5 Best Oils for Wooden Cutting Boards (and Bamboo!)
By Bobby B. | March 2022 | Cutting Boards
As a kitchen enthusiast, you know that taking care of your wooden cutting boards is important. Not only do they make chopping and slicing easier, but they can also last for years with the right maintenance. The best way to protect and preserve your cutting board is to prevent it from drying out, cracking, warping, and growing bacteria. This is accomplished by seasoning it with a special oil, made just for the job. We’ve rated the 5 best oils for wooden cutting boards below, based on their performance.
Why You Need to Season Your Wood Cutting Boards
Wooden cutting boards are an awesome way to not dull your knives quickly like boards made of harder materials, the worst being glass and marble. The soft, porous, giving nature of the wood allows your knife to cut into the surface slightly, ensuring very little damage to the knife’s blade. However, the porous nature of the wood also allows for juices, blood, and even bacteria to be absorbed into the wood surfaces over a period of time.
Seasoning a cutting board saturates the wood fiber, sealing it off and trying to prevent these liquids from soaking into the wood, causing you issues. Without it, they can also dry out, crack, and even warp without some basic cutting board maintenance. Have no fear though. It’s super simple to season wood cutting boards. It makes your board look great, extends its useful life, and protects you and your family from harmful bacteria.
Wood is a naturally porous material, so it will absorb all the juices from food unless it’s sealed. End grain cutting boards are popular and look amazing, but they allow even more absorption due to exposed wood fibers. This can transfer the taste and odors from one recipe to the next even if rinsed. More importantly, however, this can allow moisture to penetrate the wood which can harbor bacteria or cause warping or cracking in the future.
What is the Best Oil for Wood Cutting Boards?
There are a handful of different types of oils that can be used to seal a wooden cutting board. Each type has its own set of pros and cons for why should (or shouldn’t) select it. Here’s a list of the five most popular types of cutting board oil and waxes with notes about their properties and effectiveness.
1. Food-Grade Mineral Oil
Food-grade mineral oil is the most popular choice because it’s affordable and easy to find. It’s also non-toxic and won’t go rancid as some other household oils might. There are other kinds of mineral oil available that are not safe to consume, so make sure the one you pick is labeled “food-grade”, which is usually some type of liquid paraffin. It is a colorless, odorless substance that is safe to use on cutting boards and other wooden kitchen tools.
Mineral oil is very effective at repelling water and preventing its absorption into your cutting boards and butcher blocks. Pure food-grade mineral oil, liquid paraffin, is a great option and will help get your board looking amazing!
2. Coconut Oil
We believe coconut oil makes the best cutting board oil, but make sure you look for fractionated coconut oil. Don’t use standard coconut oil out of your cabinets. This will go rancid when the fats are exposed to the air. Fractionated coconut oil is what’s left after the fats have been removed from regular food-safe coconut oil. This is what ensures it won’t go rancid and it stays shelf-stable in a liquid form, which is imperative in oil for cutting boards and butcher blocks.
One major benefit of coconut oil is that it doesn’t contain any petroleum byproducts, but it does have antimicrobial properties that impede bad bacteria. Since it’s usually 100% plant-based, vegans and other all-natural types prefer this option over mineral oil. The good news is that it also performs about the same as food-grade mineral oil too, so it’s an amazing option for oiling your wooden cutting board and wooden spoons.
Another option is beeswax, which gives your board or block’s surface a natural finish. The wax is produced in beehives and adds a nice shine to a cutting board while hydrating the wood. However, it’s important to note that beeswax is not as water-resistant as some of the other oils listed, so you’ll need to apply it more often. It also comes in solid form, so it’s harder for the wood to soak in and absorb beeswax.
That’s not to say beeswax isn’t a good option, because it is. Using it regularly will keep your board looking brand new. It’s just best used in combination with another oil (see “your own cutting board wax recipe” below for some great options) for seasoning and maintaining your wooden cutting boards.
