How To Clean and Oil Butcher Block for Use in the Kitchen
By: Julie Day
Wood butcher blocks are beautiful additions to your kitchen, providing a sturdy work surface with the warmth and beauty of wood. However, to protect both the wood and your health, it’s important to keep butcher blocks sanitized and sealed.
If you take the time to clean and oil your butcher block about once a month, you can be assured it will last a lifetime. Here’s what you need to know to properly maintain your butcher block.
This project takes a total of about half an hour, but it’s broken up due to drying time. You might want to pull out your wooden cutting boards and wooden handled cutlery and seal them as well while you’ve got the supplies handy.
To complete this project, you will need:
- Natural soap or dish soap
- Scrubbing sponge
- Scrub brush
- White vinegar
- Lemon juice
- Table or kosher salt
- Mineral oil or other sealing oil
- Clean cloth or paper towels
Butcher Block Oils
There are several options for sealing butcher blocks, including:
- Food Grade Mineral Oil: This is the top choice for butcher blocks, and it’s the primary ingredient in commercial sealing products. Look for food grade mineral oil in your local pharmacy – it’s also sold as a laxative – and it’ll be much cheaper in the pharmacy than in the hardware store. Mineral oil will give your butcher block a light honey color.
- Pure Tung Oil*: Made from the nut of the tung tree, pure tung oil can be expensive and hard to find, but it cures to a durable finish with a darker amber color. Because tung oil is made from natural ingredients, it’s a greener choice than mineral oil, which is petroleum based. Be sure to use only pure tung oil since chemicals may have been added to other tung oil products.
- Raw Linseed Oil: A form of flax oil. Use raw linseed oil, rather than boiled, since boiled oil can contain metallic dryers that aren’t considered food-safe.
- Walnut Oil* or Almond Oil*: These oils can be found at most gourmet grocery stores.
- Coconut Oil: While solid at room temperature (with the consistency of shortening), you can use a hair dryer to warm both the oil and wood as you rub it in. However, any leftover oil on the surface will cool into a waxy coating that shows markings and fingerprints.
*NOTE: Tung, walnut, and almond oil may pose a health risk if allergic to nuts.
Finished butcher block after cleaning and oiling
Avoid using these products on butcher block that is used for food preparation:
- Culinary Oils: Olive, vegetable, and flax oils will soon oxidize and go rancid.
- Danish Oil: Can contain mineral spirits, petroleum distillates, and other chemicals.
- Stains: Oil based stains contain mineral spirits and other harmful chemicals.
- Polyurethane: Varnishes and other oil based finishes can contain mineral spirits and other harmful chemicals.
What about beeswax?
Some butcher block sealants also include beeswax or paraffin. There are woodworkers who swear by beeswax for its shine and protection, and some butcher block recipes involve melting a little wax into the sealing oil. However, the wax will form a shiny, buffed coating that’s really better for less used surfaces (like decorative wooden bowls). For butcher blocks that are used regularly, beeswax is an unnecessary step.
Cleaning and Sealing: Step-By-Step
How to Restore Old Butcher Blocks
If you’ve found a wonderful old butcher block at a yard sale, or if yours has suffered a lot of wear and tear, you may want to restore the surface before sealing. Start with 80 to 100 grit sandpaper, and work your way up to 220 grit, wiping gently with a slightly damp cloth between sandings. Try not to remove too much of the wood, just sand enough to remove stains and restore the surface.
After sanding, follow the steps above for cleaning and sealing. Be sure to use plenty of oil, as the newly sanded wood needs to be well sealed to prevent stains.