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


  1. I have a 1996 commercial butcher block from a meat packing company in Michigan. The bottom of the block is black and I want to clean it up and get to the maple.
    What is this substance and how can I remove it?

    Thank you for your response.

    Della Cope

  2. I have a 5′ x 5′ must be hard maple butcher block work bench from a local school shop that closed. I was thinking about making a butcher block for kitchen use. If I flip it over and completely remove the finish and cut a section out do you think that is ok. I already made a butcher block vanity top out of part of it and it turned out great.
    Thanks Frank

  3. Thanks to Julie Day for the great explanation of cleaning and sealing a butcher block. Thanks to you for making the explanation available.

  4. I have a question. We just made a island top from an old piece of butcher block and I sealed it with the mineral oil and it looks awesome, but everything I put on it absorbs the oil. Do you just keep putting oil on until it absorbs no oil at all and then it won’t be so greasy? I wiped it down but you can still feel the oil when you touch it. Is that how it is going to be, and if I put a plastic table cloth over it to protect when not using, will that hurt it?

  5. I have a butcher block island and when I oil it and wipe off the excess the top remains sticky for weeks. How can I avoid this?

  6. I have a 100 yr,+ old 37″dia,X14″ deep X 32″ high butcher block that I’m trying to restore. I removed several layers of paint and would like to refinish with either mineral or tung oil but have run into a big problem–the minor cracks and pits still have a bit of paint in them and of course won’t take oil and I don’t want to re-paint it. Suggestions on how to get all the holes and cracks void of paint. Thanks,

  7. My wife bought me a Butcherblock for christmas from a local specialty food store. The block is new and never been used but seems to have a light shelac finish on it. Should this finish be removed? If so How should I go about doing it?also ,does the finish matter at all?

  8. I have a work bench that is over 65 years old very hard wood could be oak.It has like other been used a lot. How should I go about cleaning and removing chips very small. All so what about wooden garden tool such as shovel and rake handles. Thank you Bob Cauble

  9. We have a wood island in our kitchen that has a wax coating. after ten years of wear and tear it looks terrible. What is the best way to get the wax off and re-wax?

  10. good advice knew about the salt, scrapped the old butcher Blks. for yrs. as a kid & meat cutter. guess my kids have their work cut out for them, I have 2 old Blocks, & home made boards. going to love watching them have fun….
    Thanks P

  11. I see the many questions above and it would greatly help if I could see your responses too!

    I have a real old HEAVY butcher block table. I am worried that it is getting dried out and it seems to be creating cracks in place. One has become especially wide and I can see thru it to the floor. I love this table and want to know what to do to make this table last forever. I see what you say about oiling and I will do so. I just used a product called Fee-N-Wax from Howard that seems to do real well. Should I try to clamp the split from underneath w/screws or what? How do you get oil in the cracks? I have it in my kitchen as an island so it is always getting used.

  12. Thank you so much. I have a butcher block table which I purchased in 1978. It’s always been the kitchen table. I have oiled it more or less consistently but through the years it got discolored, and last year a candle was left on it and the wax went right down into the wood and left a burn mark. I followed your instructions: wash it, vinegar it, lemon juice it. The I sanded it started with 80, then 120, then 150, then 220. Worked in the mineral oil with three coats. It’s just beautiful again! It will be my kitchen table for another 40 years.

  13. Hi, we bought a table recently with stainless steel legs and a distressed pine top, totally unfinished. We realized this would mean any stains could permeate straight in and stain, but any of the varnish finishings the shop offered still didn’t come up as matte as we wanted – they also didn’t have a great selection! I am wondering what we could add to the table to keep it looking as natural and raw as possible, but adding some level of protection against stains? A red wine ring would just sink straight in for example. Help!! Thanks!

  14. I used Howard’s cutting board conditioner on my new boards and after I wiped them off, they remained oily. How do I get rid of this oily mess? They have been sitting and drying for almost 1.5 weeks now and still oily. Thanks.

  15. I have been sanding as directed. The oil and stains on the old butcher block run deep. This block is made up of many squares of vertical blocks about 2 inches in depth with an overall area of 23.5 x 23.5 inches. I can, with effort, still scrape up old oil with a scraping blade. At what point will I have gone too far? The outside edge blocks surrounding all the inner block are 9 inches in length and there is some slight separation with the rest of the inner block.

  16. Really good information. Getting ready for Thanksgiving, and I have a 8’x 3′ x 3″ table that used to be a supermarket butcher’s table in the 70’s. I want it to look good. We all sit around it for the turkey dinner.

  17. Because it was looking so worn, I was considering replacing my butcher block kitchen counter with some kind of stone. However, I decided to give it a last effort and tried the above method. The butcher block looks almost new, and I love it.

  18. Purchased a new butcher block kitchen island, sanded as directed by the manufacturer (IKEA), then put WATCO oil treatment on it. A few days later I lightly sanded it again and then put another coat of oil on it but this time it has a tacky residue left behind after wiping off the excess oil. How do I get rid of the tackiness after it cures? Soapy water? Thanks in advance!


  19. When can I place items back on top of my butcher block kitchen table after using the first application
    of mineral oil?

  20. I followed the advice on this page for removing some serious burn marks in a butcher block island. The results were excellent. The burn marks are gone and the surface is very smooth (smoother than it was before the burns). I found (as stated above) that 80 grit works for removing the actual burn marks. 220 grit polishes a butcher block surface rather well.

  21. I have a 40 yr old butchers block dining room table it is in very good condition I have maintained it with beeswax as recommended 40 years ago I now need to do a deep cleaning. .what do you recommend

  22. Hello, I have 2 old free standing butcher blocks that I would like to start using in the kitchen. They originally belonged to my fiance’s grandparents on a farm, but in more recent years (5 to 10) they have lived in the work shop and garage and have had who knows all what put on them. Should I think twice about putting them in the kitchen or can I restore them for food usage?

  23. I used these techniques and enjoyed that there were options from household items that I already had. I just completed the cleaning and oiling and it looks great. Thank you!

  24. Thanks for this. I have a butcher block cutting board that needs some TLC and I recently bought an unfinished butcher block counter for my kitchen.

    • Hi, Theresa!
      We can’t answer all the questions we receive due to our website’s high volume (2 million+ monthly visitors!), but we sure do our best. 🙂
      Selected questions will receive a moderator’s answer, as the comments form states.
      Thanks for visiting!

  25. I used a wood cleaner with a soft scourer which the wood cleaner recommended to take some marks of my butcher block island, it now looks dry – Ive tried tung oil and Boos lock board cream but it’s not seeping in, am I doing something wrong ?

    • Hi, Susie!
      We can’t see your butcher block island, so it’s hard to provide a tailored recommendation.
      That said, we can share what’s worked for us. We’ve had great success with mineral oil, and doing some light sanding before applying more oil.
      Good luck! 🙂


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