Wooden butcher blocks are a wonderful way to add both warmth and functionality to your kitchen, but these stellar surfaces require a little extra attention. Whether you’ve got a full integrated butcher block countertop, a collection of cutting boards, or an island that’s as utilitarian as it is aesthetically pleasing, here’s what you need to know—and do—to keep your butcher block in tip-top shape.
Seal and Protect Your Countertops
The first step in properly caring for your butcher block and other wood countertops is to seal them. Wood is a porous material, and it’s crucial that you keep germs and moisture at bay to preserve your family’s health and safety. Food-grade oils cure wood without adding dangerous chemicals that could leach into ingredients while you chop vegetables or knead dough.
Use all-natural Pure Tung Oil to give your butcher block a lustrous finish. This product is FDA-approved for food contact, meaning you can utilize it in your kitchen without worry, and its natural honey color is ideal for integration in all kinds of color schemes.
Hemp Oil, which is food safe and dries to a matte finish, is another option. It’s a wonderful choice for sealing newly made blocks or for reviving vintage pieces and the oil’s lightly nutty aroma gives your workspace a pleasant smell.
Both oils work as sealants, but pure tung oil has a slight edge in terms of durability and water resistance. Choose whichever option works best for you—however we always recommend avoiding cooking oils, oil-based stains, and polyurethane on your butcher blocks as they can go rancid or secrete dangerous chemicals.
Avoid Food Grade Mineral Oil
Mineral oil is often touted as a good way to protect and condition wood surfaces. But mineral oil can actually cause more harm than good when used on a butcher block surface. We do not recommend using Mineral Oil on a butcher block because it can make it swell and warp. While Mineral Oil is food safe, it does have a few downsides. For example, food safe mineral oil is a non-drying oil, so some residue can get into your food, be ingested, or spread around the house. This also means it needs to be consistently reapplied as it is being removed from the wood over time.
Similarly, Mineral Oil does not leave a waterproof finish (since it’s a non-drying oil), it allows water and other liquids to reach the counters, cutting board, or other butcher block countertops below.
We highly recommend using Tung Oil to properly care for your butcher block counter top because it’s a food safe, drying oil.
How to Clean Butcher Block Countertops
While sealing butcher block surfaces is important, it doesn’t eliminate the need for regular cleaning. To prevent staining and maintain food safety:
- Use a sponge or a damp cloth with mild soap to remove hot pots stains, food debris and other potential contaminants.
- Rinse off any residual cleanser, then wipe up excess moisture.
- If the dirt still hasn’t fell off, try using a fine grit sandpaper to clean butcher block tops. You may need to do a touch up with oil again if you do this step.
Surprisingly, a mild dish soap may help with general cleaning and keep the surface clean, but it won’t necessarily aid in sanitation. Bacteria is almost as common in the kitchen as salt and pepper; stock a spray bottle of white vinegar near your other kitchen essentials and give your hard wood surface a spritz to kill bacteria, then wipe away excess, before flipping off the lights for the night. The acid creates an inhospitable environment for pathogens, giving you a safe surface to use the next time you exercise your culinary talents.
Ensure Longevity with Butcher Block Countertop Maintenance
When installing butcher block into your kitchen, remember they require some care and maintenance to keep them looking their best. Using and reapplying finishing oils whenever necessary will make your butcher block more durable, but there are other steps you can take to increase protection:
- Avoid sitting wet dishes or paper towels on the wood
- Try to keep harsh undiluted chemicals away from natural wood grain tops. Also work to keep food products known to stain off the entire surface
- Use a plastic cutting board for raw meat, fish, or any other wet or dark-hued ingredients (beets, for instance)
With a modicum of foresight and a touch of elbow grease, your gorgeously new butcher block countertops and cutting boards will stand up round after round of holiday bakes, chili cook-offs, and family brunches.
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