How to clean the grease off my cabinets?
October 23, 2013 1:29 AM   Subscribe

Can someone please PLEASE help me figure out how to clean grease/oil drips off my cabinets? These are splatter drips that come from sauteing, deep frying, etc.

The cabinets around our stove are sticky and gross. If I were moving into a house with cabinets like these, I'd want to tear them out and start over. But we actually installed these cabinets ourselves 12 years ago, which means we OWN the grossness, which is even worse.

We're not pigs, the stuff is just really really hard to get off. I think it's bonded with the finish on the cabinets (kraftmaid), and I'm starting to wonder if I need a mechanical means for removing it. Can I buff it off? I have an orbital sander, but I can't find anything finer than sandpaper that might work with for this.

Things I've tried: Dawn, Murphy's oil soap, contractor's solvent, Goo-gone, mineral spirits. I've googled the problem and tried the purple cleaner/degreaser you get at auto parts stores, no luck.

I think the finish on the cabinets is pretty tough; I've dulled it in a couple places but mostly it seems impervious to the chemicals I've tried. A while back I tried a wet/dry sandpaper, but it didn't help. I might not have been using it right, though, are you supposed to use it along with a solvent? I don't have any experience with auto body finishing but am starting to think that's where I need to look--some means for buffing out imperfections while leaving a shiny surface.
posted by torticat to Home & Garden (39 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. You are going to use many of them and they will get all gross from a grease lather but it will work. Scrub until the cabinet is smooth to the touch then follow up with a grease cutting cleaner to remove the newly "released" grease. I use fantastic for this. It's hard work but should clean it up.
posted by saradarlin at 1:48 AM on October 23, 2013 [8 favorites]

I scrubbed with a paste made of baking soda and water to get (someone else's, ew) similar grease buildup off cabinets when I moved into my last apartment. Worked pretty well.
posted by ktkt at 1:54 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I watched a pro tackle this problem very effectively with an old fashioned safety razor blade. She simply shaved the gunk off.

You obviously need to hold it very carefully.
posted by Dragonness at 2:07 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can buy a razor blade with a holder for scraping at the hardware store, try the paint department.
posted by yohko at 2:40 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is what Comet is made for.
posted by sexyrobot at 2:50 AM on October 23, 2013

Probably a stupid question, but you are using scouring pads or something along those lines and not just a rag, right? It can make a huge difference.
posted by egg drop at 3:29 AM on October 23, 2013

I've done this with Mr. Clean Magic Erasers followed up with the most amazing cleaning product in the world- MelaMagic. (It makes me sad that MelaMagic is basically a MLM, truly is a miracle product for cutting grease and grime.)
posted by PorcineWithMe at 3:34 AM on October 23, 2013

Response by poster: I would LOVE to take a brillo or other kind of scouring pad to these cabinets, but I do think that would ruin the finish. I need something abrasive enough to take off grease but gentle enough to leave the cabinet finish as it is.

I have a straight edge razor with a holder. I guess I could go after the drips one by one--sigh!
posted by torticat at 3:41 AM on October 23, 2013

Response by poster: Oh and I will try to pick up a Mr Clean Magic Eraser today and see how that works. Thanks!
posted by torticat at 3:43 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could try contacting the manufacturer of the cabinets, kraftmaid, and ask them. They should know what works best on their product.
posted by wildflower at 3:55 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, steel wool or scouring powder will scratch the hell out of them.

Have you tried TSP? Trisodium phosphate? You can get it at the hardware store, it's for cleaning and degreasing walls before painting. Tsp is an excellent degreaser because its very alkali (wear gloves--won't hurt you but will dry your skin) and will turn the fat of the grease to soap. That and a magic eraser to scrub off the lumps will almost certainly get it done.

I used TSP and a scouring pad to clean the walls around the stove in a fixer upper that was absolutely disgusting--literally years of grease and dirt all over the kitchen walls right next to the stove. Thick brown layer. TSP ate right through it.

