Kitchen - Bob Vila

Category: Kitchen


How To: Clean Granite Countertops

To maintain its glossy shine, granite should be cleaned regularly—and carefully. Here's how.

How to Clean Granite Countertops

Photo: shutterstock.com

In many people’s minds, granite means strength and resilience. But if you want to know how to clean granite countertops successfully, the watchword is caution. The stone can actually be damaged by many of the products and techniques that are perfectly safe to use on other kitchen surfaces. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out how to clean granite countertops properly; the job just requires a bit of extra care and attention. Follow the steps outlined here, and you’re bound to be satisfied with the result of your efforts.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Mild dish soap
 Microfiber cloths (3)
Soft sponge
Baking soda (optional)
Hydrogen peroxide (optional)
Bowl (optional)
Spoon (optional)
Plastic wrap (optional)

How to Clean Granite Countertops

Photo: flickr.com via James Bowe

STEP 1: Squirt dish soap into a soft sponge.

For regular cleaning, your best bet is nothing more sophisticated than mild dish soap that’s been diluted with water. (Although there is a homemade granite cleaner you can make with a base of rubbing alcohol.) Wet a sponge with water from the tap and squirt dish soap into its center. Bear in mind, however, that because granite scratches easily, the solution ought to be applied with a soft sponge, or even a microfiber cloth—that is, not with an abrasive scrubber.

STEP 2: Wring out excess water.

Massage the sponge or cloth until you see suds, then wring it out so as not to compromise the highly absorbent stone (it can become discolored beneath standing water).

STEP 3: Wipe the counters.

Gently wipe across the entire countertop in small, circular motions. Dried-on food splatter might require a little more elbow grease, but stick to this non-abrasive method unless you have a stain. (Dealing with a stain? That’s a different story; see the next section for how to clean granite countertops that have been stained by standing water or oil.)

STEP 4: Dry granite countertops completely.

Dry off the countertop, not only to protect the granite from water damage but also to eliminate streaks and leave the surface with an eye-catching, irresistible shine.

STAIN REMOVAL

Don’t panic! Most of the time, stained granite countertops can be cleaned with household items so common that you probably already have them in your pantry. No matter the source of the stain, start with baking soda. If you wish to clean a water stain, mix the baking soda with a small amount of hydrogen peroxide in a bowl. For an oil-based stain, mix the baking soda with water. In either case, the mixture should generate a thick paste. Generously spoon and spread that over the stain, then cover the area with plastic wrap, taping down its edges. Leave the homemade stain remover overnight (or even for a couple of days), before rinsing and wiping down the granite.

ADDING PROTECTION

Most installations of granite are protected by a layer of sealant. If you’ve repeatedly tried and failed to remove stains from your counters, chances are that the sealant has ceased to function as it should. In situations where the sealant is to blame, stained granite becomes difficult or impossible to clean, at least for the average do-it-yourselfer. Your best bet is to hire a professional to completely clean and then properly reseal the stone, thereby preventing future problems.

If you’ve been lucky enough to avoid stains so far but want to know the extent of your countertop’s protection, test whether or not it’s sealed. Spoon out just a few drops of water onto the surface, and keep your hydrogen peroxide and baking soda at the ready. Give it a few minutes. You want to see the water bead up atop the protective seal; that means it’s strong. But, if the water penetrates the granite, address the stain quickly with the baking soda and hydrogen peroxide paste described above (under “Stain Removal”) and schedule a time to reseal the slab.

STAY CLEAR

Keep these cleaners far away!

• Household acids including vinegar, lemon, lime, and citrus

• Ammonia or ammonia-based cleaners like Windex

• Bleach

• Steel wool

• Scrubby sponges

They’re bad news for the gloss of your granite as well as the protection—over time, they will etch, dull, and even weaken the surface sealant.

 

Cleaning Tips for a Spotless Home

All of the Essential Cleaning Advice from BobVila.com
There’s no way around it: Keeping the house clean demands your time, your energy, and even some of your money. Fortunately, this arsenal of cleaning tips can help you finish the housekeeping more quickly—and with fewer commercially sold products.


How To: Clean a Waffle Maker

Rid your waffle maker of the remnants of breakfasts past with this handy cleaning tutorial.

How to Clean a Waffle Maker

Photo: istockphoto.com

Few small appliances provide as much tasty fun as the waffle maker. So how come this cool kitchen tool gets little play? Because it can be a bummer to clean! Both the interior baking plates and the exterior are bound to accumulate food debris and grease, which should be removed after every use, lest they emit nasty odors or even burn your next batch. Unless your waffle maker advises otherwise, ordinary dish soap shouldn’t be used to clean the baking plates since it can gradually strip their non-stick coating over time. But with the right supplies and techniques, you can easily banish leftover batter and crud—how you approach the job will depend on whether your unit has removable or non-removable baking plates. Consult the manual if you’re not sure, then read on to learn how to clean the appliance in a jiffy and let it take its rightfully popular place in your breakfast repertoire.

How to Clean a Waffle Maker

Photo: istockphoto.com

HOW TO CLEAN THE REMOVABLE PLATES

 

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Plastic or rubber spatula
Plain water
Gloves
Soft sponge or softbristle brush
Drying rack

STEP 1
Lift the lid of the waffle maker and use a plastic or rubber spatula to remove any waffles from the baking plates. Never use metallic utensils, which can scrape the non-stick coating present on many models.

STEP 2
If your waffle maker features a temperature control dial, turn it to the off or 0 position. Then unplug the machine and let it cool completely for at least 30 minutes.

STEP 3
Clear the kitchen sink of dishes and then insert the stopper into the drain. Fill the sink halfway with warm tap water.

