How To Clean (And Sanitize) Your Wooden Cutting Boards

Apr 10, 2024

how to clean wood cutting boards

Wood cutting boards are the unsung heroes of the kitchen, not only offering a durable surface for chopping and slicing, but also adding a touch of warmth and natural beauty to the heart of your home.

Beyond their aesthetic appeal, wood boards are preferred by chefs and home cooks alike for their gentle touch on knives and ability to be restored to like-new condition with proper care. However, unlike their plastic counterparts, wood boards require a bit more attention to maintain their functionality and appearance. Without regular cleaning, drying and conditioning, they can become warped, cracked or even harbor bacteria.

Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a casual cook, understanding how to care for your wood cutting board is key to preserving its quality and ensuring it remains a safe, reliable tool for all your culinary needs.

Dive in to learn the essentials of cleaning and maintaining your wood cutting boards—from daily cleaning rituals to in-depth maintenance techniques—to ensure your board remains a beautiful fixture in your kitchen for years to come.

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how to clean wood cutting boards

Understanding wood cutting boards

Wood cutting boards are a staple in kitchens worldwide, cherished for their durability, natural aesthetics and functional benefits. Before we dive into the specifics of maintenance, it’s essential to understand the types of wood cutting boards available and their unique characteristics.

Types of wood cutting boards

  • End-grain cutting boards: These boards are known for their “self-healing” properties. They’re made from end pieces of wood that are glued together, creating a surface that’s kind to knives. When you cut on an end-grain board, the knife blade goes between the wood fibers rather than cutting through them. This not only preserves your knife’s sharpness, but also helps the board last longer. End-grain boards are visually striking, often displaying a rich mosaic of wood patterns.
  • Edge-grain cutting boards: Constructed from parallel pieces of wood that have been joined side by side, edge-grain boards are more affordable and slightly less durable than their end-grain counterparts. They offer a solid cutting surface and are easier to maintain, making them a popular choice for both professional and home kitchens.
  • Face-grain cutting boards: These boards showcase the wood’s beauty to the fullest by using the wide, flat surface of the wood planks. While they’re the most aesthetically pleasing, face-grain boards are prone to scratches and cuts from knives, which can lead to quicker wear and tear.

Benefits of using wood over other materials

  • Durability and longevity: When properly maintained, wood cutting boards can last for decades. The ability to sand and refinish the surface allows for the removal of cuts and scratches, essentially renewing the board.
  • Knife-friendly: Unlike hard plastic boards, wood provides a softer surface that doesn’t dull knives. This can extend the life of your cutlery significantly.
  • Aesthetics: Wood cutting boards add a touch of natural elegance to any kitchen. With their varied grains and colors, they can double as beautiful serving platters for cheese, charcuterie and more.
how to clean wood cutting boards

Cleaning your wood cutting board

A well-maintained wood cutting board is not just about aesthetics—it’s also about food safety and extending the life of your board.

Proper cleaning can be divided into two main categories: routine cleaning, which should be done after every use, and deep cleaning, for when your board needs some extra TLC to remove tough stains or odors.

Here’s how to keep your wood cutting board in pristine condition through both methods.

Routine Cleaning

After each use, your wood cutting board should be cleaned to remove food particles and bacteria, and to prevent staining. Here’s a straightforward process:

  1. Wipe down: Immediately after use, wipe off any excess food particles with a paper towel or a soft cloth.
  2. Wash gently: Clean the surface with warm, soapy water using a soft sponge or cloth. Scrub gently to avoid damaging the wood.
  3. Rinse with warm water: Thoroughly rinse the board under warm running water to remove any soap residue.
  4. Dry immediately: Use a clean towel to remove excess water. Then, stand it up to air-dry completely. Avoid letting it sit flat when wet to prevent water from pooling and soaking into the wood, which can cause warping or cracking.

Deep Cleaning

Even with regular cleaning, wood cutting boards can develop deep-set stains and odors over time. Deep cleaning methods help to restore the board’s surface without damaging the wood.

  • Removing stains: For stubborn stains, make a paste of baking soda and water, and gently rub it onto the stained area with a soft cloth or sponge. Rinse thoroughly afterward.
  • Neutralizing odors: To remove strong odors, such as garlic or onion, cut a lemon in half and rub it over the surface of the cutting board. Citric acid helps neutralize odors naturally. For an extra boost, sprinkle some coarse salt on the board before rubbing it with the lemon. Rinse and dry afterward.
  • Sanitizing: Instead of using harsh chemicals like bleach, opt for a natural sanitizer like white vinegar or 3% hydrogen peroxide. Apply your choice of sanitizer liberally over the surface, let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse with water and dry.

