How to Sanitize a Wooden Cutting Board: A Detailed Guide

By The Kitchen Hacker | Cutting Board Tips & Tricks

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Most people love their favorite wooden cutting board in the kitchen. If you ask most people, old and young, who spend a lot of time in their kitchen, which cutting board is their favorite, they would more often than not point at the old, battered, wooden cutting board lying there on the table ready to be used. If you are one of those people, you also know that all the food you prepare will be cut and sliced on this wooden cutting board, and with extensive use comes wear and tear.

That’s when you need to know how to counter the abuse of overuse on your wooden cutting board. Many people do not even know that their favorite wooden cutting board is also a breeding place for bacteria. It is a good health practice to have more than one cutting board. You should have one just for meat cutting and another one for your vegetables and for bread slicing.

Cross-contamination may occur if you are using one cutting board for both your meat and vegetables, whether it be a wooden cutting board or a plastic cutting board. You don’t want the bacteria from the meat to be transferred to your vegetables or bread, and vice versa.

Let’s look at some ways to keep your wooden cutting board clean, as well as free of germs and bacteria. This will also give you peace of mind for the health of your loved ones. This is not to assume that you are not cleaning your boards, but we just want to share some valuable things that are not general knowledge to help make your food preparation a fast, clean, and pleasurable event.

Everyday cleaning of your wooden cutting board

You can do a good wipe down with some warm water after using your wooden cutting board, and you will want to dry it thoroughly, so your wooden cutting board does not warp. It is a good practice to clean your wooden cutting board after every time you use it. That may sound like stating the obvious, or even unnecessary work, but it is very good for your board to be cleaned regularly. Every now and then you should give your wooden cutting board a decent scrubbing.

When cleaning your wooden cutting board, you do not want to completely submerge it in the water or wash it in the dishwasher. Unfortunately, that will cause your wooden cutting board to crack and warp. The primary way to clean your wooden cutting board is to use a wet sponge with warm water and put just a squirt of dishwashing liquid onto the sponge.

Then, wipe your wooden cutting board clean with the wet sponge. Afterward, you just need to wipe it dry with a dry cloth and put it on its side in an upright position on the drying rack to air dry completely. It is a proven fact that most bacteria that stays behind after a normal soapy wipe-off later dies when letting the wooden cutting board air dry.

Another way to clean it daily after being used is to pour some coarse salt on top of your wooden cutting board. Then, cut a lemon in half and use the half lemon as a scourer and the salt as an abrasive. Rub the whole surface of the wooden cutting board in small circular movements until the cutting board is thoroughly cleaned and you have covered the entire surface of the cutting board.

After that, just wipe it off with a dry paper towel and put it upright to dry. The lemon juice will act as a natural disinfectant and will kill off most bacteria. You may also use standard white vinegar in the same way with coarse salt as with the lemon. Just make a paste with the vinegar and coarse salt and use a sponge as a scourer. You may rinse the wooden cutting board with water, but submerge it in water and always let it dry in an upright position.

How to clean stubborn stains on your wooden cutting board

Those stubborn stains left behind from food coloring or vegetables, like beetroot, may prove quite difficult to remove. Normally, when you are using a lemon wedge as the scourer, together with coarse salt on those stains, they may come off with a little more effort. However, sometimes, they will just not come off. If the stain is just too stubborn to come off with regular cleaning, you could use a little bit of antibacterial soap and a firmer scouring sponge to try and remove the stain.

Be careful not to use too much force, as that may make deep grooves in the wood of your cutting board, leaving more space for bacteria to grow in. Baking soda is also a good abrasive agent for getting rid of stubborn stains. Together with the lemon wedge as a scourer, you may get rid of those stubborn stains, as well as bad smells sticking to the wood of your cutting board.

However, sometimes there are those stains that will just not come off, and that is when you will have to use more extreme measures to get rid of the stains and smells lingering in the wood of your cutting board.

The following is something that you should do before going away for the weekend or if you are leaving for a long-deserved vacation. It will be the ideal time to deep clean and renew all your wooden cutting boards. Then, you can leave them all to dry out naturally.

Sanding your wooden cutting board

If there are some deep ugly cuts and stains that just will not come out, or maybe some smells that constantly linger around your wooden cutting board, don’t despair! After some time of use, your cutting board will just not come clean, or the smells in it just won’t leave, so it is then that you should look for more extreme measures.

