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Spring Cleaning Day 3: Declutter and Clean Your Counters

Bare and clean counters in a white and modern kitchen.
Anatoli Igolkin/Shutterstock

Nothing sees more use in your kitchen than your counters. So let’s continue our Spring Cleaning Challenge by focusing on not just getting them clean, but getting them open and ready for action too.

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The sink is clean now, the walls and cabinets are clean, and now it’s time to get the counters not just clean but decluttered.

Why Declutter Your Counters?

Our spring cleaning series is focused, naturally, on cleaning. As such it might seem out of place, after we just cleaned the sink and all the vertical surfaces in the kitchen, to focus on decluttering.

But just like keeping your sink clean and clear helps speed along the flow of dishes and food-prep cleanup in your kitchen, keeping your counters clean and clear gives you the open space you need for whatever projects come your way—be it cooking or using the counter as a workspace for a craft project.

With that in mind, first, we’re going to clear the counters and declutter the counters. Then we’ll clean them. And then we’ll return only the most useful and necessary items to them to keep them open and ready for action.

How to Declutter Your Counters

Counter clutter sneaks up on you, trust us, we know. One day you move into a new home and the open counters seem ready for anything. The years go by and you realize there’s just so much stuff everywhere. Just like everything else in life, from your closets to your garage, counters need a good decluttering now and then. Here’s how to adjust your storage and banish seldom used (or even useless) items.

Remove Everything

You’re going to have to remove everything to really effectively clean every square inch of your counter anyway, which makes this an absolutely perfect time to declutter.

Enlist the assistance of your dining room table, the table in your breakfast nook, or even the foyer floor or hallway if you have to. Absolutely everything has to come off the counters. No exceptions.

If you leave items behind or just shuffle them from one side of the kitchen counter to the other, you’ll lose the advantage you gain by completely removing them from the kitchen. Removing the items from the kitchen is like breaking a spell. Suddenly that seldom-used item no longer has a gravitational grip on your kitchen island, and you’re more likely to get rid of it.

Group by Frequency of Use

Speaking of items never used, the fastest way to get a sense of what needs to stay and what needs to go (into storage or for good) is the frequency of use. Take a moment to assess every item you took off the counter and determine how often you really use it. Do you use it:

  • Multiple times daily?
  • Once a day?
  • Once a week?
  • Infrequently?
  • Only for special occasions and holidays?

You might be surprised to find how many things on your counters and in your kitchen, in general, are there because they landed there and never moved again, not because they see heavy use.

Place Seldom Used (But Still Useful) Items in Storage

Once you’ve noted which items actually see heavy use, you’ll know which items should actually be stored on the counter. Use the toaster every single day? Keep it on the counter. Use it now and then? Store it within the kitchen or nearby. The same thing goes for items like blenders. If you’re living that smoothie-for-breakfast life, maybe it’s worth keeping it on the counter. If you really only own a blender for margaritas on the patio every summer, put it in storage until it’s time to set sail for Margaritaville.

Anything that gets heavy daily use should be put back on the counters when we’re done cleaning. Everything else should be stored relative to your kitchen workspace based on frequency of use.

Finally, anything you don’t use frequently or really need for special occasions or entertaining should get the boot. If you’ve switched to using a French press for your coffee and have no real intention of ever using your Keurig machine again (despite insisting that you should keep it around for guests), it’s time to give it to a friend or donate it.

Regardless of how much stuff is on your counter or how limited your in-kitchen or adjacent storage is, we would strongly encourage you to make decisions with an emphasis on keeping your counters as open and free as possible. Counters are meant to be used as an active workspace, not for storing seldom-used items. And, more importantly, the less junk on your counter the easier it is to wipe them down and keep them clean!

Cleaning Your Counters

A closeup of white marble counters in a sunny modern kitchen.
Jodie Johnson/Shutterstock

Counters decluttered, now it’s time to wipe them down. Just like different sinks and different cabinets require a different cleaning tact, so do counters. Fortunately, a gentle-is-better approach applies to every counter type.

Identify Your Counter Type

The best way to avoid turning your attempt at cleaning your counters into an expensive and ugly mishap is to identify the kind of counters you have. This will help you match the right cleaner with the right surface to avoid scratching, clouding, or other issues.

