8 Brilliant Ways to Clean and Sanitize Your Wood Cutting Boards, According to Professional Chefs

published Feb 3, 2022
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

I recently invested in an expensive wood cutting board. It was worth every penny and, as much as I want to feel free to use it every day, I also want to keep it in tip-top shape. So, in the interest of maintaining my new, ultra-luxe cutting board, I reached out to a handful of chef friends for their advice. Because, if there are two things that chefs obsess over, it’s their knives and boards. Turns out, they all echoed the same advice for wood board care.

Here’s what pro chefs have to say about cleaning and maintaining a wooden cutting board — no matter how much or how little yours happened to cost.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

1. Don’t be afraid to wash it with soap.

While you shouldn’t submerge your board for hours in a water bath, a little soapy water at the end of the day is necessary for cleaning this hardworking tool. “Personally, I like using Dawn,” says Jordan Ware, the chef de cuisine at Hen of the Wood in Vermont (he also crafts bespoke boards under the name Original Provisions). “Other brands can leave lingering scents, which get into the food.” 

After drying it with a towel, Eamon Lee, the executive chef at Syracuse University, suggests letting the board sit out overnight to dry completely before storing it in a cupboard.

2. Avoid prolonged exposure to moisture.

Raw poultry on a wooden cutting board is not a good idea. But that’s not the only bacterial red flag. Soaking boards or letting them stay wet for too long can cause problems, too. “Don’t let your boards stay wet,” warns Ware. “Moisture and temperature changes are really bad for wood, in terms of bacterial growth.” 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. Create a kosher salt crust.

Charlie Palmer, a James Beard Award-winning chef and hotel developer, finds this salt method so useful, he employs it in all of his Charlie Palmer Steak restaurants. After a quick soapy wash, he coats his board with kosher salt then lets it sit for an hour. “This draws out moisture,” he explains. And not just moisture: “The salt absorbs all the bad smells,” says Lachlan Archibald, the head chef at The Kitchin in Edinburgh, Scotland. Once the hour-long rest is up, use a bench scraper to flake off the salt (more on that below).

Credit: Amy Graves

4. Reach for a bench scraper.

Bench scrapers are ubiquitous in restaurant kitchens — but they’re not regularly found in home cooks’ utensil drawers. It pays to invest in one, though, because they’re incredibly useful for cleaning wooden cutting boards. Palmer uses one to scrape off his kosher salt cure, and it’s also helpful when it comes to loosening any crusted-on food bits, such as melted cheese. 

This tip was echoed by many of the chefs, including Matt Carrell, the owner of Woodland Baking in Vermont. Carrell finds a metal bench scraper to be especially helpful at cleaning crusty flour from wooden boards and butcher blocks. “It also does an excellent job at dividing butter,” he notes.

5. Oil it regularly.

Oiling wooden work surfaces — and kitchen tools, like wooden spoons — is non-negotiable for long-term care. “This will help with knife cuts and dryness, which will keep your boards around for a long time,” explains Carrell. It also provides a protective sealant layer, to keep the porous wood from soaking up bacteria and funky smells.

Don’t go overboard, though: Ware gives his boards a proper rub-down every couple of months. He recommends a mineral oil, or blended beeswax product that gives off a pretty luster when buffed. (Psst: The Kitchn tried a variety of board oils and picked a must-try favorite.)

6. Add rubber feet.

Ware always adds rubber feet to the bottom of his custom-made boards. Not only does it stop them from sliding around on the counter, but it also encourages proper airflow around the entire board. “That helps it dry evenly,” he explains. ”Putting a piece of wet wood directly on your counter will just make it warp.”

7. Sanitize if you must.

If you should worry about bacteria seeping into your wooden cutting board, Lee uses a simple-but-effective solution: “One tablespoon of bleach mixed with one gallon of water. Soak a cloth in the solution and wipe the board generously on all sides. Let stand for one minute, rinse with running water, and pat dry.”

8. Don’t be afraid to get out the heavy equipment.

Need to do major damage control? It may be time for an electric sander. In fact, some professional chefs consider this to be regular maintenance. Archibald at The Kitchin does this twice a year to keep his boards in ship-shape condition. 

An orbital sander, which uses a circular motion, is preferred for its powerful ability to lift materials from the surface. You may find this purchase more useful than you originally thought — there’s also a cast iron maker who uses it to repair rusty pans. As with all power tools, take adequate safety precautions, including wearing protective eyewear, when using.

How do you care for and sanitize your wood cutting boards? Tell us in the comments below.