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6 Tips for a Fast and Painless Cleanup After Thanksgiving Dinner


There’s no doubt about it: cleaning up after Thanksgiving dinner is the worst part of the whole feast. You’ve worked hard to prepare a delicious meal for the family, cleaned the house from top to bottom, and now you have to spend hours washing dishes and trying to get your home in order again. But here’s the thing: You don’t have to spend hours on it. These genius speed-cleaning tips will ease the stress of Thanksgiving cleaning — and put the joy back into hosting the holiday dinner.  

Before Thanksgiving: Prep for Faster Cleanup Later 

The more prep you do in advance, the greater chance you have of a quick clean when the festivities are over. Make a Thanksgiving to-do list, including everything you need to do before, during, and after Thanksgiving. To make the entire occasion less overwhelming, Leanne Stapf, Vice President of Operations at The Cleaning Authority, recommends preparing a cooking and heating schedule ahead of time, working backward from the time you want to have the meal ready.

As part of getting ready for Thanksgiving, Clorox cleaning expert Mary Gagliardi recommends cleaning out and sanitizing your refrigerator the week before. “Use up or get rid of as much stuff as you can so you’ll have more storage space for the ingredients (especially the turkey) you buy in advance, as well as the leftovers you’ll have after,” she says. “On Thanksgiving Eve, sanitize your sink area and countertops, and make sure to run and empty the dishwasher.” 

Remember, you’ll need all the space you can get. “Maximize your work space by moving anything that has a standard spot on the counter, such as your bread box, fruit bowl, and teapot to a location off of the countertop,” says Stapf. Plus, less countertop clutter equals fast, easy Thanksgiving cleanup! 

Day of Thanksgiving Cleaning Tips: How to Clean as You Go 

Taking tiny steps to clean as you go on Thanksgiving means less to do later! For the easiest cleanup, line your crockpot, baking pans, and everything you use for cooking with parchment paper, and put foil on the bottom of your oven to catch all excess drips. 

Other expert Thanksgiving tips and tricks include cleaning the work area where you cleaned and prepped the turkey as soon as it’s stuffed, trussed, and in the oven, and doing the same thing the whole time you’re in the kitchen. “Clean your work area and equipment after every task and put away ingredients and tools you no longer need,” says Elena Ledoux, owner of Las Vegas maid service Superb Maids. 

Jessica Samson of house-cleaning service The Maids suggests pulling out the garbage can, the recycling bin, and the compost bucket while you’re prepping and cooking to ensure all waste goes right where it belongs right away and doesn’t clutter up your countertops. If any food falls on the kitchen floor, lift it before it gets stepped on, squashed, and tracked around the rest of the house. 

For easy cleanup of common Thanksgiving stains like red wine, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie on your table linens, act quickly! With most food spills, you should be able to pick up as much of the mess as you can with a butter knife, then use the correct method for that type of stain. For grease stains, Stapf recommends blotting the affected area with a paper towel then applying dishwashing liquid directly to the splatter. Let the liquid saturate the area for a few minutes, then run the linen through the washing machine. Never rub a stain, as that will only work the mess deeper into the fabric, making it more difficult to remove.

How to Clean Up After Thanksgiving Dinner Quickly and Painlessly

Before tackling the inevitable after party mess, Jamie Novak, long-time organizer and author of Keep This Toss That: Unclutter Your Life to Save Time, Money, Space, and Sanity ($15.99, Amazon), swears by setting up different cleaning stations: a soaking station for dishes to get rid of all caked-on food, a “wrap and store” station for wrapping up leftover foods, and a “take-home” station for guests to take foods home (giving you more space to store your own). “Stock the stations with food storage containers and foil, kitchen roll for easy cleanup of drips and spills, and zip top bags and bags for guests to take foods home in,” she says. 

Remember, your refrigerator should already be empty — or almost empty — thanks to your super-efficient pre-Thanksgiving prep, so it’s no hassle to fill the fridge with your leftover foods. Lifestyle expert Tierra Wilson suggests transferring leftovers into clear food storage containers, which are designed to be stacked — and they make it easy to see exactly what’s available for those delicious turkey sandwiches! 

Stapf has another great tip for cleaning after Thanksgiving dinner — lining your trash cans with extra bags. “During cleanup, you’ll be surprised at exactly how much gets thrown away, such as wrappers, paper towels, cups, and paper plates,” she says. “If you line the trash can with extra bags, once one bag heads for the dumpster, you’ll be ready to start filling again immediately!” 

Life Hacks for Washing Dishes After Thanksgiving 

A huge part of Thanksgiving cleanup is washing Thanksgiving dishes. Don’t stress, though: These hacks for washing a large amount of dishes will help. 

For items that need a deep clean and can’t be rinsed and popped straight into the dishwasher, one of Samson’s top cleaning hacks for Thanksgiving is running a hot bath. This provides plenty of space for all the dirty bowls, utensils, and measuring cups to get a thorough soak, keeping your sink and countertops clear. 

To avoid a huge stack of dirty dishes after Thanksgiving dinner, Novak recommends running your dishwasher as soon as it’s loaded, before you even sit down to eat. This means you can empty it quickly and load it again straight after dinner.

How to Get Family to Help Clean Up After Dinner

The whole family has enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner, so it’s only fair that the whole family gets on clean-up duty afterward. You can make cleaning fun (and motivate kids to help out) by creating some Thanksgiving clean-up games, like having them sing along to a fun cleanup song.

“In our home, cleaning up after Thanksgiving has become a family tradition,” says Wilson. “Instead of the burden laying on the cook, the entire family gets together and cleans. This also helps us extend the bonding time we get to share during the holidays. We have fun conversations while we clean!” Wilson suggests writing clean-up zones on slips of paper, shaking them up in a jar, then having each member of the family pull out a slip to get their designated clean-up zone.

If you want dinner guests to help clean up, set expectations upfront. It can be difficult to get someone back into the kitchen to scrub dishes once they’ve already settled onto the sofa. Give your helpers specific tasks and clear instructions, and tailor your approach depending on your relationship with the guest. While you might not ask your snooty sister-in-law to start scrubbing saucepans, it’s perfectly reasonable to politely ask her to spend a few moments helping to clear the table.

Overwhelmed by the mess? Here’s some cleaning motivation! 

If you’re struggling to find the motivation to clean after Thanksgiving, try breaking the process down into small, doable tasks, says Alice Price, who has been a professional organizer for over 15 years and has hosted Thanksgiving for 40 people.

And if you’ve hosted a really large gathering, take some pressure off yourself. You don’t have to clean up everything the same day as your party. Think about clean-up the same way as food prep, and spread it out over a couple of days. Gagliardi recommends saving crystal stemware and fine china for the day after Thanksgiving, when the dishwasher is empty and can be used as a drying rack for delicate items.

Make your Thanksgiving cleanup more enjoyable by giving it a soundtrack, such as your favorite podcast, radio stations, or festive songs.

House Cleaning List for Thanksgiving 

While these fast cleaning and organizing tips will help you get rid of your Thanksgiving mess quickly and easily, you can’t plan for every situation, and there’s a chance that last-minute changes, distractions, and mishaps during the run-up to Thanksgiving and on the day itself will interfere with even your best cleaning intentions. 

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