Good Question: How to Clean Granite Countertops

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Dear Kitchen,

What's the best way to keep my granite counter tops clean? I don't want to wreck them, but the streaks are really frustrating me.

J. K.

J.K., smart question. Sometimes I think those gleaming high-end kitchen we see in real esate ads are a little sad. No one uses (or loves) a kitchen that pristine and shiny.

Please -- don't let your new counters scare you away from cooking! Here's four steps and four products to consider forbringing back the gleam to your new counters:

Step 1. Know what kind of counter tops you have. Cleaning instructions difer depending on the brand of counter or type of stone you have. You might think it's obvious that your counters are granite or marble, but unless you or your contractor picked them out from the stone yard, don't be too sure. There are some exciting new products including CaesarStone and Silestone that look almost like real stone, but they aren't. True stone counter tops are a natural product so they are more porus, more likely to suck in stains.

If you aren't sure if your counters are a composite or natural material, go to a kitchen showroom store and look at their samples. When you hold granite and CaesarStone samples next to each other, you'll learn how to feel and see the differences. Hint: granite and marble don't have any kind of pattern or "logic" in their design; on close inspection, composite stone does.

Step 2. Clean as you cook. When I had old laminate counter tops, I had a bad habit of letting wine glasses sit out all night after a party. I'd spill some gravy and not wipe it up until after the guests left.

If you have natural stone counter tops, you need to be more careful. Cleaning as you go is a good habit to develop and your new counter tops might be the sparkling inspiration you need. Dried on food can be difficult to remove since you can't use abrasives on the counters, and -- oh the horror! -- red wine and grease can leave permenant stains on your new countertop investment.

Step 3. Research. There is so much information about these new high end counter tops available online. Learn about what other people are doing to keep the counters streak-free by doing a quick Web search on the specific brand name of your counter and cleaning. Unfortunately, some of the information will be conflicting. People who get really into their counter tops like to disagree on the best way to take care of them, but this is still helpful background information. Also, check out this story on eHow.

Then, ask the manufacturer or a stone yard, or at least look at their websites for cleaning tips. For example, my CaesarStone came from the helpful guys at Elite Granite so that's where I started my research. While your talking to these people, ask them how you can tell if you need to re-seal your counters. Keep in mind that since they might sell re-sealing services, it might be in their interest to suggest annual re-sealing.

Finally, read the lables of the products you're planning to use to clean the counters and check out their websites. People in the grocery store stare at me as I scrutinize cleaning product lables.

This seems like a lot of work, but it sure beats messing up countertops that cost as much as a decent used car, right?

Step 4. Buy and Try There's a slew of products ready to help us keep kitchen counters clean. I've been trying some different products lately, looking for one with a good smell that doesn't streak and won't damage my counters. Check back later today for a post on the counter cleaning products I've been testing. (While there's glass cleaner in my picture here, I don't recommend using that.)

For a review of the best products to clean granite countertops, check out the second part of this post.

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