How To Clean Sticky Grease Off Kitchen Cabinets

Grimy cabinets make a clean kitchen seem dull and dirty. Clean sticky grease off your kitchen cabinets with powerful yet common household ingredients.

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Kitchen cabinets take a lot of abuse. We open and close them a hundred times a day. And judging from the fingerprints, we don’t always use the knobs and handles.

Cooking adds even more grime in the form of food splatters and oil-laden steam. Even if you have a vent hood or use a splatter guard when cooking, oils leave a residue on cabinets. Dust and dirt in the air get stuck in that residue, coating your cabinets with a sticky mess.

The first step to keeping your kitchen cabinets clean? “It’s essential to promptly clean up any spills,” says Dan Deonarain, owner of Galaxy Maids, a residential and commercial cleaning company servicing the New York City and Boston metro areas.

Quickly jumping on spills is important everywhere in your home, but particularly in the kitchen. You’ll save yourself a lot of time cleaning if you don’t let things go.

So what’s the best way to clean sticky grease off kitchen cabinets? Deonarain lays it out below, with some surprisingly simple ingredients. You probably have everything you need at home now: dish soap, white vinegar and baking soda. You’ll also need some soft sponges or microfiber cloths and an old toothbrush.

Cabinet Exteriors

“For the outside, you want to start with warm water and dish soap,” says Deonarain. Dishwashing liquid has incredible grease-cutting ability, but it’s gentle and non-abrasive. That’s why Dawn is the go-to cleaner for oil-laden birds and other wildlife after a spill. It works and it’s safe.

Dish soap — actually a detergent — contains surfactants that disrupt the surface tension of water, making it easier to rinse dirt away. Surfactants have complex molecular structures. One end of the molecule is hydrophilic, meaning attracted to water. The other end is hydrophobic, aka water-fearing, but it loves grease and dirt.

When surfactants come in contact with greasy residues on your cabinets, they immediately break apart the grease and surround it. The water-loving ends then band together to rinse away the captured grime.

To clean your cabinet exteriors, get a bucket of warm water and add a squirt of dishwashing liquid. (If you don’t have a lot of cabinets, just use a bowl and a few drops of soap.) Use a soft cloth or sponge — non-scrubby side only — and work the solution over the surface of the cabinets. Rinse off any soapy residue with a clean damp cloth and let dry.

Cabinet Interiors

“Inside cabinets can be an area where you don’t always see trouble spots immediately,” says Deonarain. Even if you’re diligent about wiping up food on the outside, sometimes you just don’t notice that drip of honey or spaghetti sauce that managed to sneak inside.

Baking soda and vinegar are your go-to household ingredients for the removal of these difficult stains,” says Deonarain.

A 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water is the best recipe for general cleaning, according to the National Sanitation Foundation (now simply called NSF). White vinegar removes food and ingredients-based stains on almost any surface, Deonarain says.

When you encounter a dried-on forgotten stain inside your cabinets, rub a paste of baking soda and a little water on it to break it free. Wood cabinet interiors respond well to baking soda, Deonarain says. It’s abrasive enough to remove stains and safe around food.

While it’s tempting to mix them, it’s not necessary. Cleaners work because they’re acids or bases. Vinegar is a weak acid, and baking soda a weak base. Mixing them creates carbon dioxide, which can facilitate removal of soil but neutralize the cleaning power of the individual ingredients.

Stubborn Stains

If you’ve discovered a crusty, unidentifiable glob that’s not responding to the sponge or microfiber cloth, grab an old toothbrush. (Make sure it won’t be used again for teeth when you’re done!)

Using vinegar or baking soda, scrub the stain until the abrasive action breaks it free. Finish by wiping down the cabinet with your damp microfiber cloth or sponge.

Don’t use vinegar or baking soda on the exteriors of your cabinets unless you test them first. Both substances can damage the surface of wooden cabinets in particular. Test an inconspicuous spot, and if it looks okay, go ahead. Just make sure to immediately rinse off the cleaners after they’ve done their job on the exterior stains.

Quarterly Cleaning

Periodically, take everything out of your kitchen cabinets so you can take action on stains before they sit too long, says Deonarain. He recommends doing this quarterly, or you can stagger the job by working in three sections. Each month do a different section, which works out to quarterly for all cabinets.

“Not only will it help you identify and eliminate stains, but it will also help you declutter and keep organized,” Deonarain says.

Ally Childress
Ally Childress comes to Family Handyman from the electrical industry, where she was an accomplished electrician, winning the highly competitive Outstanding Graduate award as an apprentice. Her professional electrical experience included large commercial projects such as Minnesota's US Bank Stadium, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and several hospitals. Before becoming an electrician, she worked in food safety and water quality as a scientist and technical writer. Ally's career, spanning multiple industries and areas of the country, honed her innate sense of curiosity and her ability to connect with subject matters of all kinds and explain dense subjects to diverse audiences. Ally is her household's designated handy person and is well versed in a variety of home DIY and maintenance tasks, able to confidently clean, troubleshoot, build, install, and modify. She loves spending time outdoors, especially with her partner and dogs.