Kitchen Hacks

How to Care for a Wooden Cutting Board Like You Mean It

So it can keep up with you in the kitchen for many years to come.

November  6, 2018

We love to call our double-sided bamboo cutting board a workhorse.

One side is ready for everything from carving a turkey to slicing up an extra-juicy grapefruit. The other side is totally flat (so you can chop a million onions), save for a phone slot (for reading that recipe that asks you to chop a million onions). Because if we're in the kitchen, odds are we're using our cutting board for one thing or eight.

But the thing with workhorses—like, literal workhorses—is that you have to take care of them. You have to feed them and brush their manes and pet their noses. The thing with wooden cutting boards is they’re relatively low-maintenance (no feeding necessary), but they still get tired from time to time and need a little love (who doesn't?). And because wooden cutting boards are so soft, they're also among the easiest to damage, as they can suffer from scores from rough cutting instruments, such as serrated knives. Here are our top tips to help any wooden cutting board feel its very best, so it can keep up with you in the kitchen for many years to come.

1. Hand wash > Machine wash

Wooden cutting boards are happy to hop in the sink for a quick shower. But, unlike plastic boards, they hate the dishwasher. Why? Over-soaking any wood can lead to cracking or warping. Not what we want. A quick scrub-down with warm water and mild soap does the trick. Which gets us to...

2. Dry the wood thoroughly.

Remember that warping we just talked about? That’s when a board curves or bends. This happens if it isn’t dried properly—say, it’s soaking wet and either left in the sink or set back on the counter or on a wet surface. Dry your board well with a towel (hey, I know just the one). For bonus points, prop it on its edge, so both sides are exposed to air. The more evenly it dries, the happier it will be, and the better, stronger work surface it’ll be for you.

3. Take care of stains...on the spot.

For any stained areas—think residue from blackberries, beets, or even juicy steak—make a coarse paste of salt, water, and baking soda, and then scrub it on the area with a tea towel or brush. To get rid of any odors, you can spray the board with white vinegar. Don't worry about that vinegar smell—it will evaporate.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Yes definitely: Wash with soap and water, dry with towel, then allow to air dry. Yes definitely: Spa day with salt and lemons. Yes definitely: Moisturize with food-grade mineral oil. Even bee's wax. NO WAY: Rub beef fat into board. ”
— Gammy
Comment

After, just rinse your wooden board under hot water, taking care to not let it soak; soaking will make it split and warp. Wipe it dry with a tea towel, and let it air-dry.

4. Take It to the Spa.

Well, tell the board it's going to the spa, but really it's just your kitchen. (Maybe play some soothing music—our Five Two board loves Enya.) Every couple of months, give your cutting board a deep clean massage. You're going to need kosher salt, half of a lemon, some mineral oil, and two tea towels. Start by generously sprinkling your entire board with the salt, like you're seasoning a steak (don't be shy about it!). Then, working from one corner, rub the entire board with the cut side of a lemon. Watch in wonder as the board gets cleaner with every swipe. Once you're done canvassing the board, wipe off any excess salt with a tea towel.

Not only does this exfoliate the wood, but it gives the board a clean, happy scent to boot.

5. Moisturize regularly.

Just like our skin, wood gets a little tired of being washed all the time. That’s where moisturizing comes in. After the board is totally dry, rub it with mineral oil or another food-safe oil (like this). Let the board stand with its oily slick for at least ten minutes, then wipe off any excess oil. Ta da!

Some folks even swear by beeswax. But our favorite trick is as old-school as it gets: After you carve a roast beef or slice marinated mushrooms, massage any excess fat or oil into the board. (I guess what I said about boards not needing to be fed wasn’t totally true after all.) Be sure to moisturize generously on a regular basis, especially in the very beginning, and your board will thank you for years to come.

How do you take care of your wooden cutting boards? Tell us your tricks in the comments.

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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

7 Comments

michele May 28, 2020
Just received my Bamboo cutting board, and let me say it's beautiful! Question...Instead of mineral oil can I use Howard's Butcher Block Conditioner? It has mineral oil and natural waxes. Thank you.
 
Kristina W. June 1, 2020
Hi Michele,

Yes, that should be fine! Any mineral oil or wood wax mixed with oil should be just fine. An oil will seep in nicely to moisturize the wood, but a bit of wax helps form a nice protective layer, too. So glad to hear you like your board. Enjoy it!
 
JoAnn H. November 7, 2018
Thank you for this. I thought it was the drying element in the dishwasher that was so hard on them. And I’ll bet the salt and lemon treatment gets rid of odors.
 
Smaug November 8, 2018
Warpage in a piece of wood is generally caused by an uneven absorption of moisture, causing (usually) one side to swell more than the other- for example, if a piece is finished on one side only, that side will tend to absorb moisture more slowly, and the wood will tend to cup in that direction. You can see something similar in pocketbooks in humid weather- the glossy side of the cover will absorb less moisture, and the cover will curl. These boards appear in the photos to be constructed of vertical grain wood (as a board should be)- wood with that grain orientation will do most of its swelling in it's thickness, so warping is much less of a problem.
 
Karen November 7, 2018
My husband made me a beautiful cutting board made with six different colors/types of wood. It’s a piece of art I treasure so I take great care with it. It’s washed with gentle soap and water and dried carefully. I let it air dry before storing it. Every two months I gather all my wooden utensils and cutting boards and wipe thoroughly with beeswax and mineral oil mixture and buff them to a mellow glow. I have a wooden spoon from my grandmother that is over 50 years old thanks to this care. It’s my go-to spoon for mixing, though I admit I have at least two dozen wooden implements I use in the kitchen.
 
Gammy November 6, 2018
Yes definitely: Wash with soap and water, dry with towel, then allow to air dry.
Yes definitely: Spa day with salt and lemons.
Yes definitely: Moisturize with food-grade mineral oil. Even bee's wax.
NO WAY: Rub beef fat into board.
 
Smaug November 6, 2018
You can't get a board- or really much of anything- truly dry with a towel, and this one has a lot of exposed endgrain, making it harder. It won't absorb enough moisture to warp just from poor drying, but dampness can allow fungus and microbes to grow. You really need to airdry before putting it away.