STEP 4
Remove each cooled baking plate by pressing down on the corresponding plate release button located on the side of the unit’s exterior. For example, on a two-plate unit, press the plate release button on the left-hand side to remove the leftmost plate. When the plate pops up from its housing at the base of the unit, use both hands to lift and remove it and immediately immerse it in the sink. Repeat this process for each plate. Let plates dwell in the water for 10 minutes to loosen grease and caked-on batter.

STEP 5
After donning gloves, lift one plate from the water bath and use your other hand to gently wipe clean the grooves and edges of the plate using small horizontal strokes of a soft sponge or a soft-bristle brush. (Do not use scouring pads or other abrasive cleaning supplies that could erode the non-stick coating.) Once the side of the plate with the grooves is clean, flip the plate to the other side and gently wipe it down. Rinse the top and bottom of the plate under warm running water to wash away any remaining crumbs, then air-dry on a drying rack. Repeat this process to clean and dry each baking plate, then remove your gloves.

Note: Some waffle maker models contain baking plates that are rugged enough to be cleaned in the dishwasher without incurring damage. Always check the manual for instructions on safe cleaning techniques. If in doubt, avoid dishwashing the baking plates to prevent denting or otherwise damaging the plates.

STEP 6
Position each clean and dry baking plate in its requisite slot in the plate housing at the base of the waffle maker, then push the plate down with both hands until you hear it snap into place in the slot. Close the lid of the waffle maker and clean the outside of the unit using the procedure “How to Clean a Waffle Maker’s Exterior,” below.

How to Clean a Waffle Maker

Photo: istockphoto.com

HOW TO CLEAN THE NON-REMOVABLE PLATES

 

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Plastic or rubber spatula
Plain water
– Paper towels
– Cloth hand towels (2)

STEP 1
Lift the lid of the waffle maker and use a plastic or rubber spatula to remove any waffles. If the unit has a temperature control dial, turn it to the off or 0 position. Then, unplug the waffle maker from the power source and let it cool completely for at least 30 minutes.

STEP 2
Using a clean, dry paper towel or cloth hand towel, make a pass over the grooves and edges of each baking plate located at the base of the unit to absorb grease and slough off trapped batter debris.

STEP 3
If any residue remains, wet the entire towel with warm water, wring it out until damp but not dripping, then lay the damp towel directly on top of the baking plates and close the lid for three to five minutes. The heat from the towel will loosen stubborn residue.

STEP 4
Lift the lid of the waffle maker and use the damp cloth to make a second pass over the grooves and edges of each plate, wiping away any lingering residue.

STEP 5
Take another clean paper or cloth towel, wet it with warm water, wring it out, and make a final pass over the grooves and edges of each baking plate in the unit to wipe it clean. Leave the lid of the waffle maker open for at least 10 minutes so that the plates can dry completely.

How to Clean a Waffle Maker

Photo: istockphoto.com

 

HOW TO CLEAN A WAFFLE MAKER’S EXTERIOR

 

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
– Paper towels
– Cloth hand towels (2)
– Plain water

STEP 1
With the interior plates clean and the unit cool, unplugged, and set to off/0, use a clean, damp paper or cloth towel to wipe down the waffle maker’s lid, handle, and base. Steer clear of electrical components such as the cord port and the cord itself when wiping the base of the unit. Never immerse the unit in water; it can seep into the base and corrode the metal heating elements on the underside of the baking plates.

STEP 2
Make a second pass over the lid, handle, and base of the unit with a fresh towel to dry the unit.

STEP 3
To store the waffle maker, close the lid, wrap the power cord around the power cord bracket (usually located at the base of the lid), then sit the unit upright on a flat, clean, dry surface where kids or pets can’t reach the cord end and pull it down—the shelves of a high cabinet are ideal.


What’s the Difference? Granite vs. Quartz

Before committing to a granite or quartz countertop, learn what distinguishes these two rock star materials.

Granite vs Quartz: Choosing the Right Countertop Material

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Philadelphia, PA

If you’re looking to remodel your kitchen with new countertops—either to boost the beauty of the space or the resale value of your home—granite and quartz are probably near the top of your list of potential materials. Both are sleek and high-end, favored by homeowners for their timeless elegance and rugged durability, but their differences are more than skin deep. Read on to see these two popular countertop materials go head to head, granite vs. quartz. The following key comparisons can aid you in choosing the one that best suits your style, budget, and needs.

Granite is 100 percent natural. Granite is a natural stone comprised of quartz, feldspar, and mica, formed over millions of years deep below the earth’s surface. It’s extracted from quarries as large rocks, which are then cut into slabs for home design applications. The quartz used for countertops, on the other hand, is an engineered stone consisting of 90 to 94 percent naturally occurring ground quartz and another 6 to 10 percent polymer resins and pigments. Although the ground quartz component is mined directly from the earth, it must be bound with manmade resins to form quartz slabs. Because these resins contain chemicals that can emit the pollutants known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), folks who want optimal indoor air quality will feel more comfortable with granite, which won’t release VOCs.

 

Granite vs Quartz - Why Homeowners Love Granite Countertops

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Scottsdale, AZ

Granite offers more visual variety. Both granite and quartz countertops come in a variety of hues and patterns to suit the unique color palette of your kitchen. However, the interlocking minerals of white feldspar, gray quartz, and black mica in granite gives granite countertops natural striations and swirls that vary in shape and size from one point on the slab to another, resulting in a visually varied look. Quartz doesn’t naturally contain these variations; it tends to look more flecked than vein-y, and maintains a consistent pattern across the slab without much variation—a plus if you want a uniform-looking countertop. The lighter patina of quartz also conceals seams (gaps between adjacent slabs on the countertop) more effectively than granite, whose darker patina (from its mica component) makes seams more noticeable. Which you choose depends on what else is going on in your kitchen. If for example, you’ll have a simple backsplash and paint, you may want a granite countertop as a focal point. But if you’re leaning toward other patterns and textures, more minimalist quartz may be the perfect complement.

