Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

How To Clean and Oil Butcher Block for Use in the Kitchen

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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.

Materials Needed

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

Step 1: Clean Butcher Block

Using hot, soapy water and a scrubby sponge or brush, thoroughly clean the surface of your butcher block. Make sure all stuck-on food particles are removed, and rinse well with hot water.

Step 2: Sanitize with Vinegar

Next, rinse the butcher block with white vinegar. If you keep a vinegar-water solution in a spray bottle for general cleaning, just grab it and spritz the butcher block all over. Allow the vinegar to sit while you complete step three.

Step 3: Make Lemon-Salt Mixture

Pour about 1/4 cup salt into a bowl, and stir in enough lemon juice to make a paste. It’s not an exact science – adjust the consistency as you go, to make a workable paste.

Step 4: Final Deodorizing and Sanitizing

Using a scrub brush, thoroughly scrub your butcher block with the lemon-salt paste. This will remove odors and bleach out stains. If the paste gets too dry, sprinkle on a little more lemon juice. Rinse well, and squeegee off as much water as you can, and allow the butcher block to dry. I like to clean my butcher block right before bedtime, then let it dry overnight. The next morning, I make sure to seal it before I get it dirty again!

Step 5: Seal with Oil

Pour out a small amount of oil, and rub it into the wood using a cloth or paper towel. As the oil soaks in, add more and continue rubbing and polishing with the grain until the oil is absorbed. Don’t forget the edges! The first time you seal your butcher block, it may take several applications before it stops “drinking” oil, but in later cleanings you’ll just need to refresh it. Keep adding oil until no more soaks in, remove any excess with a cloth, and you’re done!

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.

Further Information



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6 Comments on “How To Clean and Oil Butcher Block for Use in the Kitchen”

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  1. Della Cope Says:
    May 21st, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    I have a 1996 commercial butcher block from a meat packing company in Michigan. The bottom of the block is black and I want to clean it up and get to the maple.
    What is this substance and how can I remove it?

    Thank you for your response.

    Della Cope

  2. Frank Says:
    July 2nd, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    I have a 5′ x 5′ must be hard maple butcher block work bench from a local school shop that closed. I was thinking about making a butcher block for kitchen use. If I flip it over and completely remove the finish and cut a section out do you think that is ok. I already made a butcher block vanity top out of part of it and it turned out great.
    Thanks Frank

  3. Bill Berry Says:
    January 25th, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    Thanks to Julie Day for the great explanation of cleaning and sealing a butcher block. Thanks to you for making the explanation available.

  4. Frannyb Says:
    July 30th, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    I have a question. We just made a island top from an old piece of butcher block and I sealed it with the mineral oil and it looks awesome, but everything I put on it absorbs the oil. Do you just keep putting oil on until it absorbs no oil at all and then it won’t be so greasy? I wiped it down but you can still feel the oil when you touch it. Is that how it is going to be, and if I put a plastic table cloth over it to protect when not using, will that hurt it?

  5. Vanessa Says:
    August 26th, 2014 at 10:31 am

    I have a butcher block island and when I oil it and wipe off the excess the top remains sticky for weeks. How can I avoid this?

  6. Dean Klicker Says:
    September 6th, 2014 at 11:33 am

    I have a 100 yr,+ old 37″dia,X14″ deep X 32″ high butcher block that I’m trying to restore. I removed several layers of paint and would like to refinish with either mineral or tung oil but have run into a big problem–the minor cracks and pits still have a bit of paint in them and of course won’t take oil and I don’t want to re-paint it. Suggestions on how to get all the holes and cracks void of paint. Thanks,

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