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.

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

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  • Linda combs Says:
    March 10th, 2018 at 10:39 pm

    I really appreciate the knowledge this gave me for taking care of my butcherblock. I knew nothing. Thank you’d

  • Chris Says:
    November 12th, 2017 at 10:16 am

    Thanks for sharing. I must bookmark it!

  • Nicole Says:
    August 22nd, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    I used these techniques and enjoyed that there were options from household items that I already had. I just completed the cleaning and oiling and it looks great. Thank you!

  • Sarah Says:
    June 10th, 2017 at 9:42 am

    Hello, I have 2 old free standing butcher blocks that I would like to start using in the kitchen. They originally belonged to my fiance’s grandparents on a farm, but in more recent years (5 to 10) they have lived in the work shop and garage and have had who knows all what put on them. Should I think twice about putting them in the kitchen or can I restore them for food usage?

  • Debbe Gidelski Says:
    May 20th, 2017 at 9:32 am

    I have a 40 yr old butchers block dining room table it is in very good condition I have maintained it with beeswax as recommended 40 years ago I now need to do a deep cleaning. .what do you recommend

  • Peter Schaeffer Says:
    March 26th, 2017 at 6:36 pm

    I followed the advice on this page for removing some serious burn marks in a butcher block island. The results were excellent. The burn marks are gone and the surface is very smooth (smoother than it was before the burns). I found (as stated above) that 80 grit works for removing the actual burn marks. 220 grit polishes a butcher block surface rather well.

  • kathy mitchell Says:
    April 4th, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    When can I place items back on top of my butcher block kitchen table after using the first application
    of mineral oil?

  • Sean Weaver Says:
    January 15th, 2016 at 9:27 pm

    Purchased a new butcher block kitchen island, sanded as directed by the manufacturer (IKEA), then put WATCO oil treatment on it. A few days later I lightly sanded it again and then put another coat of oil on it but this time it has a tacky residue left behind after wiping off the excess oil. How do I get rid of the tackiness after it cures? Soapy water? Thanks in advance!


  • Cheri Says:
    January 14th, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    How did you answer the question about things on the butcher block absorbing oil or feeling greasy?

  • Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    December 25th, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    Hi Pat,
    Glad to hear our post on cleaning and oiling butcher block was of help!

  • pat baskin Says:
    December 25th, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Because it was looking so worn, I was considering replacing my butcher block kitchen counter with some kind of stone. However, I decided to give it a last effort and tried the above method. The butcher block looks almost new, and I love it.

  • Beej Says:
    November 28th, 2015 at 11:37 am

    Can I lightly sand my butcher block before cleaning it as instructed here? I use it to cute veggies and such.

  • Patricia Sartain Says:
    November 25th, 2015 at 10:23 am

    Really good information. Getting ready for Thanksgiving, and I have a 8’x 3′ x 3″ table that used to be a supermarket butcher’s table in the 70’s. I want it to look good. We all sit around it for the turkey dinner.

  • Betsy Moore Says:
    October 14th, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    I have been sanding as directed. The oil and stains on the old butcher block run deep. This block is made up of many squares of vertical blocks about 2 inches in depth with an overall area of 23.5 x 23.5 inches. I can, with effort, still scrape up old oil with a scraping blade. At what point will I have gone too far? The outside edge blocks surrounding all the inner block are 9 inches in length and there is some slight separation with the rest of the inner block.

  • John gilders Says:
    September 21st, 2015 at 7:36 am

    I used Howard’s cutting board conditioner on my new boards and after I wiped them off, they remained oily. How do I get rid of this oily mess? They have been sitting and drying for almost 1.5 weeks now and still oily. Thanks.

  • Flora Pearson Says:
    September 2nd, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    Hi, we bought a table recently with stainless steel legs and a distressed pine top, totally unfinished. We realized this would mean any stains could permeate straight in and stain, but any of the varnish finishings the shop offered still didn’t come up as matte as we wanted – they also didn’t have a great selection! I am wondering what we could add to the table to keep it looking as natural and raw as possible, but adding some level of protection against stains? A red wine ring would just sink straight in for example. Help!! Thanks!

  • Michelle Says:
    August 1st, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    My butcher block has some mold stains that seem to be permanent and I dont want to seal them in. Can you help?

  • Patti Hofferica Says:
    June 14th, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Can’t wait to get started!!! Counting on lots of use !!!

  • Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    March 31st, 2015 at 8:35 am

    Hi Mark,
    Glad to hear our butcher block cleaning suggestions worked for you. Thanks for the feedback!

  • Mark Christina Says:
    March 30th, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    Thank you so much. I have a butcher block table which I purchased in 1978. It’s always been the kitchen table. I have oiled it more or less consistently but through the years it got discolored, and last year a candle was left on it and the wax went right down into the wood and left a burn mark. I followed your instructions: wash it, vinegar it, lemon juice it. The I sanded it started with 80, then 120, then 150, then 220. Worked in the mineral oil with three coats. It’s just beautiful again! It will be my kitchen table for another 40 years.

  • Jan Braxton Says:
    February 23rd, 2015 at 9:41 am

    I see the many questions above and it would greatly help if I could see your responses too!

    I have a real old HEAVY butcher block table. I am worried that it is getting dried out and it seems to be creating cracks in place. One has become especially wide and I can see thru it to the floor. I love this table and want to know what to do to make this table last forever. I see what you say about oiling and I will do so. I just used a product called Fee-N-Wax from Howard that seems to do real well. Should I try to clamp the split from underneath w/screws or what? How do you get oil in the cracks? I have it in my kitchen as an island so it is always getting used.

  • Pete T. Says:
    February 19th, 2015 at 5:56 am

    good advice knew about the salt, scrapped the old butcher Blks. for yrs. as a kid & meat cutter. guess my kids have their work cut out for them, I have 2 old Blocks, & home made boards. going to love watching them have fun….
    Thanks P

  • Gina Says:
    February 11th, 2015 at 6:49 am

    We have a wood island in our kitchen that has a wax coating. after ten years of wear and tear it looks terrible. What is the best way to get the wax off and re-wax?

  • Bob l. Cauble Says:
    February 1st, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    I have a work bench that is over 65 years old very hard wood could be oak.It has like other been used a lot. How should I go about cleaning and removing chips very small. All so what about wooden garden tool such as shovel and rake handles. Thank you Bob Cauble

  • Buckley Says:
    December 26th, 2014 at 6:33 am

    My wife bought me a Butcherblock for christmas from a local specialty food store. The block is new and never been used but seems to have a light shelac finish on it. Should this finish be removed? If so How should I go about doing it?also ,does the finish matter at all?

  • 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,

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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

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