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Photo: Caitlin Bensel

How to keep your board spick, span, and spiffy for years.

Jenny McCoy
April 11, 2018
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Not all cutting boards are created equal. Plastic boards, for example, are an economical and durable pick. Granite, glass, and other stone-made boards aren’t great for daily use...but they sure do make Instagram-worthy cheese and charcuterie platters.  

And wood cutting boards are the most classic and widely-used type of board because they’re both practical and aesthetically pleasing. A quality wood cutting board can be an essential, beautiful centerpiece in your kitchen, but there’s a caveat: because it’s made of wood, the process for cleaning it is different than how you care for most cooking gadgets—and not always intuitive.

Here to help is Robert Trifiro, head of production at CuttingBoard.com, with advice on properly buffing up your wooden board so that it stays functional and fabulous for the long-term.

1. Don’t ever put your board in the dishwasher.

This may sound obvious, but it needs to be said. “We’ll get calls from people saying their boards split because they put them in the dishwasher,” says Trifiro. Please don’t do this—no matter how tired or unmotivated you are to wash it by hand. The prolonged exposure to heat and water could cause your board to warp, crack, or split. Plus, doing so will void most manufacturer warranties.  

2. Instead, clean it by hand.

Warm (not scalding) water, a soft sponge and a little dish soap (Trifiro recommends a standard brand, like Palmolive or Dawn) should do the trick. Be sure you scrub hard enough to get all the gunk off, especially in any small slits and crevices where food may linger.

RELATED: How to Clean Your Wooden Cooking Utensils

3. Address stains quickly.

Removing stains from wood can be tricky, says Trifiro, because “there’s not much you can do about them.” Your best bet is to wash your board immediately after usage before the stain gets too saturated into the wood. If that’s a bygone, you can try removing splotches with fine grit sandpaper or a Scotch-Brite Greener Clean scrub sponge, recommends Trifiro. Just don’t get overzealous with the scrubbing—otherwise you could create a divot in your board.

4. And don’t let it soak in the sink.

Again, prolonged exposure to water can seriously destroy your wooden board, which is why it’s smart to simply wash it right after use, rather than dunking and leaving it in a soapy sink for later.

 

5. Let it air dry evenly.  

As you wash your board, it will begin to soak up some of the water and naturally expand. When it dries, it will naturally contract. This is a totally normal process and your board will bounce back—but only if it’s able to dry evenly. “Letting your board air dry evenly will allow the wood to expand and contract evenly as well,” explains Trifiro.

An even dry means first toweling off your board as best you can and then propping it upright or placing it in a drying rack so that all sides are equally exposed to the air. Simply resting your board flat on the counter—a no-no—“would make the bottom contract unevenly,” says Trifiro,” which could warp the board and/or damage the glue joints [the places where different pieces of wood are glued together, like in an end-grain wood cutting board and other popular makes].”

6. Spritz it with vinegar to remove odors.

Cutting boards, especially older cutting boards with lots of knicks and cuts on the surface, can become stinky when food particles get stuck and fester in said cuts.

You can combat this stench by treating your board with white vinegar. If the odor is mild to moderate, fill up a spray bottle with vinegar and give your board a generous spritzing. Let the substance sit for a couple minutes, and then rinse off the board with water.

If the odor is borderline toxic, you can fill up a sink or bin with white vinegar and dunk your entire board. You don’t want to submerge it for too long—just a minute or two will do; any longer could put your board at risk for cracking or splitting. When bath time is up, rinse off the board with water and let it air dry per the instructions above.

7. Consider regular oiling and conditioning.

Beyond these simple cleaning hacks, regularly oiling your board will “keep the wood in a really good condition,” explains Trifiro. The oil soaks into the grain of the wood and helps nourish it and preserve its natural state. This can prevent the wood from cracking or changing shape over time.

How often is regular? Every two weeks to a month, says Trifiro, depending on how often you use your board. If you have a maple cutting board, it will get lighter in color when it’s ready for an oiling. Other boards will feel dry to the touch.

When your board is due for an oil up, don’t just slather any old substance on top. “Any kind of food oil [like olive oil] is probably going to get rancid over time and cause the board to smell,” says Trifiro. Instead, use a highly refined mineral oil or a highly refined coconut oil (keywords: highly refined—regular coconut oil will likely grow rancid). We like John Taylor’s Butcher Block Food-Grade Mineral Oil ($11.50, Amazon).

Once you have an appropriate oil, apply a generous layer onto the surface of your dry board. The board should be dripping wet on all sides, and you can use a cloth to ensure an even spread. Once thoroughly coated, let the oil soak into the cutting board for a minimum or two hours (or overnight, if possible), and then prop the board upright or place it in a dish rack to dry completely.  
Post oiling, it’s a good idea to treat your board with a wood conditioner, aka a specialized beeswax coating that sits on top of the surface, recommends Trifiro. Although conditioning is “not as crucial” to the overall health of your board, says Trifiro, using one will create a water and moisture barrier that can protect your board from stains. We like Howard’s Butcher Block conditioner ($8.98, Amazon) Follow application instructions listed on the label.