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I am getting ready to put my house on the market and I would like to clean \ "restore" my kitchen cabinets. They are an oak cabinet that aren't painted, they are stained. I don't know exactly what finish is on them. They are the original builder grade cabinets from the early 1980's.

They are really just full of grime and whatnot. So I would like to clean them a little and then maybe just rub them down with something that can make them look a bit better. Something like Old English or Pledge. Maybe butcher block oil ?

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@mike Exactly which is why I decided not to completely refinish them. –  Web Jul 10 '13 at 15:05
    
Cleaning and updating things - even if new home owner decides to change the exact things - has real world value. This is dependent on the price of home, comps, and other factors. If your house doesn't show well then you are narrowing your market to people who enjoy rehab/DIY and that is not a very big % of buyers. –  DMoore Jul 10 '13 at 16:03
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3 Answers

First off you will have to clean off the grime. Any attempt to dress up the surface of the finish with the grime still present will look worse in my experience.

Cleaning the grime off can be attempted using a washing solution of TSP and hot water. TSP should be available at your hardware store in powered form as TSP or trisodium phosphate. It is an awesome cleaner but will require you to use good rubber gloves that cover up your lower arms.

After you get the grime removed you will be in a position to evaluate the condition of the finish. It the finish is in relatively uniform condition and not worn completely away or cracked / peeling you may be able to improve the looks a lot with an nice quality oil wipe. I would not recommend Pledge type products for reconditioning the finish surface.

If the finish is mildly non-uniform but clean you should be able to pipe on a thin coat of wipe on combo stain/finish. Select a color very close to the current appearance for best results. Make sure to try this out on a non-obvious surface to make fully sure that you are satisfied with the results - in other words do not rely solely on my advice and do read and follow manufacturer instructions.

In cases where the finish is completely gone and bare wood is showing it may be necessary to go to the extreme and strip off all the old finish, sand and re-finish. This can be a huge project (I can speak to it after doing a whole kitchen some 25 years ago and many cans of very smelly strong stripper later) but can be the best way to get cabinets look close to new again. Mine in that project had two coats of paint over original baked on blond finish on ash wood. After re-finishing they looked awesome.

If there is physical damage to doors and drawer fronts you could consider another option that is available. There are businesses that will apply a new covering all over the visible parts of the cabinets. I have a hard time recommending this approach because I think the results of such effort are ugly.

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Good answer and that was the route I was going to go before I decided to put the house on the market. Now I just wanted the quickest, cheapest, easiest option. –  Web Jul 10 '13 at 15:12
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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Since I am selling and wanted to do the least amount of work as possible and cost, I ended up with trying Restor-A-Finish by Howard based on some recommendations. It was a simple just wipe it on no brainer. The look is just what I was after.

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You could just clean them, but if they are badly marked then give them a light sand and re-varnish.

If there are holes you'll need to fill them with a wood filler. You post no pictures so it's hard to comment.

However, I'd be tempted to paint them a light colour (close to white or cream) to freshen them up and brighten up the room.

Light colours give a sense of space and modernness. Although that's just my personal opinion.

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