When did you last look at your kitchen cabinets? Not a passing glance, but an up-close visual study—paying particular attention to the areas around the knobs and handles that get touched thousands of times throughout the weeks and months? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about and what I’m pretty sure Reader Sandy is talking about, too.

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Dear Mary: We’re moving into a new house and would like to know what kind of cleaner to use on the wood kitchen cabinets? Thank you. Sandy

Dear Sandy: If you are looking for a commercial product to clean those cabinets, you’ll never beat the effectiveness of real orange oil polish to melt away grease, grime, polish and wax buildup and leaving a fresh scent and beauty in its place. At about $12 for 16 ounces, it’s going to cost a bit to do your entire kitchen, should you decide to go the commercial route.

Or you can make your own cleaner that will be equally effective, for just pennies. That’s what I prefer and I’ll bet you do too.

I have two recipes for your wood cabinets, whether they have a natural finish or they’re painted.  The first is great if those cabinets just need some sprucing up to bring back the beauty and shine; the second is more powerful if you’re looking at years of built-up gunk and grime.

Recipe #1: In a spray bottle  (I use these 16-oz. bottles for homemade cleaners) mix 2 tablespoons olive oil, 4 tablespoons white vinegar and enough warm water to fill the bottle (about 2 cups). Shake to mix then spray on one door or drawer front at a time. Scrub with a soft cloth to remove any dirt, then buff to a beautiful shine. Before each spray, give the bottle a shake to keep the oil mixed in.

Recipe #2: In a small bowl, measure out 1 part vegetable oil and 2 parts baking soda (for example 2 tablespoons oil and 4 tablespoons baking soda—or 1 cup oil to 2 cups baking soda depending on the size of your job).

Using your fingers, mix this into a thick paste. Smoosh this a little bit at a time into the surface of that grimy cabinet, being particularly mindful of the areas close to the handles that receive so much handling and human contact.

Scrub with a soft cloth, sponge or your fingertips to get this paste into the grain. Use an old toothbrush to get it into all of the nooks and crannies. This paste is very thick, and as you begin to scrub and brush, it will fall off, along with a lot of grime. Save yourself a mess by placing an old towel beneath the areas you are cleaning to catch it as it falls off. It could get disgusting and that’s what you want because that signals that you are getting rid of it. Buff well with a soft cloth then step back to admire your beautiful work.

You can always add a few drops of essential oil to your homemade cleaners—orange or lemon would be a great choice—and that will leave a wonderful clean scent.

NOTE: While I have cautioned readers in the past to avoid using white vinegar on hardwood floors—or any wood application—because over time the acid in the vinegar is going to permanently dull the finish, using vinegar in the recipe above is not going to create a problem. First, because you are using oil along with the vinegar to protect and retain the finish and secondly, because this is a cleaner you would use only occasionally, not routinely in the way you would clean hardwood floors.

In an upcoming column I’ll share the best homemade recipe for cleaning and maintaining hardwood floors. While you wait, go clean those cabinets!

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