Your hard-working kitchen sink could probably use a little TLC

Get in the habit of cleaning your kitchen sink. (Washington Post photo by Jennifer Beeson Gregory)
Get in the habit of cleaning your kitchen sink. (Washington Post photo by Jennifer Beeson Gregory)

If there's one place where I have spent more waking hours than at my desk the past 13 months, it's my kitchen sink. Washing hands, washing dishes, rinse, repeat.

I know I'm not alone. "I think we do take it for granted," says Lisa Hurley, the marketing manager for kitchen sinks at Kohler. She says that on average, we use our kitchen sinks 10 to 12 times a day, so we can't afford to ignore it. Thankfully, "taking care of your kitchen sink is really, really easy," according to Hurley.

And take care of it you should. "A sink is a hard thing to rip out and replace," says Matthew Baranuk, Moen's sinks team product manager. "You might have the same sink for 20-plus years. That thing's not going anywhere."

Here are some tips to help you do due diligence to this kitchen workhorse we can't live without.

Take routine, small steps. Incorporating a little TLC into your everyday routine can go a long way toward sink maintenance. Hurley encourages home cooks to rinse out all food debris to discourage bacterial growth and prevent it from drying on, at which point it's much harder to remove. An extra minute to wipe out the sink with a soft cloth is also helpful, and so is drying around the faucet or other fixtures, such as a sprayer wand, to ward off mineral or grime buildup.

Get in the habit of a regular cleaning. Even if you engage in the steps above, you're still going to want to make a habit of a more thorough cleaning every so often. We're living in a time of heightened attention to hygiene, but Hurley and Baranuk both emphasize one big tip: Please, no harsh cleaners or tools on your sink. "I would say that less is more," says Hurley.

Baranuk has seen online videos promoting steel wool. "It's almost like a horror film to me," he says, because something like that can remove the finish. What about more intense products such as Soft Scrub and Comet? "Those are all big no-nos," Hurley says. Even straight-up vinegar can prove too harsh, she says. Baranuk likes Bon Ami as a gentle yet effective option, although he often goes natural with a halved lemon coated in salt (bonus: the spent lemon can be tossed down the disposal to clean and freshen that). Bar Keepers Friend is in my arsenal, too, when my stainless steel sink needs a good shining. Some manufacturers, including Kohler, offer cleaners designed for their specific sinks. Regardless of what you use, Hurley says, it's a good idea to test it on a small spot first and not leave it on the sink for an extended period of time.

Sinks are also notorious for having tricky spots to clean, depending on the style, such as around the faucet and the seams where they meet the counter. "I have like five toothbrushes underneath my sink that I use" for that purpose, Baranuk says.

Understand your sink's particular needs. Sinks have slightly different requirements depending on what material it is. The majority of sinks are stainless steel, which can get scratched. Hurley says you should think of this as part of its character.

Enameled cast iron is another common material. Hurley says sometimes cooks will find black spots on the surface, as a result of metal transfer from pots and pans. She suggests using a cleaner formulated for enamel, or you can put a dab of the liquid form of Bar Keepers Friend on the end of a wine cork and buff out the spots. Because enamel is a form of glass, she says it can help to be as careful with it as you would a window. It can be chipped. So can fireclay, a material in the Moen line, so Baranuk says to take special care with heavy pots and pans. He says baking soda and hydrogen peroxide are good for cleaning this type of surface.

For Kohler's composite, known as Neoroc, you can buff out marks with a little mineral oil dabbed on a wine cork. Baranuk says soap and water or water and salt are fine for Moen's granite sinks. The company says you can also use a Magic Eraser or 50-50 white vinegar-water mixture for stains and water marks or for difficult stains.

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