Wooden Cutting Board Maintenance
February 18, 2004 6:50 AM   Subscribe

I have a hardwood cutting board which has a bit of mildew growing into the wood on the bottom. The board has also slightly warped. Is there anything I can do to get rid of these two problems? And for the future, what are some good preventative maintenance tips (asides from keeping it dry) to keep things like this from happening again?
posted by skwm to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Periodically rub mineral oil over the entire thing. DON'T use vegetable oil, it will turn rancid.
posted by eastlakestandard at 7:15 AM on February 18, 2004

And make sure the mineral oil is safe for consumption, you should be able to find what you need at any cutlery or kitchen supply store.
posted by eastlakestandard at 7:19 AM on February 18, 2004

I've been treating my boards with olive oil for years. Decades maybe. They haven't turned rancid. They also never mold or warp. Even in high humidity San Diego.

I'm curious as to whether anyone has had problems with olive oil treated baords going rancid. I'm dubious about that.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:20 AM on February 18, 2004

You know, I've never thought about it and only posted the caveat because that's what I was told when I was researching this problem.

This article about hydrogenation gives some answers. Any chemists in the house?
posted by eastlakestandard at 7:31 AM on February 18, 2004

We've had good success with mineral oil, we got a bottle of it at IKEA.
posted by rocketman at 8:00 AM on February 18, 2004

Well, for the record here's how I treat mine. This has worked well for 17 years.

For daily use I try to wipe the board off to keep it clean, but I only give it a thorough cleaning about once a month. For that run hot water over it while rubbing it down with a scotch pad. Then I let it dry overnight in some warm area. Then I'll give it a couple coats with an olive oil soaked paper towel. The first coat will soak right in and the second will soak in slowly.

I think the trick is to not run it under water more than you have to, and keep it lightly oiled so that water has trouble getting deep into the wood.

And keep in mind that wood cutting boards deter germ growth.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:01 AM on February 18, 2004

A couple other points: when you do rinse your boards off, be sure to rinse both sides equally, as it hinders warping. Also, you should consider adding a step to y6y6y6's process: before re-oiling, scrub down with lemon juice, and let sit in strong sunlight (preferably outside) for a few hours, this helps control odors, will lightly bleach the finish, and will keep mildew -- which is no fan of ultraviolet light -- at bay.
posted by silusGROK at 8:46 AM on February 18, 2004

quickie note -- letting cutting boards dry unevenly is a big factor towards warping, mildew and other ick. When you clean a cutting board, make sure you dry it thoroughly before you put it down. If you sort of shake it off and then place it on its end somewhere, the wet end will likely mildew, even if it has little feet on the bottom that keep it from directly touching the counter. Sun, water, oil and if the mildew is persistent, you can bleach it slightly, or sand it lightly with fine grain sandpaper.
posted by jessamyn at 9:59 AM on February 18, 2004

i also use olive oil on my cutting boards, and do a full wash every 2 - 4 weeks, depending on how much cooking i've been doing. i warped my first cutting board by not drying both sides fully before laying it back down in it's regular work spot.
posted by t r a c y at 10:02 AM on February 18, 2004

uuhh.... but, you guys - you are cutting things like raw meat and raw chicken, etc., and not washing it thoroughly after this? I've always had problems with cutting boards not holding up, but I always wash them with soap and hot water after cutting anything other than clean vegetables... Is there something I don't know?
posted by taz at 11:28 AM on February 18, 2004

Exposed vegetable oils will turn rancid over time. The question is whether you give them enough time before you wear out the oil coating on your cutting board (or wash it off) and re-oil, I imagine. If you wash your cutting board thoroughly every day, and re-oil it lightly every few weeks, you may work through the oil before it can turn. I suspect most people would get a bit of rancidness, though. The board would turn darker and give off an odor incompatible with many appetites.

If it's worked for you, great, but to me it's one of those "my granddad smoked two packs a day and lived to age 105" stories - just because it didn't bite you doesn't mean it won't bite anyone else. Several online merchants sell oil specifically for cutting boards. Or, check out local kitchen supply stores or pharmacies for food-grade mineral oil. Make sure it's food-grade or you risk getting to know your health insurance folks better.

As Alton Brown himself said in Good Eats episode #EA1C10, Head Games:
Now, when wood gets scratched, just sand it with the grain, wash it, then rub it down with a food-grade mineral oil available at your neighborhood pharmacy. Do not use any other kind of oil. Food oils just go rancid and furniture mineral oils will put you in the ER.
    Now, uh, I disinfect my boards from time to time, both the plastic and wood boards, with a white vinegar rub down followed by a rinse and air dry. Now plastic boards can be sanitized in the washer but never, repeat, never put a wooden board in a washing machine [sic, dishwasher]
Ignore said advice at your own risk.
posted by mdeatherage at 12:40 PM on February 18, 2004

The island in my kitchen has a hardwood cutting board top. My process is:

Mist whole top lightly with water. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Scrub well with clean dry cloth. Mist again, wipe with paper towel. Dry with new towel. If I cut meat, I mist with a weak bleach solution - 1:10 or so - instead of water. Wipe with olive oil maybe every couple months when I remember.

4 years, no mold, no warping, no bad smells, no dead guests.
posted by donnagirl at 2:28 PM on February 18, 2004

if you believe that vegetable oils will turn rancid (and it appears as though belief is all it takes), I happily note that walnut oil will not. At least as far as I've been told and noted.
posted by Dick Paris at 4:51 PM on February 18, 2004

Here is a great reference for finishing cutting boards and wooden kitchen utensils/surfaces. Not mentioned in replies so far, which was my first inkling, is 100% Tung Oil, but make sure it is 100% or it may contain drying agents which are distinctly bad to ingest.
posted by plinth at 5:25 PM on February 18, 2004

Dick Paris, I was open about not knowing and that I my advice might be completely false, so what? I'm interested in the right answer too.
posted by eastlakestandard at 7:31 PM on February 18, 2004

I have a cutting board that I've used continuously for about 20 years now and have never done any more than clean it with a scotchbrite pad and hot soap and water after each use. Every few years I might scrape it down with a chef's knife, but it doesn't seem to need any more attention than that. It's made of vertical maple slabs and is about 1½" thick.
posted by cbrody at 7:47 PM on February 19, 2004

Olive oil - minimal soap on cleaning so as not to lift up too much of the oil. It does not go rancid; at least not on any of my boards for the last 30 years.

I personally do not want to ingest mineral oil, food grade or not. It comes from petroleum. I have heard that most tung oil preparations (as opposed to pure tung oil, which I am not sure is edible either) are basically rubbing varnishes with just a small amount of tung oil.

Stay with a natural product, vegetable oil. I do not know about whether other oils go rancid, but olive oil has not gone rancid on any of my cutting boards or salad bowls.
posted by caddis at 8:51 PM on February 19, 2004

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