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Cleaning Cabinet Hardware

Updated on May 1, 2011

Homemade Remedies Against Grime & Dirt

From vinegar to toothpicks, everyone has their own sure fire method for cleaning cabinet hardware. Some of them work and some of them will have disastrous results (corrosive materials, for example, are terrible for your hardware). Let's walk through some of the different cabinet hardware materials, and see what the best methods for cleaning each of them might be.

Cabinet Backplates
Cabinet Backplates

The Warm Up

Before we get started, it's important to know what material you're working with. The saving solution for one material could destroy another material completely. There are several tests that you can use to determine the material type. One effective method is the magnet test. Take small magnet, and hold it up to your cabinet hardware. If the magnet sticks, then you are dealing with steel hardware that has been plated with whatever metal it appears as. If the cabinet hardware has an unexposed area, you can try this trick. Scratch off a small spot from the unexposed area. You will immediately be able to tell if this metal is real.

Once you've determined what you are dealing with, you can begin using these homemade remedies for a brighter future. Remember that my cleaning techniques can be used on any cabinet hardware from appliance pulls and cabinet hinges to towel bars and robe hooks. So go wild and get sparkling!

Disclaimer: These are techniques that have been tested by myself or reliable friends. I take no responsibility for any adverse effects that these procedures may cause. I apologize in advance for any mishaps.

Metal & Plastic Cabinet Hardware

Metal cabinet hinges, knobs and pulls are typically what you will find in most homes. Durable, reliable and familiar, metal hardware offers strength and comfort to homeowners everywhere. Dependability doesn't negate style, however. There are tens of thousands of cabinet knobs, pulls and hinges out there in every shape, style, color and design. Be as expressive as your taste will allow using plastic or metal cabinet hardware.

Metal and plastic cabinet hardware are the most common and the easiest to clean. Begin by removing all hardware pieces, cabinet knobs, cabinet pulls and cabinet hinges. Make a solution with equal parts of warm water and vinegar or just combine mild dish soap and warm water. Soak your cabinet hardware in the solution for anywhere from ten minutes to 2 hours depending on the severity of the grease build up. Remove stubborn dirt with a soft bristle brush like a toothbrush. After soaking, rinse under a faucet to remove all the cleaning solution/soapy water. Any commercial paste that you may have purchased and used can be wiped away with a soft cloth at this point. When everything has been rinsed and cleaned thoroughly, you can finish off with a light buffing using a soft, clean cloth. This will give your cabinet knobs and pulls back their original luster.

Glass Cabinet Pulls
Glass Cabinet Pulls

Glass Cabinet Hardware

Glass cabinet pulls and knobs are smooth, cool, the picture of chic. With so many textures, colors and styles, glass cabinet hardware has the versatility that contemporary designers crave and the timeless beauty that homeowners love. While the classic glass hardware is available, with all the innovative, new designs, is there really anything to talk about? If you are trying to create a traditional setting, choose the classic models. Otherwise, step into the new era of design with fresh and exciting glass cabinet hardware.

Similar to plastic and metal cabinet hardware, glass cabinet hardware is super easy to clean. Carefully soaking these pieces in warm soapy water will help loosen and remove most of the dirt and grease. Rinse and dry glass cabinet hardware as with your metal cabinet hardware. A little bit of shining with a clean cloth will complete this simple cleaning job. Use newspaper when drying if you want to completely avoid streaking. Many people recommend isopropyl alcohol and water in equal parts for tough to get out dirt, but I've never tried this, so I can't vouch for it.

Cabinet Knobs
Cabinet Knobs

Wood Cabinet Hardware

Wood cabinet hardware is warm, rustic and inviting. These cabinet knobs and pulls will create a charming atmosphere wherever they are placed. Alternatively, you can find wood cabinet hardware that is rich and elegant both in style and in texture. These pieces are reminiscent of solid antiques, real quality pieces from a time long since forgotten.

Cleaning wood cabinet hardware is a different story completely. Because water makes wood warp, swell and do other strange things to itself, soaking wood cabinet knobs, pulls etc. in soapy water is not an option. The best idea is to either rub the cabinet pulls and knobs down with a damp, soapy cloth or spray a solution and wipe it away quickly with a clean rag. Either way, don't let water sit on the cabinet hardware for too long. The good old toothbrush can be used once again to remove the tougher remains of dirt. Use a clean, dry cloth to thoroughly dry all wood cabinet knobs and pulls when you're finished cleaning.

