How to Seal a Butcher Block Countertop

Butcher block countertops are a popular choice for kitchens and other spaces due to their attractive, natural wood look. However, as a porous material, butcher block requires proper sealing to prevent water, oil, and other liquids from damaging the wood. Sealing it not only protects the counter but also makes it easier to clean and maintain. This comprehensive guide will teach you everything you need to know about how to seal a butcher block countertop.

Materials Needed for Sealing Butcher Block

Sealing and caring for your butcher block countertop doesn’t require many supplies. Here is a list of the basic materials you’ll need:

  • Food-safe mineral oil, beeswax, or cutting board wax
  • Clean cloths
  • Water
  • Dish soap (optional)
  • Orbital sander (optional)
  • Sandpaper in varying grits (optional)

Mineral oil is the most common sealing agent used for butcher block. It penetrates deep into the wood grain to create a protective barrier. Beeswax provides an additional layer of protection as a topcoat over the mineral oil. Cutting board wax contains both mineral oil and wax for an all-in-one product.

Clean cloths, water, and dish soap are helpful for cleaning the countertop prior to sealing. Tools like an orbital sander or sandpaper can be used to gently sand the surface if you want a refreshed, smooth finish before sealing.

How to Prepare Butcher Block for Sealing

Proper preparation is crucial prior to sealing your butcher block for the first time or in between applications of sealant. Here are the key steps:

Clean the Surface Thoroughly

Remove everything from the countertop and use soap and warm water to wash the entire surface of the butcher block. This gets rid of debris, grease, food stains, or any other residue on the wood.

Pay extra attention to heavily used areas like near the stove or sink. A mixture of dish soap and water can help cut through stuck-on grime. Don’t use harsh chemical cleaners that may damage the wood.

Rinse with clean water and dry completely with a lint-free cloth. Allow the butcher block to air dry for several hours until there is no moisture left. Your butcher block must be completely dry before sealing.

Sand If Desired for a Smooth Surface

Over time, your butcher block will develop knife marks, scuffs, and a patina from use. This is totally normal. But if you want to refresh the surface, you can sand lightly prior to sealing.

Use 120-150 grit sandpaper and go with the direction of the wood grain. Don’t use anything rougher than 150 grit, as it can damage the wood. Sand just enough to smooth out the top layer while retaining the flat surface.

After sanding, wipe off any wood dust with a dry cloth. Let the surface dry out for a few hours after sanding before applying sealant.

Inspect for Any Damages

Before sealing, inspect your butcher block closely for any cracks, deep cuts, gouges or other damage. Small defects can be sanded smooth, but deep issues may require repairs. Fill cracks with a wood filler specifically formulated for butcher block.

Pro tip: Turn your sink light on under the counter to illuminate the surface and make sure there aren’t any spots you missed!

How to Apply Sealant to a Butcher Block Countertop

Once your butcher block is squeaky clean and dry, you’re ready to seal it. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

Choose Your Sealant

As noted above, the most popular options are food-safe mineral oil, beeswax, or a cutting board wax containing both. Here are some tips for choosing:

  • Mineral oil is affordable, simple to apply, and penetrates easily. It doesn’t change the look of the wood. Reapply every 1-2 weeks.
  • Beeswax provides a protective topcoat and gives a soft lustre. Buff it to a sheen. Reapply every 1-3 months.
  • Cutting board wax combines the protective benefits of mineral oil and beeswax in one. Reapply every 1-3 months.

For a basic countertop that sees light use, a mineral oil is a good maintenance choice. If your butcher block is heavily used, a wax product will provide more protection.

Apply Sealant Liberally

Place a few drops of your chosen sealant directly onto the wood and spread it evenly using a clean, lint-free cloth. Move with the direction of the wood grain to work the oil into the pores.

Apply liberally to saturate the entire surface. Don’t skimp on product – the wood should look wet, but not have pools of excess oil. Pay extra attention to the cut lines and edges.

Let the oil soak in for at least 30 minutes. Wipe away any excess after 30 minutes so it doesn’t get sticky.