Granite has an earthier texture. The mineral crystals in granite, often bearing microscopic fissures (small raised lines with a pronounced color), give it a slightly coarser, earthier texture than quartz. If you’re after a kitchen with a “back to nature” quality, granite is a great choice. Since quartz is bound with resin, it doesn’t have the crystalline structure or natural fissures of granite, giving it a smoother texture. The more finely ground the quartz, the glossier and more polished the overall appearance.

Granite vs Quartz: Which to Choose for Your Countertops

Photo; homedepot.com

Quartz is generally less expensive. The cost of a granite or quartz countertop depends on the thickness of the slab, the color, the edge profile (e.g., square, rounded, or beveled), and whether or not the countertop will house a sink. But with the exception of the cheapest granite, quartz is generally less expensive—$70 to $100 per square foot installed compared with granite’s price range of $60 to $270 per square foot installed. For an average-sized kitchen with 30 square feet of countertop area, a quartz countertop would cost $2,100 to $3,000 installed versus $1,800 to $8,100 for a granite countertop. This cost differential is due to the months or even years it can take to locate and quarry granite, and the higher costs associated with transporting granite from Brazil, Russia, and India, where most of the world’s supply is found. Quartz is more abundant and is often mined in the United States (primarily in Arkansas)—and the savings passes on to you.

Quartz is more resistant to moisture and staining. Both quartz and granite are resistant to heat, scratches, and moderate impact, not to mention they’re truly rock-hard—ranking an impressive 7 out of 10 on the Moh’s mineral hardness scale. But because quartz is non-porous and water-resistant, it requires no sealant to be virtually stain-proof. Granite has a porous surface that absorbs food spills and readily becomes stained unless it is finished with a water-and oil-repellent sealer. It’s recommended that granite is sealed at the time of installation and once a year afterward. This DIY-friendly job entails spraying the entire countertop with a zero- or low-VOC granite sealer (available for $7 to $15 at home centers), letting the sealer soak in for 20 minutes, wiping down wet patches with a soft, dry cloth, and then letting the countertop dry for 48 hours.

Note: Neither material is suitable for outdoor kitchens because direct UV rays from the sun can discolor them.

 

Granite vs Quartz - Why Homeowners Love Quartz Countertops

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Fort Meyers, FL

Quartz is less of a bacteria magnet. If left unsealed, a porous granite countertop can quickly become overrun by bacteria, mildew, and mold—the last things you want in your kitchen!—if you’re highly conscientious about cleaning. A sealed granite countertop keeps germs from penetrating the surface, but because the sealer gradually deteriorates over time, germs will again encroach. The non-porous surface of quartz keeps germs from penetrating the surface without sealing. That said, you ou can keep either type of countertop at its hygienic best by cleaning it daily with either a commercial stone cleaner or a homemade cleaner safe for granite or quartz. Spray the entire countertop and then wipe it down with a microfiber cloth or a soft sponge (preferably while spills are still wet), then be sure to wipe up any remaining cleaner with before it dries to avoid white streaks.

Quartz slabs cover more surface area. The average granite slab, measuring 105 by 54 inches, is narrower and shorter than a standard-sized quartz slab, at 120 by 55 inches, or a jumbo-sized quartz slab, at 129 by 65 inches. While that might make granite slabs slightly easier for installers to handle, you’ll need more slabs to cover the same area, and more slabs equal more unsightly seams. Wider and taller, quartz slabs allow you to cover small and large countertop areas with fewer slabs. Both granite and quartz slabs are available in widths ranging from 0.75 to 1.25 inches.

 

Granite vs Quartz - Why Homeowners Love Quartz Countertops

Photo: homedepot.com

Neither material is DIY friendly. Do-it-yourself installation isn’t recommended for either granite or quartz due to the hefty weight of the slabs. Both weigh around 19 pounds per square foot, or 570 pounds for a 30-square-foot countertop—the weight of two refrigerators!


How To: Remove Grease From Kitchen Cabinets

Cabinet doors are practically a magnet for sticky and unsightly grease stains, and it can be frustrating—and fruitless—to clean them without the proper supplies. Read on for three ways to tackle greasy residue.

3 Methods for How to Remove Grease from Kitchen Cabinets

Photo: istockphoto.com

Kitchen cabinets, thanks to their close proximity to the stovetop, are natural hotspots for grease. Ideally, you’re cleaning your cabinet fronts at least every other week using a damp cloth followed by a dry one, but we’ve all had to deal with a layer that’s too tough to remove with a simple wipe-down. Fortunately, whether you’re trying to remove a fresh oil splatter from a batch of fries or years of caked-on residue in your newly purchased home, certain products have active ingredients that are more well-suited to cut through the grime than others. Here, we’ve detailed three highly effective cleansers in this guide for how to remove grease from kitchen cabinets.

Note: All of these methods are safe to use on finished wood cabinetry, but always try them out in an inconspicuous spot before turning to larger areas to ensure they do not dull or discolor your cabinetry finish.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Greasecutting dish soap
Sponges
Microfiber cloths
Multipurpose cleaner that contains citrus oil
Canning jar
Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, or limes)
Vinegar (optional)
Spray bottle (optional)
Baking soda

 

 

How to Remove Grease from Kitchen Cabinets with Dish Soap

Photo: istockphoto.com

Remove Grease with… DISH SOAP + WATER

Most types of kitchen cabinets can be cleaned with warm water and a few drops of dish soap, which has serious degreasing properties. Mix up a few drops of dish soap (not dishwasher detergent) in a bowl of warm water until soapy. Use a sponge dipped in the solution, but not dripping wet, to gently work the grease and grime out. Follow up with clean water to remove lingering dish soap, then dry the surface thoroughly with a dry microfiber rag.