Pewter Cabinet Knobs
Pewter Cabinet Knobs

In Living Color

Live Finishes

Many companies hardware collections that they intentionally leave unfinished. No, they are not just being cheap or lazy. In fact, this is done to allow the natural oxidation or aging process to occur, giving the piece an elegant and sophisticated color. This type of hardware is known as a live finish.

Hardware that does not have any lacquered finish will require different cleaning methods. These pieces of cabinet hardware cannot be cleaned with any harsh or abrasive materials and special care must be taken when handling, cleaning and polishing these pieces. First, you have to learn what material the cabinet knobs or pulls are made of. Once you've determined what you are dealing with, you can use one of the homemade methods listed below.

Brass, Copper and Bronze Hardware: Cut a lemon in half width-wise. Take one of the halves and cover the exposed (flat) side of the lemon with salt. Use this as a natural scrub brush to remove any dirt, stains and scuffs from your cabinet hardware. My friend also recommended ketchup, though I've never tried it because the lemon/salt method works for me. (If you've had success with the ketchup method, let me know and I'll update this lens!)

Pewter Hardware: Pewter is a supple (super soft) material, so care should be used when cleaning. Don't use acidic or citrus-based solutions on the pewter. On the other hand, pewter hardly ever tarnishes. Polished pewter just needs polishing. You can use a vinegar, salt and flour paste or buy a commercial polish from the store. Weathered or antique pewter shouldn't be polished. Satin pewter needs the old soap and water treatment.

Chrome and Steel Hardware: This is a crazy trick that really works. If there are any chemists in the crowd tonight, you can help me verify the claim. Take a square of aluminum foil, and put some water on it. Use this as a scrub brush and solution to break down any rust that has formed. How this works: The long version involves chemical makeup and the atomic tendencies of oxygen atoms. The short version is that the friction + the aluminum+ the water= a break down of the rust chemically. This means that you don't have to scrub vigorously (scratching the surface in the meantime) to get rust out, it will just dissolve itself.

Cabinet Hinges
Cabinet Hinges

Tips & Tricks of the Trade

Here are a few tips of the trade that I've picked up along the way.

> Always end with a wax or polish for non-finished cabinet knobs and pulls. Polish or buff your kitchen cabinet hardware when you've finished all the dirty work to return your cabinet knobs and pulls to their original luster.

> Use a toothbrush to get into those hard to reach crevices on intricately detailed cabinet pulls and knobs. A toothbrush will also be useful when you are cleaning cabinet hinges. Most hinges have awkward angles that would be hard to clean thoroughly without this handy little tool.

> For the most thorough job, unscrew your cabinet hardware. If you clean while it's mounted, you can ruin the cabinet surface.

> Here is something you may not have thought of. Have a small jar or bag handy so that you can immediately put any screws in one safe place. Nobody wants to finish this simple cleaning job only to find that their hardware is going to have to wait to be mounted on account of a missing screw.

> Don't forget to clean the screws that are visible too.

> Abrasive pads, steel wool and scouring powders are all harmful materials that can cause real damage if used on most cabinet hardware. The same goes for acid-based solutions such as ammonia. It's best not to use any of these types of substances on your cabinet hardware.

> I don't believe I'm saying this, but please don't put your cabinet hardware in the dishwasher. The results are simply disastrous.

> Avoid streaks by drying with a paper towel or newspaper.

> If you're super ambitious, clean the cabinets while you're at it. When hardware is off anyway, this is a great opportunity to clean the areas that you can't normally get to. Incidentally, dirt loves to hide behind cabinet hinges, knobs and pulls.

Round Knobs
Round Knobs

But Wait, is This You?

Read this first lest you should not apply!

Of course, many companies seal their hardware with an anti-tarnish coating that protects against rust, tarnish and corrosion. For this reason, harsh cleaners and polish should not be used because these products can corrode the finish, rendering them useless. Even this great hardware savior will not repel the build up of dirt that naturally comes with frequent usage (and exacerbated by children, g-d bless, :) and damp weather). So the mild soap and warm water cleaning solution is safe and should be used periodically on all cabinet hardware.

Appliance Pulls
Appliance Pulls

Why Are You Still Here?

Get Cleaning!

Now that you have the information, get off your duff and make some sparkling hardware. Remember, knowledge is power and this will empower you to create a brighter, cleaner and more pleasant living space. So what are you waiting for? Get cleaning today, and live happier everyday!

If you have your own tried and true methods for cleaning cabinet hardware, tell us about it. We love to hear new ideas, especially if they've already been experimented on someone else! Pictures, as always, are welcome.

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