oak cabinets covered with grease and dirt

jollyrdMay 20, 2010

We were given oak cabinets in very good condition - solid, not much surface damage. But they are covered with years worth of layer of grease and dirt/dust -- sort of black greasy coat all over - the doors, the under and over cabinet, all over. There are about 10-15 cabinets. What is a good way to clean them? Soap water? Krud Cutter? any other?

We plan to use them as is - not going to pain or reface. After I manage to clean them I plan to just use proper wood oil treatment to bring the look back to life.

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Start with dishwashing soap, warm water and a stiff nylon brush ... scrub the heck out of them. If any grunge remains, mineral spirits and 0000 Steel woll will get it off.

Then scuff up the cabinets with 0000 steel wool, wipe them with a rag dampened in mineral spirits and re-stain or put on a coat of gel polyurethane to make then easy to keep clean. That grunge usually dissolved the old finish.

Look into General Finishes Gel Stain and clear Urethane Gel ... super easy to use and durable.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 12:04PM
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Lazygardens gave you good advice. Please don't use a "proper wood oil treatment" because that will leave a surface that will attract grunge and grease. You may want to try Murphy's Oil Soap instead of dishwashing soap. It is formulated for wood surfaces and smells great, too!

    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 4:28PM
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I use lemon oil on my solid oak cabinets. Twice a year I wash using soap and water. I dip my cloth in and wring it out and wash them down. Then I apply the lemon oil, or sometimes teak oil. I start at one end, do them all and then go back and wipe off the excess. Oil conditions the wood which drys out when there is a lack of humidity. I use oil on all my wooden furniture too.

I disagree with marlingardener It does not attract grunge and grease unless you leave a thick coat on that becomes sticky--which I would never do. I have tried Murphy's oil soap and did not like it at all--I guess to each his own.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 8:03PM
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I wouldn't use a scrub brush, I'd use the Scotchbrite scrubber pads. The lighter the color the less abrasive they are. My mom, a heavy smoker, once cleaned her dining room set with a combination of equal parts of turpentine, boiled linseed oil, and vinegar and it really worked well. It conditioned as well as cleaned.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 7:30AM
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Great to know there are people who try things and then share! Thank you. I dont feel like doing too much scratching/sanding/refinishing at this point. Right now I just want to clean them and see what they look under all that dirt. If the condition is fare, I will be happy. I have minimum expectations. They are not for show. They are just a working furniture. One thing I did not mention is that these cabinets will be used in the basement office/kitchen only -- would you suggest any different treatment for maintenance? They are midium color oak - sort of deep honey

    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 9:45AM
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Murphy's Oil Soap, someone just asked me this same question and I suggested she try this first and it got it off and didn't hurt the cabinets.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 9:56AM
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I'm with the Murphy's Oil Soap coalition, but your cabinets sound like they need some industrial-strength cleaning. I'd invest in some magic erasers to use with that Murphy's and scrub the heck out of them.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 7:22PM
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oh, you have to see THESE cabinets. The only clean side is the side that faces the wall. I started on two short wall cabinets - the smallest of the batch. Purely rhetorical question came to mind "how does anyone LIVE with this mess?" The sticker inside said 1988. First few minutes I thought something half-dead half-alive will jump at me from the dirt. There was about 1/2 inch thick layer of pure "yack!" on what was the top horizontal surface. Murphy's Oil worked good on flat surface, but I ended up using A LOT of it. The grease has turned into a glue over time and is hard to break down. I had to use Krud Kutter and green scotch pad to get the grime out of the crevices in the doors. Some areas appear as if the dirt is burned into the wood and I might have to scatch them a bit, but nothing major. I took the hardware off and washed it and all screws in soapy solution. I am taking pictures, will post before and after later. The only thing that keeps me optimistic is that they are darn strong and solid and it would be a shame to have to send them to trash. The contractor who gave them to me did a great job removing them without too much physical damage. I think I will tackle two long wall cabinets tonight.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 2:20PM
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It seems like you have the job well in hand, but I will chime in any way. I was given some cabinets out of an old farmhouse. They were handmade, but filthy when I got them. I tried several different things to get them clean and just couldn't seem to get the film off even when I thought they were clean. I got to fooling around with a hand held steam cleaner that I got as a bonus when my husband bought me the floor steam cleaner. It melted the junk right off. I needed lots of clean rags, but wow! And my favorite part was that they were no longer sticky. I loved that part.

