How To Clean Wood Countertops

Date: April 23, 2021
Author: Jon Smith
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Butcher block wood countertops have become popular due to their flexibility of use. The problem is that they tend to stain easily. Maintaining them with the proper look and feel requires homeowners to clean regularly as a matter of habit. If stains do appear, there are various DIY methods available – but more than that, the goal should be to tackle stains early.

In this article, we outline some of the regular wood countertop cleaning steps, as well as how to tackle stains quickly and efficiently.

Do Wood Countertops Stain Easily?

Certain types of wood stain less than others, among them White Oak, Red Oak, Ash, and certain types of Mahogany.

You can order tabletops that are stain-resistant as well. But on average, wooden countertops stain easier than stone and other surfaces.

The finish on the countertop matters for two reasons, First, certain finishes are better at resisting stain, but more importantly, knowing the finish is important when deciding on the types of cleaners to use.

In general, most wood surfaces are vulnerable to stains, swelling, or degradation unless treated properly.

Two Types of Cleaning

We will be discussing three modes of cleaning:

  • Cleaning regularly, including spills.
  • Cleaning stains, including:
    • Removing stains as soon as they form.
    • Removing deep-seated stains.

Types of Cleaners that Can Be Used on Wood

A combination of the following materials/methods are frequently recommended to clean wood:

  • Soap and water
  • Olive oil or mayonnaise 
  • Lime juice
  • Baking Soda
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Sandpaper (very carefully and only if required)
  • Method cleaners recommended for wood (see below)
  • Certain types of solutions made for deep cleaning wood – typically mineral oil-based (see below)

Depending on the type of wood, and the finish, you may need to be careful.

What Cleaning Options Should You be Careful Of?

However, you need to find out more about the specific wood type and finishes before using cleaners. Wood countertops can have many finishes:

  • Film vs. Penetrating Oil finish.
  • Sealants could range from hardening-oil penetrating material (e.g., tung oil) to a food-safe, nonhardening material such as mineral oil.
  • Polyurethane vs. shellac or lacquer.

The Finish Matters in terms of How You Choose to Clean Wood Countertops

For example, a common wood countertop finish involves tung oil, but there are variations. A tung oil and citrus finish can take more wear and tear (including cutting) and can withstand acidic or alkaline cleaners.

 A tung oil-based finish like Waterlox®, on the other hand, does not lend itself to cutting and will also get damaged by ammonia-based cleaners such as bleach and 409. 

Some General Guidelines

Wood has pores and seams which chemicals can seep deep into. Due to wood’s porous nature, certain commonly used methods may need to be avoided. Examples include:

  • While plain water is often recommended for many surfaces, wood can swell through absorbing liquid water and possibly leave rings or stains.
  • Certain common household cleaners and/or alcohol or ammonia-based cleaners can eat through certain finishes and etch/erode certain types of wood.

If you must use an acidic solution like vinegar while compensating for wood’s propensity to be marred through non pH balanced cleaners, use a gentler medium – such as olive oil – to temper the cleaning mix. 

Bottom line – you have to clean wood regularly and be gentle with the countertop surface.

Cleaning Wood Countertops Regularly

To maintain wood surfaces, they must be cleaned on a daily basis. Otherwise, dust, scum, and other buildups can accumulate in a way that ultimately creates a bigger problem.

Here are some general, daily cleaning methods that can be followed:

Step 1 – Daily Dusting

Dusting with a dry microfiber cloth – this should be done regularly, regardless of whether you spot residues or not.

  • While water or other cleaners can be used, they can leave residues or make certain types of wooden surfaces retain moisture and swell up. 
  • Daily dusting is a dry way of keeping wood countertops clean.

Step 2 – Scraping off Gunk

If you spot any spills, they can be tackled separately. For example, any food residue should be scraped off. You may also notice a buildup of gunk, this is fairly common on wooden surfaces. Such gunk should also be scraped off.

Step 3 – Cleaning (Alternative A – Sponging)

You can sponge off the wood surface with soapy, warm water. While this will clean the surface, the use of water is not always recommended, as mentioned.

Step 3 - Cleaning (Alternative B – Using Vinegar Based Cleaning Solutions)

If you spot persistent stains (e.g., from red wines), you may need a stronger fix.

Mix vinegar, which is a strong cleaner but can damage wood. with olive oil. 