If all the methods you have used just do not bring the shine and luster back into your cutting board, and you think maybe it's time to get rid of it and just buy a new one, then just wait a second. There is still some hope for your favorite wooden cutting board, and there is absolutely no reason for you to get rid of your cutting board yet.

When you take a cloth and you wipe it over the surface of your cutting board, you can feel it getting stuck to things protruding from the surface. That is, unfortunately, wooden splinters coming off from the wood. However, there is a way to fix this. All you need to do is get some sandpaper because it is time to sand your board. You will want to get two different grades of sandpaper.

You may start with a medium grade, say 100-grain, sandpaper and start sanding the surface of your wooden cutting board. You may use it like normal, or wrap it around a small square object like a box, and sand in the direction of the grain until the whole surface feels smooth and even. Then, you can change over to a finer grain sandpaper, say half that of the coarser, and smooth it until the wood feels smooth and soft to the touch.

You don’t need to do it perfectly like a professional woodworker, but try to make it as smooth and even as you can get it. You will see the difference, and your board will look and feel like a new piece. After sanding it down, you will need to wash it with warm water and dry it with a paper towel or a dry towel or dishcloth. Leave it overnight to dry completely.

Oil your wooden cutting board

The final stage of renewing your wooden cutting board is to oil it. First, clean the wooden cutting board, and then dry it off with a paper towel or a dry cloth. Do not use vegetable oil or scented or flavored oil for your wooden cutting board. The vegetable oil will go rancid, and bacteria can grow and may cause the wood of your cutting board to mold.

You want to use food-grade oil, like mineral oil, that contains no chemicals or perfumes. The mineral oil will also prevent your wooden cutting board from warping and cracking. To oil, generously put some oil all over the surface of the cutting board, and then use a cloth or your hand to work the oil into the wood, going with the grain of the wood.

This will not just preserve the wood, but will also bring out the natural grain of the wood and restore it to its original luster, making it look beautiful all over again. You don’t need your cutting board to look beautiful; you want it to be workable, but, if it looks natural and nice, it is always a pleasure to work on it. Preserving the wood is important, not just for it to last longer, but also to be able to manage bacterial growth on your wooden cutting board.

It is good for the wood of your cutting board if you apply mineral oil as soon as you see it is getting dull and rough to the touch. Keep on performing this maintenance on a regular basis. The longevity of your wooden cutting board will also bring joy to you for a long time.

How to sanitize a wooden cutting board

It will become necessary every few months to sanitize your wooden cutting board with a more serious harsh industrial sanitizer. Occasional deep cleaning is good for the maintenance of a bacteria-free cutting board. Diluted bleach with 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water will do the trick for cleaning bacteria from your wooden cutting board.

Put your cutting board in the basin to contain run-off liquid, but don’t submerge your cutting board. Spray the solution over the wood of your cutting board, covering the whole surface. Repeat this on both sides of the cutting board. If possible, it will be a good practice to flip the cutting board over and use the other side of the board as the working surface, so you don’t favor just one side.

Sometimes, this is not possible but just use it as best as you can. After cleaning the board completely with the bleach solution, let it stand for a while before rinsing it with warm water. Then, dry the board completely with a dry cloth and let it air dry overnight.


It is always a pleasure to work with tools that can do the job when preparing food for the family. If you can do that with assured knowledge of a bacteria-free surface and peace of mind for the health of loved ones, it is a huge bonus. Hopefully, this will be an eye-opener for whoever reads this. Aside from being a source of valuable information, we want this article to be a practical and fruitful guide for the future and prolonged use of your wooden cutting board that will bring fond memories of good food and wonderful gatherings in the kitchen.

Whether it is on cold winter nights or mild summer mornings, those who love to use their wooden cutting boards to prepare meals for future generations will benefit from this information. Something else to ponder is that wooden cutting boards and plastic cutting boards have the same chance of collecting bacteria on its surface.

The problem with plastic is that the material mostly gets scratched off and may end up in the food, while hardwood, like maple, will not lose pieces so generously. This means it may be safer to stay with your favorite wooden cutting board, but that is just an opinion. When you consider all the steps taken to ensure some peace of mind, all the effort put into maintaining a bacteria-free wooden cutting board is not too much to ask.

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