How to Make Stained Wood Kitchen Cabinets Look Fresh

Wood cabinets lend a rich warmth to your kitchen. However, over time, the grease and grime that naturally occur from cooking and baking create a build-up, leaving stained wood cabinets looking dull or dirty. Harsh chemical solutions can damage cabinets. Fortunately, there are several effective and gentle cleaning agents that are probably in your kitchen right now.

Contemporary upscale kitchen with wood cabinets and stainless steel appliances
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How to Make Stained Wood Kitchen Cabinets Look Fresh

Wood vs. Wood Finish

Before you choose a cleaning method, it's important to realize that you're not really cleaning the wood of your cabinets. Rather, you're cleaning the finish that's been applied to protect the underlying wood.

Cabinets can be constructed out of a number of types of wood, including cherry, oak and maple. With stock cabinets, your choices are typically limited to what the manufacturer has made available. Custom and semi-custom cabinet orders give you more flexibility. The wood may then be finished with a glaze, paint or stain finish.

The gentle cleaning solutions we recommend below will help preserve your cabinet surfaces.

Gentle and Effective Cleaning Solutions: Dish Detergent

When you're ready to wash the cabinet surfaces, start with a gentle hand-washing dish detergent. These products are gentle enough to use on your cabinets but are specifically designed to cut grease. Simply pour a few tablespoons into a small bucket of hot water. You'll also want a separate container of clean water and three clean dish towels. Once your materials are assembled, follow these steps:

  1. Dip one towel into the soap solution; wring out excess soapy water.
  2. Wipe a small area of your cabinet surface with the damp towel.
  3. Dip the other clean towel into the fresh water, wring out the excess fluid and go back over the cleaned surface to remove any soapy residue.
  4. Wipe the cleaned area with the third clean, dry towel to remove any moisture.

Repeat these steps until your cabinets are clean and dry.

White Vinegar and/or Baking Soda

If the dish soap solution doesn't quite remove a grease spot or sticky area, try a mixture of white vinegar and hot water.

Pour 1 cup of white vinegar into a small container of 2 cups of hot water. Dip a clean towel into the mixture and clean the affected area. Then wipe with a clean damp cloth to remove the vinegar residue.

If the stain is truly stubborn, you can move up to a paste of baking soda moistened with a little white vinegar. However, it's a smart idea to test this paste first on an inconspicuous area of your cabinet, preferably on the inside, in case it causes discoloration or other damage.

Clean a soft brush or toothbrush for a little added traction, but use a gentle touch to avoid damaging the finish. Then use a clean damp cloth to remove the paste residue and dry the surface.

Protecting Your Wood Cabinet Surfaces

Moisture, light and oxidation are the three things most likely to damage your wood cabinet surfaces.

Relocate any appliance that produces steam, such as a kettle, hot pot or coffee maker. Over time, steam can produce targeted damage on finished wood surfaces. If running your dishwasher causes an accumulation of moisture on nearby cabinet surfaces, make it a habit to wipe them dry as soon as possible.

Regular dusting is one of the best things you can do to preserve cabinets, and it makes periodic cleaning much easier. Dusting cabinet surfaces once every two weeks or so will go a long way toward keeping them in optimal shape.

If you use any kind of cleaner that contains ammonia near your cabinets, take steps to prevent the cleaner from coming into contact with the wood finish. Ammonia can damage your finish and the underlying wood.

It is safe to use a high-quality wood polish, such as lemon oil on your wood cabinet surfaces. However, only apply the oil according to directions to clean finished surfaces and restrict use to once a year. More frequent use can create a waxy buildup that will trap grease and other kitchen particulates.