Stubborn stains on countertops can be frustrating, but they don't have to be permanent. Standard household spray cleaners will remove most of them. Check the label and make sure any product you use is recommended for laminate countertops.
The secret to success with these products is patience; let the cleaner work for five minutes or so before you wipe off the countertop. A plastic brush is helpful on stubborn spots. If a standard cleaner won't do the job, try baking soda.
Paste made from baking soda and a little water often removes stains left by fruit juices and other liquids (Photo 1). Baking soda is slightly abrasive and can leave fine scratches, so don't scrub. Just let the paste work for one to two hours and then wipe it off gently.
Don't let any type of cleaner or solvent pool over seams in the laminate or along the edges. It can seep under the laminate, weaken the adhesive and damage the particleboard substrate.
Gentle solvents like paint thinner, or harsher solvents like denatured alcohol, acetone and nail polish removers, often work on the toughest stains, including ink (Photo 2).
These solvents are flammable and give off nasty fumes, so the best way to use them is to apply a small amount to a soft rag or cotton ball. Most solvents won't harm or discolor plastic laminate, but play it safe and test them on an inconspicuous spot first.
Don't clean laminate with abrasives like steel wool, scouring pads or scouring powder. They may remove stains, but they may also leave micro-scratches in the surface, making future stains more likely.
What about bleach?
There's no doubt that bleach is a great stain remover. Some laminate manufacturers suggest using it undiluted on stains, while others warn against using any product that contains bleach.
Since you may not know what brand of laminate you have, test bleach before using it. Wipe a little on an inconspicuous spot and let it dry. Check the spot for discoloration before you use bleach on a stain.
The best way to prevent stains is to wipe up messes immediately; the longer something sits, the more likely it is to leave a stain. A coating of countertop polish can also help (Photo 3). Coating products usually aren't necessary on newer laminate.
But years of wear leave the surface more porous and stain-prone; that's when these protective coatings can make a big difference. One such product, Countertop Magic, is available home centers and hardware stores. Any coating product will wear off and should be reapplied every few weeks.