Cleaning your kitchen doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Dare we say it could be fun? Welcome to BA’s Cleaning Week: Consider this your trusty guide to the nooks and crannies that you definitely are not scrubbing often enough, plus the pro-approved tools and products to get the job done.
You might not think that a slab of wood requires upkeep, but your cutting board needs tender loving care. And how you clean your wooden cutting board will determine whether you’re replacing it every couple of years or whether it will last you an entire lifetime. In addition to wiping or washing your board after every use, your cutting board care regimen should include occasional additional maintenance—every other week or so—to keep the wood supple and well-conditioned.
How to clean a wooden cutting board
If you’re just pulling out your cutting board to slice a loaf of bread or halve a lemon, there’s really no need to clean; dust off the crumbs and be on your way. But if you have avocado smears or garlic juices marring your board, you’ll want to give it a wash with soapy water. Right off the bat: never put your wood cutting board in the dishwasher. Once the wood gets exposed to the heat and water, it’s more likely to crack or warp, and then it’ll be lost forever.
After removing any food debris, hand-wash the board with warm water (dish soap is fine too). Make sure you’re getting the bottom, edges, and sides of the board. Most people wash only the top, and that actually ends up hurting the wood. When wood fibers are hit with moisture, they swell, and if the swelling isn’t uniform, it can warp the board. A rocking cutting board usually means that only one side was washed.
To get rid of stubborn stains or smells, sprinkle a little coarse salt on your board’s surface, add some lemon juice, rub the paste into the surface, and let it sit for a few minutes. We also recommend MacKenzie’s Fisherman Hand Scrub, a gritty exfoliator that deodorizes both hands and cutting boards.
After rinsing your board clean, wipe it down and let it air-dry thoroughly overnight, standing it on edge so that both large faces are exposed.
How to care for a wooden cutting board
Once or twice a month, you’re going to want to oil and wax your board. Whereas the regular washing is your day-to-day upkeep, this process will revitalize your board and keep it well maintained so you can use it for years to come. The care regimen for your board only requires two materials: mineral oil and board cream. Once you’ve acquired both, it’s time to get to work. Here’s the step-by-step.
Step 1: The Oil
The morning after you’ve hand-washed your board and let it dry, apply a generous layer of food-grade mineral oil to the sides, top, bottom, and any groove, grip, or handle. Mineral oil is colorless, odorless, and relatively lightweight. It’s commonly used on wooden kitchen tools and salad bowls as well as butcher block countertops because, unlike vegetable oil or olive oil, this petroleum-based oil won’t turn rancid, enveloping your wooden board in a fishy smell.
You don’t need puddles of oil on your board, just enough to cover the wood with an even coat. Like a hungover coworker on a Wednesday morning, the wood needs hydration. Let the cutting board oil soak into the wood for at least three hours. Leave it on its edge to dry just like before.
You can buy a gallon of mineral oil for cheap on Amazon, or if you want to spring for a mineral-oil-based product specifically made for wooden cutting boards, we recommend Boos Block Mystery Oil.
Step 2: The Wax
After the oil has had enough time to soak into the grains, it’s time to wax the board. The BA test kitchen uses Boos Block Board Cream, made from a mix of unbleached beeswax and mineral oil. Like the oil, the cream helps rehydrate your wooden board—the oil soaks into the fibers of the wood and the wax locks that moisture in. (You can also use it for other wooden utensils as well.)
Apply the cream directly to the wood and spread it over the entire surface of the board, making sure to get every nook, cranny, and crevice. The cream is greasy, so if you don’t want to get it all over your hands, apply it with a lint-free microfiber cloth. Once you’ve covered the whole piece of wood, you’ve created a barrier to help the wood retain moisture. You know what to do next. On its side. Let it sit overnight on your countertop.
Step 3: The Polish and Buff
In the morning, whip out your clean cloth again to rub the board in circular motions, polishing and buffing. The wood will get glassy and beautiful. After you finish, water will just pool on the board rather than soaking into the wood.
Knowing When to Give It Up
Theoretically, with the right upkeep, a wood board should look great for decades. If deep cut marks start to show up on the face of the wood, you can buff them out by taking sandpaper to the entire face of the board. You have to sand evenly, which takes time, but it can give the board a whole new life. Make sure to start from the beginning of the conditioning process after.
Sometimes your board will warp, even with the best of care. In that case, there’s no hack—just get a new one. When the glued joints start to fail or heavy cracks develop, food and bad bacteria can start to build up and potentially make you sick. We don’t want that.
Like cast-iron pans, wooden cutting boards require a little extra care, but treat them well and they’ll reward you for years to come. And if you don’t think you can handle the wood lifestyle, opt for a rubber or plastic cutting board instead.