How to clean Cabinets Before Painting them

Do you know how to clean cabinets before you paint them?

Are you considering painting your Kitchen cabinets yourself? Then How to clean cabinets before painting them is the first step to your success! Although we would love to be your cabinet painting contractor, we understand that we may not fit your budget. We also may not service your area. If you are like my oldest- he wants to paint things himself!

Kitchen cabinets can get dirty! Dirty cabinets happen for a variety of reasons..

  • Food
  • Drinks
  • Finger Prints
  • Cleaning Products
  • dogs and cats
  • actual dirt/dust
  • grease build up

If you are thinking of painting your kitchen cabinets, then one of the most important things you can spend your time on is cleaning! 

Painting kitchen cabinets is a transformation that takes place in our customers homes. Painting the kitchen cabinets the right way makes the work worth every minute we spend on your kitchen. The customers reactions of “OH MY GOSH, I LOVE IT!” are priceless.

What products should I use to clean my cabinets?

There are many types of household cleaners. Many of them say it can be used on ____. Can does not mean should. Wood cabinets should be treated like wood floors. You want to clean them not leave a residue on them.

For everyday cleaning- There is one product called BONA that is flooring. We are seeing it used for cabinets as well. Keep it simple- use nothing that leaves a residue! We have always said for every day cleaning of your cabinets, use a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water to avoid damage to the wood and paint/varnish used on your cabinets.

You don’t want to use anything that will:

  • leave a residue
  • is oily
  • has too much water
  • leaves a film
  • will dry out wood
  • will deteriorate the wood coatings

Best products to use to clean kitchen cabinets before painting

Over the past few years we have used several products. Products change form time to time. But for us, these have been great:

  • Dawn Dish Soap
  • Krud Kutter
  • Dirtex

(Before starting- wear rubber gloves!)

We really don’t need pics- but Dawn dish soap with scuff pads have worked the best over the long time haul. (Plus it is cheaper and does not harm your skin!). Add 1-2 tablespoons of soap to a water spray bottle and your off to the races!

Krud Kutter degreaser - How to clean kitchen cabinets before painting them
Krud Kutter degreaser and cleaner
3M scotch brite pads - cleaning kitchen cabinets
3M scotch brite pads

Regardless of what you use.. We have used them primarily as a wet/sand type application. This means we wet the cabinet surface, use a 3M scotch pad to basically wet sand the surface, this removes most of the dirt and grime.

Once we do this process we always have to wet the surface again and wipe clean.

Dirtex cleaner - kitchen cabinet cleaning
Dirtex cleaners

For really dirty grime- we started to use has been Dirtex.  It was recommended to us form another paint company. There were 2 jobs we have had oak cabinets that are 20 years old.  Each was pretty dirty too. So we sprayed the Dirtex on, then allowed it to sit for a few min before cleaning. I will say I am impressed with how much better the Dirtex worked for old stubborn grease build up. 

Here is the video of cleaning next to the stove under the cabinets where the grease really splatters.

YouTube cleaning cabinets

After cleaning cabinets.. what is next?

After the cleaning, and wiping- allow them to dry.  We hope you have used rubber gloves.  There is oil on your finger prints and it will stay on the cabinets of you touch them. If there is any doubt wipe clean with denatured alcohol or wipe again with Dirtex.

Allow the cabinets to dry-if you stacked them- you will need more time to get these to really dry off, you may consider using a fan to make sure you get air flow and proper drying.

Once they are dry, and you have not touched them with your fingers, you can now start sanding!

Questions about cabinet painting?

Have you seen our FAQ page?

If you have other questions as you begin, or are in the middle of this project- please let us know. We want to make sure we answer the questions you have so your painting experience is successful.

If you are looking for interior painting, exterior painting, or cabinet painting, we can help! We are located in Huntley, IL, but serve many of the surrounding areas such as Batavia, Geneva, Crystal Lake, Schaumburg, Hampshire and Bartlett.


Add a splash of color and style to your walls. Book your paint and wallpaper appointment today!