Food-Safe Wood Finishes

A food-safe wood finish for wood expands the use of both handmade and ready-made items into the kitchen and playroom. Though most sealers provide a food-safe wood finish once dry, these modern wood finishes aren’t typically food-safe straight from the package and may even contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that make them unsafe to apply outside well-ventilated spaces. And while some finishes like vegetable oil, mineral oil, and olive oil may be food-safe out of the container, they typically don’t offer high levels of protection and require frequent reapplication when they work well at all. Fortunately, the Real Milk Paint Co. has several options when you need a food-grade wood finish that have staying power and exceptional protection.

Uses for Wood Finish Safe for Foods

Food-safe finishes have many uses both in and out of the kitchen and dining room, from protecting items you use for food prep and serving to sealing items kids handle and put in their mouths. Some of these uses include:

  • Butcher blocks
  • Cutting boards
  • Charcuterie boards
  • Platters and chargers
  • Salad bowls
  • Countertops
  • Kitchen utensils
  • Children’s toys

Types of Food-Safe Finish for Wood

When considering deciding on an eco-friendly wood finish safe for foods, you have numerous commercially available wood finishes to choose from, some of which work better than others. For example, wooden utensils or butcher blocks you wish to use every day need a more durable food-safe wood finish than something like a decorative cutting board you plan to display on your kitchen wall. Here are some of the main options for a food-safe finish for wood to help you decide which one works best for the project you’re planning.

Wood Wax

Real Milk Paint Wood Wax

At the top of our food-safe wood finish list is Wood Wax, an all-natural vegan formulation made with walnut oil and carnauba wax.

 This vegan-friendly food-safe finish for wood contains no VOCs or solvents for added eco-friendliness and combines the attractive sheen of wax with the protective abilities of oil, so it looks great and stays put over time and with frequent use. You can also use Wood Wax over Pure Tung Oil, Hemp Oil and other food-safe wood finishes for an extra level of protection.

Suitable for a multitude of projects, especially those that utilize raw wood, this food-safe wood sealer boasts a smooth consistency for fuss-free application and even coverage on butcher boards, countertops and utensils. Additionally, surfaces covered with Wood Wax cure within 7 to 15 days via polymerization, just like other finishing oils. However, smaller surfaces covered with Wood Wax cure much faster when placed inside a lightbulb kiln if you need to use them more quickly than natural curing allows.

Real Milk Paint

All-natural, nontoxic Real Milk Paint provides a food-safe wood finish that lets you add color to your creations. This matte medium comes in 56 hues, from basic black and white to vibrant shades of red, blue and green, making it a perfect choice for customizing your kitchen and dining area. Food safe paint is designed for use on raw wood and previously painted surfaces alike. Real Milk Paint application typically requires little prep time and no primer or sanding to achieve the look you want.

The powdered formulation means you can mix as much or as little as needed for the task at hand, and Real Milk Paint is biodegradable and compostable, so you don’t have to worry when disposing of unused portions. Mixed colors stay viable for up to 2 weeks without spoiling, providing extra time to finish bigger projects. Though this medium is durable, you do need to seal it with Wood Wax or your choice of food-safe finishing oils (more about those below) to help the colors stay true over time and with use.

Pure Tung Oil

Pure Tung Oil

Pure Tung Oil, aka chinawood oil, dries hard to a lustrous matte finish, making it an excellent wood finish safe for foods. This FDA-approved sealer from the Real Milk Paint Co. has 100% pure ingredients, unlike many competing products that contain harsh solvents to speed up drying time. You do, however, typically need to mix our Pure Tung Oil with our all-natural and food-safe Citrus Solvent for optimal coverage and penetration into raw wood or painted surfaces. Alternatively, use our pre-thinned Half & Half for easy application.