 

How to Remove Grease from Kitchen Cabinets with Citrus

Photo: istockphoto.com

Remove Grease with… CITRUS-BASED MULTIPURPOSE CLEANER

A natural degreaser, citrus oil can be just the thing you need to cut through layers of tough grime. Check your cleaning caddy (or the store, if you’re fresh out of supplies) for a multipurpose cleaner that contains citrus oil. Spray this onto the kitchen cabinets and let it sit for a few minutes. Then, use a sponge or microfiber cloth dampened with warm water to gently remove the grease. Wipe off any lingering cleaner with a clean damp cloth and dry thoroughly to finish.

The same principle applies to homemade cleaners that contain the rinds of citrus fruit. Whether you prefer all-natural cleaners or sticking to supplies you already have around the house, you can also make your own citrusy cleaning solution in just a few steps. Fill a canning jar three-quarters full of citrus peels and top it off with white vinegar. The mixture needs to steep for two to three weeks, but once it’s done just strain out the peels and pour the remaining liquid into a spray bottle. Apply the same way you would its commercial counterpart.

 

How to Remove Grease from Kitchen Cabinets with Baking Soda

Photo: istockphoto.com

Remove Grease with… BAKING SODA + WATER

For tougher jobs, a slightly more abrasive cleaner may be necessary. The grit of baking soda can do just the trick to dislodge grease particles clinging to the surface of the cabinets. And as a mild alkali, it is good for dissolving grease in water. Mix up a 50/50 combo of water and baking soda until you have a paste. Apply it to grease stains with a clean microfiber cloth using small, circular motions; swap out rags as they become too soiled, and continue until you have a grease-free surface. After you’ve covered all cabinet faces in the powdery paste, use a fresh damp cloth to remove excess paste and a dry cloth to remove the last of the moisture. If you leave moisture behind, it can work its way into the finish of your cabinets and cause visible damage.

 

Cleaning Tips for a Spotless Home

All of the Essential Cleaning Advice from BobVila.com
There’s no way around it: Keeping the house clean demands your time, your energy, and even some of your money. Fortunately, this arsenal of cleaning tips can help you finish the housekeeping more quickly—and with fewer commercially sold products.


Solved! What to Do When Your Oven Is Smoking

Get your smoking oven to cool off with these no-sweat solutions.

What to Do When the Oven is Smoking

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: Over the last few days, my oven has been giving off smoke while in use but is working normally otherwise. Why is it smoking, and is it safe to ignore, or should I take action to stop it, and how?

A: Smoke emanating from the oven door or vent—either as a light haze or dark plumes—should never be ignored. For starters, though you may not have noticed much of a difference in your dinner’s taste the first time this occurred, smoke can negatively impact the flavor and quality of food. Worse than that, though, it can irritate nearby pets or people with respiratory conditions or even signal an impending oven failure or fire. No matter the type of oven in your home, the problem is not altogether uncommon. It occurs in new and old units, electric and gas, appliances with and without food inside, and at any particular operational mode (preheat, bake, broil, or self-clean). Since the right fix will depend on your appliance and circumstances, we’ve outlined the common causes of a smoking oven to clear the smoke and quit for good.

Burn off factory coatings. It’s normal to see smoke during the first one or two uses of a brand-new oven since the heating element inside many modern ovens has an oil-based factory coating that produces smoke as it gradually burns off. Because a smoking oven can lend an unsavory burnt taste to food inside, oven manufacturers usually recommend that you “burn in” the oven (i.e. burn off the factory coating) before using it to cook food for the first time. To burn in your oven, turn it off if on, let it cool completely, then remove any pots and pans from the oven racks. Close the oven and set it to “bake” at the manufacturer recommended burn-in temperature (usually between 400 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit) for the recommended duration (a half-hour to an hour). Once you’ve burned in the oven, you should no longer notice smoke during future uses.

What to Do When the Oven is Smoking

Photo: istockphoto.com

Remove baked-on food remains. In used ovens, smoke is usually a by-product of the burning of food remains in the oven. If you regularly broil high-fat foods like steaks or bake foods like pizzas directly on the oven racks without a baking sheet underneath, grease can splatter on the roof and sidewalls of the oven and food chunks or debris can fall on the floor. If you neglect to clean these remains while they’re still wet, they can harden, and on subsequent use of the oven, burn, emit smoke, and in rarer cases, catch fire. To stop the oven from smoking, turn it off and let it cool completely. Then, open the oven door and remove any large food chunks from the oven floor with plastic tongs, and manually clean the oven (preferably with natural agents like white vinegar, baking soda, and water) to remove food grease, splatters, and debris from the oven roof, floor, and sidewalls.

Wipe up cleaner residue. If you recently cleaned your appliance with a commercial cleaning solvent but now see that the oven is smoking, it’s likely a result of cleaner residue that’s now burning off and emitting smoke. Because chemical-laden fumes can accompany that smoke, you want to snuff it out as
soon as possible. Turn off the oven and let it cool completely, then use a water-dampened rag to wipe up any cleaner residue or spills on the oven floor, roof, and sidewalls. If you have a self-cleaning oven, you shouldn’t be using chemical cleaners since they can damage the enamel lining of these ovens.

Run short self-clean cycles in pre-washed ovens. Smoke that comes from your oven only during self-clean cycles usually stems from food being incinerated under the excessive heat of the cycle. To reduce the volume of smoke generated by burning food during self-clean cycles, turn off the oven and let it cool completely, then wipe away wet food residue from the oven interior with a water-dampened rag and start the self-cycle again—this time at the shortest possible duration to prevent excessive heat buildup in the oven.

Replace faulty heating elements. In electric ovens, smoke emanating from an oven during a self-clean cycle can also signal an impending short in the heating elements as a result of excessive heat buildup. These elements are known to briefly buzz and produce smoke before failure. The easiest way to check if your heating elements are functional is to turn off the oven and then turn it back on. If the bake element (usually at the bottom of the oven) doesn’t glow red while the oven is in “bake” mode, or the broil element (usually at the top of the oven) doesn’t glow red while the oven is in “broil” mode, the non-glowing heating element most likely needs replacing.

