Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Care and Cleaning of Wooden Cutting Boards

September 20th, 2012 · 13 Comments · Green Living

how to care for and clean wooden cutting board tutorial

Does your melon ever taste like onions?

Your pineapple, like jalapeno peppers?

Using my one large wooden cutting board for everything has its drawbacks.

Although I do love working on wood, the one thing I haven’t figured out is how to get the onion smell out, completely, without working too hard.

I tried to keep one side for fruit and the other for onions, garlic, peppers, etc. by writing “NO ONIONS” in permanent marker on the very top corner of one side.

It wasn’t very many days later that I found dear husband chopping onions for scrambled eggs on the “no onions” side. Then the marker wore off, and that was the end of that strategy.

Like our conversation about how to season, clean, and care for cast iron cookware, there’s a bit of a learning curve when cutting on wood and some rules to follow. Also like cast iron, there’s a seasoning necessary, and most people will say not to use soap.

Don’t let that gross you out – remember two things:

  1. Studies show that wooden cutting boards don’t harbor more bacteria than plastic ones
  2. Soap isn’t some sort of magic sanitizing bullet – it only helps water do its job better.

Wooden boards aren’t dangerous – that’s why they’re part of the Safer in September series. Winking smile

How to Care for your Wooden Cutting Board

wooden cutting board care and cleaning

Wood needs to be sealed from the elements, so makers of wooden cutting boards apply mineral oil, typically, to both sides of the board, and it’s important as a wooden cutting board owner to maintain this sealant well.

Much like reseasoning cast iron, you’ll rub oil into your entire cutting boards regularly. I’m not even sure what the recommendations are – I’ll do it when I think of it, which is probably once every 2-3 months.

What kind of oil?

I wasn’t comfortable purchasing mineral oil – not a food – to put on a surface on which I was going to cut a bunch of food. I knew there had to be an edible oil that would do, and I wasn’t surprised at all to find out that coconut oil is often the foodie sealant of choice.

Coconut oil can be used for so many things, from baking to sautéing, from homemade deodorant to oil pulling, from lotion to naturally removing Halloween face paint. It’s the right choice for sealing a wooden cutting board because:

  1. Coconut oil has antibacterial properties.
  2. It has a long shelf life – 2 years, at least – so it won’t go rancid on your board like olive oil might.
  3. You can get refined coconut oil that has no smell or taste.

Since I already buy it in bulk, simply having it available without jumping through hoops and not feeling like I’m feeding my cutting board expensive oil are two other nice perks.

Just pour a bit of oil onto your cutting board and rub it in with your hands. It will soak in bit by bit (don’t overdo it) and keep your cutting board looking nice for years. When you’re finished, rub the excess into your hands – bonus spa treatment!

Speaking of coconut oil…my favorite lotion ever is made from coconut oil, and I’m excited to share a “free shipping” code JUST for KS readers: it’s good from now until midnight this Friday, Sept 21. Use code “kitchenstew” for free shipping on any purchase.

Also this month MadeOn is giving a free tinted lip balm away with every purchase over $25. It’s not even officially for sale yet so people who get in on it now get to be a part of the early release. When it’s ready, they’ll have 3 colors, all made with the safe iron oxide.

Really, no soap?

Well, not really. I do use soap from time to time, especially if I have staining tomatoes or feel like I need to tackle that onion smell a little harder.

I just don’t use my regular dishwater. I definitely don’t soak the board, and I don’t even immerse it.

If I use soap, which happens only about once a week or less, I use one squirt from my refilled foaming soap dispenser, rub it around briefly, and rinse and wipe with the hottest water I can stand.

The reason I wouldn’t want to use more is so that my melon doesn’t start tasting like soap instead of onion. The wood can absorb the soap, which you don’t want.

UPDATE: Another option is to clean your cutting boards with acidic ionized water. I’m just barely understanding this, but this study and this one discuss the disinfecting properties of ionized water, which is an incredible way to clean without using chemicals.

How CAN I get rid of odors?

how to care for and clean wooden cutting board (5) (500x375)

Tools in my arsenal for a more “deep clean” for the wooden cutting board include:

  • My spray bottle of vinegar and water
  • Baking soda
  • Cut lemon or rinds

I don’t have an elaborate system. I often give the wiped down boards a few squirts of vinegar water just for a mild disinfectant. It also helps to neutralize the smell. (You do have a bottle of vinegar water under your sink, don’t you?)

If it needs something more, a scrub with baking soda never hurts – baking soda is a mild abrasive, so it can take a layer off the cutting board. When my permanent marker wore off, I realized that when we clean, we must clean layers off the board. Layers of what, I don’t really know. The oil? The onions? The wood itself?

Baking soda also absorbs odors, so it’s a double whammy for wooden cutting boards.

