Last Updated on January 4, 2023 by Claire
Wood vs. plastic cutting boards – A cutting board is an absolutely ‘must-have’ item for use in your kitchen. No kitchen is complete without a cutting board; it’s almost like the primary work surface in every kitchen. This means getting the right type of cutting board is absolutely important.
The first step is deciding between two materials- wood vs. plastic, or a combination of both materials.
Keep on reading to find out the pros and cons of wood and plastic, the best option between them, and answers to any frequently asked questions you might have.
What are the pros and cons of a wooden cutting board?
Wooden cutting boards are made with natural wood that has been crafted to perfection with intricate designs.
Wood is the best material for cutting boards. It’s durable, doesn’t ‘beat up’ knives, smooth but not slippery, and firm while retaining the ability to absorb shocks. But you must know that when it comes to wooden cutting boards, not all wood is the same, some are unsafe to use as kitchen tools, so it is important to know what types of wood not to use for cutting boards and those that can be used.
Wood cutting boards are durable and have a longer life span. They have this classic and timeless feeling they ‘bring’ to your kitchen.
Even when damaged over time, they can easily be brought back into good condition by sanding or ‘smoothing’ them.
Tip: When selecting the durability of the wood for your cutting board, there is a certain standard for wood called the Janka hardness rating. The hardness for an optimal cutting board is in the Janka range of 900 to 1500—Chosen Stones. Hard Maple has a hardness of 1450, which makes it an ideal cutting board.
The Janka hardness rating indicates the resistance of the wood to scratches, dents, and knife marks. The higher the resulting rating is, the better the wood is in terms of durability and how well it can stand up to frequent use and abuse.
Although wooden cutting boards have their quirks when it comes to hygiene, health, and food safety, they are actually the better option in this aspect when compared to plastics and other cutting board materials.
Hardwood cutting boards are the healthiest as they are better at resisting bacteria.
Hardwoods like maple are fine-grained, and the capillary action of those grains pulls down fluid, trapping the bacteria which are then killed off as the board dries after cleaning—Matt Shipman, NC State University.
Now I should mention this, you must take great care when cleaning wooden cutting boards. Do not aggressively scrub or run your wooden cutting boards through a dishwasher as it’s more liable to break down under harsh washing conditions when compared to plastic cutting boards.
So always treat your wooden cutting board with care and it will stay in ‘tip top’ condition and give you many years of ‘wonderful cutting’ service.
3. Gentle on Knives
Technically Maple and walnuts are both hardwoods, but the great thing about them is that; not only are they durable, but they are also still soft enough to be gentle on the blade of your knife and are wonderful to use.
Although this might not ring true excessively hardwoods like Bamboo, wooden cutting boards are generally easy on knives when compared to plastic cutting boards.
4. Visually appealing
Though this isn’t the most important consideration when choosing materials for a cutting board, wooden cutting boards are visually appealing.
Woods such as Cherry, Maple, and Walnut are sturdy, durable, and close-grained hardwoods that are a great choice for use as a cutting board. Cherry for example possesses a distinct reddish-brown color that darkens with age, giving a timeless and classic feel to your kitchen.
a. Needs more care
Here lies the biggest problem with wooden cutting boards.
Wood is an organic material that needs to be cared for and frequently conditioned with food-grade mineral oil to prevent it from drying out, warping, and cracking.
Even with frequent care and conditioning, warping and cracks are not uncommon in wooden cutting boards, and problems often crop up at the seams where the pieces of wood are joined together.
To avoid this altogether, it’s advisable to buy a higher-grade cutting board created by skilled woodworkers rather than cheaper lower grade wooden cutting boards. Although pricey, these higher-grade cutting boards would last longer and are well put together compared to cheaper lower grade options.
The fact is that thin wooden cutting boards that have lightweight are usually more prone to warping and cracking, while the good ones are usually heavy.
The catch is if you’re not really interested in putting in the effort to carry a heavy cutting board, then you may want to avoid wooden cutting boards.
c. Difficult to clean compared to plastics
Although most times all that’s needed to keep wooden cutting boards clean is a gentle wash under warm running water, and some frequent conditioning with food-grade mineral oil to prevent it from drying out, warping, and cracking. The fact is wooden cutting boards are more difficult to clean compared to plastic cutting boards.
You shouldn’t run them through a dishwasher, scrub aggressively, expose them to much heat or soak them in water as all of these will shorten the lifespan of your wooden cutting board.
What are the pros and cons of a plastic cutting board?
Plastic cutting boards are relatively cheap.
2. Lightweight and space efficient
Plastics are relatively lightweight and don’t take up much space.
A plastic cutting board’s lighter weight means it’s easier to move around in the kitchen. Add this to the fact that you can fit about two or three plastic cutting boards in the space one thick wooden cutting board might take up is a compelling argument that makes you safely say that plastic cutting boards are a little better for use in most domestic kitchens with limited space.
3. Easier to keep clean and better at cutting up foods
Even though wood may be the healthier and more sanitary option, plastic cutting boards are capable of going through the high-heat cycle of a dishwasher without warping. This makes cleaning them that much easier and ensures they are well-sanitized.
They are also better at cutting up meats, poultry, most types of seafood, and other risky foods.
a. Can’t be reconditioned when it gets ‘beat up’
Unlike wood, any damage that occurs to plastics by knives or any other factors is completely irreversible and the only solution is to replace them with an entirely new one.
b. Less healthy option
Wood has been proven to be naturally antibacterial; plastics on the other hand are a perfect place for breeding bacteria. Now, this doesn’t mean plastics are a vector of microbial infections, but health wise it is not as safe as wood is.