I would love to see how yours turned out. Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 3:39AM
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peanutmom - did the steam make "bubles" on the finishing coat or caused a loss of shine of the finish? I dont have steam cleaner but I have steam iron (the one you can use to get rid of wrinkles on curtains and clothes) - I might try that too.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2010 at 11:07AM
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Sorry to take so long to get back to you. I didn't have any trouble with the finish. I don't think it stays hot long enough to do any damage. It just liquifies the mess, so you have to wipe it right away, but it is worth it. And the best part is that there is no residue to attract any more yuck.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2010 at 4:26AM
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I will try the small ironing steamer or get me the steam cleaner.

So far, I am half way done, the biggest cabinets are next to be cleaned. "Enjoy" the show:

this is what I get in just one scoop

yes, I think they actually kept their glasses in those cabinets, I wonder if they drank out of them?

ahh, finally , nice oak

    Bookmark   June 4, 2010 at 11:17AM
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Wow. How nice. Good for you.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2010 at 11:18AM
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Oh barf, I think I just threw up a little! They actually look like nice wood in the last picture. Kudos to you for being willing to take on the job.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2010 at 10:09PM
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So what are you actually using that cut through that gunk? Besides the scraper? BTW...that's just crazy how dirty those are! I've never seen such! I start freaking when I see a coating of dust on my furniture!

    Bookmark   June 12, 2010 at 1:11PM
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DONE! I am happy to be done with this, seriously. I hope you never have to do this. One great find and perfect timing -- bunch of wooden clothes line pins. We just installed simple clothes line to save on dryer use of electricity. There were things in every cabinet - trash, some individual packets of various food and flavorings, individual size bottle of tonic water, - the water color was yellow so I decided not to taste it; mold mold mold, spiderwebs inside and out, under and over, scary! But among that trash there were couple great finds -- old fashion popcorn maker (the one you put on stove and it has lid that flips up on both sides) and hand-crank masher.

The guy who is re-doing the house says that it takes him longer to work on this house b.c of all the dirt that is attached to the walls and ceiling. Everything has to be cleaned or gutted. I also got the old pane windows from this house -- you cant tell which side was facing inside and which was outside -- they are equally dirty.

I ended up using various products. I never ended up using the steamer as suggested above. At first I would scrape (gently) the large amounts of that gunk off the plywood surfaces. Then spray everything with grease remover (Krud Kutter or Lysol 4-in-1) and wipe with blue towel what dirt would come off. The tough spots would then get attacked (gently) with a blue spounge (they are not as abbrasive as green) soaked in luke-warm water with all-purpose Green Works soap. Then dry it all out, quick spray of Murphy Oil soap, and wipe, and small rub with Lemon Oil product. I had to wash all hardware - first spray with degreaser then in soapy warm water.

I think I used one bottle of Krud Kutter, one Lyson, one of Green Works soap concentrate bottle, one of Murpy Oil, about 3-4 spounges and countless number of blue towels on this entire project. Did I mention lots of sweating and sneezing? The wood under all the dirt was actually pretty good so I am glad I dont have to do refinishing - that would be too much to ask of me. The hardest parts were the details on the doors - I had to go over them over and over.
The hardest cabinet ended up being the last one -- lazy susan. People - clean your lazy susan cabinets regularly - so that the next person after you won't get cuts on their fingers - trying to get under the buttom tray to clean 20 yrs worth of grease.... Yes, I could have took out the entire l-susan assembly but I was so tired at 10 pm on Sunday that I just wanted to get it done and over with. I wrapped all trash in the plastic sheet that was protecting the basement floor and washed the floor. But when that was over, I took a long deserved shower and felt great accomplishment.

And I got the use of the dry line with the pins found in the cabinets - had to wash the pins first before I could use them, LOL

    Bookmark   June 14, 2010 at 1:50PM
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Sheeeeeew...thanks for all the information! Wow! I hope you get some good use from those cabinets, they look really good now!

Sounds like maybe that steam cleaner would have been the answer.

It's funny you got some old clothes pins out of it, I ended up having to buy old ones off ebay just to find any good ones that would hold anything. The new ones are SOOOOOORRY!!!!!! They just fall apart! UGH! Made in China junk!

    Bookmark   June 15, 2010 at 4:58PM
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