What Is the Best Sealer for Butcher Block Countertops? 

 February 18, 2021

By  Dale Keese

Wooden butcher block countertops are becoming increasingly popular choices for home kitchens and restaurant operations. They are more affordable than granite, and they also lend a warm elegance and texture in a way that stones can’t. However, many people are still unsure about the right sealer to use for butcher block countertops.

Mineral oil, walnut oil, tung oil, polyurethane sealers, and modified plant oils can all be used for sealing butcher block countertops. Many of them are inexpensive and effective, but food-safe options are always best for your kitchens butcher block countertop.

Each type of sealer that works well on butcher block countertops have its own advantages and disadvantages. Read on to learn more to make an informed decision on the type of sealer that works best for your needs.

Since unfinished wood is not ideal for working with food, sealing is an important step to finish the process. When you finish wood with a sealer, it helps keep it dry, reduce the risk of cracking and checking, and eliminating the accumulation of bacteria.

In addition, sealing ensures longevity and durability as you use your wood countertop. After all, if you will be spending a serious amount of time chopping and prepping on a wooden countertop, you want to make sure that it can stand the test of time and that it’s food safe.

Here’s a rundown on the various sealer categories you can use, and how they differ from one another:

Drying Oils

These products are made to penetrate the wood, and once they cure, they leave a protective barrier to water. Popular drying oils including walnut, tung, and linseed can seal wood efficiently. These work well in leaving your wood with a surface that is clean and has a rich, luxurious look by enhancing its color.

The major advantage to these sealers is that they are easy to apply and dry quickly, though it’s recommended to reapply over the course of several weeks. However, you will need to wait many weeks for it to completely cure.

Non Drying Oils

Made from mineral and vegetable oils, these products penetrate the wood but they don’t cure. They help wood become more water resistant although vegetable oils made from corn, peanuts, or olives easily harbor bacteria and mildew. Vegetable oils are not suitable for use as sealers since they can easily oxidize and become rancid, or even leave your food with an undesirable flavor or odor.

Food-grade mineral oil is a popular choice for sealing wood countertops. It helps your wood look its best, and is resistant to stain. Food-grade mineral oil is inexpensive, easily accessible, and natural; it won’t go rancid. It’s made from petroleum so it won’t increase the risk for bacteria or mildew. Additionally, it will give the most matte look compared to other types of sealers.

Paraffin wax

This is a great alternative option: it’s simple to use and can effectively finish butcher blocks. Just melt the wax over a hot plate.

When shopping around for wood countertop sealers, you will also come across topical sealers. These are made from chemicals including polyurethane, urethane, acrylic, epoxy, varnish, aluminum oxide, and many others. These chemicals can emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds) for months, even years after they have cured.

Exposure to polyurethane, especially before it has finished curing, has been known to cause health problems such as asthma, breathing and respiratory problems, and irritation in the mucus membranes. Women and children, in particular, shouldn’t be exposed to polyurethane at least until it has completely cured.

Although there are now some water-based topical sealers in the market which are designed to be low in VOCs, many of them still use solvents and dryers which can be dangerous to your health – definitely not the kind of sealers you want to expose your food to.

Keep in mind that culinary oils such as olive, canola, or flax oils should be avoided. While they are food-safe, they will oxidize quickly and go rancid.

Our Picks for the Best Butcher Block Countertop Sealer

Here's some options for those looking for specific product recommendations. All of these are highly rated and available on Amazon:

-   Thirteen Chefs Food Grade Mineral Oil
-   Bayes High-Performance Food Grade Mineral Oil
-   Hope’s 100% Pure Tung Oil

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are oils recommended sealers for butcher block countertops?

The benefits of using oils as a sealer is that they penetrate deep into the wood, bringing out its natural luster and color. Once you’ve sealed the surface, it will enable you to work directly on the unique texture of the wood, whereas other sealers leave a protective barrier. Having said that, oil sealers will require more maintenance than other sealers especially if you are working on the wood surface directly without any chopping boards to protect it. But the good news is that you can easily spot-repair the wood without having to sand the entire surface.

What is the best way to seal a wooden countertop using oil?

You’ll need a clean, dry cloth and a bottle of your chosen oil, such as food-safe mineral oil. Then follow these steps:

  1. 1
    Clean your countertop and get rid of stains if your countertop has been used before. Use a mild dish soap, sponge, spray bottle with vinegar, metal scraper, and dish towel. Start by scraping off any food residue using a metal scraper, running it gently on areas with visible food gunk. 
  2. 2
    Use the sponge, and scrub the countertop using mild dish soap rinsed in hot water. Then spray undiluted white vinegar, allow it to sit for a few minutes, then wipe it off with a damp, clean cloth. Finally, use a clean dish towel to completely dry the countertop.
  3. 3
    Apply two coats of oil once the countertop is completely dry. Be generous with the oil; you can pour a little more each time directly on the counter, using the cloth to slowly spread the oil, making sure it reaches every inch of its surface. Allow the oil to soak for at least 30 minutes before the second application.
  4. 4
    After the second coat has soaked, use a clean, dry cloth to wipe any excess oil.

How long will a butcher block last before or after oiling?

If you are entertaining the idea of foregoing the oiling and are wondering how long it would last, this would only be recommended if you won’t be using it frequently. For example, you only see yourself using the block a few times a week or a month. In this case, you can save yourself the hassle of maintaining it.

Just remember that without oiling, washing and drying is the bare minimum you should do to keep your wooden countertop clean. It will also stain, crack, and split much more easily without oiling, but even then it can still last you a few years.

Now if you decide to oil your butcher block correctly and regularly, then you’re investing into a longer lifespan for your countertop. As a general rule, wood countertops are made to last anywhere from 10 to 20 years. The most important factor to avoid if you want them to last is standing water; always make sure that it’s free from it by drying the surface immediately.

How often do I need to re-oil my butcher block?

Here is the schedule that should be followed when oiling your butcher block: Once daily for the first week; once a week for your first month, once a month for the first year, then once every 6 months for the duration that you have it. The best way to tell when it’s time for a reapplication is if the oil is soaked into the wood instead of beading up on the surface.

Does oiling a butcher block make it waterproof?

Using natural oils on a butcher block makes it waterproof. That’s because they are a powerful penetrating sealer, and work by soaking into the surface of the wood and sealing its pores from there. You’ll know that your butcher block is waterproof after the oil has completely dried as this is when water will bead on the surface instead of getting soaked up. Regularly re-oiling your butcher block is required to maintain its waterproof abilities. 

About the author

Hey, I'm Dale Keese.. thanks for reading.. hopefully this article can save you some time and trouble with your sealing job. I'm also in the process of making some video walk-throughs for youtube so check back soon! thanks

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}