  • Laminate: A fairly common countertype. Laminate doesn’t require particularly special care except to avoid the use of scouring pads and abrasive cleaners as the plastic surface of laminate counters is not particularly durable.
  • Granite, Marble, and Quartz: While natural stone countertops are quite durable, you should avoid acidic cleaners like vinegar as the acid can etch the surface and/or remove the sealants that keep stains out of the stone.
  • Soapstone: The non-porous surface of soapstone is very resistant to cleaners. Because soapstone counters are treated with mineral oil, though, you might find that after a scrubbing session with a strong degreaser or cleanser that you need to wipe the surfaces down with oil again to return the rich wet-look to the stone.
  • Synthetic Stone: Acceptable and unacceptable cleaners vary widely by manufacturer, so take time to look up your specific brand. In general, avoid acidic cleaners.
  • Butcher Block: While some very old and very traditional butcher block counters are waxed/oiled, most butcher block counters are coated water-based polyurethane. Poly won’t be damaged by slightly acidic cleansers like white vinegar, but do avoid abrasive cleansers or sponges.
  • Concrete: Not particularly common, but trending over the last few years, concrete counters are plenty durable. The sealant used on them, however, is not. Avoid using harsh or acidic cleansers to avoid having to reseal your counters.
  • Stainless Steel: Uncommon in most residential kitchens, stainless steel is easy to clean. Household cleansers won’t harm it at all and other than avoiding abrasive cleansers and tools (to avoid putting swirl makes in your metal counter), there’s not much to worry about.

What You Need

In general, you simply want to avoid any cleansers that are particularly alkaline (like bleach) or particularly acidic (like vinegar). On the pH scale, plain old water is around a 7 and plain old mild dish soap is around a 7-8, which makes it pretty much perfect for cleaning every countertop without risk of finish damage. Grab this gear and we’ll get cleaning.

That last item, a detail cleaning brush, is optional, but we think you’ll find it pretty useful. There are plenty of little spots around the kitchen, like where counter corners meet or where the counters meet the edge of the sink, where a little sturdy nylon detailing brush is very handy for getting at the gunk.

OXO Good Grips Deep Clean Brush Set

This combo brush set is great for everything from detail cleaning around kitchen fixtures or scrubbing grout lines.

How to Clean Your Counters

When it comes to cleaning your counters, less is more. You want to use as little cleaner and as little water as necessary to get the job done. To avoid scratches don’t use abrasive tools, simply place a warm damp rag over any stubborn stuck-on bits of anything—be it food or adhesive from a misplaced sticker.

  1. Fill your bowl with very warm water and a few drops of dish soap.
  2. Wipe down your counters working from one side of the kitchen to the other in a clockwise fashion to avoid missing any spots.
  3. Avoid letting water stand on wood counters in general, and specifically on points in both wood and laminate counters where segments of the counter meet. Standing water can cause laminate surfaces to lift and warp if the water soaks down into the cracks.
  4. Pay special attention to any points where the counter connects with another surface, such as the backsplash, trim work, the edge of the kitchen sink, and so on. Use the detail brush to free up crud caught in these spaces.
  5. Wipe the counter down again with a clean damp rag to remove any soap residue and give the counters one last check over—if the fresh bowl of water gets cloudy, you’ve got a bit more scrubbing to do.
  6. Once fully dry, if your counters require any sort of additional love based on their composition (such as a mineral oil touchup for soapstone, or waxing for traditional butcherblock counters) apply the treatment now.

Going forward, just like with your spring-cleaning-challenge polished sink and clean walls, go out of your way to immediately deal with any messes and routinely wipe down your counters at the end of the day. With a simple daily wipe-down, you can practically put off deep cleaning indefinitely as there won’t be much grime built up over time.

We’re at the midweek point! Just two more cleaning sessions in week one, and you’ll have a sparkling kitchen cleaned top to bottom. As always, keep following along on the Spring Cleaning Challenge page, and if you haven’t signed up for our newsletter already, now is a great time to do so.

Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Editor in Chief of LifeSavvy. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at LifeSavvy, Review Geek, How-To Geek, and Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »
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