How to deep clean kitchen cabinets without harsh chemicals

Cleaning kitchen cabinets is a task in most people’s minds in that space between cleaning the baseboards and the basement. We know it needs cleaning and we almost never do it as part of any regular house cleaning work.

That’s a shame because not only are kitchen cabinets subjected to some of the worst air and messes in the house between grease, food spills, and moisture, they’re also the most visible. In a small galley kitchen the cabinets may consume nearly all of the wall space in a kitchen!

The initial cabinet deep clean

If we’re going to clean the cabinets, let’s do it right. First, take off all the knobs and handles. The cabinet hardware is the most-touched point and is usually where most of the toughest-to-reach-and-clean spots are.

Take off the hardware and let it sit in the sink for half an hour with warm, soapy water.

Meanwhile, use the same mild dish soap and warm water on a soft cloth to rub down the cabinets. A lot of people assume or hear that a mix of vinegar, lemon juice, and salt works, but avoid those if you don’t know precisely what kind of cabinets or finishes you’re working with. Salt is abrasive and lemon juice is acidic and can destroy some oils.

Get at tough spots with ice or white vinegar

Ice cubes are a useful way to remove sticky spots, like from fruit juice, sugars, or other crusty stuff. Take a few ice cubes and wrap them in a towel or plastic bag. Hold it on the spot until it’s cold and flick it off with a plastic spatula.

White vinegar is acidic by itself, usually too acidic for most stains and paints. But a 1:1 water:vinegar solution can help if you’ve got a stubborn stain on high-quality finishes or materials.

Baking soda is abrasive, so don’t rub it in. Baking soda is better used on countertops than kitchen cabinets, but can be helpful. Just test it on a discreet area inside first.

Avoid using harsh scrub brushes and sponges. It might feel like a useful shortcut to reach for the Magic Eraser, but all you’ll do is strip the stain or paint on the existing cabinets. A soft cloth or microfiber cloth plus patience and elbow grease is best.

If you have a truly stubborn stain, use an undiluted all-purpose liquid cleaner. Whatever you reach for, test a small area on the inside top or bottom of the door to make sure it doesn’t leave a mark.

Once you’ve wiped down all the cabinets, dry them with a fresh towel or soft cloth.

Focus on your cabinet’s materials and veneer

Oak, cherry, and maple are the most common types of wood cabinets. Often these are just an oak, cherry, or maple veneer glued, bonded, or stained on to pine, fiberboard, or pressboard wood.

If your wood cabinets are sealed, never apply an oil. The oil will soak into the paint or seal and become glue for every bit of grease, grime, and dirt that floats into the air.

Laminate cabinets are a mix of plastic and other materials bonded to low or medium-quality woods to create the outer shells. Because of their plastic-like properties, you can get away with using baking soda and water to draw out stains, but don’t rub it.

For retro and super modern kitchens, stainless steel might be the go-to cabinet style. Sometimes a stainless steel veneer is adhered to wood to keep costs, weight, and noise to a minimum.

Stainless steel necessitates you wipe them down in the direction of the grain, usually with a treated stainless-steel-spray solution. Water can leave water spots, so if you do use water make sure you dry it off completely with a dry cloth or towel.

Avoid commercial waxes or sprays and the dirty dish sponge

With the exception of stainless steel cleaning solutions on stainless steel cabinet doors, avoid using commercial furniture waxes, sprays, and polishes (including Pledge!) on your cabinets.

The sprays often contain silicone to help form a shine. But it also creates a barrier over the wood. That might sound helpful, but the barrier builds up and makes touch-ups of paint or stains or refinishing nearly impossible. And waxes attract pollutants from the air, bonding them deeper and deeper in each layer you spray over time.

Any cleaner with ammonia, bleach, solvents, paint thinners, or abrasive elements will strip doors and walls.

A soft dish sponge will work to clean cabinets, but use a fresh one. The sponge you used to wipe down the oven and fridge has served its purpose.

Make cabinet cleaning part of your routine

When you think of cleaning the house, vacuuming, dusting, the litter box, picking up toys, dishes, and laundry all come to mind quickly. But ensuring your cabinets are part of the same schedule minimizes work and expense later.

Once you’ve done your initial kitchen cabinet cleaning, dish soap and warm water will work. You’re most likely already wiping down the countertops and stove. Cleaning kitchen cabinets while you go is just a short time more.

You’ll thank yourself next time the Walnut Creek neighborhood throws a get-together at your house or you invite your friends from Orinda or Pleasant Hill over. No more last-second dashing to get things tidied up if you keep up with the cleaning a little bit at a time.

However, if your cabinets need a little more freshening up, painting, or work: give Woodiwiss Painting a call. We can get someone to your door to review your options.

How humidity and temperature affect your cabinets in California

Repeated or hyper-focused exposure to moisture will do irreversible damage to cabinets. The most common kinds we see are steam from crock pots and coffee makers positioned directly under a specific door or cabinet wall.

If your kitchen windows let in a lot of light in specific spots, the direct sunlight and heat can cause sunspots and marks. Some easy-to-wash curtains are helpful in mitigating “cabinet sunburns”.

Humidity from the air builds up quickly in kitchens, even when the outside humidity is relatively low. But bathrooms are more common, and your under-sink cabinets and wall cabinets there take a lot of abuse from moisture.  A dehumidifier is great for that, but just being mindful of ways to bring in fresh air — either with a fan or simply opening a window — can reduce humidity. If a dehumidifier won’t fit in your bathroom, nearby is also helpful.

Humidity does precisely what you think it does: it causes the wood to expand and contract. Finishes and paints can slow those contractions down but it won’t stop it.

Optimal humidity is 35% to 50%. And yes, extremely low humidity is a problem too. Too little moisture in the air can cause the paint, stains, and other finishes to chip.