If you choose to use bleach, ensure it’s highly diluted as it can discolor and dry out your board. Mix 1 teaspoon of unscented bleach with 1 quart of water. Apply the solution sparingly to the board’s surface, let it sit for a few minutes to disinfect, then rinse the board thoroughly with water and dry it completely. It’s crucial to not overuse bleach and to ensure the board is rinsed well to prevent any bleach residue.

how to clean wood cutting boards

Maintenance for wood cutting boards

The regular maintenance of your wood cutting board is crucial to extend its life and maintain its beauty and functionality. Oiling and conditioning play a pivotal role in this process.

Importance of oiling and conditioning

Wood is naturally porous, and without proper care, it can dry out, crack or warp.

Oiling and conditioning penetrates the wood, creating a barrier that retains moisture, enhances durability and prevents the wood from absorbing odors and stains. This not only keeps your cutting board in optimal condition, but also makes cleaning easier.

Types of oils to use and those to avoid

  • Use: Food-grade mineral oil is the most recommended for wood cutting boards due to its ability to moisturize without going rancid. Other options include almond oil, coconut oil (fractionated) and beeswax-based conditioners, which offer additional protection and conditioning.
  • Avoid: Cooking oils such as olive, vegetable or nut oils should be avoided as they can spoil and create unpleasant odors or tastes.

How to apply oil and conditioner

  1. Clean and dry: Ensure your cutting board is thoroughly cleaned and completely dry.
  2. Apply oil: Using a clean cloth, apply a generous amount of mineral oil evenly over the surface, edges and underside of the board. Allow the oil to soak in, ideally overnight.
  3. Wipe off excess: The next day, wipe off any remaining oil with a clean, dry cloth.
  4. Apply conditioner: For additional protection, apply a layer of beeswax conditioner with a cloth, let it sit for a few hours, then buff off the excess with another clean cloth.

Protecting your cutting board

Protecting your wood cutting board from damage requires mindful practices during daily use. To ensure its longevity, it’s important to avoid prolonged exposure to moisture, which means never soaking your board in water or leaving it wet after cleaning. Moisture can penetrate the wood, leading to warping, cracking and creating an environment conducive to bacteria growth.

Similarly, extreme temperatures are detrimental to wood cutting boards. Placing hot pans directly onto the board can cause the wood to warp and split.

To maintain the highest standards of kitchen hygiene and prevent cross-contamination, it’s also advisable to use separate cutting boards for different types of food. Designate one board exclusively for raw meats, poultry and seafood, and another for fruits, vegetables and ready-to-eat items. This practice not only helps in keeping your board in good condition but also ensures a safer food preparation environment.

how to clean wood cutting boards

Troubleshooting common issues

Even with meticulous care, wood cutting boards can encounter some common issues over time. Understanding how to address warping, cracks or lingering odors and knowing when to repair versus replace your board can help extend its lifespan and ensure its safe use.

Warping and Cracks

  • Prevention: Regular oiling is key to preventing warping and cracks, as it helps maintain the wood’s moisture balance, making it less prone to drying out and changing shape.
  • Warping solutions: If your board begins to warp, first try to rehydrate and reshape it. You can do this by applying mineral oil generously, then placing the board flat under a heavy object for a few days. Ensure the board is completely dry before attempting this.
  • Crack management: Small cracks can often be minimized with oiling, but deeper cracks may harbor bacteria and pose a hygiene risk. Fill small cracks with a food-safe wood filler as a temporary solution, but consider replacing if it has larger cracks.

When to repair vs when to replace

Minor imperfections like scratches and small nicks can often be sanded down and oiled, restoring the surface to a smooth finish. Regular maintenance can prevent many issues from becoming severe.

That said, consider replacing your cutting board if it has deep, wide cracks that are difficult to clean, if warping is severe and doesn’t respond to corrective measures, or if the board shows signs of rot. Safety should be your priority; a damaged board can harbor bacteria and pose a risk to food safety.

Hungry for more? From cutting boards and knife blocks to sharpeners and storage solutions, our collection of Knife Accessories will ensure your kitchen is a cut above the rest!

Shop Our Knife Accessories

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