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How to Clean Wood Cabinets: Do’s and Don’ts

How to Clean Kitchen Cabinets

Cleaning wood cabinets regularly helps extend their lifespan—not to mention keeps them looking nice.

That said, wood cabinets can’t be cleaned with just any cleaning solution. You need a solution that’s non-acidic but can effectively cut through grease, food, grime, dust and any other substance that may build up on your cabinets.

In this article, we’ll walk you through:

Wondering if it’s time to refinish your cabinets?

Contact us online or call (480) 641-9611 and we’ll send one of our cabinet experts to your home to examine your cabinets and give you the best options for your home.

Before cleaning, take a closer look at cabinets

Before you put in the hard work of cleaning your wood cabinets, you may want to inspect them to make sure the cleaning will work.

A cleaning won’t help:

  • Dingy, faded or worn finishes
  • Some food stains or water damage
  • Scratches or nicks

If you noticed any of the above on your cabinets, it may be time to renew them.

Cabinet Coatings can help you refinish or reface your wood cabinets to make them look brand new. Contact us today for a free quote.

The best cleaning solutions for wood cabinets

The key to safely and effectively cleaning wood cabinets is to use a gentle, non-acidic and non-abrasive cleaning solution.

To help you find the right solution, we’ll list some of the best cleaners for wood cabinets:

  • DIY solutions: You probably already have some solutions in your cabinets that will work great for cleaning them.
  • Dish soap: Designed to cut through grease, dish soap is an alkaline (non-acidic) solution that can be mixed with hot water to remove grease and dust from your cabinets.
  • Baking soda: A paste of warm water and baking soda can loosen caked-on food and drips. It also works great for cleaning hinges and pulls.
  • Oil soap wood cleaners: Oil soap is stronger than dish soap and removes grease, grime and other substances without damaging the wood. One of the best oil soap wood cleaners on the market is Murphy Oil Soap, which can also clean other wood surfaces (furniture, floors, etc.).
  • Carnauba wax cleaners: Found in high-quality wood polishes, carnauba wax helps protect and restore the shine to your wood cabinets. Magic Cabinet and Wood Cleaner is one wood cleaner that uses carnauba wax to polish cabinets while removing grease, food and dust.

Regularly cleaning cabinets

The best thing you can do to extend the life of your cabinets is to clean them daily or weekly.

To clean cabinets daily or weekly:

  • Select a cleaning solution. If you don’t want to use a cleaner formulated for wood cabinets, a gentle DIY solution will work.
  • Wash the cabinets. Apply the solution to a soft cloth and wipe down all cabinet doors, drawers and face frames.
  • Spot clean stubborn build-up. Use a soft scrubber or toothbrush to remove any drips or stuck-on food.

Do’s for regularly cleaning cabinets

For regular cabinet cleanings, make sure to:

  • Clean after cooking. You’d be surprised by how much grease and grime your cabinets collect after cooking just one time. By wiping down the cabinets after cooking, you’ll prevent build-up, making it easier to deep clean your cabinets when the time comes.
  • Clean glass and mirror features. Spray a glass cleaner on a soft cloth and wipe down any glass or mirrored surfaces. Wood cleaners, especially ones with oil or wax, may leave streaks or smudges on glass and mirrors.

Don’ts for regularly cleaning cabinets

For regular cabinet cleanings, avoid:

  • Non-drying oils for DIY solutions. A non-drying oil—like olive, coconut and avocado oils—won’t dry or harden on your cabinets. They remain soft, attract dust and debris, and eventually go bad. A drying oil, on the other hand, hardens when exposed to air to help protect your wood cabinets. Linseed and tung are 2 of the most common drying oils used on wood cabinets, but you can also use lemon, orange or walnut oil.
  • Vinegar-based solutions. Vinegar is a great cleaner for many surfaces, but wood isn’t one of them. Vinegar is acidic, which means that, even when diluted with water, it can damage the cabinet finish.

Deep cleaning cabinets

We recommend deep cleaning your cabinets every 3–6 months to wash areas that don’t get cleaned with regular cleanings.

