You may be cleaning your counters wrong. Here’s how to tackle 7 types.

From marble to butcher block, experts recommend the best ways to keep your kitchen countertop sparkling

(Video: Illustration by José L. Soto/The Washington Post; iStock)
7 min

In a lot of homes, the kitchen counter is one of the few spots that gets cleaned — or at least wiped down — every day. So, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re taking care of yours correctly.

You might actually be doing too much, says Alan Mayr, president of MARBLELIFE, a company that repairs and restores household surfaces.

He says about 20 percent of the company’s clients need professional help because they’ve used an “inappropriate cleaner” on their counters, when experts say a general rule, no matter what type of countertop you have, is to use only water and mild dish soap for daily upkeep.

“Dawn literally could clean your entire house,” says Poiette Noel, owner of No More Dust Maid Services in D.C.

Also: stay away from abrasive sponges. Even the scratchy, green side of an average kitchen sponge can damage the surface and remove its protective coating. Instead, use a soft, microfiber cloth.

While dish soap and water are your best bet in most cases, there are, of course, some kitchen messes that require a tougher approach. If you need to perform a deep clean or work on a stubborn stain, here’s what experts recommend for seven common countertop materials.


Quartz is the most popular countertop material largely because of how durable it is. But “that doesn’t mean [it’s] invincible,” says Grace Reynolds, a founder of the American House Cleaners Association. She advises wiping up spills immediately and using cutting boards to protect the quartz surface. If you still wind up with a mess, avoid abrasive and acidic cleaners, as well as bleach and vinegar. Instead, use a quartz-specific cleaner, from a brand such as Weiman or Hope’s.

For tough stains, Reynolds says you can try a bit of Goo Gone, though she advises testing it first on a “small, inconspicuous area” to make sure it doesn’t cause discoloration or other damage. Then, apply a small amount to the stain, let it sit for a few minutes, and carefully scrub it away with a microfiber cloth. Rinse the area with water and dry it with a clean microfiber cloth.


As with quartz, stay away from bleach, vinegar and harsh chemicals when cleaning your granite surfaces. If you need something stronger than dish soap and water, try a granite-specific cleaner. To get a stain out, make a 50/50 mixture of isopropyl alcohol and water, then wipe it onto the spot with a microfiber cloth.

Another option for stain removal: a thick paste (think of the consistency of toothpaste) made of baking soda and water. Start with a heaping tablespoon of baking soda then adding a teaspoon of water, or just enough so that the mixture sticks to the countertop. Spread the paste over the stain, cover it with plastic wrap and leave it for at least 24 hours. Use a microfiber cloth, water and mild dish soap to clean the paste off. You might need to repeat the process several times, but it’s safe and gentle and won’t damage the granite, Reynolds says.


Marble is “always the most finicky out of all the countertops” because of how porous it is, Reynolds says. In general, if soap and water aren’t working, use a specialized marble cleaner or pH neutral stone cleaner. A product not intended for natural stone may not have a neutral pH, which means it might dull the marble surface or leave behind spotty areas. (Manufacturers are not required to list the pH level of cleaning products on their labels. You can measure the pH yourself with a pH test strip; some brands link to the safety data sheets of particular cleaning products — which may include pH levels — on their websites.)

Even when only cleaning your marble with soap and water, be sure to quickly dry off the surface — just water can permanently stain it. Some water marks will disappear as the stone dries out, but it could take weeks.

For a surface-level stain, including those caused by evaporated water, use a marble-specific cleaner. Or, try the same trick recommended above for granite: Spread a thick paste of baking soda and water over the stain, cover it with plastic wrap and leave it for at least 24 hours. Use a microfiber cloth, water and mild dish soap to clean it off, and repeat if necessary.

Butcher block

Whether your butcher block counter is finished with urethane or a natural oil or wax, stay away from harsh chemicals when cleaning it, says Paul Timmins, president of Baltimore Fallen Lumber. Instead, he advises sticking to a mixture of water and either mild hand soap or Dawn dish soap. Anything more can strip the protective coating off the countertop, leaving the wood more vulnerable to stains and other damage.

For deeper cleaning, Timmins advises scrubbing with pure Castile soap and water with “a lot of elbow grease.” To remove stains, he suggests a mixture of a half-cup of vinegar, half-cup of water and one teaspoon of lemon juice. Reynolds suggests cutting a lemon in half, sprinkling some salt on the stain and using the lemon to scrub.

Some stains, such as red wine, might require light sanding, plus a new coat of finish. If you aren’t sure what type of finish will match the rest of the countertop, consider hiring a professional for the job.


Because laminate is man-made — and not nearly as expensive as natural stone — some homeowners assume they don’t have to be as careful with it. But harsh cleaners — from vinegar and lemon juice, to bleach and ammonia — can wear down the surface.

If you’ve got a stain that requires more than soap and water, try baking soda paste: Reynolds recommends making a thick paste, comparable to toothpaste, by combining a heaping tablespoon of baking soda with a teaspoon of water, or just enough so that it sticks to the surface. You can mix it directly on top of the stain, or dab it on with your fingers. Wipe it away after 24 hours with a microfiber cloth.

For a stain that is “not coming up any other way,” Reynolds says you can try a Magic Eraser. But proceed with caution, since those can cause microabrasions.

Stainless steel

Even if your entire countertop isn’t made of stainless steel, you can often find it as part of the stove, connected to the rest of your counters. Stainless steel is easy to damage, so don’t assume you can clean it with whatever you’re using on the rest of the countertop. For deep cleaning, use a specialty product such as Bar Keepers Friend or a stainless steel cleaner. For routine cleaning, a wipe-down with mild soap and warm water will do.

Whatever cleaning product you’re using, apply it with a microfiber cloth. “Once you scratch stainless steel, it’s very difficult to remove the scratch,” Noel says. If you’ve already scratched it, you can try buffing it out yourself with a Scotch-Brite pad, but doing so without causing more damage requires precision. It might be safer to hire a professional.


Though it’s more familiar in the United States as a material for tile, porcelain countertops — already popular in Europe — are gaining traction with Americans, according to Lori Shapiro, public relations manager at countertop-maker Caesarstone. The material is highly durable, able to resist scratching and tolerate high heats. But you should still avoid strong chemicals when cleaning it, sticking to dish soap and water or products with a neutral pH. One reliable option for stubborn spots, says Shapiro, is powdered Bar Keepers Friend, but don’t apply it directly to the porcelain. Instead, sprinkle some on a damp microfiber cloth and rub it in a circular motion.

Maya Pottiger is a D.C.-based journalist who also covers K-12 education.

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