When summer temperatures settle in across the country, backyards start to fill up with people enjoying the sunshine. Outdoor kitchens are growing in popularity among homeowners, but don’t neglect to clean and maintain your backyard culinary oasis just because it’s not actually inside your house. Outdoor kitchens are relatively low-maintenance compared to primary, everyday kitchens—you might not be so concerned about handprints on outdoor appliances, for example—but regular cleaning and maintenance of your outdoor kitchen will ensure that you get many years of enjoyment out of it.

1. Remember That Grills Are Not Self-Cleaning

It’s easy to fall into the habit of just giving your grill grates a quick swipe with a wire brush before you toss on those steaks. While you won’t directly harm your grill by doing that, it is important to check its other components, too—the Landscaping Network specifically mentions burners, valves, and hoses. If you have a gas grill, don’t ignore the burners. Use a stiff brush periodically to clear grease and gunk away from them, and as you cook, pay attention to the color of the flame. A healthy flame on a gas grill should be blue with a yellow tip—if your flames are all yellow, turn off the grill and disconnect the fuel tank so that you can check the fuel valve pressure. Lastly, take a look at any hoses, such as fuel lines, on the grill. Even if your outdoor kitchen isn’t directly exposed to the elements, it is still affected by temperature changes. Depending on the material, grill hoses can contract and expand in response to changing seasons, so give them a brief inspection to see if any of them have cracked or split and need to be replaced.

2. Don’t Go Nuts Cleaning Outdoor Appliances

Stainless steel appliances are enormously popular in outdoor kitchens, and for good reason. Not only does stainless steel look nice with the hardware typically used in outdoor spaces, but it is also resistant to rust and corrosion, making it ideal for outside use. Although stainless steel is a pretty durable material, it isn’t indestructible. Don’t cut directly on a stainless steel surface—use a cutting board instead. Hot pots and pans as well as other metal, steel, or cast iron items can cause staining and corrosion if they’re left on a stainless steel surface for too long, so find another resting place for them. A rinse with soapy water will be sufficient for cleaning a stainless steel surface, but make sure that you follow the grain of the metal and dry it completely. There’s no need to use chemical cleaners, and stay away from steel wool pads—little bits of them can flake off and get imbedded in your stainless steel surface. While the actual surface won’t rust in that situation, the steel wool pieces will.

3. Don’t Neglect the Fireplace

If your ultimate outdoor kitchen includes a fireplace, make sure that you devote some time to keeping it tidy. Your outdoor fireplace may never actually be clean per se, and that’s OK—what is important is keeping it free of debris. Regularly remove ashes from the fireplace by using a metal scoop to place them in a metal container. Leave the ashes in the container overnight or until you’re positive that they are completely cold. Also consider purchasing a cover for your fireplace’s chimney—the interior of a chimney isn’t sealed to the same degree as the outside, so it’s more susceptible to damage from water and debris. Just to be on the safe side, use a wire brush to sweep out the chimney once a year, or call out a Best Pick who specializes in chimney and fireplace work.

4. Wipe Down Those Countertops

When designing an outdoor kitchen, many people choose natural materials, such as granite or stone, for countertops. Granite and stone both offer a range of colors and textures, but keep in mind that while these surfaces may look smooth, they are porous—and that means they can stain. But don’t go running for the laminate just yet! For the most part, rain and sun will help prevent staining, but if you’re concerned, seal your countertops and wipe up stains as quickly as possible. If your outdoor kitchen doesn’t have a roof structure, consider covering your countertops during the winter months to protect them from ice and snow.

5. Protect Your Outdoor Furniture

While it may not be the first thing to come to mind when you think of outdoor kitchens, furniture plays an important part in rounding out your backyard sanctuary. If possible, try to keep your outdoor kitchen furniture out of rain and extreme weather by bringing it indoors, but if that’s simply not an option, This Old House suggests looking for vinyl covers that don’t touch the floor, which allows moisture to escape. You can clean vinyl, mesh, and fabric components with a mild, all-purpose cleaner—harsh bleach- or ammonia-based cleaners aren’t necessary and can do more harm than good. As with your countertops, try to catch and wipe up spills as soon as possible.

Your outdoor kitchen and fireplace area represents not only a financial investment, but also a commitment to time spent with family and friends. Taking a few minutes to maintain your outdoor kitchen, fireplace, and furniture will protect your investment and allow you to spend as much quality time as possible with your loved ones.

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Sources: Countertop Specialty; DoItYourself.com; Landscaping Network; This Old House.

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