When it comes to kitchen countertops, there is no single cleaning solution that’s appropriate for all surfaces.
Every material used for counter surfaces is different, each with their own pros and cons, and with some materials better able to handle kitchen wear, tear, and mishaps than others.
And regardless of the material, they all take a certain level of abuse on a daily basis. Not all spills are cleaned up promptly, and damage can occur even when we’re at our most diligent.
For many of us, a useful household product like vinegar is often the go-to cleaner in the kitchen. But for some materials like granite or marble, it can actually cause more harm than good.
Regardless of whether your tops are made of laminate, stone, wood, or tile, a regime of regular cleaning and maintenance will help to protect your investment – and ensure your countertops retain their splendor for many years to come.
Lovely Laminates for Long Life
Because of their low-cost manufacturing and easy cleaning properties, laminate retains its popularity as a durable and attractive material for countertops.
A composite made from paper stiffened with resins and a melamine resin overlay, the layers are bonded with high heat and pressure that provides a mostly seamless surface.
Laminates can be washed quickly and easily with mild soap, and they can handle a range of cleaning products, including acidic materials like lemon juice and vinegar, or bleach.
However, a couple of common drawbacks with laminates are that they’re susceptible to scorching from contact with hot pots and pans, and over time they will lose their glossy surface finish.
A sponge with a textured fiber on one side works well for cleaning laminate, and will give enough abrasive power to remove grease and dried food splatters.
And a soft toothbrush will clean the seams nicely – but don’t leave liquid sitting at the seams, as it may cause bubbling if allowed to penetrate beneath the surface.
For daily washing, warm, soapy water will handle most duties. Or, apply a light misting of a half-and-half solution of white vinegar and water, followed by a wipe-down with a sponge.
For stains, use a paste of baking soda and vinegar.
Lay the paste on top of the stain and allow to work for 5 minutes or so – put a damp paper towel over top of the paste to keep it moist. Rub gently with the textured side of a sponge to lift the stain.
Another good stain remover for laminate is citrus oil with a high concentration of D ‘Limonene, such as Orange Oil.
Mix the citrus oil in an equal ratio with clear water and shake well. Apply directly to the stain, and rub gently to emulsify.
Allow this to work for a few minutes, then gently apply the scrubby side of a sponge to lift the stain. Rinse well with clear water.
And avoid using steel wool, copper scrubbers or abrasive cleansers on laminate as they will scratch and dull the surface.
To help resist surface staining and scratching, an application of carnauba wax every three months or so will provide a surface barrier. This gives a nice luster as well.
From the carnauba palm, the wax is used to give dental floss its glide, as a coating on candies and confections, and to wax fruits and veggies like apples and cucumbers… so it’s a good food-safe choice for kitchen counters. And, mixed with coconut oil, you can wax your surfboard as well!
Granite is an igneous rock made of silicate minerals, and with its composition of interlocking grains, it’s hard and mostly nonporous.
With the beautiful, natural features of stone, granite is a superbly strong and durable material for countertops.
It requires very little in terms of maintenance, and can withstand the heat of hot cookware without scorching the surface. Granite is also an extremely hygienic choice for the kitchen as its nonporous nature makes it highly resistant to moisture buildup, and it doesn’t provide a surface conducive to bacterial growth.
However, granite can crack if a sharp, heavy object is dropped on it, and once there, it’s there for life.
It also absorbs oil quickly, and lighter shades will show stains more readily than darker colors.
And while acidic ingredients such as tomato juice or sauce, wine, vinegar, coffee, and fruit juices won’t etch the surface of granite to the same degree as they might on something like marble, they can certainly stain granite – particularly those lighter shades.
A neutral pH-balanced cleaner is best for granite, and any natural cleaners with acids should be avoided. This includes vinegar, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, and citrus cleaners.
Any cleaners with harsh chemicals or ones of a caustic nature like ammonia and bleach that will etch or dull the finish should also be avoided.
Wipe up liquids and spills of acidic ingredients promptly, using a soft sponge and clear, warm water.
And while a mild dish soap won’t harm granite, over time it will leave a dulling film on the surface.
For daily cleaning, a pH-neutral (i.e. non-acidic) cleaner designed for stone counters is best. Method Daily Granite and Marble Cleaner is a nontoxic, plant-based cleaner for both granite and marble that conditions while it cleans.
Apply a little to a soft cloth, then rub into the counter in a circular motion to clean, buff, and shine sealed granite.
Stains can be lifted with a paste of baking soda and water, and the fibrous side of a sponge.
Elegant and dreamy, marble is another stone that presents a rich countertop of luxurious beauty.
