How to Clean and Sanitize
Wooden cutting boards — made from resilient wood like maple, cherry, beech, or teak — have a rustic and charming visual appeal that plastic and glass versions just can’t match. However, these kitchen tools require a fair amount of maintenance to stay in top working condition.
Wood is an organic material that’s sensitive to water damage, so if you want your wooden cutting board to last for years, you’ll need to wash it carefully, dry it thoroughly, and condition it to keep the wood supple and smooth.
To help explain exactly how to clean and care for a wooden cutting board, we enlisted the help of chef Benjamin Perez, owner of Benny’s Bread and Butter in Edmonton, Alberta.
How to clean a wooden cutting board
When you stop and think about it, cutting boards take a beating. How you clean it, and how often, depends on what you’re slicing and dicing.
Whatever you do, avoid soaking a wooden cutting board or putting it in a dishwasher. The intense washing cycles and the high heat will warp the wood and could also cause it to crack. And a wooden cutting board with cracks is a prime breeding ground for bacteria. Soaking a wooden cutting board in the sink or storing it in any place with added moisture can also cause unwanted warping.
After light use
If you only use the cutting board to slice bread, use a brush or dish cloth to wipe off dry crumbs. As long as the cutting board remains dry, a simple wipe-down should be all you need.
After heavy use
In most cases, a wooden cutting board must be hand-washed after every use. Use an abrasive sponge and hot, soapy water to scrub the board. “Make sure to get every inch of the board,” says Perez, adding you want a sponge that’s “going to get into the grain, but not deep enough to tear it apart.” Be sure to clean any crevices where bacteria may form.
Thoroughly dry the cutting board before storing it to prevent any possible mold or bacteria growth. Wipe the board down with a dish towel and allow it to dry further by sitting it upright.
It’s also important to store the cutting board correctly. Wooden cutting boards should be kept in a dry space at room temperature, like a kitchen cabinet or shelf, and kept away from hot surfaces or warm air, as it could cause the board to dry out and crack.
Removing stains and odors
For tough food stains and strong odors, Perez recommends reaching for white vinegar. Add 1 part white vinegar to 4 parts warm, soapy water, then use the mixture to scrub the board, paying special attention to the stained sections. “As time goes on and you wash your cutting board more and more, stronger stains (like turmeric or beet juice) will eventually fade out.”
Alternatively, sprinkle coarse salt on the discolored spot, then use half of a lemon to scrub the salt into the wood. This method works especially well for removing mold stains from a cutting board. As the stain loosens, rinse the board clean with warm water. Repeat if necessary and dry thoroughly.
How to oil and condition a wooden cutting board
When your board becomes dry and light in color, that’s a good sign it needs conditioning. It’s important to oil your board at least once a month. If your cutting board is particularly valuable (or if you use it as a display item for your kitchen), Perez recommends that you condition once a week. The best oil to use on your cutting board is food-grade mineral oil.
- Start with a thoroughly-washed cutting board that’s completely dry. Because water and oil repel each other, the oiling process won’t work if the cutting board still has any residual moisture.
- Use a paper towel to rub mineral oil on both sides of the cutting board. Perez encourages you to be generous with the oil. “You want a healthy coat of oil on your wood, almost enough to drip off.” The wood will absorb the oil, and the oil will keep the wood from drying out and splintering.
- Let the oil penetrate the board for 4 to 6 hours. Perez says that it’s best to rest the board on its short end so it’s standing tall, as this allows the excess oil to drip away and help prevent warping. If the board is brand new and you’re washing it for the first time, Perez recommends repeating the oiling process two to three times. This will season the board and get it in great shape for future use.
How to sanitize a wooden cutting board
If you’re dealing with raw meat and want to sanitize your board more thoroughly, use hydrogen peroxide. Pour the hydrogen peroxide over both sides of the board and spread it around using a clean sponge. Let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing the board with hot water.
How to refinish a wooden cutting board
Once you get to a point where your trusty wooden cutting board has been with you for years, it may require a little more elbow grease to stay in tip-top shape. If your board becomes worse for wear, Perez recommends sanding it down to refinish it.
To refinish a wooden cutting board, Perez uses a pencil to draw X’s all over both sides of the cutting board. Then, with a sheet of 200-grit sandpaper, he lightly sands the board with the grain until all of the pencil markings are gone and the surface is smooth. After that, he uses a sheet of superfine 500-grit sandpaper to go over the surfaces for finishing.
Once the wood has been sanded, it’s best to run it through the oiling process listed above to protect and condition the surface.
Wooden cutting boards might require a bit of maintenance, but once you know how to clean and care for them, they’ll provide you with a sturdy and strong chopping base for years to come. All you need to do to care for this kitchen workhorse is scrub the board with warm water and soap, treat stains with white vinegar, oil the surfaces, and sand the board smooth every year or so.