An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the recommended oven and refrigerator/freezer thermometers as including mercury. They use nontoxic liquids to measure temperature. The story has been updated.
The kitchen, a workhorse space in any home, is especially vulnerable to potentially costly issues, such as beat-up surfaces, failing appliances and backed-up sinks. The right kitchen tools can help you protect your home and wallet — and make your space more functional and enjoyable on an everyday basis. We spoke with several experts to get their recommendations for must-have kitchen items. Here are their suggestions.
A sink plunger. Sink clogs can be stressful and expensive. But according to Doyle James, president of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, a Neighborly company, most backed-up kitchen sinks are caused by food and liquid blockages that can be cleared with a basic kitchen plunger, also called a flat plunger or cup plunger. Look for a plunger that features a flat rubber cup at the end rather than one that has a flap that folds out. (Those won’t work as well on a flat surface, such as a sink.) “When used properly, the flat cup works to create a vacuum over the drain and dislodge the clog at hand,” James says. He recommends the simple but effective Supply Guru plunger ($9.59, walmart.com).
A trash can. Your trash can shouldn’t be an afterthought; it should make functioning in your kitchen easier. Alex Varela, general manager of the cleaning company Dallas Maids, says a good trash can should be durable and stain-resistant. (Think stainless steel over, say, plastic.) A can with side-by-side bins is convenient for separating recycling from garbage. Aim for a trash can that closes tightly (to help minimize odors) and opens with a pedal (especially important if you have curious pets). Finally, be strategic about size. “Too big and it will become annoying to walk past and manage, and too small and you’ll need to take the trash out once a day or even more,” Varela says. He likes this two-compartment DBAL trash can ($80.99, amazon.com).
A sink caddy. To keep the area around your sink looking tidy, buy a caddy to hold your sponges, dish brush and dishwashing liquid, says professional cleaner Zeynep Mehmetoglu, co-owner of Maid Bright in Herndon, Va. Look for one that sticks to the inside of your sink to save valuable counter space. You may also appreciate a bottom tray with holes that drain excess water, so your items can dry quickly. Mehmetoglu likes the Simplehuman sink caddy ($14.99, bedbathandbeyond.com).
A comfortable kitchen mat. A runner rug is a great way to add personality and comfort to your kitchen — but typical fabric rugs aren’t always a good match for kitchen spills. Sara Malek Barney, founder and principal designer at Bandd Design in Austin, suggests buying a comfortable kitchen mat that’s easy to wipe down or wash. If you spend a lot of time hand-washing dishes or stirring sauce, opt for a cushier mat made of foam to keep you comfortable on your feet. (It’s a bonus if the mat also boosts your kitchen’s aesthetic.) Barney recommends this Bee & Willow striped mat in khaki ($20, bedbathandbeyond.com).
A dish-drying rack. Even if you have a dishwasher, you’ll need a place to dry the items you hand-wash. New York-based organizing expert Caroline Solomon says the best dish-drying racks allow for adequate ventilation and drainage while being compact enough to fit comfortably on the counter adjacent to your sink. You may also appreciate a separate caddy for drying silverware and side hooks to air-dry wine glasses and mugs. Solomon suggests this rack by mDesign, which also has a spout to drain water directly into the sink ($39.99, target.com).
If you don’t have room to leave a full drying rack on your counter at all times, try a folding rack or a mat that you can roll up. Solomon likes this basic but sturdy foldable rack that drains water into a tray that you can easily empty into the sink ($55, williams-sonoma.com).
A kitchen utensil holder. You’ll also need a place to corral your cooking utensils. Solomon recommends storing spatulas and wooden spoons next to the stove to make cooking a breeze. Choose a roomy option with an internal divider that keeps utensils neatly nestled in their own compartments. For an easy-to-clean option with a modern look, Solomon suggests this stainless Joseph Joseph utensil holder ($19.99, target.com).
A sink strainer. To avoid pesky drain problems, invest in a drain strainer, which will catch food scraps when you rinse or hand-wash your dishes. James recommends silicone strainers over metal ones, because they don’t rust or retain stains, and they won’t scratch your sink’s surface. Most in-sink strainers, he says, are created to fit the standard drain (usually an internal diameter of about 3.25 inches), but it’s always a good idea to double-check the size of your drain to ensure a perfect fit. He recommends this Oxo Good Grips two-in-one strainer and stopper ($10.98, homedepot.com).
A rack for pots and pans. Stacking cookware in a cabinet might save space, but doing so can scratch the surfaces of your pots and pans. Lavender Menakaya, owner of Lavender Organizes in Alexandria, Va., recommends vertical storage to protect your pots and pans and to free up valuable room on shelves for other items. Plus, when your kitchen tools are visible and easy to grab, you may be more likely to whip up that recipe you’ve been thinking about. If you have room, look for a heavy-duty rack or rail that makes use of extra vertical space, whether above an island or on the wall. Menakaya suggests the cost-effective but durable Oropy pot bar ($24.98, amazon.com). If you don’t have room to leave your pans out, an in-cabinet organizer can keep them tidy while protecting them from dents and scratches. Menakaya likes this Yamazaki adjustable organizer ($40, crateandbarrel.com).
An analog thermometer. Is your food going bad too fast or coming out of the oven undercooked? Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company, suggests using a thermometer to make sure your appliances are working properly. Although digital thermometers are convenient, he says an old-fashioned thermometer is the most accurate way to keep tabs on the temperature inside your oven, refrigerator or freezer. Just keep in mind that, because they have different temperature ranges, you’ll need separate ones for cold and hot appliances. Shimek likes the Taylor oven thermometer ($8.05) and the Taylor refrigerator and freezer thermometer ($2.50), both from katom.com.
Cabinet and drawer liners. Before you unpack your kitchen, make sure your drawer and cabinet surfaces are protected from crumbs, spills and other unwanted debris. Mehmetoglu says cabinet and drawer liners are the best way to do that. Liners also preserve the life of your storage space by guarding against dents and scratches, and they help keep cabinet and drawer contents from slipping around.
Look for non-adhesive liners, so you can remove and clean them. (Some types can even go in the laundry.) It’s also important to pick durable liners that can stand up to cleaning without falling apart. Mehmetoglu likes the Duck Original Grip EasyLiner shelf liners ($17.98, lowes.com) and the Warp Brothers Lifeliner clear shelf liners (14.99, bedbathandbeyond.com).
Ashley Abramson is a freelance writer in Wisconsin.
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