Wooden cutting boards look great; plus, they're easy on knives, long-lasting, and if you clean them right, more sanitary than a plastic cutting board.
My favorite one is about 45 years old, a hand-me-down from my parents. It’s lasted all these years because my mom took good care of it, and now I do, too.
So, what’s the best way to clean a wooden cutting board? How do you keep it from cracking? Wooden cutting boards do require a little maintenance, but it all pays off. Here are my tips for how to clean, maintain, and condition your wooden board so it’ll last for years!
How to Clean a Wood Cutting Board: Dos and Don’ts
- Do wash your cutting board by hand. If you’re just slicing bread, you can simply wipe it off, but for moist, sticky, or pungent foods (which is most of them), you’ll need to wash and rinse it.
- Do use liquid dish soap to wash your cutting board.
- Do wipe your clean cutting board dry, and let it finish by air-drying on its side.
- Don’t soak a cutting board. You can submerge it in water, but only for a quick dunk. Soaking can cause the board to warp.
- Don’t put wooden cutting boards in the dishwasher. The excessive heat and harsh chemicals of the dish detergent will cause the wood to dry out, warp, and/or crack.
- Don’t use harsh, concentrated cleaners on your cutting board.
More Tips for Cutting Board Care
- As you prep, wipe the surface of the board frequently with a sponge or dishcloth. This will make cleanup easier when it’s all said and done.
- Wash your cutting board soon after you’re done using it. This is so liquids, food residue, and odors don’t penetrate the wood. Have you ever sliced an apple only to discover locked-in garlic from the soup you made the day before has ruined your perfect fruit? Frequently wiping the board as you use it will keep this from happening.
- Sanitize your cutting board after prepping raw meat. Use either straight-up white vinegar or a solution of 1 1/2 teaspoons bleach in 4 cups of water.
- To freshen up a smelly board (think residual onion vapors), rub a halved lemon over the surface; let it sit for a minute or two, and then wipe off the board.
- To remove stubborn stains, sprinkle baking soda over a cutting board, rub with a warm, damp cloth, then rinse away any excess baking soda.
- If there’s caked-on residue, it’s okay to use an abrasive scrubbing pad, like this. It shouldn’t scratch your cutting board.
Why You Need to Oil a Wood Cutting Board
Just like conditioning your hair, you need to condition cutting boards to keep them shiny and lustrous. A conditioned wood cutting board is somewhat waterproof, so it does not absorb moisture, and thus fewer odors from food.
A conditioned board can also help protect against bacteria and keep your cutting board from splitting and warping. Warping is bad because your cutting board will wobble when you chop on it, and splitting is bad because those little cracks harbor moisture and food gunk, becoming pockets for bacteria.
The Best Oils for Cutting Board Conditioning
Why use a special oil instead of what you already have in your kitchen? A cutting board is not a sauté pan or a pile of salad greens. Y ou shouldn’t use cooking oil for conditioning your cutting boards.
The reason? Rancidity. Even a very stable oil like coconut oil will go rancid over time. The biggest problem with this is the smell. If you’re wondering what that’s like, go to a thrift store and find an old wooden salad bowl. Stick your nose right in there. It’ll probably stink like wet cardboard mixed with a closet full of stale clothing. Gross, right? That smell is oil that’s penetrated the wood and gone rancid.
Do not lead your cutting boards to the same fate! Stick to either mineral oil or a beeswax and mineral oil blend, and you’ll be in good shape.
Many cutting board manufacturers and chefs recommend food-grade mineral oil , an oil derived from petroleum, just like Vaseline and paraffin. Keep in mind that you’re using it to seal and condition your board, not to cook with.
If you can't find an option online, you can also go to the drugstore or grocery store and look in the laxative section. You’ll find bottles of mineral oil there, because mineral oil is also an old-school laxative. Since it’s taken internally, you know it’s food grade. A bottle usually costs less than five bucks and will last you years.
IMPORTANT: What you don’t want to do is use industrial mineral oil, the kind made for lubricating machinery. It’s not food grade. Get your mineral oil from the grocery store or a specialty retailer, not the auto parts center.
Beeswax and Mineral Oil Board Cream
Beeswax will make a wood cutting board shinier and more waterproof than straight-up mineral oil. Because it’s not easy to rub your cutting board with a hunk of hard wax, it’s preferable to use a mineral oil and beeswax board cream.
You can buy it or make your own by melting one part grated food-grade beeswax with four parts mineral oil by volume. Warning: It’s messy, and you are best off melting the beeswax and mixing the cream in the glass jar you plan to store it in. Do this in a microwave on low power, or set the jar in a pan of gently simmering water.
I primarily use mineral oil on my boards, and then board cream just a few times a year. Use whatever you’re into—the main point is to condition the boards as often as they need it.
Are you vegan, and avoiding beeswax? Or not into using mineral oil? There are special products just for you, made from plant-based wax and/or coconut oil that’s been refined to keep it from going rancid.
How to Oil Your Wood Cutting Board
You will need:
- A clean, dry, odor-free cutting board
- Mineral oil or board cream
- A rag (pieces of very clean old t-shirts or wool socks work best)
1 Pour the oil: Pour a small pool of mineral oil in the center of the board, about the diameter of a quarter. This might seem like a lot, but it can absorb a lot of oil.
2 Rub it in: Use the rag to rub the oil in small, circular strokes. Do this all over the board, including both sides and the ends. Make sure the oil permeates all the crevices. Keep adding more oil, if needed. Prop the board on its side so it’s upright, and let the board absorb the oil overnight.
If using a board cream, once again use a clean, lint-free rag. Dip it in the cream then work it into the wood grain in circular movements. Use a different rag to buff the wood to a shine.
3 Oil your wooden utensils: If desired, oil your wooden utensils with the now-saturated rag. Then throw the rag away or use it for dusting or furniture polishing.
When to Oil Your Cutting Board
There’s no magic formula for how often to condition your board. Look at your board and you’ll know when it’s time. It’ll look dry and grayish, with a light-colored patch in the center.
If you absolutely must have a magic formula, do it twice a season—eight times a year. I probably oil my boards once a month. They get a lot of use, and the more you wash your board, the more often you need to oil it.
Climate is another factor. I need to oil my cutting boards more often in the winter, when the house is dry and we’re running the heater more often.
If the board is badly splitting anywhere, it’s time to get another one. Food and moisture can get into those parts and become bacteria farms.
Bonus: Oil Your Wood Spoons and Utensils!
Ugh, furry spoons. Do you know what I’m talking about? A furry spoon is a wooden spoon that’s dry and feels shredded rather than smooth. Wooden utensils get like that over time if they’re washed in a dishwasher, or simply not conditioned.
I usually oil my cutting boards and wooden utensils all at once: board first, then tools. It’s like giving them a loving massage, and they repay me by lasting for years and years and having a nice shine. And you wind up with a semi-manicure while you’re at it.
Not Into the Maintenance? Try an Epicurean Board.
All this upkeep too much? It’s cool! If you don’t think you’ll take care of a wooden cutting board, try an Epicurean cutting board. They’re made from reused cardboard, paper, and wood fiber—so they’re gentle on knives. You also don’t need to oil them. They have a handsome look, and—best of all—they are dishwasher-safe.
Cambria, Simply Recipes’ Product and Lifestyle Director, loves these boards.