I have also used scrubbing-bubbles type bathroom cleaner to effectively clean kitchen grease accumulation off of kitchen appliances--that might be a good thing to try if you worry that TSP is too harsh for the surface of your cabinets.
posted by Sublimity at 3:56 AM on October 23, 2013 [8 favorites]

Yeah, steel wool is definitely too much. I was thinking of something more like this (this one is "general purpose," there are "heavy duty" and lighter ones too - I'm not sure which kind I use.) Might be worth trying first on a small section of cabinet to make sure it won't scratch off the finish.
posted by egg drop at 4:12 AM on October 23, 2013

This is going to sound stupid and weird... but try spraying a bunch of wd-40 on a rag and rubbing it on there. "Grease on grease, he's a madman!" you might say... but i've yet to find a greasy, sticky thing that wouldn't clean.

My process for cleaning literally any weird thing i buy at a thrift store covered in grease and sticky shit i want to make look nice is as follows:

>Spray rag with shitloads of wd40, wipe like crazy until surface is smooth
>Pour a bunch of rubbing alcohol(the good 90something% stuff) on another rag and wipe down until no longer wd40-ish
>Take a third rag and soak in 4bajillion degree water from espresso machine(if not available, getting a sponge wet, squeezing it out, and putting it in the microwave until it's steaming a lot also works), try and pick up rag by dry part and burn shit out of hands and swear a lot, wipe down with steaming broiling rag while swearing more.
>declare victory

I have yet to find an object or surface that this didn't work on. Seriously anything from 50 year old grimy car parts to laptops covered in unknown ungodly stickiness.

If that didn't work i'd try spraying oven cleaner on a small spot of it somewhere kinda out of sight and seeing if it destroyed it, and then probably cry a lot.
posted by emptythought at 4:15 AM on October 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

posted by Ideefixe at 4:17 AM on October 23, 2013

My first thought was TSP or the magic eraser (test the eraser, and know that you don't always need to scrub hard; sometimes a very light touch us all you need with those) but whatever you try I would use a microfiber cloth with it. He'll, I'd even try a lightly damp microfiber all by itself.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:52 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Engine degreaser is also probably worth a shot.
posted by flabdablet at 5:06 AM on October 23, 2013

Wow, I haven't encountered cooking grease that wouldn't yield fairly easily to ammonia or standard household cleaners like Fantastik or 409. I would expect to be able to spray on some cleaner, wait for the thicker parts of the grease to soften, and wipe it off with a rag. Solvent-based approaches like Goo Gone, mineral spirits and WD-40 seem like good ideas too. If none of that has worked then I'd be wondering whether the finish itself hadn't failed in some way, perhaps softening and absorbing some of the oils after long exposure. I am a woodworker, and if a non-abrasive scrubbing pad combined with one of the above chemical approaches didn't work, I would be running out of ideas short of stripping and refinishing. Steel wool, Scotchbrite or any sort of sandpaper (no matter how fine) will bite into the finish itself and change the sheen, at the very least. Razor blades, used carefully, could shave off the tops of the drips without touching the flat finish below, but you'd still need to rely on chemical methods to get the last of the gunk off.
posted by jon1270 at 5:36 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Definitely give the baking soda a try! I am constantly amazed by what a little baking soda and hot water paste can do, especially on oven grease. Seems the cheapest and easiest thing to try, so if you haven't tried that I'd recommend giving that a shot. This is exactly the method I use for cleaning my over-the-stove microwave vents. Hot water + lots of baking soda and scrubbing.

And, if you're willing to spend money on a cleaning tool - these OXO cleaning brushes are totally amazing and completely different from just using old toothbrushes. The grease would probably ruin them but seems worth getting these for just this job.
posted by belau at 5:48 AM on October 23, 2013

Remember to test the Magic Eraser in a small unnoticeable area first, as it can scratch the hell out of some seemingly-impervious surfaces and be A-OK on others.
posted by aramaic at 6:02 AM on October 23, 2013

I've done this multiple times. Here's the list of steps I like

1. Wipe down once with Clorox Bleach Wipes.
2. Dawn + Baking soda in a paste, then rub on (Dawn takes out the grease)
3. Magic Eraser. (Don't buy one - get these in bulk at a wholesale club).
4. Repeat with Dawn + water
5. Wipe down once again with Clorox bleach wipes

6. Maintain with Magic Eraser.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:09 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

TSP. If that doesn't work I'd suspect its your finish thats gone bad. Are they wood? Laminate? Painted?

