, some lemon juice and you
have a stain-removal solution ready at hand.
Increasing the tomato's life expectancy: If you’ve forgotten the tomatoes in your fridge, and they seem to be wasting away, you don’t have to throw them out. Fix Sellotape over the stem area of the tomato and it will last for weeks.
The cast-iron vessels: If you need an easy way to clean your cast-iron pan then use a mix of kosher salt [or rock salt] and vegetable oil to wipe the grime away. For the stovetop, add equal parts baking soda, kosher salt and water and apply it to the stovetop.
The water stains: If water stains on wooden surfaces are a pet peeve, then this is a quick and easy way to get rid of them. Cover the stained area with a piece of cloth, press with an iron on low to medium heat and watch the mark disappear.
The oven: If oven grime is building up, make a paste with baking soda and water, spread it all over the oven and let it sit for 2 hours. Then spray it with white vinegar and wipe down.
The stove filters: If the kitchen smells like last month’s biryani, it’s time to clean the stove filters. Make a paste of baking soda and water, cover the filters and let it sit for 15 minutes, then soak in warm, soapy water to remove that grease.
The grills: If you have dropped food on your stove grills which has then burnt and become stuck on to the surface, remove it by rubbing in a mixture of oil and kosher salt.
The label remover: Reuse and recycle should be the mantra for jars and bottles. If you want to reuse that perfectly good condiment jar but hesitate to because of the label on its surface, here’s a painless way to get rid of it: Soak the jar in a bowl of hot water or dish soap, and add half a lemon to remove any smells. Peel off the label and add a little clove oil to wipe the glue away.
Rohini Boppana, Bengaluru
A restaurateur and the owner of two Bengaluru-based restaurants, MishMash and Samaikya, Rohini Boppana found herself in her home kitchen for large portions of the day during the pandemic. It helped that her restaurateur’s brain and experience kicked into overdrive and helped her adapt the cleanliness regime from her restaurants for her house kitchen as well.
The kitchen stoves: To deep clean your kitchen stove, use a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water. It’s economical and does the job really well. If you’re looking for a quicker fix, then there are kitchen cleaners available in the market that do the job (Mr. Muscle, CIF etc).
The exhaust: Clean the exhaust regularly; this is especially necessary vis-à-vis Indian cooking, where oil usage is slightly higher. This increases the chances of grease in the exhaust. Soak it in hot water and clean with regular soap detergent. A weekly cleaning of exhaust filters is a good idea to avoid bugs.
The storage containers: Cleaning storage containers is also very important. Wipe it clean at regular intervals. Also, use the FIFO (first-in-first-out) method to store grains, flour or other provisions. If, for example, a little tur dal is left in the container, empty it out in a small plate, fill in the new tur dal in the container and then pour the old portion over it; this ensures you use the old tur dal first.
The ventilation: Don’t cook in a closed room. Keep windows or doors open.
The fruits and vegetables: Store vegetables and fruits in Ziplock bags in the fridge. Exposure to too much cold can affect its shelf-life.
The refrigerator: One thing that’s frequently overlooked is cleaning fridges. The abovementioned apple cider vinegar and water mix is great for fridge health too.
The small stuff: Keep a toothbrush handy to clean really small utensils. Often we miss cleaning tiny, hard-to-see parts of utensils, such as the screws on a kettle or a lemon squeezer.
The sink: A kitchen sink is a carrier of tons of bacteria. At the end of every cooking session, ensure that it is cleaned thoroughly. Also, don’t leave the sink unwashed at nights and don’t leave soiled vessels in the sink. Once a month or every fortnight, use a drain cleaner to ensure smooth flow of water.
Meghana Sareen, Mumbai
Last year drove a pandemic-sized wrench in Meghana Sareen’s busy life routine. The jewellery designer and founder of labels Bblingg and Meghana Sareen Jewels, found herself working from home, and dividing household chores with her husband. Cooking and baking took on new significance, as did the cleaning and organising that went with it. It led to some interesting DIY discoveries and eye-opening inputs offered by her aunt!
The microwave: Put a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon in the microwave on heat mode for about 5 minutes. The steam generated loosens food particles that may have accumulated in the microwave, particularly on top where it’s hard to clean. Then just wipe down the microwave with a cleaning cloth. This saves on the scrubbing.
The ants: If you have an ant infestation, use camphor to get rid of the tiny creatures. Place small pieces at strategic points and they run away. For termites, there is something called Amritdhara. Wiping ledges with a cotton ball soaked in a diluted mixture of this and water helps.
Malodours: To get rid of the unpleasant odour that accumulates in a microwave oven or fridge, place freshly sliced potatoes inside. A small saucer containing 1 spoon of baking powder and soda bicarbonate also helps get rid of food smells.
The kitchen scent: To really freshen up your kitchen, bring some water to boil, add cinnamon and orange peel and let it simmer for a while. Leave the fan on. In a short time, a lovely Christmassy scent will fill your kitchen. This especially works well when a lot of frying has been done.
Ashish Sahi, Gurugram
The well-known photographer whose projects see him jetting within and outside the country rather frequently found himself grounded in Mumbai last year for a large part of the lockdown (this year, he caught the second wave in Gurugram). His insights into a clean kitchen were focused on the parts he’d once—the chimney and a clogged drain.
The chimney: To clean the chimney, you need to soak the filters in hot water and detergent, something like Nirma. After some time, rinse it with hot water. The grease comes off easily. Do not use your hand while making the solution, because the detergent is strong enough to strip your skin right off. Be sure to use gloves while making this mixture.
The drains: Choked and clogged drains are always a potential problem when the kitchen is used a lot. As far as possible, try and ensure that doesn’t happen with regular usage of a drain cleaner. If it does happen and you’re out of cleaner, it helps to be prepared. Keep a wire handy in case the drain chokes. An old wire hanger you have no use for can be twisted into a convenient tool to get inside and clear it out.
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