To deep clean cabinets:

  1. Select a cleaning solution. If you want to use a gentle DIY solution, go for it. Otherwise, we recommend one of the cleaners formulated for wood cabinets that we mentioned above.
  2. Empty and vacuum cabinets. Starting with the top cabinet, take everything out and vacuum the insides of the cabinets to remove as many crumbs, dust and debris as you can.
  3. Wipe down cabinets with warm water. Before cleaning, wipe the interior and exterior of the cabinets with warm water. This helps remove any grease and grime prior to washing.
  4. Wash the cabinets. Depending on the solution you chose, spray the solution onto a soft cloth or sponge or dip it in the cleaning solution mixed with water (and ring it out so it’s damp, not soaked) and wipe down the cabinets. Make sure to rinse your cloth or sponge frequently, otherwise, you’re just spreading grease and dirt instead of removing it.
  5. Spot scrub stains and build-up. If you come across stubborn drips or stains, apply the solution—or a baking soda paste, if needed—to a soft scrubber or toothbrush to remove build-up. Do not use stainless steel scrubbing pads or scouring pads, as these can damage the cabinet finish or even the wood itself.
  6. Rinse cabinets with warm water. Wipe down your cabinets with a damp cloth to remove any traces of cleaning solution. Do not drench cabinets or spray water onto them.
  7. Dry cabinets. Leaving water to sit on your cabinets can damage and discolor the finish. Dry all cabinets with a soft cloth to remove any sitting water.

Do’s for deep cleaning cabinets

When deep cleaning your cabinets, make sure to:

  • Scrub the hardware. A lot of gunk can build up in your hinges and on cabinet pulls. Dip a toothbrush in your cleaning solution or baking soda paste and softly scrub hinges, handles and knobs.
  • Wipe the sides of drawers. It’s easy to forget the sides of drawers, but they can get just as dirty as the rest of your cabinets.

Don’ts for deep cleaning cabinets

When deep cleaning your cabinets, avoid:

  • Soaking cabinet doors and drawers. Even a little bit of water can cause serious damage to and even ruin your cabinets.
  • Spray water or cleaning solutions directly to your cabinets. Instead, apply (spray or dip) water and solutions to a cloth and then wipe your cabinets.

Focus areas for cleaning cabinets

Whether you’re deep cleaning cabinets or wiping them down quickly after cooking, make sure to clean the following areas:

  • Cabinet pulls: Knobs and handles are probably the most frequently touched part of your kitchen cabinets. Since oils from hands and cooking grease transfers to the cabinet pulls, you’ll want to wipe those down every time you clean.
  • Corners and bevels: If your cabinets have recessed panels or raised panels with bevels, the corners can quickly accumulate dirt and grime. You may need to use a toothbrush or cotton swab to remove the dirt if a cloth doesn’t work.
  • Cabinets near the stove: Cabinets directly above and below the stove collect a lot of grease from cooking. You may need to clean these cabinets twice if there’s a lot of grease on the cabinets to avoid smudge marks.

When to refinish cabinets

Sometimes, even the deepest cleaning can’t bring your cabinets back to life. We recommend a cabinet refinishing when:

  • Your cabinets require more frequent cleaning. It’s normal to have to clean your cabinets every now and then, but if you notice cabinets start attracting dust and grime more easily, refinishing the cabinets will revitalize the finish to protect cabinets and ensure they don’t have to be cleaned as often.
  • The cabinet finish looks dull or worn. If the finish on your wood cabinets has lost its original shine or has worn off infrequently touched places, it’s probably time to have the finish reapplied.
  • You’re ready for a new look. Want to go with a different color of wood stain? Or get rid of the wood look altogether by coating your cabinets? A cabinet refinishing (combined with upgraded hardware if you want) can completely transform your kitchen or bathroom.

Learn more about what’s included in a cabinet refinishing in our blog, “Cabinet Refinishing vs. Refacing vs. Remodeling.”

Want a quote to refinish your wood cabinets?

Contact us online or at (480) 641-9611 to schedule an appointment. One of our cabinet experts will take a look at your wood cabinets and give you a free, same-day quote to refinish them. We’ll help you bring your kitchen cabinets back to life.

Tim statezny

Tim Statezny