Either way, afterwards you should be sure to use the range hood while cooking, make sure it's acutally giving decent draw (after 12 years, it might be wimpy), and buy a few of these splatter shields.

It hadn't occurred to me until I talked to a Korean co-worker, but most American kitchens aren't really designed with lots of stovetop cooking in mind. This co-worker mentioned how she'd have to totally remodel any kitchen in a house she bought around here, and have a properly ducted range hood installed.
posted by fontophilic at 6:09 AM on October 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have had good luck cleaning years of baked-on grease & oil spatters from wood cabinets with either Krud Kutter or Simple Green. Either one usally available in Home Depot or Lowe's. Spray it on, let sit for 2-5 minutes, wipe off with paper towel or sponge. For really grimy locations, you may need to use a plastic scrub pad and/or hit it with the cleaner 2 or 3 times. Be careful with the full-strength Simple Green - I have had it remove paint from painted metal cabinets, so test first on a small area.

Be aware that real TSP has been outlawed in many states. In states that it has been banned, stores carry a detergent labeled "TSP" but in small letters it will say "substitute."
posted by Ardea alba at 6:30 AM on October 23, 2013

TSP (or Substitute TSP) is miraculous! You can get it powdered, or in liquid or even in a foam. It's in the Paint section of Home Depot.

I used it on MY cabinets and it was quick and easy.

Try this FIRST, before you do anything else.

I promise, you'll be happy.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:42 AM on October 23, 2013

Try "Spray 9" (not "409"), its hard to find, but I used it when I worked in a machineshop, a place that is full a grease. Try hardware stores, Home Depot or a marine supply store.
As to the suggestions to use TSP or baking soda, these are basic chemicals: strong base + grease = soap. Which is why they work so well (they aren't basic enough for full saponification, you would need lye, i.e. oven cleaner, but that would definitely ruin cabinets). So you might also try "washing soda" or sodium carbonate, a step up from baking soda which is sodium bicarbonate.
posted by 445supermag at 6:53 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Based on a tip I read on this Buzzfeed 'life hack' post, this past weekend, I used a cooking oil (canola) to get rid of the stickyness of the grease residue and then to used a basic soap and water logged washcloth to clean up after. Worked like a charm.
posted by Flamingo at 6:57 AM on October 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I need something abrasive enough to take off grease

You don't necessarily need something more abrasive, but a way to break the bond between the grease and surface without destroying the cabinets in the process. I use ammonia straight out of the bottle along with a small arsenal of scrubbers and a bucket of really hot soapy water.
posted by redindiaink at 7:42 AM on October 23, 2013

DId you try Formula 409? It gets out everything.
posted by cass at 8:12 AM on October 23, 2013

Ar you sure it's grease? I've seen old cabinets where whatever was used as a top layer/sealant had gone bad, and it looks crackly or like dark brown drips of grease, but is rock hard. If nothing you've tried has dissolved it yet, maybe that's what it is, and the cabinets just need to be refinished.

And don't pay for name brand Magic Erasers, they are melamine foam, and much cheaper without the brand name attached. Here's A 30-pack on Amazon for $15.
posted by catatethebird at 8:34 AM on October 23, 2013

Sugar soap, I think it's called TSP in the USA.

Try it in a small spot first but have you tried something like Barkeeps Friend or Bon Ami and a plastic scrubby.

Be careful with Magic Erasers they scratch the strangest things but they could work too.

As others have suggested it could just be the sealant has gone weird, if it's been exposed to 20 years of heat and fat splashes from the stove that would try most finishes.
posted by wwax at 8:54 AM on October 23, 2013

Mechanic's waterless hand cleaner. I've had good results with it to remove old grease on woodwork, including antique pieces. You can get it with or without abrasives or you can use it in conjunction with scrubby pads. Test an out of the way area first to ensure that doesn't damage the finish of your cabinets. Apply generously and give it time to take action.