The lemon also helps on the odor part and is a mild disinfectant as well (think about what lemon juice and sunshine do to one’s hair). There’s a reason lemon is often recognized as that “clean” smell.

When I am good at keeping a lemon water habit in the winter, I’ll take the squeezed-out rind and rub it on my cutting board, then stick it down the garbage disposal to make that smell better too.

Final Notes

wooden cutting board care and cleaning

  • My cutting board does not get “put away.” It just lives on the counter. Highly recommend that.
  • Because wood is heat-safe, the cutting board (if it’s a block) makes a great emergency “I need to set this hot pot/casserole dish/bread pan down!” area.

Lately my cutting board has been getting more of a workout than usual as I’m trying to “put up” summer produce. I can tomatoes, but other than that, I do a lot of freezing.

What are your best wooden cutting board care tricks and tips?

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13 Comments so far ↓

  • Christine H. Farlow, D.C.

    Great tips, Katie! The cutting board issue is certainly a confusing one, knowing which is the safest to use. Now that the safety of the wooden cutting board has been thoroughly discussed, knowing how to care for it is very important. I definitely learned something on your cutting board discussions. Thank you.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • blessed

    I absolutely love coconut oil and use it for almost everything. But I esp. love it on my cuttingboards and wooden spoons, spatulas, knives, etc. And the finish has slowly been wearing off my antique kitchen table–so I have been rubbing coconut oil into that too! (Won’t protect in the long run, but good enough until I figure out how to refinish as naturally as possible) I do the same thing–just oil and rub with my hands, and then rub any excess into my hands and arms. It is absorbed so quickly it does not leave me feeling greasy. I use coconut oil for all my lotion needs, actually–and I think it is worth researching to get brands that are not chemically refined, if you are using on your skin. For the kitchen table–eh. But honestly, I just have one jar that I use for everything, and it has lasted sooooooo long that I don’t using just the good stuff. (Got it on sale online, so got good deal) I eve *gasp* use coconut oil on my face–and I have always had oily skin and breakouts, but if I just moisten my fingertips with the oil the teeniest bit after the shower and then rub them together to spread it evenly on my fingertips, and then oh so lightly feather touch my fingers around my cheeks, forehead, etc. and then rub it around gently–the end result is so creamy skin and no oily look or feel–and no blemishes! Anyway, I could go on–I love the stuff that much! : )

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kathleen K

    I NEVER would have thought of coconut oil for the cutting board! I’ll go do it right now.

    Our home is sometimes partially gluten free (friends and extended family follow GF diet, but we currently do not). To help avoid cross contamination, I’ve designated one wood cutting board for bread. The other wood cutting board is for fruits, veggies, etc. I keep a red plastic one (gasp!) for the rare times I cut raw meat.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jill

    Has anyone used the Vitacost organic virgin coconut oil? Is it a quality brand?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Beth @ Turn 2 the Simple Reply:

    That is all I buy…tastes like coconut, just like other virgin coconut oils and at a great price!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Christine H. Farlow, D.C. Reply:

    It’s USDA certified organic. So, it should be fine.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Becky Reply:

    We’ve bought it and like it, but we transfer it to glass containers as soon as it arrives because we believe long-term storage in plastic is a bad idea.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Delicious Reading: Sept 23

    [...] Cleaning Wooden Cutting Boards @ Kitchen Stewardship [...]

  • End Grain Cutting Board

    Why would you be concerned with buying mineral oil for your cutting board? Just make sure you are buying the food safe kind and you will be fine. Plus I imagine it is much cheaper than Coconut Oil.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jessica

    Do you have one cutting board for meat and one for everything else? I’d be ok not putting soap on the side that I use for veggies and bread…but I’d be worried about disinfecting after I cut raw meat on it. What do you do for day to day cleaning? (and disinfecting away raw meat?)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Jessica,
    I personally just use plastic for raw meats, which I am not cutting all that often. Bamboo has natural antibacterial properties, as do other woods…but I hear you. That’s why I’m using the plastic ones! Lots of people use wood for meat and just disinfect with hot water and a vinegar spray, or soap it up and just seal it with oil more often.
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • michael

    Great information Katie! Coconut oil and mineral oil are both good solutions to seal boards. I have been using mineral oil for years along with a mineral oil and beeswax that I make.

    I have been making cutting boards for years using the mineral oil. Check out the couple pictures on my blog.
    Mihcael

    End Grain Cutting Boards

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jim

    Coconut oil has a longer shelf-life because it’s mostly saturated, but it still breaks down, and can get a bit smelly. There’s no reason to fear mineral oil. It doesn’t break down in the body if ingested, it just goes straight through. Doctors give it to babies to ease constipation (quik-lube). :-)

    As someone else said, it’s cheaper than coconut oil too, lasts much longer, and will take a few thousand years to break down.

    [Reply to this comment]

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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