How to Clean a Wooden Cutting Board

How to Clean a Wood Cutting Board
credit: Ana Stanciu

If you do a lot of cooking, you probably have a well-used cutting board with a million knife cuts in it. It might be one of your favorite kitchen tools, and you want it to last forever. There's no reason why it can't, but if you don't season it regularly, the odor from the bacteria that live in the cuts may eventually discourage you from using it. The cuts may look insignificant to you, but to odor-causing microorganisms, they are valleys of plenty that provide access to deeper parts of the wood grain from where they are difficult to remove. (Check out our full DIY on how to clean, disinfect, and protect your wood cutting boards.)

It's simple to keep the bacteria under control, but there are a few things you shouldn't do, such as rubbing down your board with steel wool, slathering it with olive oil, or putting it in the dishwasher. You also want to avoid soaking it, because it's wood, after all, and wood warps.

Routine and Periodic Cleaning

You don't need harsh chemicals to clean your cutting board. In fact, you should avoid them. Wash the board down under a running faucet with a little dish soap after every use, then rinse it thoroughly, wipe it with a dishcloth and stand it on its side to dry. Every so often, add a little vinegar to the cleaning mixture. Vinegar is a good disinfectant, and although it has a strong odor of its own, the odor disappears when it dries.

You can also do a deep clean using a paste made with kosher salt and lemon juice. Salt is an abrasive, but it's a safe one that won't scratch the wood, and lemon juice, like vinegar, is acidic enough to disinfect. In fact, go ahead and substitute vinegar for the lemon juice, if you prefer.

Baking soda is a third option to use in conjunction with a salt mixture or instead of one. It's great for removing stains, and it also deodorizes. Wet down the board, sprinkle on a thin layer of baking soda and allow it to sit for 5 minutes before scrubbing it off with a non-abrasive sponge.

After deep cleaning your cutting board, give it a coat of protective oil to prevent the wood from drying out and cracking. The best choices are mineral oil (butcher block oil), walnut oil or cutting board cream, which is a mixture of beeswax and mineral oil. Avoid vegetable oil, olive oil and avocado oil, which all turn rancid after a short time. Also, it goes without saying that you should never use a conventional wood finish. Use only food-safe oils and creams.

Sand My Cutting Board? Sure!

What's the best way to get scratches and stains out of a piece of wood? Reach for a pad sander and let it do its thing. Use medium-grit paper, such as 120- or 150-grit, depending on the depth of the knife marks and food stains, and sand until all the blemishes are gone. Sand both sides of the board, as well as the edges, then tack off the sanding dust with a damp cloth and apply a protective coating of oil or cutting board cream. This procedure is also known as staining the board, because it darkens the wood, makes the color more uniform and allows the grain to stand out.


Chris Deziel

Chris Deziel

Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.