Although with proper care this risk can be reduced to the barest minimum.
c. Not as gentle on knives
While not as gentle on knives as hardwoods are, a lot of plastic boards are made of material that is durable yet still gentle on your knife’s blades.
But it must be repeated, plastic cutting boards are not as good as wooden cutting boards in this aspect, so expect your knives to take quite a beating from repeated use.
What should be cut on a wooden cutting board?
Wooden boards are best used for cutting vegetables, fruits, loaves of bread, cheese, and any other ready-to-eat foods.
You can also use them to cut raw meat or fish, just make sure you clean them thoroughly after each use.
That said, what food do you cut on a plastic cutting board? You can cut up raw meats, poultry (chicken), vegetables, fruits, bread, cheese, various types of seafood, and other risky foods on a plastic cutting board
What do I need to consider when choosing a cutting board?
- Is it easy to clean? Can you run it through a dishwasher to easily clean it?
- Does it kill knives? The harder the surface, the more it dulls your knife over time.
- Ease of maintenance
- Price: How affordable is it?
- Size: Large or small compared to how much space it will take up in your kitchen
- How healthy is it?
So what do you recommend for use in the kitchen?
a. One large wooden cutting board
Your primary workspace should be one large wooden cutting board with an ideal thickness of 1 1/4 to 2 inches.
Dense hardwood lumber with a closed grain like maple, walnut, and cherry are among the best choices for cutting boards.
b. Different sizes of two plastic cutting boards:
One large, cheap, sturdy, dishwasher-safe, easy-to-clean lightweight board for messy jobs and one smaller plastic board for quick and minor tasks are also very handy to have on hand.
Can you use any wood for a cutting board?
Some of the best types of wood for cutting boards include Bamboo, Cherry, Maple, Walnut, Pine, and Beech. These types of wood are common, easily available, durable, non-porous, non-toxic, and affordable.
The choice of wood should have a flat surface, and be free of warps, blemishes, or excessive knots on the surface. The ideal thickness of the cutting board should be 1 1/4 to 2 inches.
So, are wooden cutting boards risk-free? A cutting board is an essential tool that should be hygienic, safe, and risk-free. However, this is not the case sometimes, especially when you’re using the wrong types of wood. To be safe make sure you:
- Regularly clean your cutting board to prevent the build-up and growth of germs, bacteria, and mold.
- Wash cutting boards with soap and rinse under running water.
- Use cutting boards with oils, beeswax, and food-grade mineral oils, as their finishes are safe to use.
Why do I need to avoid wooden cutting boards?
No matter which wood you choose, the biggest problem with most wooden cutting boards is they absorb juices from meats which can result in dangerous bacteria growth.
This is why food safety organizations usually recommend using a non-porous cutting board such as plastic, for cutting raw meat.
Why do I need to avoid plastic cutting boards?
Unlike wood, any damage that occurs to plastics by knives or any other factors is completely irreversible and the only solution is to replace them with an entirely new one. It’s also worth mentioning that when a plastic cutting board gets too scarred up, bacteria can hide in the deep crevices, even after repeated hand washing or dishwasher cycles.
Plastic cutting boards may also contain potentially dangerous chemicals like phthalates, DEHA, and Bisphenols, all of which are unsafe for human consumption. All of these chemicals are often used in the production of plastic items.
Which is the healthiest between wooden or plastic cutting boards?
Hardwood cutting boards are the healthiest as they are better at resisting bacteria.
According to food safety researchers, hardwoods like maple are fine-grained, and the capillary action of those grains pulls down fluid, trapping the bacteria which are then killed off as the board dries after cleaning.
How do you sterilize a wooden cutting board?
Soak a clean, white cloth with either pure white vinegar or 3% hydrogen peroxide.
Wipe down the board thoroughly and let it sit for a few minutes.
If there are stains or odors, sprinkle kosher salt or baking soda onto the board, and rub with the cut side of a lemon to clean and deodorize.
Is wood naturally antibacterial? Wood has been proven to be naturally antibacterial.
Via a recent study, scientists at the University of Wisconsin have discovered that 99.9% of bacteria placed on a wooden chopping board begin to die completely within minutes.
After being left at room temperature overnight, no living bacteria remains on the wooden boards the next day.
What is the most sanitary type of cutting board?
Bamboo cutting boards are the most sanitary type of cutting board. They are harder and less porous than hardwoods.
Bamboo absorbs very little moisture and resists scarring from knives, making them much more resistant to bacteria than other woods.
Frequently asked questions:
Do plastic and wooden cutting boards absorb bacteria?
Both wood and plastic cutting boards will become contaminated with bacteria in contact with any raw animal product. Both types of cutting boards can transfer bacteria from raw meat to other foods unless they are properly sanitized. Meanwhile, here is the best cutting board for meat.
Does vinegar disinfect plastic cutting boards?
Yes, you can use vinegar to disinfect plastic cutting boards.
Here’s how it’s done:
- Simply use a cup of water mixed with ½ cup of distilled white vinegar,
- Then use a nylon-bristled brush to scrub the vinegar into all the cuts and scratches.
- Lastly, rinse the cutting board with hot water and dry it with a clean towel
Do professional chefs use wooden cutting boards?
Yes, wood and bamboo cutting boards are used and generally preferred by both chefs and home cooks alike because they are easy to clean, and maintain and easy on knife blades.
Wood is far and away the best material for cutting boards. It’s durable, doesn’t ‘beat up’ knives, smooth but not slippery, and firm while retaining the ability to absorb shocks.
However, choosing between wood and plastic is mostly a matter of personal preference.
Whichever you decide to pick, the most important thing is to make sure you choose one that’s durable, healthy, and safe to use for you in the kitchen.