Replacement entails cutting the power to the oven from the breaker box and unplugging the oven, removing the screws and wires that connect the element to oven, and detaching the nonworking element from either the top or bottom of the oven. Then, once the new part has been ordered, you can install it and re-attach the wires and screws before restoring power to the oven. A do-it-yourself heating element replacement will run you $15 to $40 in parts, while a professional replacement will run you anywhere from $60 to $130 in parts and labor.

Reduce gas pressure. In gas ovens, high gas pressure commonly results from an improper conversion of the oven from natural gas (a fuel it was originally designed for use with) to the liquid propane fuel type. Higher pressure can generate taller and hotter oven flames from the main burner at the bottom of the oven, which can, in turn, cause high volumes of smoke. If the flame from the main burner meets or exceeds the height of the oven racks, the gas pressure is too high and the risk of an oven fire occurring during use is greater. Consult the oven installer or your gas company to safely correct the conversion—this should reduce the height of the oven flame and stop the oven from smoking.

 

How to Prevent the Oven from Smoking

Photo: istockphoto.com

Properly use and maintain your oven. There are several ways to keep oven smoke at bay:

• Safeguard your oven from spills by placing food in baking or broiling pans before cooking; avoid placing foods directly on the oven racks.

• If your oven has multiple tiers, lay a fireproof, non-stick oven mat on the bottom rack to catch drips or debris from foods placed on the upper rack.

• Maintain a clearance of at least three inches between food and heating elements in electric ovens; food placed too close to the heat source will readily smoke or catch fire. In gas ovens, maintain that same clearance between food and the main burner (at bottom of oven) and the broiler (at top of the oven, if your gas oven has a broiler).

• Following oven use, wipe down wet food or liquids from the inner door glass, sidewalls, floor, and roof with a water-dampened rag.

Clean the interior and racks of your oven on a monthly basis.

• Use the self-clean feature no more than five times each year.


Bob Vila Radio: Regulating the Refrigerator Temperature

Follow these tips to make sure your refrigerator is functioning at the ideal temperature.

When it comes to meal planning, you definitely want to keep bacteria off the guest list. Maintaining your fridge at the proper temperature is a good way to do that.

 

Regular Refrigerator Temperature

Photo: istockphoto.com

CM_BVNOTES-1735-4
Listen to BOB VILA ON REFRIGERATOR TEMPERATURE or read below:

Sure, modern refrigerators come equipped with sophisticated thermostats. Trouble is, they’re not always accurate.

To test temperature, head to the home center and pick up an inexpensive fridge thermometer. Position it in the center of your middle shelf. Adjust the controls on the fridge until the thermometer consistently remains in the range of 35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep in mind that if the temperature drops lower—say, down toward 32 degrees Fahrenheit—food will freeze, while if temperatures rise to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, bacteria growth can triple.

Keep dairy products and eggs in cooler bottom and back areas, and condiments in warmer ones, like doors. Use settings on crisper bins to control for temperature and humidity. Greens stay fresh at higher humidity, while other produce, such as apples and pears, usually like it a bit drier.

Recheck temperatures every month or two to ensure the settings remain in the safety range.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country.Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!


Solved! When to Use Your Oven’s Confusing “Self-Clean” Function

Weigh the pros and cons of using the self-clean feature of your oven before putting it to the test.

Self-Cleaning Ovens 101: If and When to Use The Cleaning Feature

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: The oven in my new house has a self-clean feature, but I’ve heard there are pros and cons to using it. Should I try it, and is it a viable replacement for manually cleaning my oven?

A: On paper, it’s a home-keeper’s dream come true: an oven that actually cleans itself! In practice, this function—developed in the early 1960s for both gas and electric ovens—can be confusing, even controversial. In fact, self-cleaning ovens are only used by slightly under half of all households in America according to 2001 U.S. Census data. The term is actually something of a misnomer, too, because there will always be some manual cleaning involved. What’s more, the function is by no means intended to replace a hands-on cleaning routine.

Some folks swear by the time-saving convenience, while others have sworn it off due to a few unfortunate drawbacks—and we’ve laid it all out here to help you decide whether or not this feature will work for you.

Self-Cleaning Ovens 101: If and When to Use The Cleaning Feature

Photo: istockphoto.com

It does the heavy lifting. The self-clean function works by blasting either high heat or steam throughout the oven interior to release hardened food remains. This saves the time and effort of getting on your knees and scouring stubborn gunk with a scrubber and also does away with the need for pricey, chemical-laden commercial cleaners. Simply start a self-clean cycle and allow it to work; then, when the cycle is complete, use a water-dampened rag to manually remove loosened debris from the oven’s smooth, heat-resistant enamel coating.

• In high-heat models, the self-clean cycle is usually initiated by closing the oven door and setting the oven to a “self-clean” mode. The oven door automatically locks and the temperature rises to between 900 to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit to incinerate any food remains, in a cycle lasting between two to six hours. Once the cycle is complete and the oven has cooled completely, the door automatically unlocks.

• The self-clean cycle of a steam-based model is usually initiated by pouring roughly one cup of distilled water into a floor cavity, then closing the door and setting the appliance to “steam clean” mode. During the cycle, which lasts only half an hour to an hour, the oven door remains unlocked and the interior temperature rises to only around 250 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to generate steam that softens and loosens food remains.

High heat beats steam on heavy-duty grime. High-temperature self-cleaning ovens evenly distribute heat throughout the chamber, so you’ll rarely find leftover food residue on the sidewalls or ceiling. Steam-based self-clean cycles, however, tend to generate the most steam near the oven floor (where the water is poured)—so while this effectively removes food debris on the oven floor and lower sidewalls, you may still need to manually scrub the ceiling and upper sidewalls.

