How to Finish a Cutting Board Food-Safe? Best Options

Although plastic cutting boards might be practical, they’re not the best looking. That’s why you decided to freshen up your kitchen with a brand-new wooden cutting board. But while these look much better, they’re also harder to take care of. Without a proper finish, they’ll wear down within just a few months. What can you do to prevent this?

We’ll answer the following questions in this article:

  • What is the best type of finish?
  • What is the best type of oil for finishing?
  • What options do you have when it comes to finishing your cutting board?
  • Can you leave a wooden cutting board untreated?
  • Do you have to finish a plastic cutting board?

Film-forming vs. penetrative finishes – which ones are better?

When it comes to finishing your wooden cutting board, you have many options. The options are so broad that you can divide them into several different categories. The most important ones are film-forming and penetrative finishes.

1) Film-forming finishes

Film-forming finishes are usually made of synthetic materials. Instead of entering the pores of the wood, they form a film across the surface area. This coat then protects the wood from water and food juices.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the route you’ll want to take in most cases. One huge drawback of film-forming finishes is their fragility. Thus, they’re only useful for decorative pieces. Since you’ll be cutting ingredients on the board, you will eventually crack the film. These cracks will then grow over time until the entire coat falls apart.

2) Penetrative finishes

The second category is penetrative cutting board finishes. As the name suggests, these substances penetrate deep inside the pores of the wood. Thus, they remain effective across the entire surface of your cutting board.

Penetrative finishes are mostly made of fats such as oils and waxes. These substances are naturally hydrophobic, meaning that they repel water. And since they don’t form a film, you can’t break them.

But while penetrative finishes last much longer, you’ll have to reapply them eventually. The oils seep out of the wood, which makes the board less resistant to water. Exactly how long they last depends on whether it’s a drying or a non-drying option. We’ll discuss this in the next section.

3) Which one is better?

We strongly recommend staying away from film-forming finishes. These are mechanically weak and only suitable for decorative pieces. Penetrative finishes should be your go-to option when it comes to wooden cutting boards.

Drying vs. non-drying oils – which one is better?

Now you know that penetrative finishes are the best option when it comes to protecting your cutting board, it’s time to look at the two subtypes. These are drying and non-drying oils.

1) Non-drying oils

As the name implies, non-drying oils don’t dry on top of your wood-cutting board. They simply seep inside the pores and saturate the board with a water-resistant substance. This provides a solid resistance against water and improves your cutting board’s longevity.

However, they don’t last nearly as long as drying oil. Since they’re liquid, they will eventually ‘bleed’ out of the board. Thus, you must reapply them every few months to keep your cutting board waterproof.

Alternatively, you can combine non-drying oils with waxes. The wax provides an additional waterproof coating which makes the oil more long-lasting. Though the application is slightly more complicated, it’s well worth the effort. Furthermore, waxes give your cutting board a unique, glossy appearance.

2) Drying oils

Much like their alternative, drying oils seep deep inside your wooden cutting board. Once dry, they harden across the entire volume. This makes them much more long-lasting than non-drying oils.

Drying oils can typically go for about half a year without any maintenance. After this time, you’ll still have to reapply them. Still, they’re your best bet if you don’t like having the extra workload on your shoulders.

3) Which one is better?

In most cases, drying oils trump non-drying alternatives. This is because they offer better protection and durability. However, you can consider using a non-drying oil combined with a wax if you want to create a slightly fancier look for your board.

What are the best options for finishing your wooden cutting board? 8 options reviewed

Your options for finishing your wooden cutting board are very diverse. However, there are several factors you must consider when choosing the correct type for you. The most important one is finding a food-safe oil. Certain oils are toxic to humans and thus unsuitable for wooden cutting boards. Other important factors are protection and durability.

Here are 8 types of oil we reviewed:

1) Olive Oil

Many online resources swear by olive oil. However, we advise against using it. Since it is cooking oil, it’s non-drying and thus less durable than other types of oil. But more importantly, olive oil turns rancid over time. Thus, it can contaminate your food. Even worse, rancid oil is quite pungent, and the smell can be unbearable.