4. Carnauba Wax
Carnauba wax comes from palm tree leaves that are native to Brazil, which makes sense since it’s also sometimes called “Brazil wax”. It does an amazing job at providing a high-gloss finish to wood cutting boards. Because of its water resistance, it’s also used in several other, unrelated products such as car wax, dental floss, and even some cosmetics.
While not as popular as the oils and waxes listed above, it is commercially available. Like beeswax, it is also often combined with the oils and used as a mixture.
5. Your Own Cutting Board Wax Recipe
DIY cutting board wax recipe options can be found all over the place. Most of them use some combination of food-grade oil (mineral oil or coconut oil) and either carnauba or beeswax. When mixed together at a 4:1 ratio of oil to wax, the solution combines the best of both mediums.
The odorless oil is infused with the wonderful aromas you smell in the wax, along with its glossy shine. The oil helps the entire mixture soak into the wood, helping maintain the protection added for several weeks.
So is the best cutting board oil ultimately just a combination of these two food-safe items? It may be!
Lemon Juice and Baking Soda
These are not oils, but a mixture of lemon juice and baking soda can help you maintain your wood cutting board or butcher block.
Lemon juice is great at removing odors. Go ahead and wipe some on your cutting board if it starts to smell. The ascorbic acid in lemons will oxidize bacteria and fats trapped in the surface of the board and neutralize the odor coming off of it.
Baking soda is great for removing stains from these items. Just sprinkle a little baking soda over the problem area. Scrub or brush on it for a bit and rinse it off in some hot water. It seems like there are endless uses for baking soda in the kitchen, am I right?
Best Oil for Bamboo Cutting Boards
Do you have a bamboo cutting board and are concerned the cutting board oils listed above might not work for you? We have great news! Even though bamboo is not actually considered wood (see our article on bamboo vs. wood cutting boards), the oils above work great on both and for all the same reasons. They also work to hydrate, repel water, condition, and protect bamboo just like they do wood.
Products You Should NOT Use on Cutting Boards
It should be mentioned that many household oils should not be used on your wood cutting board. You should shy away from materials that will go rancid, came from nuts (due to nut allergies), those that contain chemicals toxic to humans.
Oils that Go Rancid
Unlike fractionated coconut oil and mineral oil, vegetable oil, olive oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, and regular coconut oil will go rancid. This process causes a terrible smell to develop on your cutting board, and it will transfer the odor and bad taste to foods cut on it. Linseed oil has other drawbacks too, but it may also go rancid over time. These items should not be used to help maintain either your cutting board or butcher block.
Oils Derived from Nuts
For this totally different reason, we recommend that you shy away from using oils made from nuts or a nut tree. These include walnut oil and tung oil, both of which can cause issues for you, guests, or family members that may have a nut allergy. These oils are also typically more expensive than the ones listed above, so there’s not a good reason to use them anyway.
Just to point it out, despite its name, coconut isn’t actually a nut. According to Healthline, most people who have tree nut allergies can safely eat coconut.
Other materials we’ve seen suggested or inquired about to be used as a cutting board maintenance item include bleach, varnish (shellac/laquer), and rubbing alcohol.
Bleach can be toxic for humans and should not be used on cutting board surfaces. There are better options out there for cleaning and disinfecting your boards.
Varnish and similar products are great for producing a glossy shine, but they are made with solvents that leave a resin on the surface of your board. They aren’t appropriate to be used for regular maintenance on cutting boards. Again, there are much better options.
Lastly, while rubbing alcohol is a good disinfectant, it would be a terrible idea to use it on a wood cutting board. It will have the opposite effect of most cutting board oils. It will dry out the wood and promote and encourage cracking in the wood.
How Often to Apply Cutting Board Oil
The frequency of applying cutting board oil depends on how often you use it. Assuming you use it every day or close to it, you should apply food-grade mineral oil to your wood cutting board or butcher block every 3-5 weeks to maintain good performance and keep your board looking great. If you use it less, your need for oiling and maintaining your wood cutting board will be less too.
By the way, wooden spoons and other wooden kitchen tools/utensils/bowls benefit from food-grade mineral oil or coconut oils too, providing a shine and protecting all your kitchen accessories from drying out and cracking.