How To Clean And Maintain A Wooden Cutting Board The Right Way

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We independently select all products and services. If you click through links we provide, we may earn a commission. Learn moreVettedHomeHow To Clean And Maintain A Wooden Cutting Board The Right WayAmanda ArnoldForbes StaffForbes VettedFeb 2, 2024,10:04am EST

Functional and beautiful, wooden cutting boards have a lot going for them. The best of their kind are spacious, durable and easier on knives than their plastic counterparts. But to ensure your wood chopping block retains all those qualities and doesn’t warp or crack after a few washings, you need to be prepared to put in the necessary maintenance.

It’s understandable that some home cooks find wooden cutting board upkeep to be intimidating. After all, it requires two-step drying and moisturizing routines. Once you familiarize yourself with the steps, though, the process doesn’t seem nearly as daunting. Better yet, you may even come to enjoy the meditative task of rubbing food-grade mineral oil into your board, watching it go from dull and dry to hydrated and radiant. If you can take care of a cast-iron skillet and high-end kitchen knives, you can maintain a wood chopping block.

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How To Clean A Wooden Cutting Board

All The Supplies You Need:

A mild dish soap (like Seventh Generation Free & Clear Liquid Dish Soap) A sponge Paper towels Lemons Kosher salt White vinegar

If you can only remember one thing, let it be this: Moisture is a wood cutting board’s worst enemy. When exposed to water or other liquids for extended periods of time, wooden boards are at high risk of cracking or warping, rendering them useless. Suffice it to say, under no circumstances should a wood board go through a dishwasher cycle. Here’s what you should do instead.

Step One: Wash

After you finish your chopping tasks and remove any food debris from the board’s surface, wash it in warm soapy water, using a mild dish soap and sponge. Do not, under any circumstance, use a steel brush, which can create tiny scratches and shorten your board’s lifespan. Also, it’s wise to wash all sides of the board — even the ones you didn’t use. When only one surface of the board is exposed to water, it will expand while the dry sides do not, which can lead to warping.

Step Two: Dry (And Dry Again)

Once you’ve rinsed off all the food and soapy water, wipe down the board with a clean dish rag or paper towels to remove excess liquid. Then, prop the board up onto its narrowest edge so that its largest faces can thoroughly dry, letting it rest overnight. Not only does this measure lower the risk of your board splitting or warping, but it’s also important from a food-safety standpoint. “If a wooden cutting board is dried correctly, meaning it’s not put away in an area where moisture is allowed to set in, then the risk of a foodborne pathogen being on the surface of that cutting board is really, really low,” says Ben Chapman, PhD, a food safety researcher at North Carolina State University. “It’s on par with a plastic cutting board that can be cleaned and sanitized in a dishwasher.”

How Can You Remove Stains Or Smells From A Cutting Board?

Unless you avoid using your cutting board for pungent foods like garlic, anchovy and onion, the wood will likely hold on to some odors; the same goes for stains. If you ever use your board to chop up beets, fresh turmeric or pomegranate, some of the juices from those vibrant foods will likely seep into the block — especially if it’s made from a light wood like maple, beech or hinoki. Now, there are some preventive measures you can take to ward off scents and smell. “If you’re cutting something smelly, wet the cutting board first to fill the pores of the wood with water before those more pungent ingredients get introduced to the wood,” advises Josh Donald, co-owner of Bernal Cutlery in San Francisco. “That will keep the smells down.”

If your board has already absorbed some of those colors and smells, though, and soap isn’t doing the trick, you have some options. First, squeeze fresh lemon juice and sprinkle kosher salt over the soiled surface, rubbing the mixture into the board vigorously; let the acidic mixture rest for about an hour, and then wash the board. “That can also be a great way to pull out some funky flavors,” adds Donald. If that method doesn’t work, you can also spray the board down with white vinegar, allowing five minutes to pass before rinsing it off. (White vinegar is also effective at disinfecting the surface.)

Or you can try this tip from the Boardsmith, the brand behind our favorite butcher block: If you’re dealing with lingering garlic or onion odors, rub the affected area with a raw potato or apple.