2) Linseed oil

Linseed oil is a popular drying alternative for finishing wooden cutting boards. Its main appeal is the unique color it adds to the board. Since it is orange, it adds a yellowish hue to the wood. This creates a nice antique look. However, it might not suit the style of every kitchen.

One drawback of using linseed oil is the long drying time. It typically takes over 5 days to dry, which makes it quite impractical. Some companies bypass this by using additives such as manganese and cobalt. Luckily, these are FDA-approved.

Still, linseed oil’s water resistance isn’t the best. Moreover, it wears down quite quickly and requires constant reapplication.

3) Mineral oil

Despite its origin, mineral oil is an FDA-approved food additive. It is non-drying, meaning it won’t last very long. However, it is one of the most popular oils to combine with waxes. Together with wax, it lasts much longer. Even better, it gives your wooden cutting board a unique shine.

Mineral oil is extremely easy to apply, even with just a rag.

However, we don’t recommend using it alone. It doesn’t resist water too well and demands frequent reapplication.

4) Walnut oil

Walnut oil is a solid option for finishing your wood-cutting board. You can find it in most grocery stores. It’s food-safe and extremely easy to apply. We find it to be the most beginner-friendly option on this list.

Since it is a drying oil, it won’t ever go rancid. However, you might have to reapply it frequently.

5) Soy and rice bran oils

These are both non-drying oils. However, they won’t go rancid, which makes them much better than olive oil. Still, they don’t last as long as drying oils, and we only recommend using them together with waxes.

6) Shellac

Shellac is a secretion from an Indian lac bug. However, it is a film-forming finish. This makes it unsuitable for wood-cutting boards.

7) Tung oil

Derived from the China wood tree, tung oil is arguably the best option for finishing your wooden cutting board. It’s extremely waterproof and doesn’t require much maintenance. We swear by this oil in most of our projects, and we’ve seen only positive results thus far.

However, tung oil is one of the most difficult options when it comes to application. You must apply it in several coats for it to work as intended.

8) Waxes

Although waxes aren’t oils, they’re equally important for finishing your wood-cutting board. These substances are must-haves when you’re dealing with non-drying oils. They offer both increased water resistance and a better look.

When it comes to waxes, you have several options. Perhaps the most common one is beeswax. It’s cheap and smells nice, which makes it a solid choice.

You can alternatively opt for Carnauba wax. Derived from a palm tree, it offers better resistance than beeswax. However, it’s also pricier.

Do you need to finish a wooden cutting board?

Finishing a wooden cutting board increases its lifespan significantly. But is it truly necessary? Well, the answer depends on the wood type.

Some types of wood are more resistant than others. Maple, birch, and cherry are all dense wood types that repel water well on their own. Still, it’s a good idea to finish your wooden cutting board if you can. Frequent cleaning will damage the wood no matter how durable it is. And at the end of the day, applying a finish is a fairly simple process.

Do you need to finish a plastic cutting board?

Throughout the article, we spoke mostly about wooden cutting boards. However, you might be wondering if you need to finish a plastic board as well. The short answer is no.

Plastic is a very different material from wood. It’s synthetic and non-porous, which makes it extremely resistant to water. Moreover, plastic is extremely hydrophobic and doesn’t interact with water in any way. Thus, it’s much more durable than wooden boards.

Although maintaining a wooden cutting board is easy once you get the hold, it can still be a bit too much for some people. If you don’t want to deal with reapplying the wax every couple of months, then a plastic cutting board might be the best option for you.

These are generally much cheaper and don’t require any kind of special care. However, they lack the rustic beauty of traditional cutting boards.

Our final thoughts on finishing a cutting board

While wooden cutting boards might be practical, they require much more maintenance than plastic alternatives. Since wood is a porous material, it will absorb water and food juices over time. This will eventually cause it to wear down.

Thus, you should always apply a finish to your cutting board. These come in several forms. However, we recommend choosing a penetrative drying oil. This type permeates the entire volume of the wood, making it completely waterproof. And since the oil dries, you don’t have to reapply it too often.

Perhaps the best option for the task is tung oil. Although it may be difficult to apply, it’s the most durable option on the market.