A metamorphic rock, it’s composed largely of calcium carbonate, which means it has a porous nature.
Because travertine or limestone are from the same family as marble with similar qualities, marble care and cleaning tips are also applicable to these materials.
Most natural stone can be finished with different surfaces, and marble is no exception.
A polished surface, as the name suggests, has a shiny, high-gloss finish. A honed surface will have a satin or matte finish, and isn’t as reflective or polished, showing more muted colors.
To be effective for use in the kitchen, most marble counters – regardless of their finish – should be treated with a penetrating stone sealer to prevent the absorption of liquids and oils.
Marble is very durable, and naturally scorch-resistant. But it’s not as hard as granite and has a sensitivity to certain food types and chemicals, which can lead to etching – a corrosion or dulling of the surface.
Because of the high levels of calcite in its composition, staining, dulling, and etching from acidic ingredients are common problems with marble countertops.
Wine, fruit juice, vinegar, lemon juice, tomato juice and tomato sauces, coffee, tea, and other acidic spills need to be wiped up immediately to preserve its appearance.
Etching begins with contact, and the longer an acidic liquid sits, the more severe the etching will be. Unfortunately, sealing does not prevent etching.
If you have a polished surface, mild to moderate etching is usually repairable by the home DIYer with a good quality etch removing marble polish. Unfortunately, there’s no such product if your countertop is made of honed marble – you’ll need professionals for that kind of repair work.
Oils and waxes are also prone to discolor marble. Even wet dishes left sitting on the counter will leave permanent water marks, so be diligent in wiping up spills promptly!
As with granite, avoid using any cleaning solutions with acidic or caustic ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, ammonia, or bleach. Abrasive cleansers or scouring pads with harsh chemicals will mar the surface as well.
To wash marble, use a phosphate-free dish detergent with warm water and a sponge.
For stains and grease buildup, sprinkle a bit of borax on the counter. Rub with a soft sponge, then rinse with warm water and buff dry with a soft cloth.
Rinsing is important because even a gentle soap left on marble can cause it to dry out.
As an alternative, use a nontoxic cleaner like Method’s Daily Granite and Marble Cleaner mentioned above.
To Seal or Not to Seal
As a general rule of thumb, an infusion sealer should be applied to natural stone countertops to prevent moisture seepage and staining.
But that doesn’t mean every stone counter needs to be sealed. Indeed, many varieties of granite will be dense enough to not require sealing.
To determine if your stone countertop has been adequately sealed, or whether it even requires sealing, the following simple water test will determine its absorbency:
1. Choose an inconspicuous spot for your test, and wipe down the surface to ensure it’s clean and dry.
2. Pour a small amount of clean water, about the size of a quarter, on your test spot.
3. Allow the water to stand for a few minutes to see what unfolds.
If the water beads and sits on the surface, it’s properly sealed.
If the stone absorbs the water, it’s not sealed properly and requires attention.
Check with your manufacturer to determine the best sealer, and don’t worry about the water spot – it will look dark for a little while, but will return to normal once it dries.
Silestone is a tough and durable material engineered of natural quartz and binding resins.
Extraordinarily hard because of its quartz make, and resilient due to the elasticity of the resin, it creates an ideal surface for kitchen countertops.
Finished with a protective polish, silestone is nonporous, scratch resistant, and highly resistant to stains caused by acidic ingredients, oils, wine, coffee, and a host of other everyday products.
The nonporous, polished texture also makes it difficult for pathogens to develop, for a clean, hygienic surface as well.
Care needs to be taken with scorching, as extreme heat can cause some discoloration of the resin, and trivets or heat pads will be needed with hot pans and dishes.
Avoid the use of any harsh chemical cleansers, bleach, or abrasive scouring pads as well, as they’ll mark and dull the finish.
Easy to care for, use either a mixture of mild soap and warm water, or a half-and-half solution of white vinegar and water for daily washing.
A paste of baking soda and water rubbed in with the textured side of a sponge will easily remove stains. Rinse with water and wipe dry with a soft cloth.
Spectacular Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is gaining popularity as a choice for countertops because of its shiny, uncluttered lines and sleek, reflective appearance.
However, it is decidedly high-maintenance.
A material that was once reserved primarily for commercial kitchen use, stainless steel countertops have become popular in the residential market as well. Ultra-tough and durable, they have a modern, polished appeal with many benefits.
They’re completely scorch resistant and can withstand the heat of any pan. Since it’s nonporous, liquids can’t penetrate the surface for a highly hygienic counter, and acidic ingredients and other spills won’t mar the surface – provided they’re wiped up in a reasonable amount of time.
