How to take care of a wood cutting board

Cutting boards may just be the hardest-working equipment in my kitchen. I have a large cutting board for rolling out dough, a medium board for chopping most vegetables, a small board for cutting most fruit, and an even smaller board solely for mincing garlic. Each has been in service for years. Many years. While there are advantages to boards made of plastic and composite materials, I prefer wood boards. Not only are they beautiful, they’re also a pleasure to work on. 

Even caring for a wood cutting board is satisfying. Here’s how:

How to season a cutting board

Some new cutting boards arrive already “seasoned,” but most need a little TLC before being put to use. Basically, this simply involves coating the board with an oil to help it repel rather than absorb water and prevent cracking and staining. 

a clean and oiled wood cutting board

With a clean cloth, rub the oil on all the surfaces of the board — the top, bottom, and sides. Don’t soak it, but make sure it’s well coated. Let it sit overnight, then buff with a clean cloth. If the board still seems a bit dry — or doesn’t repel a bead of water — repeat the process.

As with cast iron, it’s a good idea to season your board now and then after it’s in use. Every couple of weeks is a good time frame if you use it often, or whenever you see it starting to dry out a bit (you can tell by the lighter color of the wood), or it begins to absorb rather than repel water.

What oil should I use on my cutting board?

Most people use food-grade mineral oil — with an emphasis on the food-grade. Mineral oil is a petroleum product; be sure to choose one that’s food safe (not the type used for machine lubrication)! 

Don’t use vegetable or nut-based oils, either, because these can eventually become rancid. Because mineral oil is a petroleum product that I’d rather avoid, I opt for highly refined coconut oil. (The coconut oil needs to be refractionated, or steam distilled, to prevent rancidity.) 

There are also cutting board waxes or butters or creams. These are thicker than the oil, often concocted of mineral oil and beeswax. They do a good job seasoning a board, too; they provide a bit thicker, outer coat than the oil. I like to use oil to seep into the grooves followed by a wax. (I use a board wax made from refined coconut oil and rice.)

Another option is to include some beeswax in your oil, to provide added sealing. To do this, heat half a cup of mineral oil with 2 tablespoons beeswax over very low heat until the wax is dissolved. Pour into a jar and stir every hour or so while cooling, to ensure blending. Rub the beeswax/oil mixture over the board. Let sit for about an hour. Buff with a clean cloth. 

a cut apple and paring knife on a wood cutting board

How to clean a wood cutting board

Routine cleansing

A wood cutting board needs to be washed after every use, but don’t submerge it in water, and never put it in the dishwasher. If the wood gets soaked/stays wet, it can make the wood fibers swell and the board split or warp. Cutting on a wet board can cause scarring, too, because wet wood is softer than dry.

Instead, scrub your board with hot soapy water, rinse well with hot water, and dry with a clean towel. I like to stand the board up afterwards until it’s thoroughly dry. It’s also a good idea to store your board in a dry spot (don’t sit it on the counter next to the sink, for example). Storing it vertically, so that air can circulate around it, is best.

Extra cleansing and freshening

There are several things you can do to freshen and cleanse a cutting board that’s stained or smells a bit. 

Option 1: Dampen the board and sprinkle with coarse salt. Cut a lemon in half and rub it over the board, squeezing the lemon a bit as you rub. Do both sides of the board. Let the board stand for about 15 minutes, then rinse with hot water, and dry thoroughly with a clean towel.

Option 2: Make a solution of baking soda (1 tablespoon), salt (1 tablespoon), and just enough hot water to make a paste. Scrub the board with the paste. Rinse with hot water and dry with a clean towel.

Disinfecting

To disinfect a cutting board, simply spray with white vinegar. Let sit for a few minutes, then wipe with a warm, damp cloth.

a natural wood cutting board partially covered by a blue and white checked dishcloth

How to restore a cutting board

To restore the wood, sand the board with coarse (100), then medium (180), then fine (240) grit sandpaper. Wash with hot soapy water, rinse with hot water, and dry with a clean towel. 

It’s a good idea to re-season the board after extra cleansing, disinfecting or, especially, restoring (see above).

Buying a cutting board

If you’re in the market for a cutting board, think about how you’ll be using your board. For example:

Size. If you’re using it to slice the banana for your morning cereal, a small board will do. But if you want to chop a butternut squash, you’ll need something bigger. And, of course, you should consider what’s a comfortable fit in your workspace.

Function. If you plant to cut meat or other juicy foods on the board, you may want one with a well (that indented portion around the edges) to catch the juices. And a cutout or other handle for hanging the board may help your storage situation. 

Features. Some boards have handles, some have feet to keep them from sliding, and some are reversible. Big, heavy boards are harder to clean and store than smaller ones, but they feel substantial when you use them, and they’re less likely to slip around. (BTW placing a damp cloth under a cutting board, if it’s on a slippery surface, helps keep it in place.) Some boards even have cut-out portions for sliding in phones or tablets.

hands cutting an orange with a chef's knife on a wood cutting board

Aesthetics. If you plan to serve on your cutting board (cheese or appetizers, for example), how it looks may be especially important. 

Keep in mind that you’ll want separate cutting boards for meats and produce, because of the risk of cross-contamination with bacteria from the meat. That’s a perfect excuse to have more than one beautiful wood cutting board in your kitchen!

This article from Foodal has some good information about how cutting boards are constructed that you might find interesting. 

Do you have a wood cutting board? How do you take care of yours? Do you regularly oil it?

You might also enjoy:

Brooms — How to clean and care for your household broom

Towel care — How to keep bath towels soft, fluffy, and absorbent!

Caring for books — How to store, clean, and handle your books

Shine on! — How to take good care of and refurbish stainless steel flatware

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