Q: I have owned an old O'Keefe & Merritt stove for many years. With time, the white surface around the burners has become discolored (brownish) and the only way I can hide this is to use foil burner bibs. I then had a (lousy!) cleaning service for a short time. They did do one thing like magic — they sprayed some solution on my stovetop and it turned white. I haven't a clue what it was and fired them before finding out. I have tried bleach-based cleaners, ammonia, and oxalic acid — nothing works. Any suggestions?
Trisodium phosphate (or TSP). With caveats, that is.
Although this strong alkali cleaner usually works on jobs soap and water can't make a dent in, use sparingly. Especially on such a classic piece as your O'Keefe & Merritt. Adding a 1/2 tablespoon of this caustic cleaner to a gallon of water should do the trick. Resist the urge to use more — chances are it will remove the white surface paint as well as the unsightly brownish gunk.
You'll need to wear goggles and gloves while doing this cleaning. Make sure the kitchen is well-ventilated before you begin. Mix the TSP solution, scrub, then rinse well. Finally, wash in hot, soapy water to remove any lingering chemicals, rinse thoroughly, and dry.