We get it. You’re exhausted from all the scrubbing, dusting, and mopping and vacuuming. But there’s a chance—a very good chance—you’re overlooking one critical move when it comes to cleaning your appliances. Here, experts weigh in on the most neglected cleaning task when it comes to your oven, dishwasher, washing machine, plus more!
What you’re not cleaning: The space below the crisper drawers.
Why it’s important: As the lowest point of gravity, this is where all drips and spills in your fridge go to die. “If your fridge smells, some goo rotting under the drawers is likely to blame!” says Melissa Homer, chief cleaning officer at MaidPro.
How to clean: Pull out the drawers. Spray the exposed area with a disinfecting all-purpose cleaner and scrub with the back of a kitchen sponge until all the dried gunk is dislodged. Spray the area again and wipe with a microfiber towel. Be sure to rinse out the inside of the drawers while you’re at it. FYI: Most refrigerator shelves and crisper bins are dishwasher safe.
Runner-up: The coils in the back of the refrigerator. Dust builds up on them over time, which slows airflow and makes your fridge hum louder and operate less efficiently. “Using the brush attachment on your vacuum, unplug the fridge and pull it out from the wall,” says Melissa Maker, host of CleanMySpace YouTube channel. “Vacuum the back where you see coils. The whole job should take you less than five minutes and will extend the life of your refrigerator.”
What you’re not cleaning: The oven rack.
Why it’s important: Racks can’t be cleaned in the self-clean cycle, as you’ll risk damaging their finish and making it harder to pull them in and out of the oven, and are tricky to scrub because of their awkward structure. “Bubbly messes and spills over time leave carbonized grease and old food clinging on, contributing to a burning smell,” says Maker.
How to clean: Fill a bath tub with hot water and add a cup of laundry detergent. Position your oven racks on top of an old bath towel in the bathtub to prevent the racks from scratching the porcelain. Soak overnight and then give the racks a wipe and dry the next morning.
Runner-up: Control buttons and knobs. Your hands get dirty while cooking, whether you’re cracking eggs or breading chicken, and any food residue can leave bacteria behind on the knobs. “Most buttons and handles can be cleaned with a disinfecting wipe or household kitchen cleaner,” says Jessica Petrino, an appliance specialist with AJ Madison. “Many new ovens are wi-fi connected so you can control them with voice commands from your smart speaker.”
What you’re not cleaning: The catch filter.
Why it’s important: Old food can get caught in the filter and lead to odor causing bacteria and mold growth.
How to clean: Open your dishwasher, pull out the lower rack, and reach for the filter handle on the bottom of your dishwasher. With most models, the filter handle twists and pops out. Look into the cavity for debris, then rinse the filter under the faucet or fill your sink with soapy water and let it soak for twenty minutes. “Remove any sticky buildup using an old toothbrush,” suggests Maker. Check your filter every two to four weeks depending on how often you use your dishwasher.
Runner-up: The outside edges of the dishwasher door. “Dirt, food, and splashes can settle there,” says Jan Dougherty, author of the Lost Art of House Cleaning. Use a damp cloth or an old toothbrush dipped in equal parts vinegar and water and wipe the corners, up under the gasket, and under the bottom of the door.
What you’re not cleaning: The gasket.
Why it’s important: If you use a front-loading washer, you’ll notice a rubber gasket, also known as the bellow, around the door. It’s designed to prevent water from escaping during a cycle, however it can be a collecting place for water, soap residue, and in some cases, mold, resulting in a musty smell. (Top loaders don’t require this cleaning step because the door on a top loader is not responsible for containing water, therefore does not have a bellow.)
How to clean: “Leave the washer door ajar between cycles so excess moisture can escape. (If you have young children, use your best judgement as an open door can be a safety hazard.) Take a kitchen rag or paper towel, and wipe the gasket after each cycle to prevent water from pooling. “Do your part by using less high efficiency soap to prevent soapy build-up in your machine,” adds Petrino. FYI: Some of the newer front loaders will bring in air from the outside of the washer to dry out the drum and gasket after the cycle is complete. They’ll also prompt you to run a self-cleaning cycle as needed to reduce build-up over time.
Runner up: The soap dispenser tray. “If you use fabric softener, the residue can build up in the dispenser tray and encourage mold growth,” says Homer. Remove the tray by pulling it forward and then pushing down on the tab that keeps the tray from falling out. Wash the tray in the sink with warm soapy water and a sponge and wipe out any gunk or mold in the cavity in which the tray sits in as well.
What you’re not cleaning: The outside exhaust vent.
Why it’s important: Dryer lint is very flammable and a clogged exhaust pipe can slow drying times and cause the dryer to overheat, increasing the risk of fire.
How to clean: “Attach a dryer vent brush to your cordless drill. Go outside, run the long brush into the vent, and using a back and forth motion, slowly scrub and pull the lint out towards you, until the brush and all the lint emerge. Repeat if it’s heavily clogged,” says Homer. It’s also important to clean any build-up in the duct work behind the dryer. “Use a flexible vacuum hose to access any blockage,” says Petrino. “If you cannot reach the ductwork, or are having difficulty disconnecting the dryer duct, it’s worth hiring a professional to help you with this task. Runner-up: The lint trap slot. “Even if you clean out your lint trap regularly, lint can still get stuck in the slot and build up over time,” says Homer. “Remove the lint trap, and use the crevice tool on your vacuum to clean inside the slot.”
What you’re not cleaning: The gullies between the sides of your stove and the counters.
Why it’s important: “Drips and splatter that run down the sides of the stove create a receptacle for rotting food bits, generating odors and attracting pests,” says Homer.