How To Maintain A Wooden Cutting Board

All The Tools You Need:

Food-grade mineral oil Beeswax A proprietary blend, such as The Boardsmith Board Butter or Boos Block Board Cream More paper towels

As you put your cutting board through the paces in your kitchen, over time and with regular washing, its once-hydrated grains will slowly lose their moisture and luster. That’s where oil and wax (or board cream) come in. Whereas oil penetrates the wood fibers, board wax and cream rest atop the surface, sealing in the moisture and protecting against smells, stains and liquid. As for how frequently you should treat your board, there isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Whenever your board appears dull and dry or feels rough to the touch, that’s when you know it’s time to treat it. Whereas newer boards tend to require more frequent oilings, perhaps once a week, you should expect to perform this upkeep about once a month. The wood and construction of your board is a factor, though. For example, end-grain boards need to be oiled more frequently than edge-grain boards; maple drinks up more oil than teak.

John Boos Essential Care Set

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Step One: Oil Your Board

Before you go about oiling your board, you need to pick your oil. While many brands advise you to use their proprietary blend, you can generally get away with using any food-grade mineral oil. Walnut oil is another great option, though it may not be safe for those with nut allergies. Just don’t assume you can rub your board down with any oil. “Don’t use something like olive oil because that will go rancid,” advises Donald. Other oils that fall into this category include vegetable, corn, sunflower and regular coconut oil.

Once you’ve procured your bottle, use either your hands or a paper towel to rub an even coat of oil over the entire board, making sure to hit the juice groove and hand grips (if your board has such features). Then, tilt the block onto its side to dry, allowing the oil to penetrate the wood for a few hours at minimum, though preferably overnight.

Step Two: Wax Your Board

When the oil has thoroughly penetrated the board, it’s time to seal in the moisture with wax. While you can use food-safe beeswax, picking up a proprietary wax blend — such as The Boardsmith Board Butter or Boos Block Board Cream — is often easier and more convenient. Just as you did with the mineral oil, apply a thin layer of wax or cream onto the board, hitting every nook and cranny. While you can use your hands, board cream is super slick, so you may want to use a clean, soft cloth. Then, once more, prop the board onto its side and let rest for a few hours or overnight.

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The Boardsmith Board Butter

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How To Repair A Wooden Cutting Board

Is your go-to board showing signs of wear? Here’s how to handle three of the most common wooden cutting board issues.

What Can You Do With A Badly Scarred Board?

While wood is better at “healing” knife scars than plastic, over time and with regular use, deeper scars and grooves will likely form. Not only are they unsightly, but they can also become a “real environment where, if there’s food debris there and it doesn’t fully dry out, bacteria can grow and thrive,” says Chapman. When a plastic cutting board reaches this state, it’s best to throw it away. And though you may choose to do the same with a wood board, Chapman adds that you can easily sand down the surface, reestablishing a new, unmarred surface.

What Can You Do If Your Wooden Cutting Board Warps?

If your board slightly warps, you don’t necessarily need to throw it away. “The upside to solid wood is that it can always be resurfaced, either by sanding things flat, using surfacing machinery or using a trusty hand plane,” says Angie Yang, cofounder of Brooklyn woodworking school Bien Hecho Academy. “If it’s a family heirloom, contact your neighborhood woodworker for a hand.” If you’re not that attached to your board, though, it may make more sense to retire it.

What Can You Do If Your Wooden Cutting Board Cracks?

If you notice a small crack forming in your wood board, it’s possible to repair it using food-safe wood glue and sandpaper; for larger cracks, it’s best to let woodworkers assess whether it can be fixed. But in most cases, unless you have an heirloom-quality butcher block, you may simply want to cut your losses and throw the board away. Not only are cracks unsightly, but they can also harbor pathogens, rendering the board unsafe to use.

Our Favorite Wooden Cutting Boards

Ready to invest in a brand new wood chopping block and the maintenance they require? Here are our favorite boards, based on extensive testing.

The Best Option For Most Home Cooks

John Boos Maple Edge-Grain Reversible Cutting Board

Buy From Amazon

Made out of durable maple wood, this block is spacious, versatile and built to last. (Here’s our full review of the John Boos Maple Edge-Grain Reversible Cutting Board.)

A Low-Maintenance Board Made Out Of Sustainable Teak

TeakHaus Edge-Grain Professional Carving Board

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Made out of sustainable teak from FSC-certified forests, this striking board is naturally moisture-resistant, thanks to teak’s high oil content. Therefore, it’s less prone to cracking and requires less oil.

A Handsome, Stately End-Grain Butcher Block

The Boardsmith Maple End-Grain Cutting Board

Buy From The Boardsmith

If you’re looking to invest in an heirloom-quality butcher block to occupy a permanent spot on your countertop, consider this maple end-grain option from The Boardsmith, which is gentler on knives than edge-grain boards.

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