Beware of fumes and oven failures. Both high-heat and steam self-cleaning ovens can emit unpleasant burning odors and fumes, and even harmful by-products like carbon monoxide from the vent of the oven during the cleaning cycle. High-heat models tend to emit a higher volume of more noxious fumes due to the extreme temperature. These fumes emanate from both food particles and the enamel lining that coats the oven interior. Fumes circulating in the kitchen can irritate pets, children, and adults, especially those who suffer from respiratory conditions.

Excessive heat buildup in the oven can also short a thermal fuse or burn out a heating element. While a one-time do-it-yourself replacement of either a blown fuse or a heating element should set you back no more than $30 in parts, repeat occurrences can become costly and time-consuming.

Replacement parts won’t be the only expenses with the self-clean feature. Consider the amount of energy (and the money) it takes to run the oven at such high levels for an extended period of time. A single high-heat self-clean cycle can rack up 8 Kilowatt (kWh) hours of energy on average (roughly the equivalent of a month’s use of a traditional oven), while the average steam self-clean cycle consumes less than 3 kWh of energy.

Self-Cleaning Ovens 101: If and When to Use The Cleaning Feature

Photo: istockphoto.com

Proper preparation is key. If you choose to try out the feature, you can take steps to mitigate the risks of using the self-clean setting and ensure that the clean cycle runs without hiccups. Follow these safety rules:

• Install a carbon monoxide detector in your kitchen to monitor for harmful fumes.

• Before running a self-clean cycle, remove all pots and pans and any metal oven grates or tin foil shards. In the high heat of the self-clean cycle, the debris on charred metal grates can catch fire, while tin foil can melt on top of the oven’s interior lining and warp it.

• Prior to using the feature, remove any large fallen chunks of food from the oven floor with a pair of tongs to prevent them from smoking and emitting fumes. Similarly, wipe up any visible spills with a water-dampened rag.

• If your oven allows you to adjust the time of the self-clean cycle, set it to the shortest possible duration to reduce the risk of overheating (which can lead to blown fuses) and also reduce energy consumption.

• Prior to starting a self-clean cycle, ensure the oven vent, located above or below the oven door or behind the oven door handle, is uncovered. If you have a range (an oven connected to a stove), turn on the exhaust fan on the range hood to ensure that fumes get expelled to the outdoors. If you don’t have a range hood, ventilate the room by opening windows.

• Aim to use the self-cleaning feature no more than five times per year, or only when the oven is heavily soiled. Schedule these days well before or after holidays or other occasions when you know you’ll need the oven so that any malfunction won’t interfere with your hosting duties.

Maintain a manual cleaning routine. The self-clean feature wasn’t designed to replace the manual cleaning method. Following oven use, wipe down wet food or liquids from the inner door glass, sidewalls, floor, and ceiling with a water-dampened rag. On a monthly basis, clean the interior and grates of your self-cleaning oven as you would clean a traditional oven, preferably using the safe, natural agents of white vinegar, baking soda, and water. Never use abrasive cleaning utensils (e.g., steel wool) or chemical cleaners in self-cleaning ovens, which could easily damage the interior enamel coating.


Buyer’s Guide: Cutting Boards

Wondering whether to choose plastic, bamboo, or wood for your chopping surface? Find out which cutting board will offer safest and most efficient meal prep.

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The Complete Buyer's Guide for the Best Cutting Boards

Photo: istockphoto.com

Interested in keeping your investment countertops in tip-top shape? Cutting boards are key accessories for any kitchen, providing a durable, hygienic place to slice and dice ingredients without marring the beautiful work surface beneath.

Available in a range of materials, shapes, and sizes with a handful of features to choose from, they may seem like a dime a dozen, but some are better than others when it comes to how suitable they are for different types of food. If you’re on the lookout for a new cutting board, read on. We’ve outlined exactly what should be considered—from material to design—as well as three of the best cutting boards that combine our wishlist features so that you can find one that’s a cut above the rest.

First, narrow down the material.

The first thing to think about when you’re in the market for a cutting board is its material. Get to know the differences between the most common types so that you can weigh their pros and cons.

Plastic
Cutting boards made of plastic may seem like the most health-conscious option since they’re dishwasher-safe, but studies show that they may not be as germ-free as we assume. While a brand new one can be completely cleared of bacteria with a run through the dishwasher, even a lightly-used plastic cutting board can never be truly cleaned once knives have compromised the surface. (Even shallow scratches will catch and harbor some.) On the upside, plastic options are slim and easy to store, gentle on knives, and not particularly expensive.

Advice: Plastic options may be the best cutting boards for bread and vegetables if you avoid cutting meat on it and wash all other foods vigorously before chopping, dicing, or mincing them. Even so, you’ll still need to replace it once or more a year to avoid potential foodborne illness.

The Complete Buyer's Guide for the Best Cutting Boards

Photo: istockphoto.com

Bamboo
Most bamboo cutting boards are considered to be an eco-friendly choice since they’re made from a sustainably grown material. An additional perk: They offer similar sanitary properties to traditional wood cutting boards (potentially even better, some say, since bamboo boards tend to be less soft and absorbent than wooden counterparts). Just know that you should wash these by hand because your dishwasher’s concentrated heat and water can warm the grass fibers that make up a bamboo board.

Advice: While overall cleanliness and environmental consciousness work in its favor, know that bamboo can be particularly hard on knife blades, requiring you to sharpen your blades more often.

Wood
Least likely to wear down your knife blades, handsomely textured, and available to complement whatever wood finish exists in your kitchen, wood options are quite popular. They aren’t always a clear winner, however, because they are both the priciest and the most “high maintenance” of the bunch: These boards must be washed by hand to prevent warping and require occasional conditioning with a food-grade mineral oil to keep it in great shape.

