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How To Clean Cabinets

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Cabinets make up the majority of what we see in a kitchen, and keeping them clean can sometimes seem like a daunting task. Food spills from a countertop, oil splatter from the stove, and simple fingerprints from daily use all add up. However, once you follow our easy guide on how to clean cabinets, you will feel more confident and able to keep your kitchen looking amazing!

What Type of Cabinets Do You Have?

Knowing what type of cabinet material you are going to clean can make a difference both the cleaning product and the procedure. In general, most cabinets are made of wood or wood-based products, but some have a clear finish, and others are painted. These two surface treatments can make a difference.

Clear finished wood cabinets are usually the easiest to clean, as long as you use the right cleaning product and don’t get too aggressive. 

Woman sitting down on the floor while cleaning her kitchen cabinet

Painted wood cabinets have to be treated a little more gently, mainly because the paint can be easy to accidentally remove, leaving lighter or darker areas that may need to be repainted.

Some cabinets use a laminate layer over the facing, which is often painted over. With these cabinets, it is incredibly important not to use too much water or a cleaning solution. If liquid gets in between the layers, it can cause delamination, peeling, or bubbling.

Cleaning Products for Finished Wood Cabinets

Wood cabinets can be cleaned with a few different solutions. In addition to off the shelf cleaning products available at the grocery or home goods store, there are also DIY mixtures that you probably already have the ingredients. Avoid harsh all-purpose cleaner sprays, they can discolor or even warp your cabinets.

  • A few drops of dish soap combined with hot water is the general go-to for all types of cabinets.
  • A half to one cup of vinegar combined with a gallon of hot water can remove most of the dirt and grime from cabinets. Some may not appreciate the smell of vinegar that can linger after cleaning.
  • All-purpose orange cleaner.
  • Murphy Oil Soap is a great product that can give your cabinets a refreshed look after use. The manufacturer recommends you use it as a finish after cleaning, but it can also be used for cleaning cabinets by itself.

Cleaning Products for Painted Cabinets

Depending on the quality of paint and its age, you might be able to get away with stronger cleaners without affecting the paint, but we would not recommend it. Stay away from any cleaners that are vinegar or acid-based.

  • Once again, gentle dish soap and hot water is at the top of our recommended solutions for cleaning painted cabinets.
  • Ammonia and water work well for painted surfaces, but similar to vinegar, the smell can linger. Use about a cup of ammonia per gallon of hot water.

Basic Instructions for Cleaning Cabinets

The most important tip for cleaning cabinets is to use as little water as possible. Moisture buildup can ruin the facing of cabinets, possibly rust the hardware, and create drip marks in the crevices of doors and drawers. If you have a spray bottle handy that will help, but only spray into the cleaning cloth, not directly on the cabinet.

  1. Use a clean microfiber rag or towel. Avoid abrasive sponges like Magic Eraser.
  2. Get the towel damp, but not soaking wet. Squeeze any excess liquid into your bucket or a sink.
  3. Start cleaning from the top of the cabinets and work your way down. If there is a pattern, from wood grain or other texture, follow it to avoid showing streaks.
  4. Rinse and wring the towel as often as needed to avoid running a dirty cloth over the cabinets.
  5. For hard to reach or narrow areas like corner molding, or spaces next to handles or pulls, use a toothbrush or similar soft-bristled brush.
  6. Wipe the area surrounding places you cleaned with the toothbrush to clean up any brush spatter.
  7. After cleaning one cabinet, use another clean, dry cloth to dry the surface. 
  8. Be sure to check underneath any doors or drawers for dripping.

Cleaning Tough Cabinet Spots

Some spots just won’t come out with the basic instructions above, so you have to get a little more creative with cleaning them. Leaning into it with too much elbow grease may have a detrimental effect on the surface, so changing up the cleaning solution for these spots is important. Baking soda is very useful in these situations.

Woman spraying her kitchen cabinet with a cleaning solution
  1. Mix a paste of one part baking soda with one part water.
  2. Add the paste to any spots that don’t come out with basic cleaning.
  3. Let the baking soda mixture sit for a few minutes.
  4. Wipe the solution off with a damp cloth.
  5. Rinse and wring out the cloth with hot water.
  6. Rinse the cleaned area until all the paste residue is removed.
  7. Dry the surface with a clean cloth.

Tips for Keeping Cabinets Clean

While tackling an entire kitchen at once is effective, you may want to take other steps to keep cabinets clean on a regular basis. Some simple maintenance steps performed in between deep cleanings can keep your kitchen looking good all the time.

Spot Clean After Cooking

It can be very obvious that you need to spot clean after accidentally spilling some food while cooking, but some less noticeable buildup usually happens as well. Grease from the kitchen air can collect on most of the cabinet surfaces, especially around the stove and oven. Wipe those areas regularly to help prevent it from getting too grimy.

Wash Hands Often

If you have white cabinets, you will probably notice fingerprints around handles and pull knobs more often than anything else. Keeping your hands (and hands of any kids, especially) clean more often can help you avoid those dark areas in high traffic areas.

Dust Regularly

The tops of cabinets, insides of drawers, and shelves can all get dust buildup. Left unchecked, even a small amount of dust can end up turning into a caked on mess from moisture and grease in the air. Dusting regularly will limit how bad those areas can get.

Refresh Finished Wood Cabinets

After a while, after repeated cleaning and use, wood cabinets can begin to look dull after a while. Using a product like Murphy Oil Soap can bring life back into flat looking wood cabinets. Wash normally first, then follow the manufacturer’s instructions to make the surfaces shiny again. Be sure to remove all the cleaner residue from the cabinets.

De-Clutter Your Cabinets

A few times a year, when deep cleaning the insides of your cabinets, be sure to take everything out and evaluate if it is necessary. We tend to collect a lot of kitchen gadgets that rarely get used, creating havoc in a few of our drawers and cabinets. This can get to a point where things are getting in the way of doors and drawers opening easily, which can result in additional wear.

Get rid of anything that you don’t use, donate if possible, and keep those cabinets organized.

Conclusion

Sometimes it sneaks up on you when kitchen cabinets get dirty, even though we use them just about every day. Scheduling for deep cleaning the cabinets on a regular basis, maybe during the spring and fall, can help you avoid putting it off for too long.

When cleaning your cabinets be sure to use the appropriate cleaner, don’t use too wet of a cleaning rag, and don’t scrub painted cabinets too vigorously. We want to help you keep your kitchen looking its best, and learning how to clean your cabinets correctly goes a long way.

Allen Michael is the Founder and Editor of Home Viable, a website that he started to provide readers with tips on home efficiency and automation. He draws on his engineering background combined with his family-of-four experiences for his articles.