How to Clean Up After Thanksgiving in Half the Time

The Pilgrims were on to something when they planned a Thanksgiving potluck; here are other good ideas that’ll simplify your T-Day kitchen cleanup.

Illustration of Thanksgiving table with pie and turkey
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The Pilgrims were on to something when they planned a Thanksgiving potluck. Want something more to be thankful for? Try other good ideas that’ll simplify your T-Day kitchen cleanup.

9 Ways to Make Thanksgiving Cleanup a Breeze

These hosting tips will make your Thanksgiving kitchen cleanup faster and easier — and free you up to enjoy family and friends.

Plan a Potluck

The first Thanksgiving was a potluck, so, let your guests share the fun and bring dishes to share. Then make sure they take home their serving bowls and platters, which will cut down on dishes to wash and put away.

Related: How to Avoid Holiday Hosting Disasters

Arrange for Easy Leftovers to Go

Part of the cleanup hassle is putting all those leftovers into plastic containers (after you find the lids) and cramming them into your fridge. Then you throw out most of the food a week later. But if guests bring their own containers, they can load them up at the table after the meal and tote them home. And you can move your empty serving dishes straight into the kitchen for quicker washing.

Set Up a Soaking Station

Soak pots and pans as soon as you transfer food to platters. But instead of filling the sink with soaking pots, designate a small trashcan as the soaking spot. Fill it will soapy water and dirty pots, and hide it under a sink or in a mudroom. That way, your sink is free throughout the evening to clean as you go and rinse dishes on the way to the dishwasher

Use Triple-Duty Cookware

Cut down on cleanup by selecting cookware that can go from oven to table to freezer. Or, serve food in edible containers, such as bread bowls or hollowed-out winter squash, which you can either consume or compost.

Empty Fridge

Start your holiday with a clean slate, which will make the inevitable mess less daunting than piling clutter onto clutter. Before beginning Thanksgiving prep, pick up depressing home clutter and organize your fridge to make room for ingredients and leftovers. 

If possible, designate a shelf for Thanksgiving food and make sure it's empty when you start your meal. Fill it with leftovers when you’re finished. In a week, clean out that shelf again. Make soup from leftover meat and veggies, then freeze. Compost wilted greens. Toss old dairy products.

Prepare Roasting Pans

You won’t have to clean what you don’t get dirty. So line your turkey roasting pans with heavy-duty aluminum foil or cook the bird in a bag. Pour drippings into a pot to make gravy, then throw away the liner.

Line Garbage Cans

Double- or triple-line garbage cans, which saves time when the cleaning campaign begins. After you toss a trash bag, there’s another waiting for action.

Stop Stains

Don’t let stains on carpet or rings on furniture set. While wine stains are still wet, dab with go-to cleaner hydrogen peroxide mixed with a few drops of dish detergent; blot with a clean cloth. Get rid of water stains on wood furniture with a dab of white toothpaste (not gel). Rub in the direction of the grain.

Pump Up the Music

Up-tempo music will give you a second wind for cleaning. So turn off the soothing dinner tunes and get rocking with a cleaning playlist.

RelatedHoliday Cleaning: Tips for a Guest-Ready Home

Housing And Real Estate Expert Lisa Kaplan-Gordon
Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Lisa Kaplan Gordon is an award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer who contributes to real estate and home improvement sites. In her spare time (yeah, right!), she gardens, manages three dogs, and plots to get her 21-year-old out of her basement.