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How to Sanitize Your Kitchen Counter and Food Prep Areas

Woman wiping down her counters with a microfiber rag and sanitizer
Fabio Balbi/Shutterstock.com

Keeping your kitchen sanitized requires more than just wiping the counters down with a damp rag. Here’s how you keep your counters and food prep areas clean and safe.

Even if your chopping everything up on a cutting board, you need to keep your kitchen counters clean. Food falls off cutting boards, juices run off of them, and then you set a dish down, and the juices get on it. You pick the dish up and move it, then touch another food item and you’ve just cross-contaminated food. Depending on who you’re cooking for or what you’re cooking, you could put people at risk food poisoning or allergic reactions.

Your home kitchen prep area deserves the same treatment as a food prep area in a restaurant. Here are the steps to follow to keep your kitchen counters clean and free of bacteria.

Prepare the Counter

Before you break out the cleaning products, brush any loose debris or food particles off the counter and dispose of them. You can use a dry towel or rag to do the brushing and to soak up any spills or wet messes, but we’d recommend against wiping the entire counter down with a damp cloth at this point because it’ll just spread around any contaminants.

Clean the Counter

Once you’ve dealt with the debris and spills, it’s time to wipe things down properly. Dampen a rag with hot water (hot water is far more effective at breaking up cooking greases and other kitchen messes than cold water) mixed with a drop or two of dish soap or another cleaning agent.

After you clean the entire counter space, rinse off all of the soap with clean water and a rag. If there are spots that didn’t come clean, put some warm soapy water on the spot to soak for a few minutes, and wipe it down again.

Sanitize the Counter

While you might think that cleaning the counter with warm water and soap was the last step you still haven’t killed the bacteria living on your kitchen counter. Soap and water will aid in the mechanical removal of some bacteria, to be sure, but it doesn’t actually kill the bacteria left behind. To do this, you need to use bleach or other sanitizers.

Bleach is an effective and traditional sanitizing agent, but some people find the smell offputting, and it’s not the best option for people with respiratory or chemical sensitives. When it comes to cost and effectiveness, though, it’s tough to beat. Mix bleach and water in a 1:10 ratio—which is what the Center for Disease Control recommends for sanitizing surfaces—and apply to your counters with a rag or a spray bottle.

If you’d like to avoid using bleach, you could always use a hypochlorous acid cleaner like CleanSmart. Hypochlorous acids are effective sanitizers that don’t have a strong chemical smell and breakdown into saline.

Whatever sanitizer you choose, before you apply the sanitizer, wipe the counter down with some very hot water (hotter than you used in the cleaning stage), then apply the sanitizer per container instructions.

Let It Dry

Let the counter air dry. As tempting as it is to wipe down the counter with a dry rag immediately, sanitizers should stay in place to work fully on the bacteria and contaminants you’re trying to destroy. The recommendation for cleaning with bleach water, for example, is to let the wiped surfaces air dry so that the bleach has the maximum amount of time to work. You do not need to rinse your counters after using bleach in a 1:10 mixture with water.

Tip: You can use that same spray bottle of bleach to mist dishes after washing them if you feel like they need a bit of sanitization. This is especially handy on cutting boards or any items used to prepare raw meat. And again, you don’t even have to rinse the dishes after—just let them air dry.

If you do wipe the counter down (because it’s still damp after the application time has passed), use a clean rag to ensure you don’t recontaminate your work surface.

Now that your counter is clean and sanitized, you can safely prep food to feed yourself or anyone else. Of course, as soon as you’re done, you need to repeat the steps!

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »

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