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Forget spring-cleaning. Most people I know only get into gear with the brooms and mops when it comes to cleaning up for the holidays. After all, when you open your home to family and friends, you want it to look its best, and no amount of tinsel will hide a year's worth of dirt. Some of the dirtiest parts of the house — especially if you're cleaning up after kids — are the doors. You touch those knobs several times each day, and odds are good that your hands aren't always perfectly clean: You may be covered in soil from the garden, flour and sugar from the kitchen, hairspray from the bathroom or grease from the garage. And the kids? Who knows what sticky mess they've been into! Slick doorknobs are easy to wipe clean regularly, but the surrounding wood of your door and the nearby doorframe are often ignored. If yours are dingy and gray, here's how to safely clean them before company arrives.


flooring storesHouse Cleaning Hacks: Know Your Surfaces

Before you reach for a Magic Eraser to wipe away stubborn stains, you need to consider the finish that protects your woodwork. Magic Eraser sponges are notorious for dulling the finish and even removing some of the paint from woodwork, so don't make a messy situation worse than it already is. Use the right cleaner and techniques for your doors, and you'll be much happier.

Painted Doors

Most woodwork is painted with a coating that has a bit of sheen; semi-gloss is the most popular. The shine actually serves to protect the wood, acting as a shell. The glossier the finish, the easier it is to wipe clean. Start with plain, warm water on the shiniest surfaces, using a soft cloth or sponge to rub away dirt. If water isn't enough to remove the stickiest bits, add a shot of dish soap to your bucket and try again. If you use soap, be sure to use cool, clean water to rinse off the spots you cleaned before buffing dry.

Stained Doors

wood doorIf your doors look like natural wood, they have probably been stained and then finished with a clear coat of polyurethane. As with paint, a glossier finish will be easier to clean, and you can start with the recommendations for a painted surface. For stubborn, greasy spots, try a 50-50 mixture of white vinegar and warm water and add a little pressure as you scrub in small, circular motions. Rinse with clean water. Murphy's Oil Soap is also a good choice, though you'll need to rinse it very thoroughly to avoid dulling your finish.

Mistakes to Avoid

  • Skip the Abrasives: Don't use steel wool or a dish sponge with an abrasive layer for scrubbing. This will leave your door with micro-scratches that permanently dull the finish and leave it open to deeper staining in the future, as you've removed the wood's protective coating.
  •  Don't Forget the Jambs: Be sure to look at the door from all angles. Clean the trim molding, doorjambs and all three surfaces around the lock set for a thorough job.
  •  Don't Get Waterlogged: Wring your cloth or sponge well to avoid getting excess water inside your door hardware and lock set.


Elizabeth T. is a professional writer with experience writing online catalog copy, trade magazine articles, landing pages for home decor and construction company websites, and how-to articles on dozens of fresh DIY topics. Elizabeth has renovated two homes and has extensive experience in DIY carpentry, soft goods and home decor projects. She has also worked as a designer and organizational consultant for individuals and schools.