Kitchens are dirty places. That dirt is pretty obvious on things like countertops, stoves, and sinks. The thing is, there’s a lot of aerosolized liquid that gets on your cabinets, especially the very parts that are most visible and thus trickiest to clean, from grease and oils that sizzle off of skillets, to juices from meats and vegetables that spray out as you chop them. When it comes to surfaces you actually cook on, you can rely on their resilience and ability to stand up to normal household cleaners. But when it comes time to give your kitchen cabinets themselves a cleaning, how can you be sure what cleaners are okay, and what will leave the finish damaged?
One of the simplest, most tried-and-true methods of cleaning moderate films of grease from finished cabinet surfaces is to use a little mild acid. A 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water is a pretty effective cleaning agent for mild stains and thin films of oils or grease. Spray it on, leave it for a few minutes, then wipe it away, and it should take care of moderate soiling without damaging the finish.
Pro tip: A 20% solution of white vinegar and distilled water also makes an excellent cleaner for electronic devices and LCD displays.
If the grease is too thick for vinegar and water to penetrate, it’s probably time to get surfactants involved. These are chemicals that bind both to water and oil, letting them mix, and thus letting the oil be rinsed or wiped away. Soap is the most common surfactant most people are aware of, so common dishwashing soap is a great option. You can even mix some in with your vinegar and water mixture from before, to create a mild cleaning solution with more penetrating power than the vinegar and water alone.
Just don’t use straight dishwashing liquid on your cabinets; it also contains detergents which could damage the finish if left on for too long, or used in a concentrated form.
Last Resort Methods
If your cabinets just won’t come clean no matter what you try, don’t reach for the bleach or other disinfecting cleaner just yet! These have a pretty good chance of damaging your cabinets’ finish. With those, and any of these methods, always test a small patch in a place you won’t see most of the time, before using them on large, visible surfaces.
- Baking Soda – Baking soda is a base; bases are good at dissolving organic matter. This makes it a very powerful cleaning agent for kitchens because almost everything that will be staining your cabinets is organic. The reason this isn’t more highly suggested is because certain resins and sealants used to protect the finish of your cabinets are also organic materials. Between its properties as a base, and its abrasiveness, it could leave clear-coat finishes cloudy and ruined, so definitely test in an inconspicuous area first.
- Laundry Detergent – Laundry soap is enzyme-based, and uses many of the same processes that your own body does in digesting food, to “digest” dirt out of clothes. Combined with powerful surfactants and mild bases, it is a very powerful cleaner when diluted in plenty of water. Again, it could damage some types of finish, so test in an inconspicuous area before widespread use.
With these, and with other household cleaners like ammonia (Windex) or bleach, damage may not be immediately apparent, but could happen over time, dulling your cabinets’ finish gradually. If you just don’t want the headache of worrying about it, why not check out some of our cabinet lines with baked-on finishes? They’re more resilient and stand up to a lot more abuse, for worry-free maintenance.
For other insider knowledge about kitchen cabinets in general and RTA cabinets in particular, download our free e-book: The Consumer’s Guide to Buying Kitchen Cabinets today!