Advice: Whether you prefer a traditional butcher block made of several types of wood or a sleek, heavy slab of maple, know that most wood boards are two to three times as expensive as a bamboo alternative. Still, with the right maintenance, your wooden cutting board can serve double-duty as both work surface and serving platter for generations to come.

Marble or Granite
If you’re a fan of luxury culinary products, you might consider an upscale material like marble or granite. These slabs cost three to four times as much as any other material, however, and are technically more visually appealing than useful. For example, granite is too porous to resist absorption of the foods you set and chop on it; therefore, it may enable cross-contamination even after a thorough cleaning if you were to use it for cutting meat one night and vegetables the next.

Advice: Either marble or granite slabs are perfectly safe and strikingly beautiful to use when slicing fruits, cheese, and crudités, but not necessarily practical for day-to-day meal prep.

Select the right size and shape for your kitchen.

Of course, a cutting board won’t do you much good if it’s too small for the task at hand or too large to fit onto your countertop. (The latter can cause dangerous wobbles if you allow it to hang over the edge while you cut your food!) Most boards’ dimensions range from around 8-by-10 inches to 20-by-30 inches, or even larger. Before you purchase a new one, be sure to measure the area where you’ll be using it and plan for at least a one-inch perimeter around it while you work. But don’t feel limited to just the one: Many households do well with several cutting boards of various sizes—all smaller than your countertop—with which you can easily divide and conquer food prep tasks between yourself and a sous chef.

Consider added conveniences.

Many cutting boards are simple rectangular slabs, but a few subtle details can work in your favor to make the chopping process less of a mess.

• If you’re on a mission for a bamboo or wood cutting board to use specifically for meat preparation, a trench that runs a half-inch in from the edge all the way around your board can help collect excess juice from running off the board and onto your countertops.

Rubber feet in the corners of your board afford you extra control while you rock your knife back and forth on top. Of course, feet designate one side of the board as the top and the other as the bottom, meaning that you cannot make use of both sides for cutting—when the one gets all carved up, you won’t be able to simply flip the board over to work on the “new” side. Board edges wrapped in rubber, on the other hand, create a similar grippy effect without eating up any space on the face of your board. If you decide to go ahead and skip feet altogether, though, you can still steady the board easily by placing a wet paper towel or a clean rag underneath your board.

Shop from top picks.

Whether you’ve decided to pursue a plastic, bamboo, or wood option, we’ve rounded up the best cutting board in each material to shave time off of your shopping trip. Not only do these combine some of the most-wanted features outlined above, but each one has been highly ranked by consumers and rated by independent reviewers as the best buys for your money.

 

Best Cutting Board - Catskill Craftsman Pro Series

Photo: homedepot.com

Catskill Craftsmen Pro Series #1326 ($48)
Home Depot shoppers are big fans of this classic wood cutting board made by Catskill Craftsmen from sustainably harvested Northern hardwood grown in the United States. Reversible and durable, the 1-¼”-thick slab runs 17 by 23 inches, offering plenty of space to cut a handful of produce or several pounds of meat at once. The rectangular board must be hand-washed and should be conditioned with food-grade mineral oil a few times a year if used frequently. Available at The Home Depot.

 

Best Cutting Board - OXO Good Grips

Photo: amazon.com

OXO Good Grips Utility Cutting Board ($15)
Amazon shoppers can’t get enough of this grooved plastic cutting board from OXO, which received 4.4 out of 5 stars for its dishwasher-safe properties and petite size. The ½”-thick polypropylene board measures 10-½ by 14-½ inches, small enough to slip into most drawers for storage between uses. This lightweight model features nonslip edges (hence the “Good Grips” name), a trench to catch liquids, and tapered handles for easy moving around the kitchen. Plus, its affordable price point means it won’t be hard on your wallet to replace once or twice a year. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Cutting Board - Totally Bamboo 3-Piece Set

Photo: amazon.com

Totally Bamboo 3-Piece Set ($13)
If you’re looking for replacing all of your boards at once, the team at The Spruce deemed this versatile three-piece set to be the best bamboo option on the market. Its three sizes—9-½ by 13 inches, 9-½ by 11 inches, and 6 by 8 inches—allow home chefs to separate sliced meat from chopped produce from finely diced herbs during meal prep. Then, after dinner, the nonabsorbent (i.e., stain-resistant) Moso bamboo surfaces can be easily hand-washed. Together, that winning combination of sustainable sourcing, durability, and natural good looks earned the set 3.7 out of 5 stars from more than 2,700 Amazon reviewers. Available on Amazon.


Video: Here’s What NOT to Put in Your Microwave

Ready to warm up your leftovers? First check your plate for these items that should never go in the microwave.

The microwave oven may be the pinnacle of modern convenience. At the press of a button it can heat your lunch, refresh your coffee, or soften ingredients for your latest cooking adventure. While there are myriad things this appliance can handle, there are several things that you should never put in the microwave. Watch and learn about which items to keep far away from your microwave.

For more kitchen advice, consider:

9 Signs You Need to Replace Your Fridge

10 Kitchen Products That Will Last a Lifetime

12 Smart Dish Washing Hacks No One Ever Taught You


Solved! What to Do About a Stinky Sink

If your kitchen sink is raising a stink, neutralize the situation with one or more of these seven fresh solutions.

How to Freshen a Stinky Sink

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: There’s a rancid scent in my kitchen that makes meal prep and cleanup miserable—and I’ve traced it to my stinky sink. What’s causing this offensive odor and how do I get rid of it?

A: Sink odors most frequently emanate from food remains that have stuck on or inside one or more components of your kitchen sink plumbing system and begun to decompose. Until you find and clean the exact component where the food debris resides, the odor will persist in your sink. Read on to learn about which parts of a sink plumbing system are the most common sources of odor, then find out how to properly clean each one to restore a fresh-smelling sink.

