How to maintain and repair butcher block countertops with mineral oil, sanding, and cleaning.
Many homeowners choose butcher block countertops in their kitchen as an alternative to stone or manmade materials. Butcher block countertops can be less expensive than granite or composite countertops such as Corian, while creating a beautiful living work surface that develops a patina and can be made out of reclaimed or recycled material. With this type of countertop there are a few maintenance considerations since wood is more susceptible to damage from the daily use and wood can hold onto bacteria.
Butcher Block Finishes
A solid wood surface finished with a polyurethane based varnish requires little to no maintenance. These butcher block countertops with this type of finish is not meant to be used as a cutting surface. However, scratches, cuts, and similar damage might be difficult to repair with touch-ups. Mineral oil finishing needs to be applied periodically but in turn, it allows you to easily fix minor damage, and to renew the surface whenever necessary. The look achieved with an oil finish is more natural and allows the true character of the wood to come out.
End-grain Butcher Block Countertop
If you have a newly installed butcher block countertop you should receive instructions on care and use. If the butcher block is older, you can use these instructions as a guide for maintaining your wood butcher block countertop.
In general you need to apply a new coat of oil every month for the first year and once every six months each year after. Some people choose to oil their countertop as often as once a month which can reduce the chance of staining. There are several factors that can affect the frequency of maintenance such as indoor humidity levels, air conditioning use, oven or cooktop use, and the type of lighting used in the kitchen. Instead of using a calendar-based schedule, you should apply a new coat of oil every time the wood begins losing its oily sheen and starts looking dry.
With butcher block countertops you can actually sand out deep scratches if you want the countertop to have a smooth surface. Sanding the damaged area and re-oiling it can conveniently repair almost any scratch, cut mark, watermark, food stain, or similar damage.
Keep in mind that a mineral oil finishing will offer a weak protection against harsh chemicals such as bleach or pipe-draining acids. Polyurethane-based varnishes do not have these limitations.
The oil will absorb faster into the wood if it is warm. Place the mineral oil in a container and set in a large bowl with very hot water for about 10 minutes. Depending on the size of the countertop, use a rag or pour the oil onto the wood surface and wipe it in with a clean cloth. Allow the oil to penetrate for 30 minutes to an hour. End grain countertops will not absorb as much oil as butcher blocks with side or parallel grain. Wipe off any excess oil.
Cleaning and Care
For best results, use a cutting board for cutting meat and poultry instead of using your countertop.
Varnished butcher block countertops can be cleaned with Murphy’s Oil Soap or with white vinegar and water, 1 cup of vinegar to 1 gallon of water. White vinegar is a good antibacterial cleaning agent.
Cleaning a butcher block countertop that is used for food preparation varies with the food that is being prepared. For fruits or vegetables, a damp cloth can be used before and after food preparation. For meat, fish, or dairy products, a damp cloth with water can be used for cleaning the butcher block countertop before food preparation. When food preparation is completed, clean the top with soap and water. A slice of lemon rubbed over the surface can also be used as a bactericide. When cleaning your countertop with soap, it is especially important to ensure that it remains properly sealed to prevent bacterial growth. Allow the butcher block countertop to dry completely before attempting to reseal with mineral or peanut oil.
Because your countertops are made of wood, they will absorb food odors more readily than other materials. Deodorize your countertops with a coating of lemon juice. Let it sit for about 15 minutes before wiping it dry.
Never set hot pots or pans on butcher block countertops without a pad or other protective material between the pan and the wood.
If the discolorations caused by food or drinks can't be removed by sanding, try rubbing them with lemon juice. If that isn't strong enough, mix 1 tablespoon hydrogen peroxide in a cup of warm water and dab it on the stain. For the black stains made cast-iron pots you can use wood bleach, oxalic acid. Rinse thoroughly as soon as the stain disappears—bleach will whiten wood dramatically and raise the grain if left on too long. Sand and re-oil the sur¬face again.
Burns and Deep Scratches
To remove burn marks or scratches sand the countertop going in the direction of the grain with 120-grit, then 180-grit paper. When the surface is smooth, pour on warm, food-grade mineral oil and rub it in with a rag. Let it soak in for 20 to 30 minutes, then wipe away the excess with a clean paper towel. For extra protection, apply 1 part beeswax or paraffin wax melted in 4 parts mineral oil and rub it into the bare wood while the mix is still warm.
Most oiled butcher block countertops are vulnerable to vinegar, which is acidic enough to dissolve the glue holding the pieces of wood together and cause the counter to crack along its glue joints. Wipe up any spilled vinegar immediately and by oiling the wood regularly.