DAY AND NIGHT, office and home, Helen Hatton worries about keeping kitchens clean. At home, she and her husband are redoing their New York City townhouse, making the kitchen the focal point. "Whenever we have friends for dinner," says Hatton, "everyone tends to bring in their wine glasses and congregate in the kitchen. So instead of dreading the thought of guests in an already cluttered, splattered kitchen we decided to make our 'main' room be the kitchen. It's nice because guests don't get in the way of last-minute cooking."

At the office, as director of the Ajax Household Clinic, telling others how to clean is her business.

The 39-year-old Hatton was in town recently to talk about her clinic. The clinic is a consumer service provided by the Colgate-Palmolive Co. to which people can write for advice on cleaning and stain removal as well as for tips on ways to better use your living quarters.

Starting with the kitchen sink, Hatton says the stains -- particularly in porcelain sinks -- are best removed by sprinklinmg a cleaser that contains a bleaching ingredient onto the stain. Add a little water and allow the mixture to set awhile, even overnight, before rinsing it off. For extra tough stans the Ajax Household Manual suggests rubbing them with an abrasive after the cleanser has set.

Stainless steel sinks, cabinets and counters tend to spot or look smeary. Hatton suggests cleaning them with a vinegar or ammonia solution. BUT don't use both together -- the combo won't work.

For stubborn mineral or rust stains caused by dripping water,

Hatton recommends oxylic acid. Oxylic acid can be bought at any drug store. But: "It IS poisonous," says Hatton, "so follow the directions carefully and don't use it regularly since it's highly corrosive."

As for the cause of those mineral stains, Hatton advises learning how to replace the worn-out washers that are usually the culprits of the leak. "Turn off your water supply, unscrew the faucet handle with a Phillips screwdriver (the kind with the criscross tip), twist off a spark plug-type object with a wrench. The washer is just beneath this. Remove and replace it with a new one."

When kitchen drains clog up, NEVER use a drain de-clogging fluid or powder, Hatton says. "Sure, ti will unclog your drain, but it will also destroy your pipes as well." Hatton's alternative: a plumber's snake (she calls it her Monty Python). Plumber snakes are easy to operate (just twist them down into your drain and pipes) and can be bought for under $10 at most hardware stores.

On cutting boards: Hatton prefers an acrylic cutting board as opposed to butcher block. "I love the look of butcher block -- it's vry charming -- but you have to be sure to clean it carefully, particularly after pounding raw meat or carving poultry." Bacteria easily gets into the wood each time you chop down on the block, Hatton recommends a frequent scouring using a stiff brush with a bleaching cleanser. Let the cleanser sit a few minutes to do its disinfecting before rinsing it with very hot water. Portable boards, than can be brought to the sink, make cleaning easier than built-in boards.

An acrylic cutting board -- although it is plastic -- is thick and resilient enough to withstand knife chops. Its opaque look is attractive and goes especially well in high-tech kitchens.

To protect acrylic and other plastic surfaces, as well as Formica counter tops, apply a spray or liquid wax, just as you would with furniture. To remove stains, Hatton recommends using a paste of bleaching cleanser and water. This will take care of price-mark stains, as well as food stains. Rub off after the paste has set a few minutes.

Marble counter tops are nice, but, emphasized Hatton, keep them for pastry and pasta dough rolling. NEVER use them for chopping.

Moving over to the oven, Hatton advises cleaning it as often as looks (or smells) necessary. Oven cleaners are fine, but in between cleanings Hatton prefers to take preventive measures so that the chore can be put off for as long as possible.

"I 'tent-in' splattery, drippy items,like roasts, with aluminum foil. It doesn't affect the taste of the food and saves a lot of time at the cleaning end. If despite all your efforts greasy drips dot your oven walls, ceiling and/or floor, clean them up at once, while they're still hot. Once dried, these drips are much harder to remove," says Hatton.

But sometimes you can't avoid splatters, such as the ones from the frying pan. Grease-splattered painted walls and woodwork are easily cleaned, says Hatton, by using a clean sponge dipped and wrung out of a cleanser and water solution. Change the solution periodically to avoid "cleaning" with dirt. "And," stressed Hatton, "be sure before you start the job that you can finish it, or at least complete one wall since the place where you stopped will be very noticeable."

As for refrigerators, a no-defrosting type requires less care than the older types. However, due to the interior airflow system, spills do dry hard on surfaces. Hatton recommends a quick sponging with warm sudsy water weekly to keep the shelves and side walls in good condition. Also, for defrosting refrigerators, "be sure to keep them defrosted," says Hatton. "By allowing ice to build up, your refrigerator has to work harder (and use more energy) to keep things cold."

Floors require different methods of cleaning depending on their composition.

For no-wax floors waxing is not necessary but cleaning IS essential to restore the built-in shine. Hatton says, "sponge mop the floor with a solution of all-purpose cleaner. Rinse with clear water if the washing brings out a lot of dirt."

For tile floors, clean the tiles with any all-purpose cleanser. However, with tile it's usually the grout in between that gets dirty or moldy. To remove, Hatton suggests a thick paste of powdered cleanser and water which should be applied with an old toothbrush to the lines. Allow it to set five minutes and then rinse.