Allow Proper Dry Time

Drying times range based on the sealant:

  • Mineral oil takes 24 hours to dry. The surface will feel dry to the touch much sooner, but allow a full day for it to set properly inside the grain before use.
  • Beeswax takes 1-2 hours to set up. Then buff out any haze with a dry cloth for a nice sheen.
  • Cutting board wax dries in about 1 hour.

Don’t place anything on the oiled surface while drying. Avoid water or liquids during the drying period.

Apply Additional Coats (Optional)

For extra protection, apply 2-3 thin coats of mineral oil, beeswax, or cutting board wax instead of one heavy coat. Simply let each coat dry as directed above before adding another. This helps build layers of protection.

Refresh and Reapply Regularly

How often you need to reapply sealant depends on your particular countertop’s usage and condition. Here are general guidelines for reapplication frequency:

  • Mineral oil = Every 1-2 weeks for heavy use, up to 1 month for light use
  • Beeswax = Every 1-3 months
  • Cutting board wax = Every 1-3 months

Get in the habit of checking your butcher block regularly and touch up any areas that look dry. Proper maintenance will ensure your countertop stays protected for the long run.

Tips for Caring for Your Sealed Butcher Block

Once your butcher block is sealed, continue using best practices to keep it looking pristine:

  • Wipe up spills immediately to prevent stains
  • Wash with mild soap and water; avoid harsh cleaners
  • Use a cutting board for food prep
  • Avoid placing hot items directly on the surface
  • Reseal on schedule based on sealant type
  • Apply a fresh coat of sealant 1-2 times per year
  • Use a hydrating mineral oil product monthly
  • Sand and reseal if the finish becomes damaged

With regular sealing and care, your butcher block countertop will remain beautiful for years to come. Be sure to reseal anytime the surface appears dried out or rough.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sealing Butcher Block

Many common questions come up when learning how to maintain a butcher block countertop. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:

Should I seal all sides of the butcher block?

Yes, sealing all sides is recommended for maximum protection from moisture and spills. Apply sealant to the top, underside, sides, and any cutouts like around a sink.

What happens if you don’t seal butcher block?

Without a protective sealant, the wood will dry out, crack, warp, or discolor. Unsealed butcher block absorbs stains, odors, and bacteria much more readily. Sealing is required to waterproof and preserve the wood.

Can you use vegetable oil to seal butcher block?

It’s best to avoid vegetable oil, olive oil, or other food oils for sealing. While these may work initially, they can go rancid over time which causes unpleasant odors. They also produce a gummy or sticky surface. Use food-safe mineral oils instead.

What is the difference between mineral oil and cutting board oil?

Mineral oil is pure oil while cutting board oil has added beeswax. The wax provides an extra layer of protection. But mineral oil has better penetration into the wood grain alone. They can be used together for maximum benefit.

How do you get water stains out of butcher block?

For minor stains, re-sand and reseal the area. For deeper stains, try rubbing the spot with superfine steel wool and mineral spirits. Avoid bleach or hydrogen peroxide which can discolor the wood. Oxy-based cleaners can help lift stubborn stains.

Can you use wax over mineral oil on butcher block?

Yes, you can apply wax or cutting board wax over a mineral oil treatment. The mineral oil preserves the deep wood pores while the wax seals and protects the surface. Allow the mineral oil to soak in fully before applying any wax coating.


Caring for a butcher block countertop requires regular sealing and maintenance to protect the vulnerable wood surface. With the proper sealing techniques, high-quality food-safe sealants like mineral oil and beeswax, routine reapplication, and general care, your butcher block can stay looking pristine for decades.

Be sure to thoroughly clean, dry, and inspect the surface prior to sealing. Apply adequate sealant to saturate the wood grain, allow proper drying time, and refresh on a regular basis per the sealant directions. Avoid water damage, use cutting boards for prep work, and reseal worn areas as needed.

With this comprehensive guide, you now have all the information needed to keep your beautiful butcher block countertop in top shape for the long haul. Just follow these tips for how to seal a butcher block countertop and you’ll be enjoying an attractive, durable surface for years to come.