8 Simple Strategies to Make After-Dinner Cleanup a Breeze

Laura Hennigan
Written by Laura Hennigan
Updated January 13, 2022
Group of friends having dinner together
Photo: Anton / Adobe Stock

Because doing dishes is the worst dessert

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There’s nothing like enjoying a delicious, home-cooked meal with family and friends. And just when you thought the night couldn’t get any better…you remember the pile of dishes waiting in your sink. Cleaning up after dinner is definitely the low point of any event, but you can get through it in a flash with a few tips and tricks. 

1. Start with an Empty Dishwasher 

Emptying the dishwasher before you even begin cooking will save time, not to mention the frustration of finding kids' dirty dishes mixed in with the clean ones. A free and clear dishwasher will not only save you an extra step after dinner, but it can also cut down on your cleanup time. You can simply drop all the bowls, pans, and utensils you use to prepare a meal in the dishwasher as you finish up each task. 

2. Conserve Kitchen Tools

Woman rinsing a bowl in kitchen sink
Photo: DragonImages / Adobe Stock

Cut back on the pile-up of dishes and utensils by using fewer of them when cooking. You can use items like mixing bowls, measuring cups, and large stirring spoons multiple times during meal prep. A quick wipe off with a paper towel or rinse under the faucet is sometimes all that may be necessary.

3. Keep Garbage Cans Close By

Having both a garbage can and compost bin or bowl within arms reach can be a huge time-saver. Discarding food scraps for compost and wrappers in the trash during cooking and cleanup makes the work much faster. It’s also a great way to remind kids to help dispose of their own leftovers in an environmentally friendly manner.

4. Organize Your Kitchen

Sometimes a good cleanup strategy starts with a good setup. When organizing (or reorganizing) your kitchen, place things strategically based on how you use them. Sure, that beautiful serving bowl might look nice, but if you don’t use it often, it can get in the way when you’re trying to put away your everyday dishes. 

Other hacks for organizing your kitchen effectively include placing dishes and utensils in a cabinet as close to the dishwasher as possible for easy loading and unloading and eliminating clutter every few months.

You can also try this strategy in other rooms in your home by choosing home organization and decor that makes your home easier to clean.

5. Choose Cleanup Convenience 

Homemade cookies on a tray
Photo: ahirao / Adobe Stock

Embrace the modern conveniences of aluminum foil, silicone baking sheets, and parchment paper. From lining cookie sheets to marinating meat to helping dough rise, utilizing these kitchen time-savers helps make quick work of clean up, especially after baking. By lining your pans, you won’t have to worry about scraping bits of melted chocolate off of your baking sheets hours after your family enjoyed their dessert.

6. Have Reusable Containers on Hand

There’s a lot to be said for having a set of good quality, reusable containers with matching lids on hand—especially if you love to cook. After-dinner cleanup is a breeze when you can empty food from the serving platters and pans right into the containers, and then stack them in the fridge. Bonus points if you choose glass options, which are a cinch to clean in the dishwasher.

7. Skip the Overnight Soak

While you may want certain pans to soak while you eat, leaving them full of soapy dishwater overnight is rarely necessary. Dishwashers and dishwashing detergent today are highly efficient, often powerful enough to help you avoid a complete rinse-off before placing items in the dishwasher. Be sure to scrape off large pieces of stuck-on food and avoid adding anything extra greasy to help prevent build-up.

8. Avoid Getting Fancy

While your antique maple table and linen napkins may be beautiful, they aren’t the easiest to keep clean daily. Save some time (and elbow grease) by throwing a light, machine-washable tablecloth on and opting for either paper or cotton napkins. Safely store away the festive holiday dishes for special occasions, and take the convenience route during Wednesday night spaghetti dinners.

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