How to Clean Kitchen Cabinets

How to Clean Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchens get dirty, and cabinets get dirtier since the counters sit under them and they’re often placed high enough to catch a lot of airborne grease.

Food, as a general rule, tends to be somewhat messy anyways, but with a few simple steps you can have the whole setup looking brand new without having to extend nearly as much effort as you’d think.

Victoria, Homethods Author

How to Clean Kitchen Cabinets

1.) Choose the Right Products for Your Cabinets

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Many people are tempted to try to find a “best” cleaner in order to handle the whole affair quickly and easily. This may work, if you’re regularly cleaning the cabinets. Unfortunately, a lot of people have let their kitchen cabinets get grimy and greasy over an extended period and this strategy might not work out as well as you think.

Understanding messes is essential to being able to clean them properly. It’s not rocket science, but it can require a little bit of thought. The primary factors that make for disgusting kitchen cabinets are:

  • Dry Food– Dry foodstuffs like rice, small pieces of vegetables, crumbs from pastries and bread, and others will tend to collect within the cabinets themselves. They’re the easiest to clean for the most part, but keeping them down and out of nooks and crannies is very important if you live in an area with bugs and rodents to keep them out.
  • Wet Food– This includes spilled sauces, that splatter of egg that ran down the side after you cracked it to hard against the counter, and all of that fun stuff. These are also quite easy to remove, and truthfully most people wipe them down immediately, but splatter in unexpected locations can build up over time.
  • Grease- Most of us cook using oils or fats of some kind. Due to the heating process, they often get on things and sometimes it will remain invisible to the naked eye so it gets ignored. Unfortunately, grease will soon become a serious problem if you’re not careful and it becomes-
  • Grime- Grime is grease that’s become impregnated with solid particles. This is responsible for those nasty stains that tend to run along improperly cared for cabinets. It can be extremely hard to remove with most cleaners and it’s tempting to use drastic methods. Don’t.

Each of these types of mess have their own little problems, but if you haven’t thoroughly cleaned your cabinets in a long time and you want to make sure that you get the whole thing under control at once, then you’ll need the following:

  • Hand Vacuum
  • A Multi-Surface Cleaner
  • An Oil Based Soap OR Paint-safe Degreaser
  • Wood Polish

Depending on if your cabinets are painted or stained, you’ll want to go with an oil based soap or a degreasing compound.

Use an oil based soap for stained or bare wood and a mild degreasing compound for taking care of painted surfaces.

The sheer number of products out there can be outstanding and there’s pros and cons to most of them at the end of the day.

If you’re not willing to do the research, try Method All-Purpose Spray for your multi-surface cleaner and Murphy’s Oil Based Soap. The choice of a standard degreaser can be a bit harder since all paints will react differently to the chemicals but 409 Heavy Duty Cleaner/Degreaser is generally safe.

Now, let’s get those cabinets sparkling.

2.) Remove All Dry Material

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You’ll probably want to take everything out of the cabinet you’re cleaning in order to get started. Just set it aside for the moment, and get out your hand vacuum. This might seem like overkill, but if you’ve had any bug or rodent problems then you’ve found a relatively humane solution to most of them.

Take the hand vacuum and scoop up everything on each shelf. Take your time, making sure that you get all of the crumbs and scraps up as best as possible. After you’ve done the main surfaces in the cabinets, then it’s time to along all of the crevices and cracks. Even if you can’t see anything make at least one pass.

Cabinets, being made of wood, have a tendency to separate and tighten periodically with the temperature, and this can leave crumbs, scraps of rice, and all sorts of other stuff in the cracks. Get it all up, and you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes.

Even if your cabinets are in a climate controlled area and holding like a rock, there’ll still be some dust.

Undertaking this procedure once every couple of months is a good idea, but you’ll have to see when you can fit it into your own schedule.

How to Clean Kitchen Cabinet

3.) Removing Surface Stains

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We aren’t quite ready to hit the grease and grime yet, but carefully go along the face and doors of your cabinets with a rag and some multi-surface cleaner. Just spot clean for now, if there’s something sitting there then take care of it.

Using a rag rather than a sponge will make it easier to get into hard to reach spots, but if you’re doing your counters at the same time a sponge generally works better on large, smooth surfaces.

Pay particular attention to the area right behind where doors close, as sometimes small splashes of sauce or whatever can work their way in there without you noticing.

After you’re done with the surface, take a close look at the hardware. Thankfully, grease and grime can generally be removed from metal with just a surface cleaner. Look over the hinges and knobs and clean them until you’re satisfied.

4.) Taking Care of the Rough Stuff

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Get your oil soap or degreaser and a bucket now, it’s time to use some elbow grease to rid the cabinets of those terrible stains that truly make them look bad.

For painted cabinets, spray on degreasers are ideal but you’ll need to let them sit. Test them out on a small portion that’s mostly out of sight and let it sit for ten minutes or so to start with, just to make sure your chosen product doesn’t react with your paint.

After this, you’ll be spraying down all of the visible grime and allowing things to sit as they are for a while. This will help it to soak in and slowly break up the under-layer which will let you get all of it off. Use your rag, and whenever it feels too soaked, squeeze it over the bucket.

Do not dip your rag in the bucket.

Afterwards, let everything dry and see if anywhere else needs some extra spot cleaning.

For stained or raw wood cabinets, grab your bottle of oil soap and add some to the bucket. For the most part, you’ll just want to follow the directions on there in order to get the best results.

Dip your rag in the diluted cleaner, and have at it. For particularly troublesome spots, just apply the cleaner and move on. Come back to them in a few minutes, and you’ll find that they’re much easier to break down.

In either case, make sure you get to the outsides of the cabinet doors, the frames, and pretty much everywhere.

Clean Kitchen Cabinets

5.) Finishing Touches

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The hard part is over now, and if you’ve been following along carefully you’ll have a pretty set of cabinets. There’s a few finishing touches you might want to consider applying, since you’ve already gone the distance, however.

The first is polishing hardware. Depending on what type of hardware you have, Brasso might be exactly what you’re looking for. It works great on brass and stainless steel, and you can get the brass gleaming like gold in no time just by applying a bit to a rag and going at it.

Don’t apply Brasso to unknown metals, iron, or copper. You won’t like the results, trust me.

If your cabinets are painted, you’re pretty much done once you’ve gotten around the hardware but for stained cabinets there’s one more step you might want to take.

Wood polish can still help things out at the end of the day. While a high-quality oil soap will take care of a lot of the dullness that can be picked up, many wood polishes also allow for a finalized coating that can help keep things from getting this bad again.

Apply it thoroughly, especially if this is the first time you’re really deep-cleaning the cabinets. Use a circular motion until it gleams for the best results.


Whether you’ve just moved into a new place, or you’re trying to impress a new friend, keeping your cabinets gleaming is no small task when it hasn’t been done in a long time. It’s doubtful you’ll have to go through the whole process again if you just take a bit of time once a week or so to inspect the kitchen and take care of any filth you may find.

Give a true deep clean and finish a shot, it might be just what your kitchen needs without having to go through a whole remodeling process.