Here’s How You Should Really Be Cleaning a Cutting Board

published Feb 20, 2018
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Although there’s a lot of room for variation when it comes to how you clean around the house, you can’t escape this one truth: You’re either getting something clean, or you’re not. This distinction is especially important in the kitchen, where cleanliness is not only a matter of taste, but of health and safety, too.

That’s why you need to know what techniques will get your cutting boards clean for real.

Cleanliness Tips for All Types of Cutting Boards

No matter the material of your cutting boards, it’s important to avoid cross-contamination, both for taste reasons and for sanitary purposes. If you’ve ever had watermelon tinged with a faint flavor of garlic, you’ll know why you should consider a separate cutting board for sharp-flavored vegetables.

Furthermore, cutting boards used to cut raw meat, poultry, or seafood should never be used for cutting ingredients that will be eaten raw or for already-cooked food. Keep a separate cutting board for meat, or at least a separate side of a cutting board, clearly designated for raw meat, poultry, and seafood only. Make sure this is communicated to every cooking member of the family and to any guests that help in the kitchen.

On Glass, Granite, Stainless, and Other Cutting Boards

Glass and other kinds of non-porous, hard material cutting boards might seem safe and easy to clean, but they present a problem of their own: These materials quickly dull even the sharpest knives. Dull knives are unsafe and definitely no fun to cut with. We recommend sticking to plastic or, preferably, wood.

→ On Kitchn: Why You Shouldn’t Use Glass Cutting Boards

(Image credit: Evgeny Tomeev)

How to Clean Plastic Cutting Boards

It’s a long-held belief that plastic cutting boards are easier to keep clean than wooden ones. Plastic isn’t porous and can be sanitized in the dishwasher. However, the knife grooves that inevitably form on plastic cutting boards, whether they are thick, hard plastic, or the thin bendy kind, are problematic. They trap bacteria, making it virtually impossible to clean by hand. Even running plastic cutting boards through the dishwasher doesn’t guarantee they’re sanitized. (This is a compelling reason to consider wooden cutting boards.)

If you do use plastic cutting boards, wash them in the dishwasher after each use. As this UC Davis study states, “plastic surfaces that were knife-scarred were impossible to clean and disinfect manually.”

How to Clean Wooden Cutting Boards

According to that oft-cited (and wooden-cutting-board-proponent-vindicating) study conducted by Dean Cliver, Ph.D., wooden cutting boards come out the clear winner when it comes to which cutting boards are most sanitary. Although they cannot be put in the dishwasher, the wood itself exhibits properties that enable wooden cutting boards to be most easily cleaned.

Bacteria is absorbed into the wood of the cutting board, which at first blush seems hazardous. But the bacteria eventually dies, and in the meantime, isn’t recoverable from the surface of the cutting board, meaning your food stays safe:

“Although the bacteria that have disappeared from the wood surfaces are found alive inside the wood for some time after application, they evidently do not multiply, and they gradually die. They can be detected only by splitting or gouging the wood or by forcing water completely through from one surface to the other.” (Cliver study)

In addition, end-grain cutting boards, which are made so that the wood grain runs perpendicular to the length and width of the cutting board, are self-healing, meaning that knife cuts close naturally, further reducing the amount of trapped bacteria .

Clean your wooden cutting boards as follows:

  • Scrape off any remaining food with a scrub brush or food scraper.
  • Wash thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Rinse well under fast-flowing water. This is key to flushing bacteria off the surface of the cutting board.
  • Optional: Disinfect with a white vinegar spray. Note that washing with soap and water is already extremely effective.
  • Dry your cutting board thoroughly. Leaving it wet or sitting in water will cause it to warp and crack.
  • Maintain your wooden cutting board by regularly (monthly, at least) by seasoning with food safe mineral oil.

Read more about why to choose wooden cutting boards here and here.