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5 Kitchen Messes Made Easy

Chaos in the kitchen is no match for our de-scuzzing methods

Your dirty little secret’s out: You haven’t cleaned the freezer (or the stove, or the silver) for weeks. Welcome to the club! Don’t fret: The most maddening messes can be solved with minimal grunt work. Here, the simple solutions to the most complicated kitchen conundrums.

Mess #1: Food That Won’t Budge

Bubbling cheese atop your famous lasagna is heaven on the table, but misery in the sink. To get the gunk off your baking dish, sprinkle the inside with baking soda, fill it with hot water and walk away. Overnight, the baked-on bits will loosen; in the morning, wash the dish with soap and water. For the top edges, scrub with a paste made from baking soda and water.

Mess #2: Caked-on Cooktop Burners

When your pot runneth over (and over and over), the buildup on your stove top becomes too hardened for mere elbow grease: You need molecular muscle. For gas ranges, remove the plates and grates, and place each in a large plastic storage bag. Slip on rubber gloves, then add ¼ cup of household ammonia to each bag. Seal, double-bag, and lay flat overnight (out of reach from kiddos, of course). The fumes—not the liquid—break up the food gunk. Rinse them, dry and replace. Electric burner plates can be cleaned the same way. For the coil, scrub it with a paste of baking soda and water, being careful to keep the electrical connection dry. For glass cooktops, liberally sprinkle baking soda over the surface. Soak a rag in hot, soapy water, lay it over the stained area and wait 15 minutes. Then use the rag to wipe up the baking soda and the grime; use paper towels to buff dry. But kitchen appliances aren’t the only things subject to kitchen grime’s wrath.

Mess #3: A Grubby High Chair

Never mind figuring out how such a tiny child can create such a huge, disgusting mess—how do you clean up afterward? Let your appliances do the tough jobs. If the pad is washable, toss it in the washing machine; if the tray is dishwasher-safe, add it to your next load. For the rest of the chair, spray it heavily with a mixture of 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water, plus a squeeze of dish soap. Let it soak for 15 minutes, then wipe it down with a wet rag, and scrub any crusty culinary mysteries with an old toothbrush.

Mess #4: Tarnished Silver

The No. 1 rule of silver: Clean it early and often. The darker a piece of silver’s tarnish, the tougher it is to remove, so the best way to avoid endless scrubbing is to use your silver regularly (and gently wash it with mild soap and water) so grime doesn’t have a chance to build up. Antique and heirloom pieces, and anything with a black patina, should be cleaned by a professional. But small bowls, dishes and some flatware can be cleaned at home. Put a few pieces in an aluminum pan, sprinkle with ¼ cup each baking soda and salt, then pour in enough boiling water to cover the silver. Let sit for 5 minutes, then remove the suddenly spot-free silver and dry thoroughly with a soft cloth.

Mess #5: A Filthy Freezer

Can’t find the chicken nuggets through all the ice crystals? Time to clean out that frozen tundra. First, ditch all the past-its-prime food, and place the still-safe stuff in a cooler while you work. Wash all removable drawers and shelves in the sink with hot water and dish soap, and dry thoroughly to avoid ice where it shouldn’t be. Spray the interior with a mixture of 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water; wipe down with a damp cloth and dry well. Replace the shelves, drawers and food. So long, frosty the fridge. Now congratulate yourself. At this point, you’re a housekeeping black belt.