How to clean: Use a flashlight to inspect the floor on each side, then dampen a microfiber towel with a disinfectant all-purpose cleaner. “Open the towel flat and run it through the cracks on each side of the stove. Or, attach the microfiber towel using rubber bands to a flattened wire hanger to reach the challenging spots.
Runner-up: The knobs. They’re frequently touched and can form a greasy buildup over time and lead to cross contamination. Gently pull the dial toward you until it pops off. “Wash it with equal parts dish soap and baking soda using a non-scratch scrub sponge, then give the peg and the space the knob covered a wipe as well. Rinse, dry and replace,” says Maker.
What you’re not cleaning: The crumb tray.
Why it’s important: This reservoir catches fallen pieces from toasted items and not cleaning it can create a fire hazard as the pieces continue to burn and impart burnt flavors and odors onto all your food,” says Homer.
How to clean: Look for a little edge or lip at the bottom of your toaster and pull out the tray, advises Maker. Shake it out over a trash can and wipe away any stubborn bits with dish soap, water, and a sponge. Be sure to dry it well before returning it to the machine.
Runner-up: The glass door. “Wipe the glass with a terrycloth rag and a degreasing agent, like Krud Kutter,” says Dougherty. “You may need to do this more than once and follow up with some white vinegar. If you need to scrape something off, gently use a single edged razor.”
What you’re not cleaning: The brush roll.
Why it’s important: The brush roll inside the vacuum head is designed to extract dirt and debris from carpets and area rugs, yet long hair and other string-like substances can get caught in the brush roll over time.
How to clean: “Unplug the vacuum and turn it over to locate the brush roll in the head of the vacuum. If you find hair and debris has wrapped their way around the roll, the easiest way to remove it all is with a scissor,” notes Petrino. “Be careful not to cut the vacuum brush bristles, simply get under the blockage, make your cuts, and pull off any debris from the brush roll. If the brush roll is removable, you can wash it according to the product manual’s instructions.”
Runner-up: Vacuum tools. If your tools aren’t clean, they can’t effectively pick up dust and dirt. Assuming tools are non-motorized, fill a bucket with hot soapy water and let them soak for an hour. If they have any brushes or bristles, you can use an old toothbrush to give them a good cleaning. Rinse well and allow to dry completely before using again.
What you’re not cleaning: The basin.
Why it’s important: “Leaving the gunk inside your basin to burn and bake on is a recipe for flareups, burnt smelling food, clogged heating elements, and a miserable end-of-season cleaning job,” says Homer.
How to clean: Remove the grates and all of the reflectors. Spray the inside of the basin with a degreaser and scrub with a brush or sponge. Rinse and wipe with a wet rag until everything is clean and then air dry before closing the lid.
Runner-up: The grease trap. “It sits underneath the bottom of the grill to catch dripping, excess grease and needs to be cleaned to prevent grease overflow and pests,” says Maker. Some are disposable and can be thrown away and replaced, while others are permanent. “In the case of the later, remove a cooled down trap and dispose of any grease safely before wiping down the trap with a paper towel and scrubbing it clean in hot, soapy water.”
What you’re not cleaning: The reservoir.
Why it’s important: Boiling water can leave behind mineral deposits which can clog up the system.
How to clean: Fill the reservoir with white vinegar and run it through the machine once a month. “If you notice a slight vinegar flavor, run a pot of clean water to rinse out any residual taste,” says Dougherty.
Runner-up: The spray head. Located directly on top of where the coffee grinds sit in the machine, the spray head jets water into the grinds. The resulting heat and pressure from dripping water into the grinds can cause splattering and oils to build up on the spray head and cause it to become clogged. “Between uses, once the machine has cooled down, simply remove the spray head if it can be removed, and wipe the area with a clean, damp microfiber cloth. It the area is very grimy, use a toothbrush to give it a gentle scrub, and wipe again,” says Maker.
What you’re not cleaning: The air intake filter.
Why it’s important: The filter’s job is to collect grease and prevent it from covering your kitchen. “If it’s clogged with grease, it will strain your motor and slow the flow of air, so your kitchen stinks after cooking and your microwave burns out years earlier than it should,” says Homer. “Cleaning your filter at least quarterly will keep the system running smoothly and your kitchen smelling clean.”
How to clean: Look under your microwave and locate and remove the filter. Fill your sink with hot, soapy water and let the filter soak for a few minutes, gently scrubbing it using the back of a sponge or a soft scrub brush. If you've neglected the filter for a while, spray it with your favorite degreaser and let it sit for ten minutes before scrubbing. Once clean, rinse the filter and air dry before returning it.
Runner-up: The exhaust grille on the front or top of your microwave. “Spray a microfiber with an all-purpose cleaner, wrap it over a butter knife, and wipe between the slats,” notes Homer. “If you've waited too long to complete this task, you can increase your firepower with a degreaser—just be sure to select one that’s safe on plastics and wipe it down with a dampened rag to avoid dulling the plastic.”
What you’re not cleaning: The air filter.
Why it’s important: Dirty filters can lead to strained motors, increased energy use and costs, a shortened machine life, and dirtier air.
How to clean: Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions—some permanent filters can be rinsed under the faucet and air-dried, others are disposable and need to be replaced. “The filter should be easy to find on a portable unit,” says Petrino. “It’s usually a pull-out on the side or front of the machine. With some models you might need to remove the front face of the AC to access the filter. With a central AC unit, you’ll need to remove the filter from the air return vent and replace or clean it in the same way you would a window air conditioning filter. For best results, vacuum the filter housing with a vacuum nozzle before inserting a newly cleaned filter.
Runner-up: Vent covers. Circulating air could pick up dust, germs, and bacteria, blowing them throughout the air. “Use a vacuum attachment to remove any grime and take a damp rag and wipe down the vent,” says Homer.