How to Clean a Kitchen Timer Without Damaging It

Most models will stop working if they get wet. Here’s the best way to get your timer squeaky clean.

Published May 23, 2023.

Kitchen timers are bound to get dirty. Mine regularly gets splattered with cooking oil and sauces, dusted with flour, and—worst of all—contaminated by raw chicken or meat.

It’s not because I’m an especially messy cook. As Orsi Dezsi, a food equipment expert at the public health and safety organization NSF International explained, there’s a special term for the cooking-adjacent places in the kitchen where timers are used: the splash zone. And while that conjures up images of people getting doused with water on a log ride, my timer is getting hit with germs and bacteria. 

And even if I can put my timer a safe distance from the prep work and active cooking happening in my kitchen, I can’t always stop to wash my hands before I reach for it. 

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When I need to clean my other kitchen equipment, I toss it in the dishwasher or fill up the sink with hot, soapy water. Because water can damage a kitchen timer, cleaning one requires a little more care. And given how grimy a timer can get, it’s essential to disinfect it. 

After consulting with food safety experts and kitchen timer manufacturers, here are five of our recommendations for cleaning your kitchen timer.

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1. Spray cleaning solution on a towel not the timer itself

It’s hard to control the amount of liquid that comes out when you use a spray bottle. Instead of accidentally dousing your timer, spray the cleaner onto a paper towel or dish towel instead. We think that the best multipurpose spray cleaner with antibacterial properties is the Method Antibacterial All-Purpose Cleaner.

2. Use rubbing alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is a convenient alternative to disinfectant sprays. Dab a little on a clean cloth and gently wipe the timer’s surface and buttons. It will evaporate quickly; there’s no need to wash or rinse it off.

3. Reach for a cotton swab or a folded paper towel

Timers have little nooks and crannies—especially around the buttons—that can trap little bits of food. Rather than scrubbing with a sudsy towel and risk getting water inside the timer, switch to smaller and more precise tools. Cotton swabs fit nicely in the tight spaces between buttons. Tim Robinson, vice president of marketing at the timer and thermometer company ThermoWorks, recommends folding a paper towel to create a pointed edge that fits in other small openings or grooves. 


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4. Let the food dry on the timer

It’s tempting to scrub timers while the food on them is still wet, but that can smear things around and create a bigger problem. Some messes are easier to remove after they dry. Pizza dough, for example, will dry out and might even fall off on its own.

5. Clean your timer even if it doesn’t look dirty

Bacteria isn’t visible, and food residue often isn’t either, so don’t wait until your timer looks dirty to clean it. Make disinfecting your timer part of your everyday cleanup routine.

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