The state of your sink says a lot about the rest of the kitchen. A nice, clean sink is, well, nice and clean. A dirty sink, on the other hand, is a bacteria-ridden hole in your kitchen counter just waiting to be filled with dirty dishes and spoiled food—if it hasn’t been already.
Keeping your sink in showroom shape is a great way to increase the overall cleanliness of your kitchen. It’s also pretty fast and easy, as deep-cleaning projects go. Follow the steps below on a regular basis and you’ll reap the benefits of a sparkling-clean sink for the rest of your life.
Clean out the junk
Before you can clean the sink itself, you have to empty it. If you have a dishwasher, this step is a lot easier: Dishwashers are engineered to accept very dirty plates, so you can load it up with wild abandon. If you don’t have a dishwasher, you’re in the unenviable position of having to hand wash the plates piled into Mt. Mold. Either way, don’t neglect your drain basket or strainer: All the food and grime it’s collected since its last cleaning has to go, so give it a good scrub or toss it and get a fresh one.
Scrub, scrub, scrub
Nothing eliminates caked-on residue like an abrasive cleaner. If you have a stainless steel sink, a green scouring pad and something like Bon Ami or Barkeeper’s Friend will do the trick. For less durable surfaces, use a soft cloth and non-abrasive cleaner like Clorox Soft Scrub. (You don’t want to scratch the surface of your sink—that just makes it more susceptible to staining and funk later.)
Make sure to clean your garbage disposal, too, if you have one. Tossing ice cubes and salt or citrus peels down the hatch will keep a disposal clean, but bigger messes need some elbow grease. Bob Vila recommends manually cleaning the splash guard and main disposal chamber to get rid of mold, slime, and food particles, then using baking soda and vinegar to deodorize the chamber.
Bust out the bleach
Now that your sink is scrubbed, it’s time to disinfect. Fill your sink halfway with warm—not steaming hot—water, then pour in about a cup of bleach. Let the bleach mixture sit at least until the water cools to room temperature, more than enough time to thoroughly disinfect the surface and neutralize any gross odors.
Put on some dish gloves, unplug your sink, and let the bleach drain away. Use your faucet’s spray nozzle attachment to rinse away any lingering bleach residue. If you don’t have one, try a “rinse cycle:” Fill the sink with clean water and drain it again.
Dry it off
If you have a white kitchen sink, you’d have to go out of your way to see water or soap spots, but they’re annoyingly obvious on stainless steel. A quick pat with a dish towel when you’re done using the sink is more than enough to keep the sink from getting spotted up. If you like, you can also follow up with some vinegar and oil to polish your stainless steel sink to a streak-free shine.
Keep it clean
After you spend a weekend detailing your car, you usually go out of your way to not throw anything on the floorboards or let stuff pile up in the back seat—at least for awhile. The same goes for your sink: Once it’s been scrubbed and disinfected, you’ll want to keep it that way for as long as possible.
After I started cleaning my sink in such a thorough fashion, it stayed in a nearly perpetual state of emptiness; dishes went right into the dishwasher or were quickly washed by hand. Your mileage may vary on that front, but even if your dishwashing habits stay the same, it’s a lot nicer to face a clean sink full of dirty dishes than a filthy one.
This article was originally published on October 10, 2009, and was updated on May 3, 2021 to reflect Lifehacker’s current style guidelines.