Soak the sink in soap and water. Sink stink sometimes stems from food residue that has dried on the base or sidewalls of the sink basin after soiled dishes have been left too long in the sink. To get your sink basin squeaky clean and odor-free, you’ll need to soak it: Insert a sink stopper into the sink drain, and fill the basin halfway with hot water and one teaspoon of dish soap. Use a gloved hand to swirl the contents of the basin until the soap has dissolved in the water, then let the solution dwell in the basin for 10 minutes to help loosen the food residue. Remove the sink stopper and turn on the garbage disposal (if your kitchen sink has one) to flush the loose debris down the sink drain.

Remove obstructions from the sink drain or garbage disposal blades. If your sink still stinks, check for a utensil or hard food scrap (e.g. bones) that may have dropped into the sink drain. If lodged in the drain or between the blades of the garbage disposal, utensils can trap other food particles and prevent them from passing through the garbage disposal. Left to rot, these trapped foods will emit odors until removed.

Before removing these obstructions, unplug the garbage disposal at the wall outlet (and, if there’s no outlet, cut the electricity to the circuit powering the disposal from the breaker box). You don’t want to risk the disposal turning on while your hands are lower down in the sink! Then, shining a flashlight light into the depths of the sink drain, look for any obstructions in the sink drain or around the blades at the top of the disposal unit. If you find something, carefully pull it with a pair of needle-nose pliers.

How to Freshen a Stinky Sink

Photo: istockphoto.com

Scour the stinky sink drain with baking soda and vinegar. The walls of the sink drain can accumulate stubborn grease and grime with every use of the disposal. While you can’t reach all the way down the drain with a bristled brush, you can still scrub away this gunk with a combination of baking soda and white vinegar.

Boil a kettle full of water and set it aside. Meanwhile, pour one cup of baking soda followed by one cup of vinegar into the sink drain. Let the solution effervesce in the sink for five to 10 minutes, then slowly pour all of the hot water from the kettle into the sink drain. The abrasive baking soda, astringent vinegar, and hot water will work together to scour the sink drain walls. Run the cold water tap for one minute to rinse out any remaining baking soda.

Scrub the sink flange. The metal sink flange located at the top of the garbage disposal where the disposal meets the sink drain is a common repository for food debris. This gunk is not easily rinsed away and therefore requires scrubbing to remove it. Start by unplugging the garbage disposal at the wall outlet (or cutting power to the disposal from the breaker box). Then, squeeze a few dollops of liquid dish soap onto the scrub head of a dish wand, lightly wet the bristles with tap water, then lower the wand into the sink drain to scrub the top of the sink flange. After scrubbing the sink flange, run the cold-water tap for 30 seconds to flush out any loose debris from the flange.

Sanitize the disposal blades and impeller plate with ice and salt. Since the blades of the garbage disposal and the rotating impeller plate to which the blades are attached are all involved in macerating food, they easily accumulate food residue that can eventually emit noxious odors. Get the blades and impeller plate clean by dropping two cups of ice cubes into the sink drain followed by one cup of table salt. With the cold-water tap running, turn on the garbage disposal and run it until the ice has been crushed completely. The abrasive action of the ice and salt should loosen and lift any food debris and residue on the disposal blades and impeller plate. Down the drain goes the food residue—and its nasty smell.

Deodorize the garbage disposal with citrus fruit peels. Sometimes, pulverized food particles fail to escape the garbage disposal and instead get stuck on the walls of the disposal unit. There, they’ll rot and produce an unpleasant sink odor. Citric acid found in the peel of oranges, lemons, and other citrus fruits can dissolve food residue from the walls of the disposal and the sink drain, not to mention replace an unpleasant odor with a sweet fragrance. Drop three to five citrus peel fragments into the sink drain and run the garbage disposal for 30 seconds to grind the peel, release the acid, and deodorize the sink. Save the unused fruit peels in an airtight container in the fridge, and you’ll have a supply of this sink freshener on hand the next time it’s needed.

Deep clean the garbage disposal with oxygen bleach. If the cleaning the sections of your sink listed above doesn’t wipe out the smell, it may be that food debris has congealed into foul-smelling sludge even further along in the system, where the main drain pipe that connects to the sewer. To clear this pipe, you’ll open the plumping through the elbow-shaped P-trap directly below it.

Start by ensuring that the disposal is disconnected from power. Then, donning gloves, place a plastic bucket beneath the P-trap and use a wrench to unscrew it from the main drain pipe. Next, insert a rubber pipe plug (which you can find at home improvement stores near the aisle of PVC plumbing) into the open base of the main drain pipe; in order to properly plug, it will need to be the same diameter as your plumbing.

Run the hot water tap until the water level rises to the top of the sink drain, then pour in a quarter cup of powdered oxygen bleach. Let the bleach dwell in the sink for an hour to disintegrate the sludge in the main drain pipe before removing the pipe plug. The loosened gunk in the pipe should flow out into the bucket below. Once the main drain pipe has emptied, use your wrench to reconnect the P-trap. Then, plug in the garbage disposal and run it for 30 seconds with the hot water tap on to flush the pipe of any loose gunk and remaining bleach powder.

 

How to Freshen a Stinky Sink

Photo: istockphoto.com

Minimize future odors. The best way to prevent foul sink odors from forming? Make a habit of running cold water through the sink drain for at least 30 seconds before and after food disposal to flush lingering food remains out of the sink plumbing without inadvertently causing them to congeal (as hot water might). Additionally, stick to grinding soft foods in the disposal and avoid dropping hard food waste (bones, egg shells, fruit cores, etc.) into the sink drain that can get stuck and trap other food scraps traveling through the sink plumbing. Finally, never leave soiled dishes in the sink to harden overnight; food debris can harden in the sink basin and lead to odors.