We Tried 5 Methods to Clean Greasy Wood Cabinets — And the Winner Is Ridiculously Effective

published Feb 26, 2024
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Credit: Product Photos; Sarah Crowley; Cabinets: Esteban Cortez; Design: Kitchn

Between developing and testing recipes for work and cooking for my family, my kitchen gets used. Not to mention, my kids are old enough to do some basic cooking, but not quite capable of thoroughly cleaning up after themselves. Anyone who cooks regularly knows how greasy the surfaces in your kitchen can get. And while I try to stay on top of things like the dishes and wiping down countertops, my kitchen cabinets don’t always get the attention they deserve. 

My kitchen is good-sized, but its storage capacity is pretty phenomenal. The previous owner built an entire wall of flat-front maple cabinets himself sometime in the middle of the last century. Free of any hardware, they open with magnetic push locks.

The downside? Fingerprints are definitely something I have to contend with. Add in the fact that I have no less than 33 cabinet panels and 10 drawer fronts in my kitchen, and tackling this job is a BIG one.

Typically, I hand a rag to my kids and tell them to go at it with warm water and a good dose of elbow grease. That works, until it gets to a point where I really have to take things into my own hands. But to cut down on the effort spent doing this chore, I decided it was time to test five popular methods of cabinet cleaning to see which one really did work the best.

Credit: Amelia Lawrence/Kitchn

How I Tested the Methods to Clean my Greasy Cabinets

To test the best method for cleaning greasy cabinets, I used each method on both the dirtiest panels located next to my stovetop and above the wall oven, as well as on a mostly clean cabinet in another part of my kitchen. I wanted to really test each method’s ability to cut through the grime as well as the fingerprints. 

For many of the methods, I relied on a sponge cloth to apply and wipe away any product. But you can easily use a rag and a non-abrasive sponge, too. I set a timer to see how long it took to get the dirtiest cabinets clean. Once I tested them all, I finished the job with the winning method. (And in some cases, cleaned up what the other methods couldn’t finish.)

The ratings: Each review includes my personal thoughts on each method and what I liked and disliked about each process. I rated my results on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being completely ineffective and 5 being the best with no room for improvement. 

Note: Be sure to always check the product’s instructions before cleaning your cabinets. Spot test if you are unsure about your cabinets’ varnish or stain.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Greasy Cabinet Cleaning Method: Vinegar Soak

  • Cleaning time: 18 minutes per greasy cabinet (shorter time for less dirty cabinets)
  • Rating: 2 / 5 

    The method: Soak a washcloth in undiluted vinegar. Apply to cabinets, let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then wipe off with a damp sponge.

    How it went: White vinegar’s acidity is known for cutting through grease. After applying, I let it sit for 15 minutes. When I went back to wipe it off, it had all but dried. The damp sponge helped, but I’m not sure how much of a difference the vinegar actually made.

    This method seemed to work just as well as using warm water. It got off the first layer of gunk, but this is definitely not what I’d turn to to deep clean. Waiting the 15 minutes also made this the longest process by far, which makes an already big task drag out even longer. While vinegar scores points for being inexpensive, easily available, and non-toxic, it didn’t score as high in effectiveness.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

Greasy Cabinet Cleaning Method: Castile Soap + Baking Soda + Vinegar

  • Cleaning time: 3 minutes per greasy cabinet (shorter time for less dirty cabinets)
  • Rating: 2.5 / 5

The method: Fill a 32-ounce spray bottle with a cup of white vinegar, a few drops of castile liquid soap, a tablespoon of baking soda, and water. 

How it went: This concoction worked a little better than just the vinegar, but I think it maybe had more to do with the easier and more even application from the spray bottle. I still had to scrub, and while it did cut through the grease, the grime ended up balling up and was tricky to wipe away. It didn’t really clean that well.

I went back with the winning method to clean up the mess this one made. I did try this on a cabinet that wasn’t as dirty, and it worked OK.

Making this mixture of baking soda and vinegar in a bottle was messy. I’m not sure if it was my spray bottle or the fizzing mixture, but it kept leaking out of the sprayer even when just sitting. Plus, the castile soap is a semi-expensive ingredient to buy for just a few drops.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Greasy Cabinet Cleaning Method: Murphy Oil Soap

  • Cleaning time: 2 1/2 minutes per greasy cabinet (shorter time for less dirty cabinets)
  • Rating: 3 / 5

    The method: Fill a bucket with warm water and add popular Murphy Oil Soap. Use a rag to wipe cabinets with cleaning solution. Use a second rag to rinse cabinets with clean water to remove any residue and grime.

    How it went: This combination did a better job of cleaning through the grease. Diluting the soap rather than just using a bottle of ready-to-go cleaner was a little annoying. I also did not care for the citronella scent at all. It really lingered. Vinegar’s scent may be strong, but I find it dissipates fairly quickly. This one, while smelly, definitely did a better job than the previous two options, but it wasn’t great. A solidly average performance.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

Greasy Cabinet Cleaning Method: Pledge Everyday Cleaner

  • Cleaning time: 2 minutes per greasy cabinet (shorter time for less dirty cabinets)
  • Rating: 4 / 5 

    The method: Spray Pledge Everyday Cleaner on the cabinet, then wipe with a microfiber cloth.

    How it went: This method definitely earned points for its simplicity. It also worked well. I sprayed a cabinet, let it sit for about 20 seconds, and then wiped and scrubbed as needed with the microfiber cloth.

    I had to scrub a little harder on the cabinets closest to the stove that were the dirtiest, but it made quick work of the cabinets that just needed fingerprints wiped away. It has a gentle citrus smell and leaves the cabinet fronts with a slight sheen without being shiny. This would be a great option for maintenance cleaning in between full scrub-downs. I’ve even been using it on my wooden dinner table at the end of the day and have been loving how clean it keeps things.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

Greasy Cabinet Cleaning Method: Dawn Dish Soap

  • Cleaning time: 2 minutes per greasy cabinet (shorter time for less dirty cabinets)
  • Rating: 4.5 / 5

The method: Mix Dawn dish soap and warm water, then use a sponge to clean.

How it went: This option is definitely the way to go for greasy cabinets. I put a little Dawn into a bowl and filled it with warm water, then got to scrubbing. My greasiest cabinets cleaned almost effortlessly as the powerful dish soap cut through the grime.

I did go back with a clean, damp sponge to wipe up the soap residue. That’s the reason why I didn’t give this method a full five stars. But because it’s so much more effective at doing its intended job, the extra step didn’t add too much extra time, so I didn’t mind it much. As the winning method, I’m excited about how well this one worked — and I’ll go back to it time and time again!

This post was originally published on Kitchn. Read it there: We Tried 5 Methods to Clean Greasy Wood Cabinets — And the Winner Is Ridiculously Effective