Butcher Chopping Block Maintenance: How to Clean and Oil in Five Easy Steps
Wooden countertops add warmth and beauty to any kitchen. Unlike other trendy countertop surfaces, wooden countertops are timeless and never go out of style. They also add functional value to a kitchen that appeals to chefs and foodies. However, they do not completely carefree. They need to be kept clean and sealed to maintain the surface. Proper maintenance will not only lengthen the life of your countertop but will keep it hygienic. Five easy steps for maintaining all of your wooden cutting surfaces, including countertops and chopping blocks, are listed below.
You will need:
Either lemon juice and salt Or water and baking soda
Step one – Clean.
Cleaning the board with warm soapy water and a scrubbing sponge will get off any visible debris and will remove a small amount of oil from the board. Use warm water and scrub gently. You aren’t trying to sanitize with this step so don’t use hot water. Hot water is unnecessarily aggressive and will damage the board over time. Rinse all of the soap off when the surface is clean.
A word of caution – do not submerge portable boards in water. Water will soak into the wood fibers causing the wood to swell and warp. This breaks the glue bond in the lamination. Then as the wood dries, it cracks.
Step two – Sanitize.
Sanitize your butcher board by wiping it down with full-strength white vinegar. Why vinegar? Vinegar is an effective disinfectant against common kitchen bugs such as e.coli, staphylococcus, and salmonella. Vinegar is not damaging to the wood fibers like chlorine bleach. Chlorine bleach is corrosive and its effects are accumulative. Over time it changes the color of the wood and it breaks down the lignan (the natural glue between the fibers). The wood will look ashy even after it is oiled and the fibers will have microscopic tatters for bacteria to hide in. It’s a good idea to keep a spray bottle of vinegar handy to use as a regular sanitizer for your wooden cutting surfaces.
I use vinegar and air drying to sanitize my wooden countertops and it works great. However, if you need extra assurances, you can allow your butcher board to dry after the vinegar treatment, then wipe it down with 3% hydrogen peroxide.
After sanitizing, you can move to steps four and five, allowing the board to dry and then oil it. Or you can do some additional deep cleaning as in step three if you have a heavy build-up of oils, odors, or stains.
Step three – Deep Cleaning
Make a paste of salt and lemon juice OR water and baking soda. Using a scrubby sponge, lightly swirl the paste around focusing on stains if you have any. This paste mixture will lightly strip away old oils. It will also deodorize the wood and lighten stains. Both lemon juice and baking soda are aggressive cleaners so don’t allow them to just sit on the board for hours. Just gently scrub the paste around for a few minutes and rinse it completely away when you are done.
Step four – Dry
Allow block to dry completely….overnight is best. A dry environment is the best defense against bacteria, mold, and viruses. Allowing the board to dry completely before oiling it helps to lock moisture OUT rather than sealing it in. Also, the dryer the wood is, the more easily it will soak up oil.
Before you oil, your butcher board looks it over. If you still have stains use a sanding block to remove light stains or use a palm sander with a fine-grit paper to sand down the entire board.
Step five – Seal with oil
Oil your butcher board. Oiling your wooden countertops and cutting boards helps to protect the wood from damage and keeps the surface hygienic. The oil creates a water-resistant barrier. It keeps the wood dry and keeps bacteria out. The best oil to use is food grade mineral oil as it will not go rancid the way vegetable-based oils will. This can be found in the laxative department of your local drug store or you may find it also at your local hardware store. Just pour a little onto the board and rub it in with your clean hands or use a clean lint-free rag. If you want to pump up the water-resistance of your oil, you can warm it and add beeswax or paraffin to it. Use a ratio of one part wax to nine parts oil. When this oil has soaked into your wood, it will leave behind a thin waxy layer that is even more water-resistant!
Every type of counter top needs basic maintenance. Granite needs polishing. The grout in a tile counter top needs scrubbing. A wooden counter top or butcher chopping block needs to be cleaned and oiled. With a little bit of care, your wooden cutting surfaces can last life times and add functional value to your kitchen.