As stainless counters are usually seamless, so there are no tricky spots to trap food debris and grime. And as long as they’re cleaned properly, stains, rust, and corrosion shouldn’t be a problem either.
But like all materials, they can be damaged and are susceptible to looking worn without regular cleaning and maintenance. And if spills and other foodstuffs are left sitting on the countertop for long periods of time, stains and dulling can develop and become difficult to remove.
Highly sensitive to moisture, the use of any harsh, abrasive chemicals or scouring pads can damage the finish, and actually expose the steel to permanent scratches, discoloration, and rust.
Wash stainless steel countertops by sprinkling on a small amount of baking soda and wiping up with a damp, soft sponge. Promptly rinse and dry with a soft cloth.
For stains and water marks, apply full strength white vinegar to a damp sponge and rub well. Rinse thoroughly, and dry with a soft cloth.
For difficult stains or rust, you may need to use a gentle stainless steel cleaner.
A couple of common problems with stainless steel are dents and scratches.
Light scratches will fade with time, or you can try to erase them with a nylon scouring pad. Go with the grain and lightly rub the spot, taking care not to rub more than the immediate area. Or you can try to erase them with a stainless steel cleaner such as Bar Keeper’s Friend.
Unfortunately, deeper scratches and dents will require the help of a professional to restore the surface.
Fingerprints and smudges are another common issue, as are water spots and mineral deposits if liquids are left to dry on the counter.
For spot cleaning, wipe up quickly with a glass cleaner, or use mild, soapy water and a soft sponge. Rinse all surfaces well, and buff with a microfiber cleaning cloth to prevent water spots.
Periodically use a stainless steel cleaner to bring up the shine and restore luster.
If rust should make an appearance, that’s a different situation entirely. Follow your manufacturer’s instructions to remove rust.
You can also use a paste of baking soda or a non-abrasive stainless cleaner. Once removed, you’ll need to be vigilant with regular cleaning and maintenance to prevent the rust from coming back.
And if your stainless countertop does have seams, use a blow dryer to ensure they’re thoroughly dried after cleaning.
Avoid using any abrasive cleaners, steel wool, or other scouring pads that will damage the surface, and always work with the grain to prevent cross-scratching.
Also, any household cleaners like chlorine bleach that contain chlorides need to be thoroughly rinsed from the surface to prevent stains or corrosion.
Warm and Wonderful Wood
Wood is another natural product with lovely and distinctive characteristics that comes in an almost endless variety of colors and finishes.
Not only is wood warmer to the touch than any other surface, it also has the warmest visual appeal with unique highlights, flowing patterns, and glowing colors.
Readily available, wood is a sustainable product. Whether it’s used to showcase a natural grain, butcher-block construction, or live edge contours, pretty much any hardwood is suitable.
Easy to cut and fabricate, handling wood has less overhead costs than many materials – which may make it quicker and easier to install.
And of course, wood ages beautifully, developing a rich, lustrous color and inner light that improves with use and time. Plus, it’s relatively easy to touch up or refinish for the home DIYer.
It’s also a quieter material than stone, metal, or tile – so pots or pans contacting the surface won’t be as loud or jarring. And when sealed properly, it offers a safe, antibacterial surface.
Some species of hardwood will even have heat-resistant properties. But if you’re unsure, always use a trivet between your wood countertop and a hot pan.
Wood provides natural beauty for countertops, but it is easily damaged. Quick cleanup of spills will help to prevent stains, and keep surfaces looking good for years.
Daily washing can be done with warm, soapy water and a soft cloth. Rinse with water and blot up any excess moisture with paper towels.
For weekly cleaning, use baking soda and water. Mix 1/2 cup baking soda with 1 quart of warm water.
Rub the paste into the wood with a nylon scouring pad. Rinse well and blot up excess moisture. Allow to dry thoroughly.
For a mild disinfectant, use a weak solution of vinegar and water, or tea tree oil and water in a spray bottle. Be sure to dry the top thoroughly with a cloth or paper towels.
If there’s a surface sealant such as urethane or waterlox, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance and touch-ups.
For tops with an oil finish, the oil will offer good water and stain resistance if maintained properly, but it will need to be renewed on a regular basis.
Re-apply oil when a few drops of water on the counter no longer bead up, but soak into the wood instead. Here’s what you need to do:
1. First, repair any cuts or gouges with a light sanding, starting with a 120 grit and finishing with a finer 180 grit sandpaper.
