Easy to clean/low maintenance kitchen – Part I Materials

Following some basic guidelines in kitchen design and material selection can help in giving you a kitchen where you will spend more time cooking and less time cleaning. Besides, who wouldn’t enjoy a kitchen that is not only easy to clean, but looks cleaner longer by disguising things like small food debri, streaks, and fingerprints.

When it comes to material, think smooth (no cracks, crevices, texture, or other places for grunge to accumulate), stain and water repellant, a pattern, earth tone in color (food colors), durable, and not glossy.    The more of these features a material has, the easier it is to keep clean looking.  Simple, huh?  Ok, let’s start looking at different products using this guideline to see how it works. 

Countertops /backsplash– Here my favorite is quartz, even though I personally have granite.  It’s smooth, stain resistant, water repellant, and most have a pattern in them.  A great way to see how well a counter “disguises” those daily messes, is to test out a counter using food crumbs and some common liquids.  When you sprinkle them on the counter, how well does it blend in and does it stain the counter?  A stainless steel counter is smooth, stain and water resistant, but is glossy and has no pattern, so will show every scratch, smudge, crumb, and piece of food and constantly look like it needs cleaning.  Marble is smooth, but stains and scratches easily, and its minimal pattern with a white background will also show all food residues.  Tile is smooth, stain and water resistant, and can be the right color, but the grout has a rougher texture, makes the entire surface uneven, and it is has a tendency to stain.  Granite is smooth and usually has a pattern, but can stain and absorb water, and the glossy finish will show smudges (see my April 23 blog – http://goodkitchendesign.com/2012/04/16/kitchen-granite-countertops-%E2%80%93-selection-and-installation-tips/).  For those on a limited budget laminate in a mat finish with a pattern, is a countertop that is low maintenance.  It is not as durable as a granite or quartz countertop and is limited in use with undermount sinks, but may be preferable to some other high maintenance counters.

Cabinets/door hardware – Here my favorite would be stained wood smooth flat cabinet doors with smooth cabinet pulls and as small a gap as possible between the doors (frameless vs. face frame).  It’s smooth with no crevices, stain and water resistant, has a pattern in the wood, an earth tone in the finish, and can be varnished in a satin finish to help hide smudges and finger prints.  The smaller gap between doors means less dust and debris collects and is visible on the top edge of the door/drawer.  Also consider soft close doors and drawers.  This allows you to close the door and drawer by just bumping it closed when your hands are dirty.  Limit the moldings.  It’s just more to crevices to clean.   Personally, I have a shaker style cabinet door, and I’m cleaning the crack and lip between the door panel and door frame on a regular basis.  I have soft close doors and drawers and they’re great.

Floors – Here my favorites might include a resilient or luxury vinyl, terrazzo, sealed concrete, or a commercial grade flooring product (including commercial grade wood flooring).  For this material I would place a greater emphasis on durability and color selection.  When it comes to color choices, think contrast.  The more the contrast in colors, the more your eye is attracted to it.  So if the debris that falls on the floor is similar to the color of the floor, it will be less noticeable.  I personally have a commercial grade acrylic impregnated wood floor.  It has microbevels, which only seem to be a little more difficult to clean when there is a spill.

Cooktops – Here my favorite is an induction cooktop with a pattern on the glass and a surface with no edges to collect food.  The cooktop heats the cookware and not the cooktop, so the spilled food is not burned onto the cooktop.  Its smooth surface is easy to wipe down and has no crevices to collect food.  A pattern will help to disguise streaks and some food spills.  If you are inclined to want a gas cooktop, look for removable controls, sealed burners, and black grates that can go in your dishwasher. The more parts including the burner pan that are removable and can go in the dishwasher, the better. 

Materials that don’t fit into the above guideline, are described below:

Stainless appliances – Stainless steel requires more maintenance to keep clean, but if you have your heart set on having stainless steel appliances, consider the new lower maintenance stainless such as GE Cleansteel Appliances.

Ovens – Self cleaning, obviously;-)

Fridge – Shelves with a lip, so small spills are contained on the shelf, and shelves that are removable so they can be cleaned in the sink.

Sinks – My favorite is an undermount seemless sink with rounded corners for easier cleaning (seamlesssink.com).  There are no edges to catch debris or seems around the drain, and it’s easy to sweep things off the counter and wash down the drain.  When installed make sure that there is sufficient overhang of the countertop into the sink bowl, and have the area between the sink and the counter caulked with a smooth silicone seal to keep debris from collecting there.  Another alternative would be a undermount stainless steel sink or granite sink with rounded corners.

Faucets – My favorite for easy cleaning is a wall mount faucet in a non chrome finish.  I personally have deck mounted faucets, and they accumulate grunge and mineral deposits around them in a narrow space between them and the wall, making it difficult to clean.  A second favorite is a pull out faucet that allows you to spray into corners of the sink.

Dishwasher – If you have the space and can afford it, consider 2 dishwashers.  It makes it easier to clean large amounts of dishes when hosting gatherings or doing all day cooking/baking.

Paint – Since most of the wall surface is covered by cabinets, spend a little more and get a good scrubbable surface. Sherwin Williams Bath Paint, Valspar Signature Colors Paint, and Benjamin Moore Aura Paint are examples of scrubbable paint.

Light/socket cover plates – My favorite is the screwless cover plates.  No screws to collect debris and look worn after a while.

Make cleaning easy – .  If you have a central vac system, I would also consider adding a  VacPan or Vacusweep Automatic dustpan for easily sweeping up debris.  

In part 2  I’ll discuss design strategies that will help minimize cleaning.

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