Cleaning Finished Cabinets

The pros debate soaps, detergents, cleansers, and polishes. Are they all just bad, or should your finish be able to take anything? Or is the truth somewhere in between? July 10, 2005

Does anyone have any opinions/experience on the care of sprayed woodwork you would like to share? We are currently using Valspar CV. We have recently switched from SW on account that according to the finisher, it sands better when using it as a sealer. We previously used a vinyl sanding sealer with the SW CV, thus the switch. I have been advised to simply use a solution of Murphy's Oil soap applied with a damp - never wet, rag/towel. Do any of you know of a commercial or home cooked process/product that would actually preserve the finish?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor D:
I’ve been advised to wash cabinetry with a lightly damp sponge and liquid dish soap, followed by a clean, lightly damp sponge and then dry it with a clean soft cloth.

From contributor T:
Contributor D, I would be curious what negative effect you can document from the use of Murphy's Oil Soap. It’s flax soap, the same as the wool-wax sold by Mohawk to rub-out finishes. It is not a harsh detergent like dish soap. We use Murphy's as the first step in cleaning antique pieces when the goal is conservation.

From contributor D:
Contributor T, I can't document any negative affects from Murphy's. I’ve been told to avoid using anything to clean that left a residue. I guess I heard the names Murphy's and Pledge so many times in a negative fashion, that I wouldn't even consider either in my home.

From contributor J:
I would suggest feather dusting first, and then use a damp soft cloth and a minimal amount of Dawn to remove the grease and grime. Wiping dust on the regular lacquers can result in tiny scratches or swirl marks. I have always had the belief that anything put on a finish that changes its sheen is defeating the original finish’s choice of sheen and look.

From contributor J:
I would only recommend wax when the finish is starting to get thin. Then I would still recommend a quick clear coat. Also, if you’re worried that detergent is going to ruin your finish, I would suggest you really look into another coating.

From contributor J:
I have used Murphy's oil soap maybe 5 or 6 times and each time, whether it was due to a poor finish, it seemed to soften and gum up the lacquer.

From contributor G:
Here are some directions that I have come across that might be helpful.

For general care and maintenance of all Valspar Finishes, the following procedure is recommended:

Clean with warm water using a clean cotton towel or rag. To obtain the longest life possible with Valspar coatings, use of soaps, cleaners, solvents, waxes, ammonia, and other household chemicals should be avoided. Refrain from using paper products to clean wood finishes.

From contributor J:
The use of degreasers and chemicals like ammonia will affect a finish over time, and with enough applications causing the coatings to lose flexibility. The use of ammonias will eventually leach into the wood itself causing a darkened splotchy look. At some point in time, you will have to use a detergent with your water to remove things that water can't touch.

From contributor S:
If you are using soap on a coating, you will want to know about the pH of that soap. Most types of soap are alkaline. Over time, soaps with the alkaline pH will degrade a coating. Chemical strippers are often fortified with alkaline, making them stronger.

The more alkaline in the soap, the harsher it is if you are going to use it to clean coated surfaces. The only pH neutral soap recommended by hospitals and birthing centers is Dove bar soap. So that tells you something about all the others including Ivory.

Regarding Murphy's, it is nothing other than potash soap, the same as Wool Wax. It is good however, for use as a rubbing lubricant (wet sanding and steel-wooling operations). Also, Murphy's contains no waxes or silicone oils. I cut it ten parts water to one part Murphy's.
Furniture polish makes a great rubbing lubricant as well.

The reason that Windex and ammonia are bad for finishes has to do with their alkalinity.
Strong acids are corrosive and strong alkalines are destructive. Either way, the finish loses. Try to keep those pH's neutral. And minimize the contact that these materials have with coated surfaces. That means use them infrequently, only when needed, and use them/dry them quickly with fresh water in the form of a dampened cloth.

Endust is fine also. As an emulsified furniture polish, it cleans both grime and grease. It contains soaps and it contains solvents. It contains no wax or silicone oils. My favorite polish is Weiman's because they seem to use a blend of solvents which evaporate more quickly than all the other polishes I have used.