  • Apply the mixture on the tabletop with a microfiber cloth.
  • Wipe the table off quickly if you use vinegar - the acetic acid will react with the wood if left for a long time and cause erosion on the wood.

Step 3 - Cleaning (Alternative C – Using Commercial Solutions)

There are certain commercial cleaners that are generally deemed safe for use on wood, but they should be screened carefully. 

Some all-purpose cleaners are available, including Method Daily Cleaner Spray:

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Step 4 – Drying Off

Any time you use liquid or oily substances on wood, be sure to dry off with a microfiber towel. Leaving a wood surface wet or oily on a consistent basis is asking for trouble.

How to Remove Stains from Wood?

How hard you go at stains often depends on the stage at which you discover the problem. We mention some solutions for early vs. deep-seated stains below.

First Level Fixes

If you discover a stain early, the options available include the following:

Step 1 – Choose the Right Cleaning Solution

If you spot a stain early, you have the option to experiment with a choice of cleaning media. The choice may depend on the specific type of wood and finish you are dealing with. The options include:

  • Olive Oil or Mayonnaise
  • Lemon juice or vinegar – if used, they should be mixed with olive oil in a 2:1 ratio to cut down on the impact of the acid on wooden surfaces.
  • Baking soda or Hydrogen Peroxide Solutions.

Step 2 – Spread on the Table Surface

  • If using olive oil, mayonnaise, or lemon juice/vinegar mixed with olive oil, you can proceed to Step 3 immediately.
  • If using Hydrogen Peroxide or Baking Soda, you will need to let it sit for a bit – anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours depending on the stain.

Step 3 – Wipe off Thoroughly, then Dry Off

  • Use a wet towel or some other means to wipe off the table. If using an oily medium, make sure there are no oily residues.
  • Dry off using a microfiber towel.

How to Tackle Deep Seated Oil Stains

  • (Recommended for Removing Deep Seated Wood Countertops Stains) Spread salt over the surface, putting lemon juice on top to make a paste. Take a half lemon and go over the areas with spots, rubbing into the surface. Leave overnight before washing off with warm water. Wipe off thoroughly.
  • Sand off the surface, then reoil to replenish the surface.

In each of the above cases, care must be taken to wipe off oil or water residues.

Reoiling the surface using mineral oil and sanding at least once a year (then reoiling) is also recommended.

If the stains get deep seated, there are a number of solutions that you could try:

Option A – Salt and Lime

This method works well for really deep-seated stains.

Step 1 – Salt

Spread salt over every bit of the surface.

Step 2 – Lemon Juice

Liberally spread lemon juice on top of the salt to make a paste. 

Step 3 – Scrub with Half Lemon

Take a half lemon and go over each and every area on the tabletop where you have seen spots, rubbing the paste below the surface. 

Step 4 – Let it Sit

After the scrubbing, leave the paste sitting overnight and let it work.

Step 5 – Wash Off

The next day, wash the surface off with warm water, using a soft towel or washcloth. 

Step 1 – Dry Off Thoroughly

As with everything to do with wood, make sure that you wipe off thoroughly.

Option B - Sanding

Step 1 – Sanding Off the Surface

If stains persist or you feel the surface needs a full replenishment, use a sandpaper to sand off the surface.

Step 2 – Reoil

Once the surface is adequately sanded to your satisfaction, you must reoil the surface – using mineral oil – to refinish the surface.

Step 3 – Keep the Surface Dry

Wipe off the surface to get rid of any oil or water residues.

Step 4 – Repeat Annually

With wood surfaces, sanding and reoiling on an annual basis may be a good idea.

Final Thoughts: DIY Videos on Cleaning Wood Countertops

The following videos provide tips on how to clean and/or remove stains from wood countertops:


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About Jon - Website Owner

Jon Smith

Hi, my name is Jonathan Smith. I have been in the granite business for many years and have worked my way up from an installer helper to an installer and then a countertop business owner. 

I started my countertop company with very little and grew extremely fast because of my knowledge and helpfulness. I started this countertop resource for 1 main reason. That reason is that there are no countertop websites with all the correct information and none of them are from an industry expert like myself. 

I am still in the trade every single day installing countertops, educating people on the type of material they are using for their homes, and making people's dream kitchens a reality.
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