10 Things You Shouldn’t Store on the Kitchen Counter

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woman standing by kitchen counter
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The kitchen may be the heart of the home, but kitchen counters are the hands. These essential work surfaces are tasked with holding everything from kids’ homework to smart speakers to bowls of fruit. They are the workbenches of American life.

But some countertop storage habits can be impractical at best — and hazardous at worst. If you need to bring sanity to your kitchen counters, read on. Here are common countertop items you should find a new home for.

1. Paper towels and napkins

Rolls of paper towels sit on a kitchen table
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According to the American Red Cross, most home fires start in the kitchen. Reduce risk of fire by keeping paper towels and napkins off the counter.

Storing paper products away from the stove is a great start, but you never know where someone will inadvertently park the toaster, air fryer or hot plate. The safest bet is to store paper towels under the sink and napkins in a drawer.

See also: “How I Make a Roll of Paper Towels Last All Year”

2. Spices and herbs

Rack of jars with dried herbs and spices
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It’s thyme to rethink spice storage. Though it seems like everyone uses turntable spice racks on the counter, that may not be the best place for them.

Spices should be kept away from heat, light, air and moisture, according to Penn State Extension. Instead of on the countertop, store these flavor essentials in airtight containers in a cabinet or pantry (sage advice, if you ask me). Tiered spice racks like this model on Amazon will keep everything organized.

3. Cooking oils

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According to the Oregon State University Extension Service, cooking oils should be stored in a cool area that’s not exposed to direct light. When stored on a table or countertop, oils can oxidize more quickly and become rancid.

Instead of the counter, store bottled oils in a cupboard that’s near the stove but not close enough to heat up when the appliance is on.

4. Junk food

Oreo brand
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Seeing is eating. In a moment of hunger, stress, or boredom, who can resist the siren song of countertop cookies or chips?

A 2015 study by Cornell University linked what’s on people’s counters to their overall weight and body mass index (BMI). Though study participants were limited to women, we can assume the same holds true for men. For example, women who stored soft drinks on the counter weighed 24-26 pounds more than those who kept the sugary drinks out of sight.

5. Electronics

Amazon Echo Plus smart speaker
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Alexa may be a lifesaver when you’re trying out a new recipe, but don’t set your device too close to the action. Countertops are made for spills and grease splatter — personal electronics are not.

And according to the FDA, handling devices during meal prep may pose a food contamination risk. We’ve all heard about studies showing smartphones can be dirtier than a toilet seat. Do you really want that on your countertop?

6. Breakable decor items

Couple in a kitchen
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Watch any home design show and you’ll see kitchen counters loaded with non-essentials like apothecary jars, elaborate floral arrangements and framed art.

But with all that loveliness, who has room to cook? For safety and practicality, resist the temptation to decorate work surfaces. After all, nothing ruins a great meal like broken glass.

7. Paperwork

Retiree reviewing financial documents in his kitchen
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Kitchen counters often serve as a convenient catch-all space for homework, art projects, household bills. But like all paper products, these items can catch fire easily when placed too close to a burner or small appliance.

Fire risk aside, important documents can be ruined by spills, grease splatter and the general messiness of food prep. Keep the countertops clear and the paperwork on a desk or separate work surface.

Pro tip: No room to store paperwork? Try the “tray trick.” Relegate all paperwork or kids’ homework to large, shallow tray with handles. During meal prep, just move the tray instead of wrangling piles of clutter.

8. Mugs

Mug tree
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What kind of tree does the world need fewer of? The mug tree! Though charming, mug trees seem designed to collect dust and cooking grease splatter. My first instinct is to thoroughly wash every mug I pluck from their questionable “branches.”

Give yourself more prep space and one less thing to clean — store mugs in a cabinet.

9. Seldom-used appliances

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In most kitchens, counter space is prime real estate. Is yours being eaten up by small appliances?

Sure, it makes sense to keep toasters, blenders, juicers and food processors handy. But unless you’re using these appliances every day or every time you cook, they can live in a cabinet or pantry.

10. Knives

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I’ve probably watched too many horror movies, but doesn’t every home intruder reach for the knife block first? Seriously though, these bulky blocks take up a lot of counter space and don’t seem like the safest choice in households with young, energetic kids.

Instead of blocks, choose an in-drawer knife holder like this model from Wayfair.

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