Wood Cutting Board Care: The One Mistake You Might Be Making – CNET

Wood Cutting Board Care: The One Mistake You Might Be Making – CNET

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Larry David would love to know if you respect wood. If you do, you should know that ruining a wood cutting board isn’t very hard to do. Luckily, caring for them is also easy but it does require a bit of diligence and an ounce or two of prevention. 

A few years back, one of my favorite boards split down the middle like a tectonic fault. I was baffled since I’d been somewhat fastidious about drying it after use, and I’d even dredge it in oil every so often. It turns out that was the bare minimum… and I had been making a few small mistakes in caring for it that had an outsize impact on its lifespan. 

The good news: Keeping your favorite acacia, ash or maple cutting board in tip-top shape is easy to do.

Old grunge wooden cutting kitchen desk board background textureOld grunge wooden cutting kitchen desk board background texture

I love the look of an old cutting board with all its battle scars. But cracks, splits and mold are another thing and will ruin your board if it’s not cared for properly.

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But first…

Wood vs. plastic cutting boards: Which is better?

A spirited conversation about plastic cutting boards versus wooden ones isn’t new, and there are arguments to be made for both. Plastic boards are cheaper, lighter and require almost no care, but the case for wood is stronger if you ask me. For one, wood boards are more sanitary. Back in 1993, a microbiologist discovered that wood boards were, in fact, better at killing bacteria than plastic. Further study shows it may be because plastic boards are more susceptible to knife cuts, which serve as tiny homes for bacterial growth.


Plastic cutting boards are cheap and light but wooden boards are more sanitary and look nicer too. 

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Beyond reasons of a hygienic nature, wood boards are simply nicer to look at. I love watching them age over time and they do double duty as vessels to serve cheese and appetizers. Plastic cutting boards can also dull your knives quicker, especially if you don’t sharpen the blades regularly.

I keep a few of both types in my kitchen but I’m partial to my wood cutting boards. While they will inevitably age, they can and should last you decades if you care for them properly. 

Here’s how.

Wash and dry your wood cutting board well

Like any piece of cookware that touches food, your cutting board needs a wash after use — but never clean it in the dishwasher or submerge it in the sink. That much water will deeply penetrate the wood, making it more difficult to dry. Having water trapped in or sitting on a wood board for an extended period of time is the fastest way to grow mold or cause it to split. Just scrub it quickly with a sponge, warm water and a little soap if you need it.

Next comes the important part. Dry it immediately with a rag. Wipe it down until there is no visual moisture on the surface and it feels dry to the touch. Try not to stuff it back in the cupboard either, since it’ll likely press up against the other boards and fail to dry as fast or as completely.

Air-dry it on its side

This is the step that I suspect doomed my aforementioned cutting board. After you’ve washed and hand-dried your board, it should be placed on its side with both sides of the board exposed so it can air-dry the rest of the way. 

If you need to wash your board and do more chopping, only wash the top and leave that side up to finish your prep. Even 45 minutes or so with a wet board facing down can begin to damage the wood’s integrity. 


Always air-dry a wood board on its side for a few hours before storing it.

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Treat your board with mineral oil a few times per month

Keeping a bottle of mineral oil on hand and using it a few times per month is another way to extend the life of your best boards. To treat your wood cutting board, use a dry, clean rag and rub enough oil to coat the board’s surface on all sides (not just the top and bottom). 


Give the entire wood cutting board to a mineral oil treatment a couple of times per month. 

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Set it on its side (just like for drying) and let it sit for an hour. If it’s a new board or seems particularly dry, repeat with a second coat after an hour. And if it’s a particularly thick cutting board or butcher block, use at least two coats and rub it in vigorously so the oil penetrates the center. 

I use Howard mineral oil since it’s not terribly expensive and works well. Beyond your cutting boards, mineral oil can also be used to treat other wood in your kitchen and home including spoons and spatulas, desks, dressers, moldings and floors. 


This is all you’ll need to keep your wood cutting board in top form.

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Don’t use olive oil to treat a cutting board

You might think any natural oil will work to treat a wood board. You’d be wrong. Cooking oils will spoil and can cause bacteria and rot on or inside the wood.


Care for your wooden utensils like your cutting board — dry and treat with mineral oil — to keep this from happening. 

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Lemon juice and salt to remove smells

Sometimes wood boards will hold the smell of pungent foods, including garlic and onion. While those smells will likely dissipate eventually, they can permeate other foods in the meantime. To clean a smelly board, squeeze the juice of one lemon over the cutting board. Coat the board with kosher salt and rub it vigorously to incorporate. Let it sit for about an hour until the salt dries, then scrape it off with a dough scraper or sturdy metal flat-ended spatula.

Sliced lemon on wooden cutting boardSliced lemon on wooden cutting board

Lemon juice and salt will take care of your stinky cutting board.

Emily Suzanne McDonald/Getty Images

The best wood for cutting boards

Some woods are harder than others. While hardwoods such as oak and olivewood may last a bit longer, they’ll do more damage to the blades of your knives. Maple, beech and acacia are popular woods for cutting boards. Bamboo — technically a hard grass — is another since it’s tough, cheap to produce and more eco-friendly (renewable) than other woods. 

A few cutting boards I like

John Boos

This is an excellent basic cutting board. Maple is sturdy enough to last years if you care for it but also light enough to handle with ease. 

Fab Slab

Camphor is a harder wood with beautiful grain patterns, making this one a favorite for serving food. Camphor also has aromatic oils giving it a lovely natural aroma.


This stately 20-inch acacia cutting board is lighter than it looks. The carved-out troughs are perfect for housing chopped ingredients as you move through recipe prep. 

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