Taking Care of Your Cabinets and Countertops

This week’s housekeeping topic (I don’t like the word housekeeping, it reminds me too much of old ladies in housecoats, can someone come up with a new word?) is about the care and maintenance of your kitchen cabinets and countertops.

We’ll start with the care of cabinets:

Cabinet Hardware

Cabinet hardware, such as doors and handles, can be tough to clean if you let grime accumulate. Therefore, to prevent the accumulation of dirt, try to make it a point to clean the hardware daily with a mild dishwashing liquid or any other mild cleaning liquid.

If your current hardware has not received love and affection for quite a while and now is looking all grimy and dull and, well, plainly unloved, though, you’ll need to unscrew the fixtures and soak them in warm water and suds for about an hour. Leave the hardware soak while you clean the cabinet surfaces in your kitchen. Afterward, scrub the hardware with a small soft brush and rinse off the hardware before replacing it on the cabinets.

I know if you’re like me, there is no effing way you are unscrewing and screwing things on (that’s my boyfriend’s job). You can try to use a slightly stronger abrasive cleaner like Method’s Le Scrub cleaner. Just be careful and try not to get it on your cabinets. And if you did, don’t freak out. Just wipe it off with paper towels or a clean cloth.

Rules of Cabinet Care: Some of the Don’ts

When it comes to maintaining the cabinet surfaces themselves, make sure you follow the rules listed below:

  • Never use any type of abrasive cleaner or scouring pad on your cabinetry, which can ruin or dull a cabinet’s finish.
  • Don’t use any polishes that contain flammable or toxic substances, including those that contain petroleum.
  • Furniture waxes can cause a build-up, so avoid their use.
  • Don’t hang wet clothes or towels over the edges of cabinets, as doing so can cause water damage.
  • Don’t use cleaning products on cabinets that are either excessively acidic or alkaline. Alkaline cleaners generally contain ammonia, while acidic cleaners are often used for cleaning tiles. The use of chlorine bleach should be avoided too.
  • Don’t use cleaners that include silicone in their list of ingredients, as silicone can damage a cabinet’s finish.

Use a Gentle Approach with Respect to Care

Given the above precautionary measures, it’s best to use a gentle approach when you maintain your cabinets. Usually, cabinets are made of wood, laminate, or stainless steel. If you have wood cabinets that exhibit scratches, fill the scratch with a wax stick that is made for repairing marks on the wood. If scratches are deeper, then you’ll need to refinish the cabinetry.

Caring for Laminate Cabinets

Stains or spots on laminate cabinets can be cleaned off with water and baking soda. As baking soda is abrasive, you only want to apply the mix to the stain to extract it. However, only use this mix on laminate finishes that are grainier or exhibit a matte finish. Avoid using the mix on gloss laminates. While small scratches can be repaired using a kit designed to repair such marks on laminate finishes, you’ll need to buy a new door if your cabinet displays more serious knicks and cuts.

Maintaining Stainless Steel

When cleaning stainless steel cabinets, always wipe the surface in the direction of the grain. You can buy special stainless steel cleaners to get rid of water stains. If you’re thinking about installing any stainless steel finish in your kitchen, remember that smooth finishes display smudges more readily than stainless steel with a brushed finish. My favorite stainless steel cleaner is Weiman’s Stainless Steel Cleaner & Polish – it gets those smudges off easily and quickly.

Don’t Rub Against the Grain

While stainless steel is noted as being quite rugged, the material is still not immune to scratching or denting. Polish surface scratches with a white pad made of nylon. If your cabinet door is dented, you’ll need to replace it. Again, keep in mind to polish or clean the cabinet, so you’re rubbing in the direction of the grain rather than against it. Otherwise, you’ll end up damaging your cabinet’s door.

Keep a Clean and Open Counter

The countertop in the kitchen is one of the major areas in your kitchen, especially with respect to preparation. Therefore, if that is your goal, you want to make sure you have a counter that is as clean as it is open. That means wiping the counter often and keeping it free of debris. Basically, don’t put a lot of stuff on your counter, and wipe it clean daily.

Organizing or Positioning Appliances on the Kitchen Counter

However, that being said, most of the smaller appliances that you use on a daily basis should be positioned on your countertop. These items may include your toaster or coffee maker. To simplify organization, make sure that you always group items of the same kind together. I have my juicer, small blender, and electric water kettle on my countertop. I use these 3 things every single day. If you find there are items that you use only 2-3 times a week, it’s much better to have them stored away in a cabinet than to have them on your counter.

Establishing the Food Prep Area

A food preparation workstation should be established close to the stove. Place tools that you frequently use in the area, such as a spatula, ladle, or wooden spoons. You may also want to place such items as vinegar, salt, or olive oil in the area as well. Keep bigger containers of vinegar or oil stored away for purposes of replenishment.

Creating Extra Storage Space: Optimize the Backsplash

To optimize the storage space, you may want to consider installing storage hardware along the backsplash, which is the wall area that is located between the counter and cabinetry. Use the extra storage to house frequently used gadgets or utensils.