2. Wash and dry the entire surface.
3. After the top is completely dry, use a sponge or brush to apply a thin layer of the oil recommended for your product. Or, use warm, USP (food-grade) mineral oil and rub in vigorously with a clean rag, then allow to soak for 30 minutes.
4. After soaking, run another clean, dry rag over the surface to absorb any excess oil, then allow to sit overnight before using.
Please remember, never use cooking oils for your wood tops as they will most definitely turn rancid!
For stain removal, rub the area with lemon juice. Or mix 1 tablespoon hydrogen peroxide with 1 cup warm water and dab the stain with cotton balls.
Work gently with a nylon scouring pad, then blot up the excess moisture with paper towels.
Avoid using vinegar on your wood countertops, as the acetic acid in vinegar can dissolve the glue used to join the pieces.
To disinfect wood, use a mild solution of bleach and water. Add 1 teaspoon bleach to 2 quarts of water and use a brush to scrub lightly, taking care to ensure the wood doesn’t become saturated.
Wipe up with paper towels, then buff dry with a clean, soft cloth.
An important point to remember with wood is that it will absorb moisture quickly, so do avoid leaving wet cloths sitting on the surface for any length of time, and wipe up spills pronto.
Also, while you cook, give the counters the occasional wipe to keep moisture at a minimum.
Practically indestructible, concrete offers some very unique benefits for kitchen counters.
Concrete can be cast in almost any shape or size, it comes in an endless array of colors, and it can be molded and manipulated for unique, custom details.
And it’s not a static material – like wood, it will age and evolve its own unique character as it develops a warm patina over time.
Concrete itself is very heat resistant, but placing hot pots or pans on sealed surfaces should be avoided, as the heat can discolor the sealant.
In its natural state, concrete is porous and will stain, but with the application of a surface sealant, it becomes both water and stain resistant.
But even with a good seal, citrus juice and other acidic ingredients can etch the surface of concrete. Spills of citrus or tomato juice, vinegar, coffee, and wine all need to be wiped up quickly to maintain good looks.
And with general wear and tear, the seal will become thin – so an occasional reapplication of a good quality, food-safe concrete countertop wax should be considered.
Concrete Resurrection makes a good kitchen wax that brings out the best of concrete’s color and visual texture.
Warm, soapy water plus a mild detergent and a soft sponge works for cleaning concrete.
Lift stains by spraying laundry stain remover onto the area, and allow it to sit for several minutes. Sprinkle with powdered laundry detergent and gently rub with a soft sponge. Rinse with water and wipe up any excess moisture.
Always avoid using vinegar and lemon juice, as well as abrasive or harsh chemicals, on concrete countertops. And wipe up any liquids immediately.
Cool Ceramic Tiles
Both glazed and unglazed ceramic tiles are a beautiful material for kitchen countertops.
They’re very durable, won’t scorch from the heat of pots and pans, and are easy to clean. However, the grout between the tiles is soft and porous.
For daily cleaning of water spots and grime, sprinkle a bit of baking soda on a damp sponge and wipe down. Rinse with warm water and dry with a soft cloth.
To lift stains and cut through grease, make a paste of 1/4 cup baking soda, 1 tablespoon borax, and 2 tablespoons mild dish soap. Moisten the tiles with warm water, then scrub with the baking soda mix using a stiff nylon brush.
Clean grout with a liberal sprinkling of baking soda followed by lemon juice. Scrub with a stiff grout brush, rinse with warm water, and wipe up excess moisture.
Counters made from recycled glass are durable and strong, with the glass pieces held together using a cement binder.
It offers a nonporous surface that’s resistant to stains, and has a polished texture that makes it difficult for pathogens to develop on the surface. It’s also easy to care for.
For daily washing, use either a mixture of mild soap and warm water, or a half-and-half solution of white vinegar and water.
A paste of baking soda and water rubbed in with the textured side of a sponge will easily remove stains. Rinse with water and wipe dry with a soft cloth.
Glass is also resistant to heat scorching, although the use of a trivet for very hot dishes is recommended.
The Final Swipe
As you can see, different materials require different cleaners to keep them looking their best, and there’s an appropriate solution for each one.
The trick is to determine what will be beneficial for your particular prep surface – before you start cleaning!
And once you know what type of cleaners your surface material requires, it’s easy to keep them clean and in top shape for years to come.
All finished with the counters? Maybe your kitchen cabinets could use a good cleaning…
What about you readers? Do you have any tips or products that make cleaning your particular countertops quick and easy? Let us know in the comments below – we’d love you to share your insights!
Want more cleaning tips? Check out all of our in depth guides now.
Photo credits: Shutterstock.
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.