Cooking Tipsrancid wood cutting board

Cutting boards are an important part of every kitchen.

They can serve as a beautiful decoration and talking piece and as an important tool for food prep frustratingly though they can start to smell rancid over time.

Soap and water do not do the trick. There are three common hacks for removing the rancid smell from your wood cutting board—namely, salt and lime/lemon, baking soda, and vinegar. There is a lot to learn about cutting boards, from removing the smell to avoiding having the smell to begin to keeping it at bay.

How to Remove the Smell from a Cutting Board

Several cleaning hacks can be used to remove the smell from a wooden cutting board. None of them are ranked better than another. Start with the one that you have all the supplies for and go from there.

Salt and Lime or Lemon

Lime and lemon juice are acids, and the salt is abrasive. Together they neutralize odors and dig into the cutting board to remove bacteria and odor. (source: Lemon juice and salt

  1. Begin with washing the cutting board with hot soapy water. Rinse the board thoroughly.
  2. Pour a small pile of salt on the board. Cut a lime or lemon in half and squeeze some juice on the salt until the salt dissolves. Scrub the board with the lime or lemon for 5-6 minutes.
  3. Rinse the board thoroughly.
  4. Dry the board

(source: Remove Smell With Salt and Lime)

Baking Soda

Baking eliminates odors by absorbing the odor. The baking soda neutralizes the acidic odors. (source: Baking Soda

  1. Begin with washing the cutting board with hot soapy water. Rinse the board thoroughly.
  2. Make a paste using: 1 part water to 3 parts baking soda. Scrub the cutting board using the paste.
  3. Rinse the board thoroughly.
  4. Dry the board

(source: Remove Smell With Baking Soda)


Vinegar is an acid. It can neutralize alkaline odors and break down bacteria. (source: Vinegar)

  1. Begin with washing the cutting board with hot soapy water. Rinse the board thoroughly.
  2. Wipe down with white vinegar
  3. Rinse the board thoroughly.
  4. Dry the board

(source: Remove Smell With Vinegar)

How to Avoid Smells

Lots of foods can leave a smell on your wooden cutting board, such as garlic, onions, and meat. One might not avoid having a wooden cutting board from ever smelling, but one can reduce the smell by following these simple steps:

  • Clean the cutting board thoroughly after each use. Take the time to wash with soap and water and not just rinse with water. Do not leave the wooden cutting board to soak in water.
  • Dry the board standing up. Water left on the board can soak in and cause bacteria to build up, creating a smell.
  • Season the board regularly.

Have a variety of cutting boards in your kitchen.

  • Designate a meat board, breadboard, and fruit and veggie board.

(source: How To Prevent Smells)


Wood vs. Plastic Cutting Boards

Cutting boards usually come in two styles, wood and plastic. They both have their benefits and negatives. There have been debates on whether one is more sanitary than the other, but both are known to be equally safe to use. Both can have a smell when not cared for.


 Wooden Cutting Board

Pros Cons
• Durable: They can last a long time.  Any scratches can be sanded away, and the board will look new again.

• Gentle on knives: The soft woods can be gentle on the knife blade

• Sanitary: The nature of the wood can absorb bacteria and kill it

• Aesthetically pleasing: Wood looks better than plastic

• Requires upkeep: Wood needs to be cared for regularly

• More work to clean: Wooden boards cannot go in a dishwasher and cannot soak in water

• Heavy: They can be difficult to move around the kitchen


Plastic Cutting Board 
Pros Cons
• Inexpensive: Plastic boards are cheaper to purchases

• Lightweight: Plastic boards can be thin and still be effective

• Easy to clean and sanitize: Plastic boards can be cleaned in a dishwasher and can soak safely in a sink

• Gentle on a knife: They are not as hard as some wooden boards

• Gets dinged up: Plastic boards can have a lot of scratches

• Hurt your knife: They can wear down your knife faster than wood

(source: Cutting Boards: Wood vs Plastic)


How to Know If Your Board Needs To Be Seasoned

New boards should be seasoned before using even if it says it has been previously seasoned. Regularly seasoning a wooden cutting board helps extend its life.

The oil used to season the board goes into any cracks or scratches on the board and fills them and can stop more cracking. That also helps stop the bacteria from spreading deep into the wood. Finally, it can help remove stains and odor from the wood. (source: Why Season A Cutting Board)

It is not always easy to know if your board needs to be seasoned.

  • Look to see if your board has patches. If patches are present, then the board should be re-seasoned.
  • Perform a water droplet test by sprinkling some water on the board. If the water soaks into the board, then it should be re-seasoned. If water stays on top, then the board is ok.
  • Check for darker stains or discoloration and smell. If either is present, the board should be re-seasoned.

(source: When To Reseason A Board)

How to Season a Wooden Cutting Board

Knowing that all cutting boards need to be seasoned before use and regularly as part of board upkeep is important for a wooden cutting board user. Learning how to season the wooden cutting boards is the next step. Seasoning a wooden cutting board can be accomplished with seven easy steps.

  1. Clean and sanitize the board if the board is brand new.
  2. Choose oil.
  3. Start in the corner and pour a few tablespoons of oil on the board, going in the grain direction.
  4. Use a rag or handkerchief to rub the oil into the board. Continue until all the oil is rubbed in completely.
  5. Repeat this step several times. You cannot over-oil a board.
  6. Let it sit for a few hours.
  7. Buff the board using a rag.

(source: How To Season A Cutting Board)


Use The Right Kind Of Seasoning Oil

Coconut Oil

  • Perfect for wooden cutting boards
  • Blocks bad bacteria
  • Does not go rancid


Mineral Oil

  • Food grade is safe to use
  • Regular mineral oil is not good as it creates a sealant

Unsaturated Fat Oil

  • Oils such as canola, olive, and vegetable should be avoided as they will go rancid

(source: How To Oil A Board and Oil To Season A Board)


Wooden Cutting Board Choices

Good Choice Bad Choice
Maple: It is durable and stops bacteria

Ash: It has a light color and tough enough for daily use

Cherry: Comes in dark colors and is a long lasting wood

Walnut: It is a dark color and is a softer wood

Oak: It is large pores which allows for more bacteria growth

Cedar or Pine: These woods are soft which can damage the board and dull knives

(source: Type of Wood)

Final Thoughts

All cutting boards have the potential to smell rotten. The smell can be removed quickly by following any of the three cleaning hacks (salt and lime, baking soda, or vinegar).

The smell can also be reduced or avoided by properly maintaining the cutting board through proper cleaning after each use, quick-drying, and regularly seasoning the board.