Butcher block cutting boards & countertops make a beautiful and functional addition to any kitchen, but also require some “TLC.” Fortunately, caring for and maintaining butcher block only requires a few simple steps and they’ll stay beautiful and functional for decades.
Here are some tips to help keep your butcher blocks and cutting boards clean and in tip-top shape…including an easy Butcher Block Conditioner you can make yourself!
Cleaning & Disinfecting
After each use, use a cloth or paper towel to wipe off any food bits that remain on the surface, and clean with warm, soapy water. To disinfect, simply fill a spray bottle with vinegar, or a 1:1 mixture of vinegar and water, if you prefer, and liberally spray your butcher block. Wipe with a clean cloth or paper towel, and allow to air dry for 15 minutes.
Regular oiling is a vital step in maintaining your butcher block, since all wood dries out over time and can eventually split if neglected. Oiling butcher block only takes a few minutes, but the oil does need time to penetrate the wood, so it’s best to do it before bed so it can sit overnight.
How to Oil Your Block:
Using a soft rag, evenly distribute a generous amount of oil onto the surface of your butcher block. Let it sit for 10 – 15 minutes, then use the rag to wipe off any remaining oil that is still sitting on the surface of the wood. Leave your butcher block undisturbed for several hours or overnight to allow the oil to absorb completely.
How often should you be oiling your butcher block? The general rule, whether you have butcher block countertops or just a small cutting board, is to oil them on the following schedule:
- Once a day for the first week after purchase
- Once a week for the first month
- Once a month for as long as you have it
Sticking to this schedule ensures that you achieve an optimum level of moisture in the wood, which will lengthen its life and also make it easier to clean!
Oiling butcher block is generally done using mineral oil, or a mixture of mineral oil and beeswax. Vegetable oils such as olive or sunflower will eventually go rancid, which is why they aren’t used for this purpose. Mineral oil will not go rancid, and is safe to use on food surfaces. Other good options include tung oil and linseed oil.
You can save money on the expensive butcher block oils and conditioners that you see in stores by making this simple DIY version at home.
DIY Butcher Block Conditioner
- 1/4 cup beeswax
- 1 cup food-safe mineral oil
Melt the beeswax in a double boiler until liquified, then stir in the mineral oil until combined. Pour the conditioner into a jar and let it cool completely. Once cool, dip a soft rag into the jar and oil your butcher block. Your DIY conditioner should be stored in a cool, dark location.
Tips and Troubleshooting
Avoid cutting in the same place on the board repeatedly, as this will cause uneven wear. Try to spread out your cuts over the entire surface of the board.
Avoid cutting raw meat or fish on your butcher block, which can easily soak into the wood and spread bacteria. Instead, use a thin, flexible cutting mat that can be placed on top of your cutting board whenever you’re handling raw meat.
Prolonged contact with water can cause the grain of the wood to raise slightly (the surface may appear or feel slightly textured or “fuzzy”, rather than smooth). Should this happen, allow the board to dry completely, then sand the raised area gently with fine grit sandpaper. Gently is the key word here, because you just want to eliminate the fuzzy feeling, rather than expose a whole new layer of wood. Once you’ve sanded, wipe the board clean and then oil it as usual.
If you have an old butcher block cutting board or surface that has seen better days, you can use coarse sandpaper or even better, a wood scraper, to expose a new, smooth layer of wood. The advantage of using a scraper, as opposed to sandpaper, is that it produces little curls of wood, rather than sawdust. Sawdust can clog the “pores” of your block, making it more difficult for oil to penetrate the surface of the wood. The wood curls produced by a scraper are easy to clean up, and you’ll love the smooth surface the scraper leaves behind. And remember to oil your butcher block after any sanding or scraping!