How to Clean a Butcher Block

Butcher block cutting board next to sink in marble countertop

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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 15 mins
  • Total Time: 15 - 25 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Whether you have an authentic, free-standing butcher block, butcher block countertops, or a butcher block cutting board, you have yourself a beautiful, easy-to-maintain surface. Created from multiple strips of wood glued together, this laminated wood surface can feature a single type of wood or different varieties in contrasting hues.

If you are opting for an island or counters topped with butcher block, it is much less expensive than stone options. However, the key to keeping the surface beautiful is keeping it sealed to prevent damage from water and kitchen liquids.

Maintaining butcher block is a breeze. You don't need a specialized product, and you can use just about any cleaner you have in your cupboard. Even sealing the wood is easy and non-toxic, and it can be done with supplies from your own pantry.

How Often to Clean a Butcher Block

Butcher block should be cleaned after each use for food display or preparation. Frequently used butcher blocks should be resealed with food-grade mineral oil at least monthly. And, even decorative butcher block should be oiled at least once or twice a year.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Microfiber cloths
  • Plastic scraper
  • Sponge
  • Spray bottle
  • Cotton cloths

Materials

  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Table salt
  • Lemon juice
  • Plastic food wrap
  • Food-safe mineral oil

Instructions

  1. Scrape Away Debris

    After food preparation is complete, use a plastic scraper to loosen and remove all stuck-on food and debris from the butcher block.

  2. Mix a Cleaning Solution

    Create a cleaning solution of hot water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid. This can be done in the kitchen sink or a small bowl.

  3. Wipe and Rinse

    Dip a sponge in the soapy solution and wring until no longer dripping. Wipe the butcher block, being sure to follow the grain of the wood.

    When all of the surfaces are clean, rinse out the sponge in clean water. Use it to wipe away any soapy residue left on the butcher block. Remember, rinse out the sponge often as you work if the butcher block area is large.

  4. Sanitize the Butcher Block

    Spray the butcher block surface lightly with undiluted distilled white vinegar. Allow the vinegar to remove on the surface for at least ten minutes or until it dries naturally.

    Tip

    The acetic acid of the vinegar will help kill bacteria and sanitize the surface.

  5. Tackle Stains

    For areas of the butcher block left discolored by the tannins in fruits and vegetables, mix a paste of table salt and lemon juice. Apply the paste to the discolored area, cover with plastic wrap, and let it sit for at least 10 to 15 minutes.

    When time is up, scrub the area with a sponge. The salt will act as a gentle abrasive and the lemon juice gently bleaches the stained area. Repeat until the stain is gone.

  6. Reseal the Surface

    Unless your butcher block has been sealed with polyurethane, it will need to be resealed at least monthly to prevent moisture from entering the wood. If you are sealing butcher block countertops, pay particular attention to the area around sinks that are exposed more often to water.

    Use food-grade mineral oil or walnut oil. Making sure that the butcher block is clean and completely dry, pour the oil directly onto the butcher block surface. Work in thin layers and don't allow the oil to pool on the surface.

    Continue to rub the oil into the wood with cotton cloths. The oil should penetrate the surface quickly and dry within 30 minutes.

    Tip

    If there are rough areas or difficult to remove stains, you can lightly sand the surface of butcher block to smooth and lighten stains before resealing.

    Tips to Keep Butcher Block Surfaces Looking Great

    Since butcher block is a much softer surface than stone, ceramic, or some plastics, it is prone to scratches and dings. Follow these tips to help protect the surface and keep it looking its best.

    • Avoid exposing butcher block surfaces to excessive amounts of water over an extended period. Never soak a butcher block cutting board or leave water standing on a sealed butcher block surface.
    • Try to avoid chopping or cutting foods directly on the surface of the butcher block. While small scratches can add "character" to the wood, they can also harbor bacteria. Use a washable cutting board when cutting foods—especially meats—to protect the butcher block surface.
    • Wood can scorch from excessive heat. Do not place a hot pot or pan directly on a butcher block surface and instead use a trivet.
    • Do not use cooking oils like olive, corn, canola to reseal the butcher block. They can turn rancid and cause unpleasant odors.
    • Mold and mildew can be removed from butcher block surfaces by spraying a diluted solution of chlorine bleach and water. Mix one teaspoon of bleach in one quart of water. Spritz on the surface and let stand for five minutes. Be sure to wear protective gloves and wipe away the mildew with a paper towel. Rinse the area with hot water and dry thoroughly. Repeat as needed.