The all-natural green formulation ensures eco-friendly protection against water, abrasions and acids, and it doesn’t darken with time or mold like the food-safe wood finish linseed oil provides. It also comes in Dark Tung Oil if you want a deeper hue and Dark Half for fuss free application. The downside of this naturally polymerizing finish is that it takes 10 to 15 days for a partial cure and up to 30 days for a full cure, making our Wood Wax a better option if you need to cure items in a lightbulb kiln for immediate usage.

Hemp Oil

All-natural Hemp Oil from the Real Milk Paint Co. offers another food-safe finish for wood that’s good for the environment. Made with no VOCs and requiring no solvent for thinning, Hemp Oil provides a hypoallergenic food-safe wood finish that penetrates pores well for fuss-free application over Real Milk Paint and bare wood alike. This hypoallergenic wood finish safe for foods dries to a virtually dead flat matte look, with no gloss and very little sheen.

Though Hemp Oil delivers a food-safe wood finish, it’s generally not quite as durable or water-resistant as Wood Wax or Pure Tung Oil. This does, however, make it a great choice for lightly used decorative items when you want easy maintenance and a matte finish. Utensils, bowls, platters and cutting boards finished with Hemp Oil cure partially within 7 to 10 days and fully within 15 to 30 days.

Linseed Oil

Also known as flaxseed oil, linseed oil is a food-safe wood finish popular with many woodworkers. Linseed oil penetrates wood pores deeply, conferring good resistance to scratching and humidity changes, and it readily showcases woodgrain for an attractive aesthetic. Easy to apply and eco-friendly, linseed oil provides a satin finish that looks good on charcuterie boards, butcher blocks and countertops. Likewise, maintenance of boiled or raw linseed oil finishes is quick and simple, requiring only a quick wipe-down with the medium every now and then. It’s important to note that “boiled” linseed oil isn’t actually boiled and typically has driers added to it’s formulation to promote the hardening of the oil.

On the downside, however, linseed oil fails when it comes to water resistance on food surfaces as it’s particularly vulnerable to rings left by condensation on glasses and stains from colored liquids soaking into the wood beneath. This food-safe wood finish also tends to yellow over time, potentially discoloring your creations and spoiling their beauty. Additionally, even the protective qualities of raw or boiled linseed oil are lacking, with its soft coat seal remaining more vulnerable to scratches and abrasions than hard-drying oils like Pure Tung Oil.

Other Oils

Outdoor Defense Oil used for Finishing

Some woodworkers use other natural oils as a wood finish safe for food, though the options listed above tend to be the best choices for a variety of reasons. For example, mineral oil may be food-safe, but it’s derived from petroleum, so it’s not very eco-friendly. And even if it were, it’s also not very durable or water-resistant and may appear dusty and dry if you don’t maintain it well.

Other water-repellant surface sealers include Danish oil and beeswax. Danish oil typically combines linseed and tung oils for a durable finish, but some brands contain VOCs and other potentially damaging chemicals. And although considered food-safe after completing the curing process, Danish oil isn’t very easy to apply and requires frequent maintenance.

Likewise, beeswax offers good water resistance and a natural finish that protects wood. A natural product of honeybees, this surface sealer offers a nontoxic finish without harsh chemicals. The downsides of beeswax, however, are minimal durability, a need for frequent management and poor resistance to heat, making it unsuitable for butcher blocks and countertops.

Other food-safe wood finishes include olive oil, coconut oil and vegetable oil, but these options tend to go rancid in hot weather and aren’t very durable. Shellac wax and oil finishes also work, but they typically have a film-forming finish and a noticeable amber tint, which can discolor the look of your wood surface. Lastly, polyurethane offers excellent durability at the expense of eco-friendliness, requiring ample ventilation for application to prevent injury and long curing times before the finish achieves safety for food contact.

Whether you’re refinishing frequently used kitchen items or need a surface sealer that guarantees wood safety, products from the Real Milk Paint Co. can help you achieve the look you want, such as our cutting board oil or pure tung oil. Consider the pros and cons of each of these oil and wax finish options and the needs of your wood surface and choose accordingly.