How to Sanitize and Care for Wooden Cutting Boards

Wooden cutting boards are a staple in many kitchens. Made of durable hardwoods like maple or walnut, these boards are gentle on your knives while providing a sturdy surface for food prep. However, like any frequently used kitchen item, cutting boards require proper sanitizing and care to maximize their longevity and prevent cross-contamination. Here’s how to keep your wooden cutting boards in top shape.

Selecting a Quality Board

When choosing a new wooden cutting board, opt for boards made from dense, closed-grain hardwoods like maple, walnut, or teak. Avoid boards made from softwoods like pine which can scrape and damage knife edges. The board should feel heavy and solid, not lightweight or hollow sounding when tapped. Check for a smooth, even surface with no deep grooves, warping, or splintering along the edges. Food-grade mineral oil applied to the surface provides a protective barrier and enhances the natural beauty of the wood grain.

Sanitizing After Each Use

  • Wash boards thoroughly with hot soapy water after each use, scrubbing gently with a soft brush to remove debris. Avoid abrasive scouring pads or steel wool which can damage the surface.
  • Rinse and dry completely, propping the board on-edge overnight allows air circulation to prevent moisture damage.
  • Sanitize using a diluted bleach solution of 1 tablespoon unscented bleach per gallon of cool water. Soak a clean cloth in the solution, wring thoroughly and wipe down the entire surface. Let the board air dry.
  • Alternatively, sanitize with undiluted white vinegar and wipe dry with a clean cloth. The acidic vinegar kills bacteria.
  • For extra disinfecting against salmonella and E. coli, spray the surface with 70% isopropyl alcohol and let dry completely. The alcohol quickly evaporates.

Rejuvenating and Sealing

With regular use, the surface of wooden boards will show knife scars, stains, and drying cracks. Rejuvenate the appearance and protect the wood from moisture damage by applying food-grade mineral oil every few weeks.

  • Choose odorless, food-safe mineral oil sold for butcher blocks and cutting boards. Avoid vegetable and olive oils which can turn rancid.
  • Apply a generous amount of mineral oil over the entire surface and edges. Let soak in for up to 30 minutes.
  • Wipe away any excess oil with clean paper towels or a soft cloth. The wood should look refreshed, not greasy.
  • Initially oil a new board once a week for a month to fully saturate and seal the wood grain. Then apply every 1-2 months, or whenever the surface looks dry or rough.

Storing Safely

Resting boards flat on the countertop or stacked with other boards promotes moisture damage and warping. Store properly to maximize longevity:

  • Stand the board vertically on-edge with the cutting surface facing outwards for air circulation.
  • Install a knife rack or pegs on the wall to conveniently store.
  • Never trap in enclosed spaces like cabinets or drawers. The lack of air flow causes deterioration.
  • If marks from metal pots or pans occur, sprinkle the board with salt and rub gently with half a lemon to help remove. Rinse and re-oil.

Maintaining Long Term

With proper sanitizing, sealing, and storage methods, a quality wooden cutting board can serve faithfully for many years. Take these additional steps to maintain optimal performance long term:

  • Avoid cutting very hard items directly on the wood which can dent and scrape the surface. Use a flexible cutting mat for items like frozen foods or bone.
  • Immediately wipe up any spills which can seep into the grain and result in stains.
  • Sand lightly with fine grit sandpaper to refresh a very worn surface, then re-oil to seal.
  • Rotate use of 2-3 boards rather than over-using one. This allows the wood time to fully dry out between uses.
  • Discard boards with excessive deep scarring or cracking which can harbor bacteria in the crevices. A quality board should last 5-10 years with proper care.

Wooden cutting boards require a small time investment to care for, but proper sanitizing and maintenance pays off with a beautiful and durable board that’s gentle for knives. Follow these best practices for cleaning, sealing, storage, and repair to keep your boards looking pristine for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I remove stains from my wooden cutting board?

Sprinkle the stained area with salt and gently rub with half a lemon. Rinse clean and let dry fully. Reapply mineral oil to refresh. For very stubborn stains, try sanding lightly before oiling.

Should I put my wood cutting board in the dishwasher?

No, dishwashers can damage and crack wooden boards. The heat and harsh detergents will dry out the wood. Always wash by hand with hot soapy water and rinse/dry thoroughly.

What type of oil should be used on wooden cutting boards?

Food-grade mineral oil is best. It’s odorless, won’t turn rancid, and penetrates deeply to protect the wood grain. Avoid using vegetable, olive, or coconut oils which can spoil.

How do I get rid of odors in my wooden cutting board?

Scrub the board with a paste of baking soda and water. Let sit briefly, then rinse and dry well. Re-oil the board to freshen. White vinegar can also help kill odors.

How can I stop my wooden cutting board from warping?

Store the board properly when not in use. Stand on edge or hang vertically to allow air circulation all around. Never stack boards flat or trap in enclosed spaces.

Should I get separate boards for meat and vegetables?

Yes, it’s best practice to use one board just for produce, and another just for raw meats/seafood to prevent cross-contamination.


Caring for wooden cutting boards doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. With some basic sanitizing and sealing steps before and after each use, your boards can stay looking like new for many years of faithful kitchen service. Be sure to also store boards properly when not in use to maximize their longevity. With the right wood type and some periodic upkeep, a quality wooden cutting board will withstand daily slicing and dicing while remaining gentle on your kitchen knives.