Simple Green used undiluted also works well.
posted by X4ster at 11:23 AM on October 23, 2013

I've actually cleaned up what you've described. I tried many things: Simple Green, Ammonia, 409, paint thinner -- but finally TSP worked. If I were going to do this job today, I might try TSP substitute first. Or I might try Krud Cutter because I have some in the house. With any of these, rinse the surface after cleaning.

When using TSP, the substitute, or KrudKutter, you really have to be careful about skin contact. It can burn the skin without your knowing it; the results can make themselves known after several hours. Also, it can darken unfinished wood very quickly. I wouldn't leave it sitting on the surface unless I were keeping a close eye on it.
posted by wryly at 11:39 AM on October 23, 2013

When I had to deal with this on a range hood once, what finally worked was scraping it off with a credit card.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:50 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ammonia! cheap, cheap, wonderful ammonia. I just discovered it a about 8 months ago and I am still having the most fun stripping off that horrible sticky mass of dust and grease that defeated me for years. buy a box of latex gloves, ensure decent ventilation, and defeat that mess. I now conquer what I could not before.
posted by aliksd at 1:25 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

yes, TSP or mechanical means (scraping) are about the only things that work. I have done similar maddening aged-grease-removal projects at my family home / my mother's new place (she is an indifferent cook and housekeeper).

A hard plastic scraper like a credit card, or a plastic windshield scraper, or the cheap plastic scrapers we use to smooth / remove excess wax on our nordic skis will do for removing the big drips / chunks, and the TSP will remove the residual soaked-in stuff. WEAR. GLOVES. and safety glasses, you DO NOT want TSP to get in your eyes.

My chemist colleague tells me that this happens because the grease, over time, oxidizes into a bastardized form of polymer (aka plastic) that becomes much, much harder to remove than a standard lipid (grease) alone.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:58 PM on October 23, 2013

Response by poster: Wow, thank you everybody. I got TSP today, and the magic eraser thingy. Will try them out and report back.

WD-40, Krud Kutter, and 409 are things I've tried in the past but forgot to mention. I'd actually picked up TSP at Home Depot and looked at it a few days ago, but it said it was a "deglosser" and that didn't sound good, so I put it back. I'll try it on an inconspicuous spot first.

I got the powder TSP, not the substitute, so I'd welcome specific advice on how to use it if it's anything different from the directions on the box.

My chemist colleague tells me that this happens because the grease, over time, oxidizes into a bastardized form of polymer (aka plastic) that becomes much, much harder to remove than a standard lipid (grease) alone.

Interesting! A "bastardized form of polymer" sounds like an excellent description of what I'm dealing with. :)
posted by torticat at 2:14 PM on October 23, 2013

A Razorblade on a flat surface is surprisingly awesome. Also, once you get the hang of it, you can just use it in large scrubbing motions, that scrape the grime without scratching the hard surface below, with far less effort than ineffective scrubbing.

Some oven-cleaner like substance to soften it up first, often works better (so tsp etc), but the razorblade is the best tool I have found for this.
posted by Elysum at 5:22 PM on October 23, 2013

>A Razorblade on a flat surface is surprisingly awesome. Also, once you get the hang of it, you can just use it in large scrubbing motions, that scrape the grime without scratching the hard surface below, with far less effort than ineffective scrubbing.

Yup - exactly what I observed the professional cleaner doing. She held it almost parallel to the surface.
posted by Dragonness at 8:43 PM on October 23, 2013

I've had the same problem, pretty much, and any surface that was too delicate for SOS pads, I cleaned with Zippo fluid. I just used an old credit card instead of a razor blade.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 5:09 AM on October 24, 2013

Use a plastic jar or bottle top, any size, from a mayonnaise jar lid to a soda bottle top. Use with some of the above mentioned solvents or soaps. Hold it flat with the open side against the surface. With a vigorous circular scrubbing motion, the plastic edge cuts the gunk without harming the finish. This is much easier, and faster than the razor. I used Murphy's Oil Soap and Goo Gone for a similar problem.
posted by woman at 7:15 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

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