Cutting Boards: Essential Kitchen Items

When preparing food, you’ll want to get into the habit of using a cutting board. Use wood cutting boards for slicing such food items as bread or cheese and the plastic type for cutting poultry or meat. Also, make sure that you clean each board after you use it, as cross-contamination can result if you don’t take this measure. The USDA advises the use of plastic cutting boards for poultry or meat as they can be disinfected or cleaned easier than wood.

Maintaining Plastic and Wood Cutting Boards

Therefore, when maintaining cutting boards, follow the guidelines below:

  • After you use wood cutting boards, clean them with a mix of mild liquid soap and warm water. Every so often, clean the boards with a combination of lemon juice and salt to get rid of odors. Rinse afterward with a clean, dampened cloth. Never load wood cutting boards into the dishwasher. However, you can load plastic cutting boards in the dishwasher for cleaning.
  • Keep wood boards from becoming too dry by rubbing them with mineral oil. If you purchase new boards, use the oil on them weekly for the first month, then oil them monthly thereafter. Apply the oil with a pad made of fine steel wool.
  • If your wood cutting boards start exhibiting cracks or deep scratches, then throw them away, as they can become receptacles for harmful bacteria.

Care and Maintenance of Countertops

Making use of cutting boards on your countertops is a must, as you never want to do any cutting or slicing on your countertop’s surface. That includes those times when you tenderize meat too. Also, safeguard your countertops from hot pots and pans by using insulating pads beneath the containers. Remove spills immediately or treat any staining as soon as you can to keep your countertops looking their best.

Don’t Use Abrasive Cleaners or Pads on your Countertops

In addition to insulating pads, you also want to make use of coasters, which should be placed beneath the bottle, cups, or glasses of the beverages you drink. As with your cabinet surfaces, you shouldn’t use abrasive powders, liquids, or pads on your countertops, especially those countertops with polished finishes.

That all being said, you’ll find that kitchen countertops are designed with one of a number of materials, some of which are reviewed below.

How to Maintain Specific Countertop Materials

Butcher Block

When cleaning the butcher block, you only need to use a mild dishwashing liquid and a dampened cloth. Rinse the soap off with a dampened cloth as well. To remove surface stains, include a small amount of white vinegar or lemon oil on a wet cloth.


Like butcher blocks, ceramic countertops can be cleaned with dishwashing liquid and a dampened cloth. Rinse with a damp cloth as well. If your counter does exhibit a bad stain, then a mix of baking soda and water should remove the spot.

Concrete Countertops and Engineered Stone

Special Considerations for Concrete: Both concrete countertops and engineered stone countertops can be cleaned in the same manner as butcher blocks or ceramic. On concrete countertops, you have to use caution when it comes to spills, as they have to be removed immediately in order to prevent staining.

Also, be careful about preparing foods that are acidic, as they can etch the surface of the concrete. Cooking oil will also leave telltale marks. Make sure to always utilize coasters to prevent the appearance of ring marks.

Engineered Stones: A Couple of Cleaning Caveats

On engineered stone counters, don’t use chlorine bleach or any cleaner containing the substance. Otherwise, you can affect colorization.

Other Major Countertop Materials

  • Besides the above countertop materials, countertops can also be made of granite, marble, plastic laminate, slate, soapstone, solid surfacing, zinc, and stainless steel. The chart below gives you a brief overview of how to clean the countertops and take care of stains.
  • Granite, Slate, and Marble Counters – Dust weekly with a soft white cloth and apply a granite cleaner monthly. Never use soap or all-purpose cleaners on granite. Abrasive powders can also damage the surface.
  • Plastic Laminate – Clean the surface with a mild dishwashing detergent and water, wiping up the soap residue with a damp cloth. Treat any staining with 3 parts baking soda added to one part of water. Never rub the paste on the finish, as it can scratch the surface. Stubborn stains, such as coffee or tea, will eventually disappear after several treatments.
  • Soapstone – Wipe with a dampened cloth that has been dipped into a mix of mild dishwashing detergent and warm water. Remove any marks with either mineral oil or fine-grade sandpaper. If cracks are exhibited, the counter will need replacement.
  • Solid Surfacing (Corian brand) – Wipe the counter with a dampened cloth before toweling it dry. Spills can be treated with a cleaner containing an ammonia base or mild dishwashing detergent.
  • Zinc Counters – Wipe the surface with mild dishwashing detergent and warm water before toweling dry. Don’t use any cleaning solvents that are alkaline (ammonia-based) or acidic (vinegar), as they can cause damage.
  • Stainless Steel – Wipe with a soft white cloth, using several drops of mild dishwashing detergent. Buff the surface. You can also use cleaners that are designed for stainless steel counters. Always wipe in the direction of the grain. Never use chlorine bleach, as it can damage the surface.

Got all that? I know housekeeping is pretty mundane stuff, but it’s important to know all this if you want your kitchen to last a long time. Now that we’ve gone through all that boring stuff – here’s a cute cat video for you. His name is Maru, and I swear I would kidnap him if I knew where he lived.

The Cleaning Coach is a nationally-recognized green homekeeping expert dedicated to educating people on keeping their homes, schools and work areas GREEN.