Cleaning and Protecting Your Butcher Block Surface

A butcher block with a knife on it.

When it comes to natural beauty and superior durability, it's hard to beat a butcher block surface. These natural wood surfaces are as beautiful as they are practical, and it's no wonder they have gained such enormous popularity with homeowners throughout the country.

It is important, however, for those homeowners to know how to take care of those butcher block surfaces, and how to restore the finish when it is needed. Butcher block surfaces are generally very durable, but these special surfaces require equally special care.

Keep it Clean

Perhaps the most important thing owners of butcher block surfaces can do is keep the surface as clean as possible. Natural wood is a very porous surface, and that porosity means that the butcher block surface tends to absorb food odors and bacteria. Sanitizing the butcher block countertop after each use will do a great deal to keep it looking like new year after year.

It is also important to keep in mind that open grained woods are more porous than those with a tighter grain. Oak, for instance, is very open grained and therefore very porous, while maple has a tighter grain and is therefore less porous.

When it comes to cleaning a butcher block countertop, table or other surface, a mild soap works best. Using a mild cleaning agent, such as a liquid dishwashing detergent mixed with water, will help to gently clean the surface without dulling the finish or damaging the grain.

Prevent Buildup

Preventing the buildup of bacteria is just as important as removing dirt, so part of the cleaning process should be to disinfect the surface using a mixture of one tablespoon bleach mixed with one gallon of water. This solution can be kept in a spray bottle for ease of use, and the surface can be sprayed after each time food is prepared on the surface. This regular disinfecting will help reduce the chances of spreading food borne illness.

Oil It

When it comes to a butcher block surface, which doubles as a cutting board or cutting surface, it is best to finish it with a penetrating oil, generally with some sort of mineral oil. It is also a good idea to apply a non-toxic oil every couple of months in order to maintain the finish and keep the wood surface as stain resistant as possible. A good quality mineral oil works very well, but olive oil and vegetable oil should not be used as it will quickly turn rancid and cause odors and other problems.

When oiling the butcher block surface, use a clean cloth, wiping with the grain, then allow the oil to soak into the wood for four to six hours. After the oil has soaked into the surface, the excess can be wiped off using a clean, soft cloth.

Sand and Reseal

Of course every surface will eventually suffer from stains and unwanted marks, and it is important to know how to deal with those problems and keep the countertop looking like new. One solution would be to have the entire surface sanded and resealed, but it may not be necessary to take such a radical and expensive step. When scratches are encountered, try shaking some salt over them, then scrubbing the wood using a half a lemon. Allow the wood to sit overnight, then rinse the surface with water. Darker stains and scratches can be similarly addressed using a three percent solution of hydrogen peroxide and water.

If a complete sanding and resurfacing is needed, there are a number of excellent wood sealers made specifically for use on food bearing surfaces. It is of course important to choose a non-toxic sealant, and to carefully apply it according to the instructions printed on the package.

Your butcher block was money well spent, right? With these cleaning and prevention tips, it won't be wasted!