If you’ve purchased a butcher block from a kitchen supply center, restaurant, or even antique store, you may be apprehensive about cleaning it to preserve a safe working surface for raw and cooked food. Luckily, you have several appropriate options when cleaning a butcher block that will ensure that your new purchase stays in good condition.
New or used butcher blocks that would be at home in a restaurant can withstand heavy and regular cleanings. To clean this type of butcher block thoroughly, use a solution of warm water and bleach. Be sure to scrub the surface of the butcher block with a nylon bristled scrub brush. Don’t use too much of the bleach solution: you do not want to saturate the wood. Once the surface has been thoroughly cleaned, wipe the butcher block clean with a white, dry cloth.
Now that the butcher block has been disinfected, apply a generous coat of linseed oil to the surface of the wood. Allow the butcher block to absorb the oil for 5-10 minutes, then remove any excess oil with a clean cloth. Continue to keep your butcher block clean by wiping it down after every use with a solution of bleach and water and applying linseed oil as necessary to prevent the butcher block from drying out.
If you’ve purchased an antique butcher block, the amount of cleaning required will depend on the condition of your butcher block. Poorly maintained, often used antique butcher blocks may have an unmistakable, rank odor. If you can not remove this sour smell with a bleach solution, you only have two options.
The first option is to seal the surface of the butcher block with a high quality polyurethane and then never use the surface for food preparation. This will preserve the appearance of the wood, as well as seal away any smell.
The second option is to use an electric sander to sand away the surface of the butcher block. In order for this solution to work, you may have to sand away up to an inch of wood from the top, which, unfortunately also removes the patina of the wood. If you elect to try this, plan on sanding until the smell is no longer apparent. Then apply several generous coats of linseed oil over the course of a few hours.