How to Clean and Oil Your Butcher Block

Finished butcher block after cleaning and oiling

Avoid using these products on butcher block that is used for food preparation:

  • Culinary Oils: Olive, vegetable, and flax oils will soon oxidize and go rancid.
  • Danish Oil: Can contain mineral spirits, petroleum distillates, and other chemicals.
  • Stains: Oil based stains contain mineral spirits and other harmful chemicals.
  • Polyurethane: Varnishes and other oil based finishes can contain mineral spirits and other harmful chemicals.

What about beeswax?

Some butcher block sealants also include beeswax or paraffin. There are woodworkers who swear by beeswax for its shine and protection, and some butcher block recipes involve melting a little wax into the sealing oil. However, the wax will form a shiny, buffed coating that’s really better for less used surfaces (like decorative wooden bowls). For butcher blocks that are used regularly, beeswax is an unnecessary step.

Cleaning and Sealing: Step-By-Step

Step 1: Clean Butcher Block

Using hot, soapy water and a scrubby sponge or brush, thoroughly clean the surface of your butcher block. Make sure all stuck-on food particles are removed, and rinse well with hot water.

Step 2: Sanitize with Vinegar

Next, rinse the butcher block with white vinegar. If you keep a vinegar-water solution in a spray bottle for general cleaning, just grab it and spritz the butcher block all over. Allow the vinegar to sit while you complete step three.

Step 3: Make Lemon-Salt Mixture

Pour about 1/4 cup salt into a bowl, and stir in enough lemon juice to make a paste. It’s not an exact science – adjust the consistency as you go, to make a workable paste.

Step 4: Final Deodorizing and Sanitizing

Using a scrub brush, thoroughly scrub your butcher block with the lemon-salt paste. This will remove odors and bleach out stains. If the paste gets too dry, sprinkle on a little more lemon juice. Rinse well, and squeegee off as much water as you can, and allow the butcher block to dry. I like to clean my butcher block right before bedtime, then let it dry overnight. The next morning, I make sure to seal it before I get it dirty again!

Step 5: Seal with Oil

Pour out a small amount of oil, and rub it into the wood using a cloth or paper towel. As the oil soaks in, add more and continue rubbing and polishing with the grain until the oil is absorbed. Don’t forget the edges! The first time you seal your butcher block, it may take several applications before it stops “drinking” oil, but in later cleanings you’ll just need to refresh it. Keep adding oil until no more soaks in, remove any excess with a cloth, and you’re done!

How to Restore Old Butcher Blocks

If you’ve found a wonderful old butcher block at a yard sale, or if yours has suffered a lot of wear and tear, you may want to restore the surface before sealing. Start with 80 to 100 grit sandpaper, and work your way up to 220 grit, wiping gently with a slightly damp cloth between sandings. Try not to remove too much of the wood, just sand enough to remove stains and restore the surface.

After sanding, follow the steps above for cleaning and sealing. Be sure to use plenty of oil, as the newly sanded wood needs to be well sealed to prevent stains.

Further Information