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What Oil Should be Used on Cutting Boards?

Pouring oil in a bamboo cutting board.

Cutting Boards are Kitchen Essentials.

While many are made of beautiful and new-fangled materials, cutting boards were originally made of wood. Many still consider the wood cutting board the professional’s choice.  

It may seem surprising to learn that a cutting board (or a simple slab of wood) would need maintenance.  But the truth is (and I had to learn this the hard way) that to create a lifelong, dependable kitchen helper, cutting boards very much need maintenance.

Wood is a naturally porous material. With improper care or the passage of time, wood cutting boards can – especially those frequently washed – splinter and become dry. If properly cared for, cutting boards have the potential to develop a beautiful patina – a change to the wood’s surface that highlights its signature grain and enhances the natural tones of the wood.

Circular bamboo board for pizza.

Patina is traditionally a naturally occurring process that happens to the wood’s exposed surfaced when pitted against natural elements – over time. The environment and the type of wood dictate how long it takes for the patina to develop. What is cool is that because wood is a product of Mother nature, each offers a unique patina – its signature look.

Note that there are products designed to speed up the aging process but still mimic the final patina finish.   

Cutting Board Care Suggestions

A wooden cutting board with molds.The porous nature of wood –

  • It leaves it vulnerable to cracking or warping – it may even split and be unsafe for use.
  • It has the potential to create a hospitable environment for mold and bacteria growth and, therefore, is unsafe to use.

It is for these reasons that food cutting boards must be conditioned or treated. The recommended treatment creates a barrier that repels (rather than absorbs) water or any other liquid – preventing the above-noted potentially harmful consequences.

Remember – anything used to maintain a wood cutting board will touch food that you will be eating or serving. Be cognizant and careful about what you use to maintain your cutting board.

The Benefits of Treating A Cutting Board With Oil

Red wine, Cheese and bacon on a cutting board.

Oil treatment for a cutting board offers these benefits –

  • It is absorbed by the wood, which helps to keep the wood both supple and smooth – this prevents warping and cracking.
  • Its presence is a mild repellant of water and lingering odors.
  • It prevents liquids (beet juice or accidental wine spills, for example) from permanently staining the wood.

How to Treat or Condition a Cutting Board

A pizza board and red stripe cloth.

A properly maintained wood cutting board requires regular oil treatment applications. Apply a generous amount with a damp cloth and leave it for at least 2 to 4 hours – or even overnight. But first, clean and thoroughly dry it before treating it.

I have found that there is no one-size-fits-all recommended treatment schedule. It is contingent on factors like the wood type, how it is being used, how often it is used, and the climate conditions & environment in which it is stored.

If it helps, consider the wood cutting board as individual as a plant’s need for water – which depends on similar environmental factors.

A good place to start to determine if the cutting board is in need of treatment is to see how thirsty it may be. Sprinkle a bit of water across the board. If it beads like water on a just-waxed car, the cutting board has enough oil. If the oil spreads out and disappears into the wood, the cutting board is in need of a treatment or condition.

When I first considered my options, I learned that the wrong oil could potentially cause the cutting board to become rancid and, therefore, unusable. The following offers a few suggestions to safely treat cutting boards to keep them beautiful for many years.

Mineral Oil

Thirteen Chefs Food Grade Mineral Oil for Cutting Boards, Countertops and Butcher Blocks - Food Safe and Made in The USA

Mineral Oil offers a great water repellent to protect the cutting board from water absorption. Just be aware that the term ‘mineral oil’ is a broad category that may include several substances. Liquid paraffin – (a.k.a., food-grade mineral oil) is a type that is odorless, flavorless, safe, and has a stable shelf life.

Fractionated Coconut Oil

Fractionated coconut oil is a chemically processed derivative of coconut oil. It differs from the original because the fat has been extracted from it – which provides 1) a stable shelf life and 2) prevents it from going rancid. A standard size cutting board needs about a teaspoon – applied a few times and then at least six hours to dry.


An old cutting board and a pile of beeswax.

Beeswax is a natural, safe, and water-resistant option to treat a wood cutting board. “The finish protects the wood & gives it a soft, lustrous shine.” (“Finish a Cutting Board With Beeswax : 3 Steps”) 

Beeswax is solid, so it is best used with mineral oil or coconut, which, when combined actually enhances its water resistance.

Protecting Your Woods Cutting Board

Equally important is knowing what not to use on a wood cutting board. This includes cooking oils – vegetable, olive, or regular coconut oil – these will go rancid and ruin the board. Also –

  • Wood should never do in the dishwasher as heat and water combine to create one of wood’s worst enemies.
  • Wood should never be left in water for more than sixty minutes. Extended periods could cause the wood to split.
  • Avoid sunlight as the sun’s rays may dry out the wood and modify its color.

Are Wood Cutting Boards Safer to Use than Plastic Cutting Boards

Sliced banana over a plastic cutting board.

Science reveals that wood cutting boards are safe than plastic.

Source – NY Times – Referencing Food Research Study at the University of Wisconsin

 Just be sure to wash the cutting board often. For added security, I keep one cutting board for meat and another for vegetables. They will keep your knives sharp (compared to plastic alternatives) and also make an attractive serving platter.