How to Clean Countertops

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | December 13, 2011

Your kitchen countertops are built to handle almost anything. After all, they are prone to splashes of wine or juice, swipes with a sharp knife, the occasional burns from a hot pan and everything in between. Regular cleaning--and the occasional vigorous scrubbing--can keep your countertops looking as good as new.

How to clean countertops: a materials primer

Though countertops are always designed to be sturdy and durable, not all countertop materials are created equal. What might work well to clean one type of countertop could spell disaster for another. Here's a brief rundown on how to clean the more popular types:

  • Ceramic tile is easy to clean, but requires a gentle touch to avoid removing the glazing from the tiles. Use a soft cloth with an all-purpose cleaner. For stains or dirt on the grout, use a toothbrush to scrub the spots away. For tough stains or mildew, use diluted bleach. To prevent stains in the first place, apply a sealant to clean grout at least once a year.
  • Acrylic countertops are some of the most durable, though they are still prone to the occasional burn mark or stain. Remove stains with scouring powder or steel wool. For regular cleaning, a mild detergent and soft cloth will do the trick.
  • Wood countertops can be cleaned with a baking soda and water solution, then dried thoroughly. For stains, try 1/4 cup bleach dissolved in one quart of warm water. Treat the wood with linseed oil to protect it from moisture.
  • Plastic laminate is best cleaned with a good quality sponge, one with a soft side and an abrasive side. Mild detergent works well, but so do commercial cleaners. Avoid using steel wool or other harsh abrasives, as they can leave unsightly scratches.
  • Natural stone countertops need to be treated with care. Use a stone sealer on a regular basis to protect the surface from stains. Clean spills immediately. Invest in a good quality commercial cleaner for the heavier cleaning jobs, but for regular day-to-day cleaning, simple soap and water will work just fine.
  • Stainless steel is known as a workhorse of countertops--that's one of the reasons restaurants love it. Clean it with a solution of warm water and detergent. Always rinse thoroughly. Smooth out scratches or stains with a steel wool buffer.

When cleaning your countertop, always start with the stubborn areas first. Loosen dirt and grime, then whisk it away with a damp cloth. Spot cleaning is often all that needs to be done, but if you need to do serious cleaning, always start at the back of the counter and work your way to the front.