How To Clean and Maintain Wood Cutting Boards

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Thinking about throwing out your wooden cutting board? Wait! Here’s how to clean, disinfect, and maintain wood cutting boards to keep them like-new.

Are you concerned about the state of your favorite wood cutting board? Has someone told you it’s not safe to use? For the longest time, cleaning experts said to ditch them in favor of plastic ones. They figured that since plastic is easier to clean, it’s easier to keep sanitary. But they were wrong.

Food safety expert, Dean Cliver, did some investigating. He discovered more dangerous bacteria lingers on plastic cutting boards than wood ones. This result was true even after washing them. Greasy residues, like those from chicken fat, made the problem even worse.

How To Clean Wood Cutting Boards

So, don’t ditch your wood cutting board in favor of plastic. It’s not safer and may pose a greater risk of contamination. Instead, read to discover how easy it is to clean and disinfect wood cutting boards. Plus, you’ll learn how to keep yours looking like new.

A woman showing how to clean a wooden cutting board

Washing Tips

No matter how nasty your wood cutting board gets, don’t soak it in water or put it in the dishwasher. Too much water makes wood fibers swell. Over time, this causes cracks in your cutting board that can trap the very germs you’re trying to remove.

To clean your wood cutting board, wash it by hand. Use hot water, a rag or sponge, and a little liquid dish soap. Be sure to clean both sides, even if you only used one. Rinse it under hot water, pat it dry with a towel, then let it finish air-drying.

To remove stains, dip the sponge into some salt or baking soda and scrub. For tougher stains, let hydrogen peroxide or lemon juice sit on the spot for 5 minutes then rinse. (Related: Homemade Soft Scrub Cleaner.)

A lemon, knife, and pile of coarse salt on a wood cutting board

Deodorizing Tips

Certain foods make wood cutting boards smell bad. Onions, garlic, and fish are the usual culprits. If your wood cutting board stinks after washing, here are two easy ways to deodorize it.

A lemon and salt rub. Cut a lemon in half and sprinkle salt on the cut side. Use this to scour the board on both sides, squeezing the lemon as you work. Let the mixture sit on your cutting board for 5-10 minutes then wash it. The citric acid in lemons is an excellent deodorizer, and the salt scours away hidden food residue.

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A baking soda paste. Mix enough water with baking soda (bicarbonate for UK readers) to create a paste. Rub this onto your wood cutting board with a damp rag. Let it sit 5 minutes before rinsing, and your cutting board will be odor-free.

How to Disinfect Your Wood Cutting Board

You should always disinfect your wood cutting board after using it with raw meat. There are other times you might want to disinfect it for your peace of mind. Wash it first to remove some of the germs then pick one of the easy disinfection methods below.

  1. Hydrogen peroxide. Either pour or spray hydrogen peroxide on your cutting board until it’s very wet. Wait 10 minutes to let the peroxide work, then rinse and dry your cutting board.
  2. White vinegar and water. Pour a 50-50 solution of distilled white vinegar and water on your wood cutting board. Wait 10 minutes, shake off the excess, and let it air dry.
  3. Bleach water. Stir 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach into a gallon of water. Pour this on your cutting board and let it sit for 5 minutes. Then follow the steps above to wash and dry your cutting board.

How to Keep Wood Cutting Boards from Cracking

Wooden cutting boards split, crack, and warp if you don’t take proper care of them. Wash your cutting board the right way using the steps above. Then, once a month or so, apply a light coating of food-safe mineral oil to keep the wood in good condition.

Oil it Often

  1. Dip a cloth into food-safe mineral oil. (You can warm it in the microwave first if you want.)
  2. Rub a generous amount of oil on both sides of your cutting board, including the edges.
  3. Let the oil soak in overnight then buff the board with a dry cloth. There’s no need to wash it before use, although you can if you want.

Why Use Mineral Oil on Your Cutting Board?

Mineral oil doesn’t go rancid, which makes it ideal for use on cutting boards. Rancid oil makes your food taste bad. Look for a food-safe version, though, not the kind from the hardware store. You can use it on more than just your wood cutting board, too. Mineral oil moisturizes and protects butcherblock counters, knife handles, and wood salad bowls or serving ware. (Related: How to Keep Wooden Spoons Like New.)

Can I Use Olive, Canola, or Coconut Oil Instead?

Some cooking oils go rancid over time, including olive and canola oil, and also regular coconut oil. But there’s one form of coconut oil that’s a safe substitute. Refractionated coconut oil is steam-distilled to remove the long-chain triglycerides. This process keeps it from going rancid, so it’s a good substitute if you don’t want to use mineral oil on your wood cutting board.

How to Restore a Damaged Wood Cutting Board

If your old wood cutting board is starting to look and feel rough, here’s how to restore it to good shape.

1. Rub it with coarse-grit sandpaper along the grain. Get the front and back as well as the sides and grooves. Wipe it with a damp cloth to remove the grit.

2. Switch to medium-grain sandpaper to repeat the step above. Do the same with fine-grit sandpaper to finish.

3. Oil your cutting board following the steps above. This step helps moisturize the wood you’ve resurfaced. Then, oil it a second time to provide a protective coating, and enjoy your like-new cutting board.

The Takeaway

It turns out that wood cutting boards are more sanitary than plastic ones. To clean yours, hand-wash it in hot soapy water after use. Use sandpaper to get rid of knife-marks and rough spots. To keep your cutting board from cracking or splitting, coat it often with any food-safe oil that won’t go rancid. With proper attention, your wood cutting board will stay like new for years to come.

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    1. You can find it online, in restaurant and gourmet shops, in some hardware stores, and in any store that specializes in butcher block counters or cutting boards.

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